In the winter months, Tennessee comes alive with holiday cheer, especially in the Smoky Mountains where snow occasionally falls. From festive parades decorated with lights and Santa’s elves to exciting light festivals, the towns and resorts of Tennessee know how to get into the holiday spirit. Book a stay at a Tennessee vacation rental that is situated near plenty of family-friendly events and stunning Christmas light displays for an unforgettable getaway. Check out the five best places throughout the state to see spectacular Christmas lights.

a christmas lantern parade
Source: Flickr/Elliott Brown

1. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, Pigeon Forge

Each year, Dollywood, an Appalachian-themed amusement park, comes alive in a riot of Christmas lights, decorations, and displays. Lining buildings and gardens are more than four million lights spreading holiday cheer. Each evening, the visitors stand in awe at the Parade of Many Colors. Kids delight as they watch Santa Claus, elves, and many other favorites walk by waving and spreading holiday cheer. Throughout the park, you can catch live shows with a holiday theme, including “Christmas in the Smokies” to “It’s a Wonderful Life.” As you wander the park to ride the thrilling coasters and beloved kiddie rides, you run across real-life characters, such as Rudolph and numerous elves that pose for pictures with your kids. The park features many gift shops that offer wares from local craftsmen and artisans, and during the holiday season, you’ll find Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers, and one-of-a-kind handmade gifts. The hours vary throughout the holiday season, although the park is open most weekends and some weekdays as the kids get out of school for the Christmas break.

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2. Rock City’s Garden of Lights, Chattanooga

A popular tourist destination, Rock City gets into the holiday spirit each year with its Garden of Lights. The park uses nearly one million LED lights to create a pathway throughout the space with catchy names, such as “Yule Town,” “North Pole Highway,” “Arctic Kingdom,” and “Magic Forest.” Along each of these paths, you’ll see charming scenes created by the lights including prancing polar bears and scrumptious looking gingerbread houses. Some of the lights are choreographed to music and create delightful patterns synchronized to holiday tunes. The display begins at the end of November and continues through the first week of the new year. After seeing the lights at Rock City, visit nearby Ruby Falls. The Ruby Falls Christmas Underground is a daytime attraction where your family explores an underground North Pole mining village with the stunning sight of the falls deep inside Lookout Mountain.

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3. Pinnacle Speedway in Lights, Bristol

During the month of December, the Bristol Speedway ceases to function as a NASCAR event location and becomes the Pinnacle Speedway in Lights. From the warmth of your car, you view two million lights on more than 100 displays covering five miles and more. Picture giant nutcracker soldiers standing guard over gingerbread houses. After viewing the lights, stop by the Christmas Village for additional fun and festive cheer. You can don ice skates and practice your spins at the indoor rink or pick up some last minute gifts at the toy shop. There are a variety of kiddie rides set up around the village. Kids beg to ride on the second level of the double-decker carousel. You can wave to your little ones as they set off on a train ride. Local vendors offer hot chocolate to keep you warm and cozy. Each year, the Bristol Speedway donates a large portion of the proceeds of this event to local and national charities.

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4. The Dancing Lights of Christmas at Jellystone Park, Nashville

Book your vacation rental in Nashville to visit Jellystone Park with its Dancing Lights of Christmas display. Turn on your car radio and drive slowly through the park to watch more than one and a half million lights dance in time to the music. Some displays are set up to resemble trees, presents, and angels. The park offers the largest drive-thru light display in the state from the end of November until just after the new year. After you finish the drive, Santa’s Village welcomes guests to stop by and see Santa Claus. You can let the kids take a pony ride, hop inside a bouncy house, ride the train, and climb a rock wall while you stop by the gift shop area for stocking stuffers, Christmas decorations, and ornaments. Lisa’s Kettle Corn has a booth where you can pick up a cup of hot chocolate and a bag of freshly made kettle corn.

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5. Christmas Lights at the Memphis Zoo, Memphis

The Christmas Lights at the Memphis Zoo makes the list for the beautiful and festive displays. The zoo allows you to share the experience with live reindeer on nights throughout the month of December. Walk through the snow in the courtyard and make sure to take a spin on the 90-foot Ferris wheel covered in holiday colored LED lights. Kids enjoy stopping by Santa’s workshop and seeing the elves hard at work. At the Cat House Cafe, pick up a steaming cup of cocoa and some warm cookies before hopping on the Polar Express train for a ride around the park. There’s also an outdoor ice rink where you can practice spins or just standing upright depending on your skill level.

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