Wilmingtonians don't need snow to get into the holiday spirit. Moderate temperatures - with just enough chill in the air to require scarves and boots - make Christmastime the perfect time to celebrate the season with an outdoor festival.
Wilmington, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, and Wrightsville Beach offer two months' of holiday-themed fests to impress residents and visitors alike with Christmas decor, light shows, and even a visit from Santa Claus. Throw in a liberal dose of traditional Southern holiday spirit and November through December in Wilmington is a truly special time of year.
This year, Wilmington will be treated with an additional festival in November. Postponed because of Hurricane Florence, Riverfest is happening this weekend, on November 17 and 18. This annual favorite outdoor festival features a street fair, Arts & Crafts market, and festival food like turkey legs, waffle cones and popcorn. Fest goers will find an abundance of artists selling everything from pet products to one-of-a-kind jewelry. And there's more: Saturday night fireworks from the boardwalk on the Cape Fear River, free live music showcasing local musicians and bands from jazz, classic rock, to bluegrass and a beer garden, and a classic and vintage car exhibit along Market Street.
Included in your admission ticket to the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, from November 17 through January 3, is a delightful display of Christmas trees decorated by local artists, organizations, and businesses. Wander the aquarium and delight in its transformation into an enchanted holiday forest.
Wrightsville Beach's Christmas celebration starts with a tree lighting ceremony on Friday night, November 23 at 5:30. Then, Saturday’s Festival in the Park features more than 100 craft and art vendors, festival food, a kids’ play area, and an antique car show. The famous and breath-taking lighted boat parade happens on Saturday at 6pm and ends with a holiday fireworks show. All of these festivities are in the Wrightsville Beach Town Park and on the Intracoastal Waterway.
This holiday festival is wildly popular, and tickets for tours and other activities should be purchased in advance. Out-of-town holiday visitors and locals alike will feel steeped in Southern holiday tradition at the beautiful Poplar Grove Plantation. The grounds are filled with twinkling holiday lights, and you can share the holiday spirit with other visitors over s’mores by the campfire, live music, wagon rides, stunning holiday decor, and a full schedule of holiday movie nights.
Candelight tours of the Manor House start at 5pm, are wildly popular and often sell out. Again, purchase tickets in advance. (Click on the link above for more info.)
From November 23 until the last day of December, an island-wide festival in Carolina Beach and Kure Beach features nightly lighted holiday displays, and a fun schedule of events including a holiday fashion show, the Lighting at the Lake Celebration, Christmas Parade, Tour of Homes, an New Year Celebration.
The Tour of Homes happens on Saturday, December 8. This treat is a self-guided tour of Carolina and Kure Beach’s most beautiful homes, all decked out for the holidays. "Come on in! Happy Christmas!" This is Southern hospitality at its holiday best.
Latimer House - celebrating a traditional Edwardian Christmas with costumed guides - is the starting point for a tour of seven historic homes and three houses of worship, all decked out in Southern seasonal decor. This year's tour will feature the Mitchell-Anderson house, the impressively restored oldest house in Wilmington, built in 1738.
Carolina Beach does Christmas with lights, fun, and lots of tradition. Look for events on November 25-26, and then on December 3, 10, 17. Carolina Beach's beautiful and newly renovated Boardwalk is decorated for Christmas, and fully lit for the holiday season following the lighting ceremony on Nov 25. Santa & Mrs. Claus can be found at the CB Welcome Center, with story telling by the fire pit, hot chocolate, puppet shows, and lots of fun Arts & Crafts and ornament-making activities for kids.