Christmas is a special time to visit Nashville. The city brings out its finest decorations, some of its best performances, and lots and lots of Christmas lights. Whether you’re driving through the biggest light display in Tennessee or checking out a winter pop-up bar, there’s something fun for everyone. We’ve spent three holiday seasons in the city and love finding new things to experience in Nashville at Christmas. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.
Wander under the lights at Cheekwood
One of the highlights of the Christmas season in Nashville is a visit to Cheekwood Lights. The grounds of the 55-acre botanical garden and its historic mansion are transformed with the addition of more than a million colorful lights. From candy canes to glowing arches and unique decorations, the displays are spectacular.
Tours are available of the house, which is decorated for the season. Plus, visitors will find the illuminated children’s garden and a popular model train that makes its way through a lit up landscape. You can also meet a reindeer and enjoy lots of snacks and drinks as you explore the lights at Cheekwood.
Enjoy the events at Gaylord Opryland
Gaylord Opryland is a must do in Nashville during the Christmas season. The sheer variety of options here makes it a good place to go whether you have an adults-only group or you’re looking to entertain kids or teenagers.
The Gaylord complex is practically like an indoor city with lots of restaurants and things to see inside. During the holidays, it’s decked out with over three million lights and tons of decorations, so there’s plenty to see for free. There are also opportunities to meet Santa, have brunch with Rudolph, go ice skating, decorate gingerbread, and participate in lots of other activities.
The big attraction, which runs November 11-January 1, is ICE! This year, it is the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer told with massive ice sculptures, slides, tunnels, and other amazing pieces. The 2+ million pounds of ice are kept at 9 degrees, so come ready for a chilly time (parkas are provided).
Have a drink in a rooftop igloo
Ten stories above downtown, the Bobby Hotel’s rooftop lounge is a top place to go at Christmas. Its personal igloos are full of rustic furnishings and cozy blankets. Plus, the rooftop lounge has ice skating, campfires, and lots of seasonal food and drinks. (Note that the igloos require a reservation and a minimum spend.)
See a show at Tennessee Performing Arts Center
For lovers of music and theater, December is a great time to be in Nashville. The schedule at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center is always packed with fun performances.
This year, the annual performance of The Nutcracker returns with shows December 9-24. Elf The Musical, based on the beloved movie, runs December 21 through New Year’s Day. Mannheim Steamroller also performs Christmas favorites on December 30, and the play Christmas with C.S. Lewis runs December 15-18.
Take a holiday tour of Belmont Mansion
Christmas is a festive time at Belmont Mansion which is decorated to the hilt for the season. This tony home was once the summer estate of Adelicia Acklen, the wealthiest woman in Tennessee in the mid-1800s.
Any time of the year, visitors will see the home’s remarkable furnishings, including Roman sculptures, gifts from a US President, and treasures brought back from a Grand Tour of Europe. In the winter, the mansion tour is augmented to include a focus on Victorian Christmas traditions as guests pass through the dining room set for Christmas dinner, the foyer ready for a soiree, and other pretty spaces.
Go wine tasting at Arrington Vineyards
The holidays is a great time to visit Arrington Vineyards just a half-hour from Nashville. The winery offers sweeping views and plenty of space to have family picnics, play games, and enjoy the wines. During the Christmas season, there is live music and lots of decorations, and you’ll often find special offers like chocolate pairings and more.
See Christmas at the Ryman
One of the most popular residencies in Nashville, Amy Grant and Vince Gill perform 12 shows for Christmas at the Ryman during the holiday season. With a musical catalog ranging from O Holy Night to Let It Snow, the musical couple is one of the biggest draws around.
Drive though the Dancing Lights of Christmas
About a half-hour from downtown, the largest drive thru light and music show in Tennessee is hosted at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon. Beginning in early November and lasting through New Year’s Day, the Dancing Lights of Christmas features lights synchronized to a special radio station playing lots of Christmas favorites. From dancing snowmen to spinning ornaments, the nightly show is a must-see for lovers of lights.
Enjoy the Metro Christmas tree
The Metro Nashville Christmas tree at Public Square Park is synonymous with the city during the holidays. In an annual tradition, a massive Norway Spruce is covered with over 5000 LED lights ahead of its stint on display downtown.
The annual lighting ceremony is a popular Nashville Christmas event with choir performances and an appearance by Santa. Local food trucks ensure there is plenty of delicious food for attendees to enjoy.
Take a ride on the North Pole Express
One of the highlights of Christmas in Nashville is the North Pole Express Train Ride. This two-hour round trip from Nashville to Lebanon is filled with lovely scenery and accompanied by Victorian Carolers and visits from Santa and his elves.
The restored classic train, which is decorated for the season, leaves from the Tennessee Central Railway Museum. Hot chocolate and other holiday treats are available along the ride, which makes a delightful outing whether you’re looking for something fun to do with the whole family or a romantic date idea.
Experience the FrankTown Festival of Lights
Thousands of lights greet visitors to the drive thru FrankTown Festival of Lights. The 1.5-mile-long route features figures from Christmas stories, carols, cartoons, and more all synchronized to a music on a local radio station. The nightly display at the Williamson County Ag Expo Center in Franklin runs nightly beginning November 18.
Enjoy the festivities in Franklin
Just south of Nashville, the city of Franklin has a long list of its own festivities to enjoy. Its historic main street is charmingly adorned with garland, ornaments, and lights. The town square features a Christmas tree, which is lit in a yearly, music-filled ceremony. The city also hosts a festival with food, craftspeople, and entertainment called Dickens of a Christmas, among other special events.