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Best Winter Lights in Asheville—A Local’s Perspective

Imagine this: stark trees, like frozen dancers. Red and green lightbulbs under a cold night sky. The rush of wind through the branches. If you've ever been in Asheville for the winter, then all this should ring a bell.

And if not, then you're in luck. Winter is one of the most delightful—and indeed, the most romantic—times to visit the Paris of the South. When the weather grows cold and the nights grow long, it seems that just about any local institution worth its salt takes it upon itself to

brighten the place up a little bit with string-lights and holiday cheer. And cocoa. You can't miss the cocoa.

If all that sounds right up your alley, then I invite you to read on and discover five of the best places to see winter lights in Asheville.

winter lights in Asheville - Christmas trees
Image from Wix

As South Asheville’s premier center for boutiques and upscale dining, it comes as no surprise that winter finds this area’s tree-lined boulevards lit up like Christmas itself.

They serve as a charming accompaniment to the yearlong diversions one may find in Biltmore Park. A backdrop to your evening of shopping, dining, and movie-going. In these endeavors I suggest Luella’s Barbecue—for authentic Carolina cuisine—and maybe some gift-shopping at the Barnes & Noble.

Top it all off with a sweet treat from Smallcakes bakery, and you've got a pretty fine start to your tour of Asheville's best winter lights.

Timing: The lights are typically set up by December 3rd each year.

winter lights in Asheville - hot cocoa with marshmallows
Image from Wix

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind lies a certain night, I reckon sometime in the winter of 2006.

There I sat, next to my sister in the back of a midnight-blue Honda Odyssey. We drove down a winding path, and out the window: a celebration of electric brilliance far beyond my meager child's understanding.

Where are we, I wondered. What was happening? How are those lights moving? Is that really Santa Clause, or merely an incandescent imitation? And where did this hot chocolate come from?

Today, as a mustachioed adult, I have found the answer to all these questions, and many more. The lights I saw on that long-gone night were none other than those at Lake Julian, accessible via a ten-dollar ticket and a ten-minute driving loop through the park.

Among the winter lights in Asheville, Lake Julian’s are some of the most kid-friendly, as they are viewed from within the warmth of one’s vehicle, and require no walking, the bane of children everywhere. Bring along some hot-cocoa for the ride, as my family does, and you're in for one cozy night of lights and cheer.

Timing: The festival runs from December 3rd to 23rd, and is open from 6-9pm nightly.

winter lights in Asheville - candles
Image from Wix

As splendid as it is during the warmer months, in the winter Asheville’s palatial Biltmore House is illuminated by no less than 30,000 lights, some electric, some tallow, and some nothing less than the burning radiance of a real wood fire.

Accompanying this stunning display stands over sixty decorated Christmas trees. With such staggering numbers, I can’t help but wonder where one apprehends so many lights. My current theory is a subterranean tunnel connecting the Biltmore House to the North Pole itself. This would explain not only the décor, but the general holiday spirit, but Biltmore’s management refuses to comment on my speculations.

Tickets for an evening tour of the winter lights at Biltmore run around $110 to $140 dollars. Book over the summer to save up to $10.

Timing: November 2nd to January 4th.

winter lights in Asheville - Christmas lights
Image from Wix

As downtown Asheville's premier indoor shopping center, its no wonder the historic Grove Arcade's throwing its hat in the ring, decking its halls every year with wreaths, trees, and row after row of dreamy string lights.

Like the winter lights at Lake Julian, a visit to see the Grove Arcade's lights has the advantage of keeping you warmly indoors. Add on top all the great local shopping, dining, and cups of hot coffee courtesy of a great downtown café, and you'll be in the mood for caroling in no time.

And if you happen to be visiting Asheville around the end of the year, visit their website for details on the Arcade's annual New Year's party, a classy revival of the building's 1920s roots.

Timing: November 19th to January 2nd.

winter lights in Asheville - Christmas lights
Image from Wix

I saw the Arboretum's winter lights in their first year of exhibition, and I've come back every winter since, regardless of rain, sleet, and biting snow. If that's not a testimony to the sheer brilliance of these winter lights in Asheville, I don't know what is.

Just about every corner of the Arboretum's elegant upper gardens host festive illumination of some stripe, from simple coils and strings to full-on lightbulb-sculptures. High points include a garden-sized model trainset and my personal favorite: a hot cocoa shack.

Tickets run around $30 to $75 per vehicle. Order them early in the season for better deals and better timeslots. It's a popular event; tickets sell out fast.

In truth, although I consider the Arboretum’s lights to be the best winter lights in Asheville, I find it hard to do them justice in words. You’ll have to go and see for yourself.

Timing: November 17th to December 31st.

Businesses Mentioned

Biltmore Park Town Square

(828) 210-1660

One Town Square Blvd, Asheville, NC 28803

Lake Julian Park

(828) 684-0376

406 Overlook Rd Ext, Arden, NC 28704

The Biltmore Estate

(800) 411-3812

1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803

The Grove Arcade

(828) 252-7799

1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

The North Carolina Arboretum

(828) 665-2492

100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806


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