From Texas to Florida, the South is lit up this time of year with twinkling lights and burning Yule logs. And we’ve found five Christmas light displays you don’t want to miss. Sorry, you won’t find Disney World on this list. Instead, we chose a handful of destinations you may not have heard of and a few you might have. Some are over the top, others you can’t see from a street view, but all are sure to dazzle and delight this Christmas season.
- Trail of Lights – Austin, Texas
Christmas season’s Trail of Lights in Austin, Texas (photo courtesy of Mark Scott)
Each December, this popular Texas town changes its motto from “Keep Austin Weird” to “Keep Austin Lit.” And Austin may be weird, but their Trail of Lights is spectacular.The Trail of Lights has been lighting up Zilker Park since 1965. In true Texas style, it’s only gotten bigger as the years go by, as hundreds of thousands of light-seekers flock to central Texas to take part. The season kicks off with the traditional lighting of the Yule log. And Austin natives will tell you the best way to enjoy the lights is from atop the Ferris wheel. Besides the lights, the Ferris wheel also gives the best view of the Austin skyline.
- Lights Under Louisville – Louisville, Kentucky
Lights Under Louisville (Kentucky) is the only fully underground light display in the world
In Louisville, the major Christmas scene won’t be found on the streets or along the sidewalks through Old Louisville. Here, the major light action takes place under the city.Each November, Louisville Mega Cavern kicks off Lights Under Louisville, a thirty-minute drive through the massive man-made cavern, all lit up with holiday splendor. Once home to the Louisville Crushed Stone Quarry, the cavern is actually classified as a building, the largest building in Kentucky, in fact. And it offers the only Christmas light show of its kind in the world, boasting more than 850 displays and some two million points of light though the partially accessible seventeen miles within the cavern.
- Tacky Lights Tour – Richmond, Virginia
In Richmond, over-the-top displays are the goal with the Tacky Lights Tour. Groups come in limos and vans to see the elaborately decorated homes. (Photo courtesy of Taber Andrew Bain)
If the gaudy and overdone displays are your Christmas cup of tea, Richmond’s Tacky Lights Tour is worth the drive wherever you are. Think yards filled with plastic Santas and his reindeer, with stars, mangers, and trees galore. Bigger is better and tacky is best.It apparently started years back when a local DJ aimed to find the most over-the-top light displays the city had to offer. The Tacky Light Tour has since become a Richmond tradition, turning neighbor against neighbor in what has become known as a “Battle of the Bulbs.” Nearly one hundred homes from Richmond and surrounding neighborhoods take part in the good-spirited, tacky fun, surely lighting the way for Santa and his crew.
- Christmastown USA – McAdenville, North Carolina
Dubbed Christmastown USA, the McAdenville Men’s Club started the tradition in 1956 with just nine decorated trees (photo courtesy of the city of McAdenville)
Christmas light displays put this small town on the map. Each year, more than 600,000 people follow the glow of twinkling lights to McAdenville. Known for little else, and affectionately dubbed Christmastown USA.Started in 1956 by the McAdenville Men’s Club, nine trees were decorated in the traditional red, green, and white lights. In later years, the trees surrounding the lake were decorated and a manger scene was added. Decades later the tradition continues and has grown exponentially. You won’t find artificial trees in this lineup, only real trees are used to create this heart-warming display. Trees range from six to ninety feet and even Old Man Winter has come to join the fun, blowing snowflakes into the air around the lake. To top it all off, the McAdenville Baptist Church chimes music from the steeple, wishing a merry Christmas to all in Christmastown USA.
- Nights of Lights – St. Augustine, Florida
No town celebrates Christmas like St. Augustine, the oldest city in America (photo courtesy of Mike Walker)
The oldest town in the country knows how to do Christmas right, probably because they’ve been celebrating it longer than the rest of us.Historic St. Augustine is lit up from the palm trees and lighthouse to the city marina. The lights don’t go out once the presents are opened—St. Augustine keeps the holiday spirit lit through January. Two full months of Christmas lights and a calendar filled to the brim of corresponding activities. The British Night Watch, a Grande Illumination, is a parade memorializing when St. Augustine was under British rule. During Navidad en el Viejo San Agustin, the Mission of Nombre de Dios celebrates Christmas in the style of Old St. Augustine—which is the only way to celebrate Christmas in this oldest city in America.