November and December are magical months in Gatlinburg. During the holiday season, the entire Parkway comes alive with thousands of beautiful lights. Inside, however, the scene is just as vibrant, with locals and tourists alike gathering for some of the year’s best craft shows. With so many artisans in town and retail stores fully decked out for the holidays, shopping opportunities abound along the Parkway and beyond. Set aside a full day for shopping, trolley tours, and more — you’ll never struggle to find something fun to do in Gatlinburg.
Welcome a New Season With the Winter Magic Kickoff & Cookoff
Location: Downtown Gatlinburg
Date: November 7
If the shorter days and cooler weather have you feeling dreary, lighten up your life with the kickoff of the holiday season in Gatlinburg. This annual event includes a ceremonial lighting conducted by city dignitaries. Gaze in awe as the city goes from dark to brilliantly lit in a matter of seconds.
It’s always fun to see millions of glowing lights in the heart of Gatlinburg, but for most people, the real attraction at the Winter Magic Kickoff is the chili cookoff. It doesn’t matter if you favor super spicy recipes or avoid all but the mildest options; you’ll never struggle to find something to suit your personal palate. Tasting tickets cost a mere $10 — a great deal given the numerous chili recipes you’re able to sample.
Celebrate the Final Days of Autumn at the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival
Location: Parkway, Gatlinburg
Dates: September 7-November 25
Enjoy the last few weeks of the harvest season in Gatlinburg before holiday decorations take over. The annual Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival extends until Thanksgiving, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to embrace the autumn whimsy visible all along the Parkway. During this beloved festival, the area’s finest businesses celebrate the harvest season with gorgeous decor. Plan to spend a full afternoon strolling and shopping — you’ll inevitably want to stop in every fall-themed store you encounter. Pose for photos alongside the event’s 3D scarecrows, which bring a cheery vibe to the Parkway.
Pay Homage to Men and Women in Uniform During Gatlinburg’s Veterans Day Celebration
Location: Anakeesta Plaza
Date: November 11
Head to the beautiful plaza at Anakeesta for a celebration that will simultaneously stir up feelings of patriotism and nostalgia. Free and open to the public, this cherished event is designed to honor not only those who have served in the past, but those who continue to make sacrifices on behalf of our great nation. Enjoy inspiring words and patriotic music as you pay homage to America’s veterans.
Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show: A Relaxed Shopping Experience
Location: Gatlinburg Convention Center
Date: November 20-25
Do you find Christmas shopping season stressful? You’re certainly not alone. Thankfully, alternate options abound in Gatlinburg and throughout the Smoky Mountains region. This year, you can ditch the crazy lines and early hours of Black Friday shopping and opt for something a little more relaxed — and a lot more unique.
During the annual Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show, you can browse stunning creations from the region’s most impressive artisans. Better yet, you’ll see these amazing works of art crafted before your very eyes. You’ll be amazed by the range of creations possible with a few simple tools and techniques passed down through multiple generations.
The Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show allows you to get a head start on holiday shopping, and to support the local arts and crafts community. You’ll depart not only with several unique gifts for your friends and family, but also with the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from buying local. Arrive early; the show opens at 10 am but can get crowded quickly on weekends. It closes at 5 pm most days, but wraps up at 4 pm on Sunday.
Continued Holiday Shopping at the Great Smoky Christmas Arts & Crafts Show
Location: Gatlinburg Convention Center
Dates: November 26-December 2
Can’t make it to the Great Smoky Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show? No worries — opportunities abound for checking out the crafting community’s most impressive creations. Similar to the Thanksgiving event, the Christmas edition of the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Show allows you to check off all kinds of items on your holiday shopping list. Unlike your typical holiday shopping extravaganza, however, this show is far from stressful. Browse at your own pace and make the most of this uniquely leisurely shopping experience. Like the Thanksgiving version, the show extends from 10 am to 5 pm most days.
Winter Smoky Mountain Tunes & Tales: Holiday Fun With Frosty and Rudolph
Location: Gatlinburg Parkway
Dates: November 23-December 22
If you’ve ever hit the Parkway on a Saturday evening in the summer, you’ve probably enjoyed musical performances from Gatlinburg’s beloved Tunes & Tales. Thank goodness the musical fun isn’t limited to the summer season! The winter edition delivers not only catchy tunes, but also a cheery atmosphere.
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving and continuing every weekend until Christmas, this family-friendly event is staged against the Parkway’s spectacular backdrop of lights. Sing along to your favorite holiday tunes — with a distinctively Appalachian flavor — as you stroll through the city’s downtown district. Along the way, you and your loved ones will enjoy plenty of opportunities for posing alongside your favorite costumed characters, including Santa’s elves, Frosty the Snowman, and, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Dazzling and Relaxing: Gatlinburg’s Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights
Location: Gatlinburg Parkway
Dates: November 7-January 26
Gatlinburg’s Parkway is always an inviting place, but it looks particularly beautiful when lined with glowing lights during the holiday season. You can enjoy these lights while shopping at your favorite local stores, but there’s something special about taking them in while riding a trolley. Of course, trolley-based viewing is also a lot more comfortable. Why endure the cold when you can relax in a heated, enclosed trolley alongside loved ones?
During the Winter Magic Trolley Ride of Lights, you’ll observe several magnificent displays from the comfort of your trolley seat. Keep an eye out for the rocking horse, the snowmen, and the many woodland creatures native to the Smoky Mountains. The trolley departs three times every evening, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day: 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 pm. With so much to see, you just might want to take this trolley tour twice!
Fantasy of Lights Parade: Witness One of Gatlinburg’s Most Beloved Holiday Traditions
Location: Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway to Downtown Gatlinburg
Date: December 7
A well-regarded holiday tradition for over four decades, the annual Fantasy of Lights Parade begins at Baskins Creek Bypass on East Parkway and ends at traffic light #10. Tradition is evident throughout the entirety of the parade, but creative new displays keep it fresh. From classic cars decked out in holiday lights to spirited marching bands, this annual event offers something for everyone. The fun begins at 7:30 pm, but attendees typically begin to gather near the parade route well in advance. Don’t be afraid to dress up in your Santa hat or other festive garb; dressing the part is half the fun.
New Year’s Eve Ball Drop & Fireworks: The Ultimate Gatlinburg Countdown and Celebration
Location: Space Needle, Gatlinburg
Date: December 31-January 1
Ring in the New Year in style with a celebration unlike any other. For Gatlinburg’s take on New Year’s Eve, attendees gather at the base of the Space Needle, where the Historic Nature Trail and Parkway intersect. Rhythmic LED lights add an extra visual dimension to an already spectacular show. A wonderful fireworks display follows the countdown. Arrive early to get a good spot; this annual event attracts over 50,000 attendees.