Southern Christmas Getaways From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Blues of Mississippi

Downtown Helen at Christmas | I-75 Exit Guide
Christmas in Helen, Georgia. | Credit: Alpine Helen White County Convention and Visitors Bureau

It’s still possible to enjoy the holidays with Covid precautions on a visit to the South’s most charming towns dressed up for Christmas. Between world-renowned twinkling lights, unique gift shopping and train and car rides among the decorations, these Southern adventures will bring cheer to the season while allowing for social distancing. Here are 11 suggestions, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the blues of Mississippi, from the Carolinas to Georgia and the east coast of Florida. Please let your readers know to check the websites for new updates, as some destinations may add or tweak events closer to the dates.

Blue Ridge Mountains/Georgia

Abingdon, Virginia 

Have an Appalachian Christmas amid centuries of architecture, holiday customs and history from Colonial to the Civil War in Abingdon, Virginia. Located in Southwest Virginia just five hours from Atlanta, two hours northeast of Asheville, North Carolina, 10 minutes north of Bristol, Tennessee, and four and a half hours west of Richmond. Abingdon is the ultimate costumed and sparkling backdrop for a magical holiday vacation. The brick sidewalks and ancient oak trees are lined with lights and carolers, and street vendors sell hot cocoa and Christmas crafts each weekend November 20 through December 20 on the front lawn of the Martha Washington Inn & Spa. Beginning November 27, The State Theatre of Virginia, the legendary Barter Theatre offers two productions at the historic Moonlite Drive-In, with early showtimes for children: See “Frosty” (the Snowman) or “A Christmas Carol” and enjoy a completely touchless experience with Covid protocols. November 27 through December; check prices, days and times with the theater. Pick up exquisite gifts at independent boutiques, Holston Mountain Artisans and The Arts Depot where contemporary craftspeople carry on time-honored traditions. Off-season rates are in effect at the four-star historic Martha Washington Inn and Spa (circa 1800s), where you can enjoy a complimentary glass of port by the fireplace.

Alpine Helen-White County, Georgia  

Have a Bavarian Christmas without leaving the Southeast in Alpine Helen, Georgia, located about an hour and a half north of Atlanta in the Northeast Georgia mountains. The town’s architecture and holiday scenery are so delightful that the Lifetime movie “Christmas Love Letter” was filmed here, with “A Taste of Christmas” airing on November 20 and repeating through the season. For a nighttime experience, don’t miss the Annual Lighting of the Village in Edelweiss River Park, 5-7 p.m., Friday, November 27, a no-cost event for the public (706-878-3842). The city will be following the CDC guidelines throughout the event. A German tradition, Helen’s annual Christkindlmarkt offers specialty gift items, decorations, assorted savory foods, drinks and candied treats. This shopping extravaganza is held November 28-29 and December 5-6 at Helen Market Platz. Join in a Victorian Christmas in Sautee-Nacoochee at the Hardman Farm State Historic Site and see the house dressed in period holiday décor while learning about Victorian holiday traditions from docents in their finest 1870s garb. This open house from 4-7 p.m. on Fridays in December is highlighted by twinkling candlelight and live music. (Dec 4, 2020 until Dec 19, 2020) Adults: $12, Seniors (62+): $10, Youth (6-17): $7, Children 5 and under: Free. 706-878-1077.

Blue Ridge, Georgia 

Enjoy a Georgia mountain getaway in Blue Ridge, Georgia, about 90 minutes north of Atlanta off Interstate-575. Ranked by Southern Living Magazine as one of the 2020 “South’s Best Mountain Towns,” Blue Ridge is all at once outdoorsy, earthy, upscale, fresh, historical–a collision of opposites resulting in a picture-perfect holiday scene. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, following the Toccoa River to the charming town of McCaysville on the Tennessee border, turns into the Santa Express November 27-December 23. Reservations are required for social distancing. Light up Blue Ridge weekend starts November 27. Revised this year for Covid guidelines, streets will be closed to allow more space for visitors to stroll. Santa will be in the park gazebo practicing safe distancing with plexiglass shielding and a separate seat for children to make their requests. Blue Friday shows off the results of an elaborate decorating contest and includes store discounts, Christmas holiday cheer, food vendors and strolling entertainment. Saturday brings Santa to the park and the lighting of the downtown great Christmas tree. Gingerbread Village will be open to the public at the Blue Ridge Arts Center, November 27-December 15. Throughout the season, raise a glass at two vineyards and two craft breweries. Stock up on apples, hard cider, pies and treats for your festive meal at the 400-acre, family-owned Mercier Orchards. Work off the calories along some of the most notable trails in the United States.

Downtown Blue Ridge | I-75 Exit Guide
In downtown Blue Ridge, restaurants, shops and a playground – all against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad cars, promise spectacular adventure for families of all sizes and ages. | Credit: Fannin County Chamber of Commerce

Cartersville, Georgia and the Booth Western Art Museum 

If your idea of peace on Earth is a little bit city, a little bit country, Cartersville and Bartow County, Georgia, just 45 minutes north of Atlanta off I-75, offers metropolitan amenities with the charm and accessibility of a small historic town dressed for the season. Take a trip to the American West at the Booth Western Art Museum, regarded as one of the best art museums in the U.S. Exhibits span the spectrum of iconic pop to inspiring and majestic fine art that leaves visitors breathless. Two new exhibits illustrate the genre’s evolution: “Indians & Cowboys: Redefined” by Duke & Woodard and “Southwest Rising: Contemporary Art & the Legacy of Elaine Horwitch.” Reservations required; Covid protocols are followed; see website before visiting. Pettit Creek Farms’ A Country Christmas includes a hayride or drive-through with more than a mile of twinkling lights, photos with Santa and resident reindeers Comet and Cupid, live nativity and perhaps a kiss from a camel. Warm up with hot cocoa and s’mores by the campfire and purchase a freshly-cut premium Christmas tree. Begins weekly at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving eve-December 30, open on Christmas Eve and Day; admission $10 and up. On Saturday, December 5, a serenely gliding boat parade lights up the dark waters of Allatoona Lake. Stay in the English country manor ambiance of Barnsley Resort, built around the ruins of a storied 1840s Italianate/Gothic Revival mansion and exquisite gardens. Starting November 25, more than a million lights enhance the magic and romance. For more events, visit

Americus/Sumter County Georgia  

In west-central Georgia, convenient to I-75, three hours south of Atlanta and only two hours north of I-10, Americus, Georgia is an ideal stopping point en route to or from Florida. For train lovers, the SAM Shortline chugs along in 1949 vintage cars to the historic and quaint town of Plains–home of President Jimmy Carter, for the lighting of the Christmas tree. While riding back to Americus, Santa Claus himself will make his way through the old-fashioned railroad car. Covid protocols are firmly in place, including spaced seating. Reservations are required for these special trips on November 28, December 4, 5, 12, 18 and 19. Details are noted on the website. Enjoy a DIY historic driving tour of 47 homes from Victorian to Antebellum. Stay at the Historic Windsor Hotel and revel in Victorian architecture decked out in holiday finery. Built in 1892 to attract winter visitors from the north, the Windsor is a 53 room, five-story Victorian masterpiece architecturally designed with tower and turret, balconies, and a three-story open atrium lobby. Sumter County is one of only three counties in the nation with two national historic sites. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains honors our country’s 39th president, while the Andersonville National Historic Site is home to the Andersonville National Cemetery and the nation’s only POW Museum.


Cleveland, Mississippi 

Midway between Memphis and Vicksburg on historic Highway 61, Cleveland, Mississippi is known as a hip little town in the Mississippi Delta, one of Southern Living’s “Best Small Towns in 2019” and a Smithsonian Magazine “Small Town to Visit.” Cleveland is home of the GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi, an interactive and engaging attraction including films, memorabilia and more, and the town’s unique music vibe combines signature Delta blues with rock, new country and other genres. The heart of town, now as in its beginnings, centers around the railroad. The Crosstie District, including Cotton Row, can be seen on a paved rail-trail that runs through the city’s quaint downtown, anchored by the Railroad Heritage Museum, home to one of the largest “O” Gauge model train exhibits in the country. This season, a Christmas tree with more than 100,000 lights presides over the town’s legendary 50 Nights of Lights from November 14 until January 3, with events planned during the day and on weekends. More than 350 holiday displays, some as large as 65 feet, will fill downtown and its walking trail, perfect for social distancing and also drivable by car. Stay at the boutique Cotton House Hotel and have a drink overlooking the colorful sparkle at Bar Fontaine, its rooftop bar and restaurant. Explore the 19 sites of The Mississippi Blues Trail in the surrounding county, including the Dockery Farms home of blues pioneer Charley Patton.

Grammy Museum | I-75 Exit Guide
Legacy of the Electric Guitar at the GRAMMY® Museum Mississippi |Photo Credit: Rory Doyle

The Carolinas–North and South

Duplin County, North Carolina

Duplin County is in the heart of eastern North Carolina and is revered as being at the center of the state’s coastal wine region, just a short drive from Interstate 95 with easy access from Interstate 40, in southeastern North Carolina. Many combine this beautiful area with a trip to the North Carolina beaches, enjoying all the region has to offer. In the heart of Duplin are classic small towns featuring Southern hospitality, Eastern North Carolina barbecue, championship golf, historic sites, locally-owned boutiques and specialty shops. Take the rural roads to discover local markets including The Country Barn in Beulaville and The Tipsy Bee in Chinquapin including breads, cookies, jams, jellies, cheeses, wines and even hand-crafted furniture. Browse antique barns filled with riches from the past and flea markets bursting at the seams with one-of-a-kind gems. The Down Home Country Christmas Show at Duplin Winery in Rose Hill is known regionally for its holiday entertainment. This festive, family-friendly extravaganza, held the evenings of December 4, 11, 12, 18 and 19, is full of the music and flavors of Christmas including a chef’s dinner, wine tastings and dessert, designed for social distancing. Visit to view Covid protocols, purchase tickets and view show details.

Onslow County, North Carolina

Onslow County, North Carolina encompasses Richlands, Jacksonville, Camp Lejeune, North Topsail Beach, Sneads Ferry and Swansboro. Located off of I-95, north of Wilmington and east of Raleigh and I-40, the county is a destination full of history, coastal recreation and family fun for all ages and generations. The charming town of Swansboro welcomed its first settlement in 1730; today the Downtown historic area is listed on the National Register and local shops and eateries line the holiday-bedecked waterfront streets. Get an early start on good cheer with EJI Farms’ Christmas Town starting November 5 in Jacksonville. Purchase tickets at Santa’s workshop to drive through a myriad of animated Christmas lights, giant toy soldiers, photo ops and more from either the comfort of your own car/truck or, subject to state mandates, by tractor ride. November 19 through December 23, Mike’s Farm Festival of Lights fires up for the season, with an encore presentation December 26-27. Come for dinner, a hayride and the weekend Ho! Ho! Christmas Show. Hayrides and other elements depend on North Carolina state mandates; check both websites for any updates. Enjoy more holiday agritourism: sip smooth corn whiskeys and moonshine at one of North Carolina’s favorite small-batch distilleries, Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville, or savor Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and sweet favorites like cherry and blueberry blends at Huffman Vineyards in Richlands.

Capital City/Lake Murray Country, South Carolina

Situated in the central part of the Palmetto State and convenient to Interstates I-77, I-20 and I-26, Capital City/Lake Murray Country showcases regional beauty from metropolitan Columbia, historic Newberry, rural Saluda and the vibrant, fast-growing Lexington County. Attractions include wineries and antebellum homes, golfing, culinary masterpieces and holiday lights reflecting on Lake Murray. Holiday Lights on the River, the Midlands largest drive-through light show, runs from November 25-December 31. Experience the magic from the comfort of your vehicle as Saluda Shoals Park in Columbia comes alive in a blaze of more than a million sparkling lights and 400 animated light displays. Admission: $20/Cars; $40/Passenger van, trucks w/trailers, limos; $60/bus. Sleigh Bell Stroll, a fun and festive four-mile family fun walk amid the sparkling light displays, is set for Monday November 23 and is $5 per person, 6 and under free. Masks will be required at registration, which is online at The second annual Carolina Lights Drive-Thru Light Show at the SC State Fairgrounds runs from December 5-27 (closed on Christmas). Admission: $20/car; $35/mini buses (9-24 passengers). Walk off holiday excess at the 170-acre Riverbanks Zoo & Garden featuring two distinct parks with historic ruins along the scenic Lower Saluda River. The nationally recognized zoo houses more than 2,000 animals in natural habitats. Lights Before Christmas runs on plenty of evenings from 5 to 9 p.m. in November and December. Timed arrival tickets are required and must be purchased in advance. Adults $12, $10 children 2-12.

Aiken Trolley Tour | I-75 Exit Guide
Take an Aiken Trolley Tour and enjoy a stop at Hopelands Gardens, the 14-acre park that was the former estate of Mr. and Mrs. C. Oliver Iselin.

Thoroughbred Country, South Carolina 

Experience undiscovered South Carolina in Thoroughbred Country, just east of Augusta, GA along I-20 and west of Columbia, SC. Comprised of Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties and bordered by Interstates 20, 26 and 95, this region showcases rolling countryside, equestrian events, wide open greenspaces, nature and history, in addition to picturesque downtowns with unique shops, restaurants, museums and lodging. November 28-29, see how colonists celebrated during Christmas in the Backcountry at the Living History Park in North Augusta. This free, outdoor event with open buildings includes re-enactors in period costume and appearances by Father Christmas. Night of 1,000 Lights on December 3 is an awesome free downtown Aiken experience as luminaries line the streets and shops stay open late. Shop the indoor/outdoor Christmas Craft Show December 4-5, where crafters sell their handmade treasures. Hopelands Gardens is a 14-acre former estate park featuring wetlands, an arboretum trail with cell phone tour and a labyrinth. The free annual Christmas in Hopelands, December 1-23, 26-27, offers an enchanting walk-through exhibit with more than 100,000 twinkling lights, two miles of lighted pathways and holiday displays. The DuPont Planetarium at USC Aiken is showing “Christmas Star,” a five-time Telly Award-winning, 2000-year journey to discover a scientific explanation for the star that the wise men followed to Bethlehem, including supernova, comets, planetary conjunctions and other celestial phenomena. Each show, December 5, 12, 19, 26 and 29, includes a live “sky tonight” portion, and lasts an hour unless otherwise noted. Admission charged; please book in advance due to CDC guidelines for social distancing. Masks required; seats disinfected between shows.


Martin County, Florida

Accessible from I-95 and A1A, Martin County, Florida is known for nearly 22 miles of blissfully uncrowded beaches, more than 100,000 acres of pristine preserves and parks and rich cultural attractions. Stretching along the Atlantic coast of south Florida, Martin County is a haven for Old Florida nostalgia, with plenty of private spots to enjoy surf and sand, endless golf, cattle ranches, rodeos and aquatic adventures. This award-winning hidden gem is within 90 minutes to two hours of the Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Orlando airports. Tis the season for indulging! A Taste of Jensen is an annual holiday feast-fest held in charming downtown Jensen Beach. From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 8, participants sample and stroll the streets made magical with festive decorations, live music and unique holiday shopping. COVID-19 protocols are followed, including face coverings, social distancing, plexiglass barriers and frequent sanitation at tasting stations and much more. Purchase tickets early from the Jensen Beach Chamber of Commerce for this sellout event; check website for details and cost. Jensen Beach Christmas Mansion is a popular unofficial attraction at 4545 N.E Ocean Boulevard, next to Jensen Sea Turtle Beach on Hutchinson Island. Robert and Elsa Eustace and their groundskeepers transform the massive beachfront mansion into a jaw-dropping winter wonderland with 700,000 twinkling lights. Starting in early December from sunset until midnight, and ending during the first week of January, visitors can explore on foot or drive past to soak up the sights and sounds while maintaining their distance from others.

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