All the best holiday movies begin with someone coming home for Christmas to the small town they grew up in. If you’ve ever fantasized about living out your own Hallmark Christmas story, then Tennessee should be on your holiday travel bucket list. With an array of festive small towns, Tennessee offers memorable events and sights for a perfect Christmas in the South.
Whether you’re exploring West Tennessee by the Mississippi River or the scenic mountain landscapes of East Tennessee, you’ll find light shows, parades, visits with Santa, and other unique experiences to fill your time. You can start in one of Tennessee’s hubs, such as Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, or Knoxville, and hop from town to town to soak up the season and relax away from the hustle and bustle for a while. These ten towns will get your Christmas travels started right.
From Thanksgiving through the New Year, West Tennessee’s Collierville transforms its historic district into a Christmas wonderland with a quarter million twinkle lights and an abundance of festive events. Saturdays are the best time to visit, as travelers can enjoy photos with Santa in the town square’s gazebo, horse-drawn carriage rides, and choir and caroler performances.
Union City, Tennessee
Travel to Union City in northwest Tennessee for a unique Christmas experience at the town’s Discovery Park of America. Visitors can drive or walk through the park’s “Let It Glow” event, which includes more than one million twinkle lights decorating its gardens, log cabin settlements, and museum. There’s also a display with more than 150 nutcrackers, which are on loan from Edith Adcock of Martin, Tennessee, who has been collecting them for over 45 years. Additionally, you’ll find local handmade gifts for sale and visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Located on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, Rugby is a small town with British Isles charm that fully embraces the Christmas spirit during the first two weekends of December. Festivities evoke the feeling of Christmas from 1880, the year the town was settled. There’s a Victorian Christmas celebration with music, drinks, and cookies in the town’s historic buildings, horse-drawn carriage rides, a visit from Father Christmas, and a concert by the Rugby Cornet Band. Those with reservations can enjoy the Victorian Christmas dinner in Hester Hall.
Cumberland Gap, Tennessee
Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, a small town that borders Virginia and Kentucky, hosts a range of holiday events throughout December. Visit the town for its holiday home tours, which begin at the Olde Church Events Center and offer a brief history of that building before highlighting other festively decorated structures in the area. There’s also a Christmas parade, a winter holiday market with local vendors, and a “soup and stroll” event where different businesses offer tasty samplings to keep you warm throughout the winter day.
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains are a popular spot for holiday travel, as the region goes all out for Christmas. Pigeon Forge is located in the center of these festivities. Head to Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas for more than 6 million twinkle lights throughout the park, tasty seasonal treats, and holiday plays and musical performances. The Island in Pigeon Forge also hosts a 40-foot-tall walk-thru Christmas tree and festively decorated 200-foot-high observation wheel. Additionally, Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction, Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud, and Pirates Voyage Dinner & Show all offer holiday takes on their regular shows.
Christmas celebrations are a month-long affair in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Visit the historic town any Saturday for a variety of memorable events. A local favorite is Doggone Christmas, where you can bring your furry friends for holiday treats, a costume contest, photos with Santa Claus, and strolling around the town’s Christmas Market for pet-friendly, regionally made gifts. Jonesborough’s Celebration of Trees stretches from the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center, with seven decorated live trees, to several small businesses and points of interest downtown.
Bell Buckle, Tennessee
This quaint Tennessee town hosts an annual Old-Fashioned Christmas throughout the holiday season, with special events on Saturdays in December. The many festivities are offered to visitors free of charge so anyone can enjoy the celebration. Stop by Bell Buckle for a Christmas season filled with sleigh rides with Santa, a Quilt Walk Tour of Homes, plenty of s’mores, an adorable pet parade, and a gingerbread decorating contest.
Johnson City, Tennessee
Candy Land Christmas is a much-anticipated event in Northeast Tennessee. The Johnson City celebration is free to attend and runs from late November through early January. Visitors enjoy a winter wonderland in the town’s historic district, which includes 160 bright, 12-foot Christmas trees and other displays. The family-friendly event is a fun way to get into the holiday spirit.
The NASCAR fans in your travel crew will love a holiday trip to Bristol. From mid-November through early January, the Bristol Motor Speedway illuminates with more than three million twinkle lights, including intricate themed displays and popular holiday characters. It’s a chance to enjoy some Christmas cheer while also getting to take a lap around “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” The event includes a Christmas Village at the speedway’s infield and special themed nights and live entertainment throughout the season.
This Middle Tennessee small town offers an array of ways to slow down and enjoy the magic of the holiday season. Located near Center Hill Lake and Edgar Evins State Park, Smithville hosts a light show on the lake every evening in December. The town also holds two breakfasts with Santa, weekend s’mores making, and holiday train rides.