The Best Winter Lights in Asheville—A Local’s Perspective
I have no favorite colour. As an art student, I feel its my duty to take the elevated position in this regard. Colour is such a vibrant and complicated businesses that I find it impossible to choose one hue over another—after all, they each have their own time and place.
Seasons, however, are a different matter: winter is the best. Of course, “winter” is no less contextual than colour. Winter in Florida and winter in Appalachia are very different beasts indeed.
So what I mean by “winter” is snowfall before the plows have overturned it; stark trees, like frozen dancers; red and green, complimentary colours; longer nights; brighter lights. This of course brings me to the matter of the best winter lights in Asheville.
It seems that just about any local institution of standing takes it upon itself to illuminate to the best of its abilities during these dark, cold months—a fact which Ashevillians and tourists alike greatly appreciate. Thus, I invite you to read on, and discover where the best winter lights in Asheville may be found.
1: Biltmore Park Town Square
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.
Although not necessarily a destination unto themselves, the lights in Biltmore need not be. Rather, they serve as 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 may suggest Luella’s Barbecue—for authentic Carolina cuisine—and the local Barnes and Noble.
As a writer, my opinion may not hold universally, but I do find books to be gifts of the topmost degree. Finally, I’d suggest topping off one’s Christmas-light-lit evening with a visit to Smallcakes, the cupcakery.
Tickets, Prices, Etc: The lights in Biltmore Park are a public courtesy, making them some of the few winter lights in Asheville that are absolutely free to view.
2: The Lake Julian Festival of Lights
Somewhere deep in the recesses of my childhood memories lies a certain night, by my estimation in December 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 I saw a such terrific display of electric festivity that my young eyes had nothing to compare it to.
Questions filled my mind. Where are we? What is happening? How are those lights moving? Where did this hot chocolate come from? Today, as a mustache-wearing adult, I have found the answer to all these questions, and more.
The lights I saw on that long-gone night were none other than those at Lake Julian, accessible via moderately priced tickets, and a 10 minute drive around the lake’s perimeter. On this starry road, one sees such stationary and animated light displays as glittering reindeer, blinking snowflakes, and neon Santa Claus, waving at us mortals.
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.
Tickets, Prices, Etc: Regular-sized cars and minivans can access the lights at the price of 10$ at the gates, or 8$ if purchased in advance at https://lakejulianfestivaloflights.simpletix.com/e/48149. 20% of ticket sales are donated to the Buncombe County Special Olympics—yet another reason to view this excellent display.
The festival runs from December 3rd to 23rd, and is open from 6-9pm nightly. Finally, I suggest bringing hot chocolate with you—or if you’re the driver, perhaps a mocha.
3: Candlelight Christmas at The Biltmore House
As splendid as it is during the warmer months, through winter, Asheville’s palatial Biltmore House is illuminated by no less than 30,000 lights—some electric, some tallow, and some pouring out of fireplaces.
Alongside this stunning display stand over 60 decorated Christmas trees. With such staggering numbers, I can’t help but wonder at where one apprehends such a quantity of illumination. 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.
The Biltmore’s management refuses to comment on my speculations, thereby confirming them. Regardless of any illumination-conspiracy, just outside of the house’s entrance lies a collection of shops where one may procure confections and Christmas gifts—both endeavors I highly endorse. If you seek the best Christmas lights in Asheville—that is, lights accompanied by evergreen trees—remember that nearly none surpass the Biltmore’s.
Tickets, Prices, Etc: Evening admission runs from 74$ to 99$, whereas daytime admission 69$ to 99$, and may be discounted 10$ if tickets are booked 7 or more days in advance. Without regard for the matter of cost, I’d thoroughly suggest evening tickets—the lights look better against the dark, and the evenings find the house echoing with the sounds of live Christmas music. The event runs until early January.
4: Downtown Asheville
Arranged by none other than the engineers of the Arboretum’s winter lights (more on that later), Downtown Asheville’s winter lights are concentrated about Pack Square and Pritchard Park—the city’s dual hearts. Furthermore, the Grove Arcade—downtown’s indoor shopping center—is bedecked in holiday cheer until the 31st of December.
Much like Biltmore Park, Downtown Asheville’s lights serve more as an environment than a spectacle, inviting visitors to explore three epicenters of wintery decoration.
Pack Square has the advantage of hosting the Chocolate Lounge, and not lying too far away from Old Europe Café, both excellent places to procure warm drinks and dense deserts—although the latter can become somewhat cramped. Pritchard Park sits along Patton Avenue, mainstreet of downtown Asheville’s culinary scene, with restaurants such as Jerusalem Garden and Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas.
Finally, the Grove Arcade is an excellent place to do some Christmas-shopping, with their crystal-vendors and furniture shops, not to mention the indoor heating.
Tickets, Prices, Etc: Once again, these winter lights in Asheville can be seen free of charge. However, this advantage may be partially lost in parking fees.
5: The Arboretum’s Winter Lights
Someday I’ll write an essay entitled “Ephemeral Monuments.” Among the contents of that piece shall lie the North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights.
I saw them in them in their first year of exhibition, and I have come back every winter since—each visit as beautiful as it is chilly. Over 500,000 LED lights—including a collection arranged in a 50ft animated tree—adorn the Arboretum’s grounds this year.
The event is a standard of artistic density; just about every corner is decorated in some illuminated fashion. It is a lot to take in, and better with loved ones. High points include a garden-sized model trainset—an apparent favorite among children—and hot-cocoa stands—my own favorite.
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.
Tickets, Prices, Etc: Tickets cost 18$ for adults, and 12$ for children, and are on sale until the event’s end in early January. Of all the Christmas lights in Asheville, the Arboretum’s are a must-see, superior—I find, at least—to even those of the Biltmore. That said, the event is entirely outdoors. Dress accordingly.
Biltmore Park Town Square
One Town Square Blvd, Asheville, NC 28803
Luella’s Barbecue--South Asheville
33 Town Square Blvd, Asheville, NC 28803
Barnes & Noble
33 Town Square Blvd Suite 100, Asheville, NC 28803
33 Town Square Blvd, Asheville, NC 28803
Lake Julian Park
406 Overlook Rd Ext, Arden, NC 28704
The Biltmore House
1 Lodge St, Asheville, NC 28803
Daytime Tickets: https://www.biltmore.com
Pack Square Park
80 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC 28801
The Chocolate Lounge
14 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
Old Europe Pastries
13 Broadway St, Asheville, NC 28801
67 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Jerusalem Garden Cafe
78 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas
82 Patton Ave Suite 100, Asheville, NC 28801
The Grove Arcade
1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
The North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville, NC 28806