Timothy and Scarlett love all of the Christmas lights
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It’s Christmastime in Nashville, and we’re feeling festive. With our move from California, there is a whole new set of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions for our family to explore for the holidays. We won’t be able to hit them all but look forward to “making our list and checking it twice” each year as we get into the holiday spirit.
Please share your favorite Tennessee Christmas attractions in the comments section below so I can add them to this list for the other readers. And your input will add more fun holiday activities for our family for next year.
In This Post
- Best Tennessee Christmas Attractions
- Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville
- I Love Christmas Movies
- Additional Attractions at Gaylord Opryland
- Dancing Lights of Christmas in Lebanon
- Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS
- Chad’s Winter Wonderland in Lebanon
- Enchanted Garden of Lights at Rock City in Chattanooga
- Pigeon Forge Winterfest
- Honorable Mention: The Biltmore Estate
- Honorable Mention: Wendy’s Twinkle at the Track
- The best Tennessee Christmas Attractions that were closed due to Coronavirus
- Christmas Village in Nashville (canceled for 2020)
- Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin (canceled for 2020)
- GLOW at First Horizon Park in Nashville (canceled for 2020)
- ICE! at Gaylord Opryland (canceled for 2020)
- Nashville Christmas Parade (virtual in 2020)
- Zoolumination: Chinese Lantern Festival of Lights at Nashville Zoo (canceled for 2020)
- The Bald Thoughts
Best Tennessee Christmas Attractions
I’m still learning all about my new home state, but these are the best Tennessee Christmas attractions that I’ve learned about while driving around, talking with friends, and reading the paper. (Yes, I still read the newspaper.)
Many of these attractions are in the Nashville area, while others are a few hours away in Chattanooga and Pigeon Forge. I’ve even added a couple others in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Asheville, North Carolina that hold a special place in my heart that are a short drive away.
Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville
The Gaylord Opryland is more than just a hotel. Every year, it hosts several holiday traditions that bring people from miles away. We recommend booking a room at the hotel so you can enjoy the full experience.
Before heading off to the attractions, wander around the hotel’s public areas to see the lights, grab some food, and take a boat ride. Yes, the hotel is so big that there’s literally a river inside it. Oh yeah, you can also spend the day at SoundWaves, the indoor water park.
The Gaylord Opryland is located at 2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214.
I Love Christmas Movies
While ICE! is on hold this year, visitors can do a walk-through experience of scenes from their favorite movies. This year’s theme is “I Love Christmas Movies,” featuring scenes from Elf, Polar Express, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. You’ll go through a 20 to 25-minute guided journey of 13 scenes full of fun and nostalgia from these Christmas classics.
Tickets are only available online or with a hotel package, so you must purchase ahead. Adult tickets are $21 to $29 depending on the day, while children ages 4 to 11 are $15 to $20 each. Kids 3 and under are free. You can save by bundling ICE! with other attractions or your hotel stay. Also, look for coupons in local mailers or at the Opry Mills Mall to save on tickets.
Additional Attractions at Gaylord Opryland
The attraction opens in early November and runs through January 3rd. Other Christmas attractions at Gaylord Opryland include:
- The Oak Ridge Boys Dinner Show
- Ice Tubing
- Gingerbread Decorating Corner
- Breakfast with Charlie Brown & Friends
- SoundWaves Water Experience
- Ice Skating
- Build-A-Bear Workshop
- Carriage Rides
- Ice Bumper Cars
- Reindeer Encounters
Dancing Lights of Christmas in Lebanon
The family and I had a chance to visit the Dancing Lights of Christmas in Lebanon after buying a Groupon to save about 50% off admission. This is one of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions because there are over 2 million Christmas lights synchronized to music along the 2.5-mile driving path. Just tune your radio dial to the local station to hear the songs as the lights dance.
The Dancing Lights of Christmas starts at 5 pm every night and is open whether it rains or shines. It closes at 10 pm on Sunday through Thursday and 11 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. My recommendation is to go on a Sunday night or during the week to avoid the big weekend crowds.
Instead of paying per person, you pay by the carload. When you arrive, you can pay by cash or credit. Also, look out for coupons in local mailers or Groupon to save money. I found coupons that saved $4 off.
At the entrance to the Dancing Lights of Christmas in 2019
Prices vary based on the type of vehicle you arrive in. You can buy your tickets online or pay when you arrive:
- $25 for a family vehicle
- $25 for a non-profit van or bus
- $50 for limousines
- $100 for large commercial vehicles, motor homes, buses
Visit the Dancing Lights of Christmas at the James E Ward Agricultural Center. It is located at 945 E Baddour Pkwy, Lebanon, TN 37087. The Dancing Lights of Christmas are open from mid-November through January 3rd.
Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS
The Cheekwood Estate holds many seasonal events throughout the year. Two of my favorites are the Cheekwood Harvest and the Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS. During the Holiday LIGHTS event, you’ll find over 1 mile of Christmas lights glowing throughout the 55-acre estate.
Plus, there are live reindeer at Reindeer Village, a Children’s Wonderland featuring 17 colorful cones, and the Nutcracker Marche in the Mansion. You can even roast a marshmallow or two with your loved ones while enjoying a seasonal beverage near the mansion.
Holiday LIGHTS is one of Nashville’s favorite Christmas traditions because it combines holiday festivities with incredible gardens for a stunning experience. The Holiday LIGHTS trail (click for map) features over 1 million lights that flow through several of the estate’s gardens. Even the TRAINS! Exhibit is lit up for the holidays. And you’ll see several of the Chihuly blown glass sculptures from the temporary exhibit along the way.
The estate is open for traditional visitors during the day, but it closes at 4:30 pm so that the Holiday LIGHTS visitors can enter from 5 pm to 10 pm to enjoy the lights. Holiday LIGHTS is open 7 days a week until January 10th.
Chad’s Winter Wonderland in Lebanon
This attraction has been run by a local man since 1982. Chad Barnard started turning his love of Christmas lights into special displays since he was 12 years old on the advice of his aunt. He estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 cars drive through his seasonal display every year.
Visitors will see over 3 million Christmas lights and more than 350 decorations as you drive through Chad’s Winter Wonderland. You can even deliver your letter to Santa through a special mailbox.
Chad’s Winter Wonderland is open every night until 10 pm from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. From Monday through Thursday, doors open at 6 pm. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, they open at 5 pm (one hour earlier!). Although they’re open rain or shine, please note that they may close if the weather gets too bad.
It costs $20 per car and $30 for limos & commercial vans. Stop by the ATM on the way because Chad it is cash only (aka no credit cards). You must stay in your vehicle throughout your visit. Chad’s Winter Wonderland is located at 791 E. Old Laguardo Raod, Lebanon, TN 37087.
Enchanted Garden of Lights at Rock City in Chattanooga
I learned about Rock City while interviewing my buddy Nick True for my podcast episode about the best things to do in Chattanooga. Rock City is a magical place normally, but during the holidays, it transforms into something out of your dreams. It’s no wonder that Chattanooga locals consider this annual experience to be one of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions around.
Tickets are ONLY AVAILABLE ONLINE, so you cannot buy tickets when you arrive. Prices range from $17 on value nights, $25 on special weeknights, and $27 on regular nights. Children ages 3 to 12 range from $9 to $15. Under 3 are free.
Annual passholders to Rock City must also reserve times in advance. Passholders receive free admission or 50% off on select nights.
Pigeon Forge Winterfest
From mid-November 2020 to February 13, 2021, experience a true winter wonderland in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville. Among these three cities in Eastern Tennessee, you’ll find Winterfest Parades, winter lights, and trolley tours on top of all of the regular fun-filled attractions.
During Winterfest, many of the normal shows are transformed into holiday-themed performances to get you in the holiday spirit. The Dollywood Smoky Mountain Christmas is open through January 3rd and features more than 5 million lights, a firework show, and a 50-foot video motion Christmas tree. For fun inside your car, check out the Pigeon Forge Driving Tour of Lights. It also has more than 5 million lights and runs through February 15, 2021.
This year was the Gatlinburg Christmas Parade‘s 45th year. This annual parade takes place in Downtown Gatlinburg to celebrate the winter season and arrival of Santa. The Polar Express Train Ride even rolls through town for a 75-minute round trip excursion. Santa even boards the train to greet each child and presents them with a special gift, just like in the story. Christmas carols are also sung on the way back to the Bryson City Depot.
Honorable Mention: The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate is impressive to visit any time of the year. Its manor house is impeccable and the grounds are so vast, that you literally have to drive from one building to the next. Heck, the driveway alone is 3 miles long.
When the holidays come around, many of the buildings on the 8,000-acre estate are adorned with lights, while Christmas trees & decorations pop up everywhere. I expected the main manor to be decorated more, but I figure that the building is so old and intricate that adding lights would be an almost impossible task.
Biltmore Estate manor and massive Christmas tree on the front lawn
During our visit in December 2019, we even saw Santa. Because it wasn’t crowded, the kids were able to share how good they were and talk to him for several minutes without being rushed.
Saying hi to Santa at the Biltmore Village
Honorable Mention: Wendy’s Twinkle at the Track
About an hour north of Nashville, just over the Kentucky border, you’ll find Wendy’s Twinkle at the Track. The Bowling Green annual tradition features more than 25 drive-thru scenes, 350+ displays, and over 1 million lights across a 2-mile section of an actual race track!
Tickets are available for $20 per car Monday through Thursday and $25 per car on the weekends. It is open from late November to January 1st, and it is closed on Christmas Day. The venue opens at 5 pm every day and closes at 9 pm during the week and 10 pm on weekends. The last car is allowed entry 15 minutes before closing.
The best Tennessee Christmas Attractions that were closed due to Coronavirus
Sadly, the coronavirus epidemic has caused several events to be canceled in 2020. Hopefully, these amazing traditions will return in 2021 to spread their holiday cheer. After the year we’ve all experienced, we need something to look forward to.
Christmas Village in Nashville (canceled for 2020)
A holiday tradition in middle Tennessee is the annual Christmas Village in Nashville. For more than 50 years, the Christmas Village gathers merchants and shoppers from all over the local area to offer unique seasonal and gift items.
The event is organized and operated solely through the volunteer efforts of the Nashville Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club. It benefits the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and other Pi Beta Phi philanthropies. Since its first event in 1961, it has raised more than $12.8 million for charity and made a difference in the lives of thousands of people.
Tickets are $10 at the door and online. Or you can buy them for $8 (a 20% discount) in advance at select SunTrust Bank locations and the Vanderbilt Concierge. Children age 9 and under are free. If you’d like to return to continue shopping, you can buy a return ticket for $5 at the door before you leave.
Photos with Santa are free, but you must bring your own camera. Santa will be available on specific dates, so check the website before you come.
The Christmas Village is open for 4 days in mid-November. So get your Christmas shopping in before the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday starts.
Christmas Village is canceled for 2020, but dates have already been posted for 2021.
- Thursday, November 11 – sneak peek by invite only
- Friday, November 12 – 9 am to 9 pm
- Saturday, November 13 – 9 am to 6 pm
- Sunday, November 14 – 12 pm to 6 pm
You can visit Christmas Village at The Fairgrounds Nashville. It is located at 625 Smith Ave, Nashville, TN 37203.
Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin (canceled for 2020)
This annual tradition has been featured in Williamson County since 1985. The Dickens of a Christmas offers four main areas where guests can enjoy entertainment – a Bavarian Bierhaus Beer Garden, a stage, Victorian Village, and The Franklin Theatre. The stage offers a variety of song and dance, while the Victorian Village brings you back in time with actors wearing period clothing.
On Saturday night, The Franklin Feature hosts “A Dickens of a Christmas Theatrical Experience,” where Jason Woods transforms into more than 25 characters from the beloved Dickens’ classic.
Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin is canceled for 2020, but 2021 dates have been set for December 11th and 12th, 2021. So, mark your calendar so you don’t miss it.
GLOW at First Horizon Park in Nashville (canceled for 2020)
This holiday attraction is located at First Horizon Park, the home of the Nashville Sounds. GLOW Nashville features more than 4 million lights adorning larger-than-life sculptures that are sure to dazzle your entire family. You’ll also find ice skating and snow tubing for real winter fun. There’s even a Santa’s workshop to mingle with elves.
ICE! at Gaylord Opryland (canceled for 2020)
Every year, ICE! at Gaylord has a new theme. In 2018, it was How the Grinch Stole Christmas and 2019 was A Christmas Story. Unfortunately, the ICE! event is on hold in 2020 due to coronavirus. It is expected to return in 2021 with all of the chilly fun you know and love.
There are five Gaylord hotels around the U.S. that offer ICE! shows.
- National (Ft Washington, Maryland)
- Opryland (Nashville)
- Palms (Kissimmee, Florida)
- Rockies (Aurora, Colorado)
- Texan (Grapevine, Texas)
ICE! at Gaylord Opryland is a “cool” experience that is so cold, every guest is given a heavy coat to wear inside. To keep the ice sculptures and slide from melting, ICE! is kept at a balmy 9-degrees. Be sure to bring your own beanie and gloves to stay warm. We messed up and didn’t bring them our first time attending, and we got really cold. Don’t be like Ralphy’s friend and stick your tongue to anything. Otherwise, you might be there for longer than you expect.
ICE! at Gaylord Opryland in Nashville 2019
Nashville Christmas Parade (virtual in 2020)
The Nashville Christmas Parade has been a holiday staple in Middle Tennessee since November 1927. This annual event features performances from some of your favorite country and rock stars as they roll down Broadway among the Honky Tonk Bars.
Aside from bringing joy to families and friends, the parade also raises money for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. You can donate to show your support and bring smiles to the faces of those families who are hurting.
Zoolumination: Chinese Lantern Festival of Lights at Nashville Zoo (canceled for 2020)
In 2019, the Nashville Zoo hosted the largest lantern show in the country. Zoolumination spanned more than 60 acres and featured more than 500 custom-made lanterns. There was also a life-size holiday village, nightly performances by Chinese acrobats, and specialty food options. Stop by and say hi to St. Nick and the elves at the North Pole Village. And, of course, you could see the zoo’s wide variety of live animals during your visit.
The Bald Thoughts
Our family loves the holidays, and we have so much fun seeing all of the decorations as we celebrate Christmas. There are so many best Tennessee Christmas attractions on this list, it can be hard to see them all each year. We are sad that several of the attractions are closed or modified this year due to coronavirus, but we’re looking forward to all of them resuming normal operations in 2021.
What are your favorite Christmas attractions in Tennessee? Let me know in the comments below so that I can add them to the list for next year.