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The holiday season is one of the best times to visit the Smoky Mountains. From millions of twinkling lights to festivals and parades, it’s easy to get into the Christmas spirit when you’re here! We know the holidays can be hard on the budget, though, which is why we want to help you enjoy an affordable holiday getaway to the Smokies. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to have fun this Christmas! Here are 9 free things to do in the Smoky Mountains for Christmas!
1. Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights
One of the best things to do in the Smoky Mountains for Christmas is enjoy the Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights. It’s just a bonus that the activity is completely free! During the holiday season, the Pigeon Forge Parkway is lined with more than 5 million twinkling lights. Hop in the car and take a drive down the Parkway to see bears, deer, fox and other Smoky Mountain animals, along with giant ornaments, fairytale characters and more. There’s even a 60-foot-tall tree with colorful lights, ornaments and ribbons! Take the Parkway all the way into Gatlinburg for more holiday lights and decorations.
2. Watch the Gatlinburg Christmas Parade
Every year, the City of Gatlinburg hosts its Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade for everyone in the Smoky Mountains to enjoy. The parade features floats decorated with one-of-a-kind displays of LED lights, marching bands, large balloons, dancers and holiday characters. It’s free to watch the parade, but make sure to get there early to grab a good viewing spot along the Parkway! The parade typically begins about 7:30 p.m.
3. Explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
One of our favorite free things to do in the Smoky Mountains is explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and if you don’t mind the cooler weather, Christmas is a perfect time to visit! Although it’s still busy, crowds aren’t as heavy as the summer months, so you won’t have to worry as much about busy hiking trails and finding a parking spot. You can explore from the warmth of your car along the Cades Cove Loop Road, or go for a hike for the chance to see frozen waterfalls, icicles and snow-covered mountains.
4. Visit The Island
The Island puts on an incredible Winterfest celebration! There are millions of Christmas lights, custom decorations, and holiday entertainment. There are plenty of photo ops, including a decorated tree you can walk under! Visitors love relaxing around the Island Show Fountain to watch an incredible performance of water dance and light, listening to holiday music, or window shopping! If you don’t mind spending a little money, don’t miss the chance to take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, which offers gorgeous views of all the holiday lights.
5. Go Window Shopping in Downtown Gatlinburg
Window shopping is fun when you visit downtown Gatlinburg during the holidays! All of the storefronts and shops are decorated for the Christmas season. We recommend walking through The Village in Gatlinburg to see all the gorgeous holiday decorations! A stroll along the Gatlinburg Parkway will allow you to take in the sights and sounds of the Christmas season without spending a dime.
6. Visit the Apple Barn
The Apple Barn is one of the most popular places to visit in the Smoky Mountains all year round, and the Christmas season is definitely no exception. This spot is even more beautiful when it’s decorated for Christmas, and you can even sample some cider for free! The Apple Barn Cider House offers free samples of their hard ciders that are crafted on site. You can also sample wine at the Apple Barn Winery, or look at all the holiday items at the Christmas & Candle Shoppe! We have to warn you, though — it’s hard to resist buying something to take back home with you when you visit!
7. See The Old Mill
Old Mill Square is another area that’s beautiful to explore when you visit the Smoky Mountains for Christmas. There are shops and restaurants you can browse while you’re here, but simply taking in the sight of The Old Mill itself is worth the trip. The Old Mill is one of the oldest continually operating grist mills in the country, and it’s one of the most photographed mills as well! It’s even prettier during holidays!
8. Attend the Great Smoky Christmas Arts & Crafts Show
If you love arts and crafts, then you don’t want to miss the Great Smoky Christmas Arts & Crafts show! This holiday event runs through the first week of December and features dozens of booths with unique handcrafted gifts. All of the items are made by local artisans in the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. It’s free to look at all the items at the show, but you can purchase a gift or two to take back home with you!
9. Tour a Distillery
Another one of the best free things to do in the Smoky Mountains is tour a distillery. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are home to some of the most popular moonshine distilleries! Most of the distilleries are decorated for the holidays, and some offer special holiday flavors you can try. Sampling moonshine typically costs about $5, but you can put that $5 toward any purchase you make in the distillery! Both Ole Smoky and Sugarlands offer an eggnog-flavored moonshine, but you’ll be able to find other seasonal flavors as well. Old Forge Distillery typically turns their bar into a “whiskey wonderland” with holiday decor and a seasonal drink menu with drinks like French Toast Cider.
More Things to Do in the Smoky Mountains for Christmas
Now that you know about all the free things to do in the Smoky Mountains for Christmas, we bet you can’t wait to plan your trip for the holiday season! Learn about more fun things to do in the area, then come celebrate the holidays with us!