Holiday visitors walk amid lighted, towering trees at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Photo: Atlanta Botanical Garden

WHICH IS MORE FRIGHTFUL: the weather outside or the prospect of being cooped up indoors during the holidays?

We have an antidote for either — extravagant, complex and spirit-lifting light displays that run the gamut from bulbs amid the pines to choreographed, multimedia presentations.

Whether free or ticketed, these shows often include on-site food-and-beverage vendors, costumed mascots, gift shops and diversions like ice skating rinks to keep you and your credit/debit cards as busy as Santa’s elves on Christmas Eve.

First, take our tour, arranged alphabetically:

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Garden Lights, Holiday Nights. USA Today and Forbes magazine have praised this show, now in its fifth year, as one of the Top 10 in the nation. What’s new: “Tunnel of Light,” a 100-foot-long, 8-foot-tall arc that ushers visitors toward the glittering Cascades Garden of ferns and the connecting Canopy Bridge. Many favorite displays return, too. Adult beverages available at the Outdoor Kitchen, where guests can dance to whatever a DJ spins and scorch s’mores over an open fire pit. Plus pony rides, face-painting, model train and race car exhibits, and photo booths.

If you go: Through Jan. 9. $17-$26 plus tax. 1345 Piedmont Ave. N.E. 404.876.5859. Details HERE.

Atlantic Station

It’s snowing amid the light and happy faces at Atlantic Station’s annual tree lighting. Photo: Liana Moran/The Wilbert Group
It’s snowing amid the light and happy faces at Atlantic Station’s annual tree lighting. Photo: Liana Moran/The Wilbert Group

Holidays All the Way. At this live-work-play-shop complex near Georgia Tech, you can plow through a field of faux snowflakes at Central Park or take part in a Christmas Eve prayer vigil for all faiths at the Midtown Bridge Church. Atlantic Station’s holiday tree overlooks a 10,000-sq. ft. ice rink. Photo ops with Santa end Christmas Eve.

If you go: Through Dec. 24. Free. 1800 Atlantic Drive. 404.733.1221. Details HERE.

Callaway Gardens

Fantasy in Lights. One hour. Seven miles. Eight million lights. Stay in your car or ride the free Jolly Trolley for a light show big enough to stretch from North Georgia to the Maryland shore. Bright and bold bulbs mold into such shape-shifting scenes as “The 12 Days of Christmas” and “Santa’s Workshop,” accompanied by recorded music and narration. A bonus: a free detour onto neighboring Robin Lake Beach to see 10-minute depictions of “The Nativity” and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in sound-sequenced light displays. Souvenir shopping and dining available in the Christmas Village.

If you go: Through Jan. 2. Shows start at 6 p.m. $9.50-$28. Packages available if you stay at the resort. 17800 U.S. 27, Pine Mountain. 800.852.3810. Details at

Centennial Olympic Park

The 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park is festooned with thousands of twinkling lights and a huge Christmas tree. Photo: Red Robin Group
The 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park is festooned with thousands of twinkling lights and a huge Christmas tree. Photo: Red Robin Group

Holiday in Lights. This 21-acre oasis in downtown Atlanta features an ice rink where revelers of all ages scoot around a tented oval to the sounds of holiday and pop music. Strolling beneath the park’s starry-light decorations is free. Skaters can bring their own blades or rent them. Bring patience, too, lines can be long. On-site vendors sell refreshments.

If you go: Through Jan. 10. Park closes at 11 p.m. Free. 265 Park Ave. West. 404.222.7275. Details HERE.

Lake Lanier Islands 

Magical Nights of Lights. This northeast Georgia retreat hosts an annual, slow-roll trip that can be pretty pricey. Drive through such vividly lit vignettes as a live-action Nativity scene, with actors surrounded by real camels and other manger livestock. This trek entails a thin, oval, up-and-back route along Santa Claus Lane with static light-and-sound displays — perfect for vehicles with up to nine people (the maximum allowed) to converse or coax youngsters into sleep. Viewers will pass scenes like “The 12 Days of Christmas,” bridges blanketed by snow or homemade quilts, and flamingos posing under palm trees. Visitors are then invited to shop, dine, roast marshmallows, frolic with ponies or take carnival rides (all have additional fees).

If you go: Through Jan. 3. 5-10 nightly. $10-$28. 7000 Lanier Islands Parkway, Buford. 770.945.8787 or 800.840.5253. Details HERE.

Life University

Lights of Life. Since 1989, this college of chiropractic has been adjusting a light display that twists and turns 1.5 miles around the campus. Trees as tall as 60 feet glow from tip to trunk in breathtaking groupings. Hanukkah is observed with a towering menorah and surround sound that explains its significance. Another highlight: ”Santa and His Sleigh,” a colossal display spanning 65 feet. Also available on-site: a petting zoo, pony and train rides, and concessions.

If you go: Nov. 26-Dec. 31. 6-10 p.m. $10 per car. 1269 Barclay Circle, Marietta. 770.426.2600. Details HERE.

Stone Mountain Park

The Snow Angel at Stone Mountain Park.
The Snow Angel at Stone Mountain Park.

Stone Mountain Christmas. The marvels of more than 2 million lights flow down and illuminate the base of the popular rock formation. The display includes five interactive shows, including the “Holly Jolly Cabaret,” “The Gift Train” and “Toyrific!” Visitors stroll the park’s Wonderland Walkway, accompanied by holiday music, and finish with the “Snow Palace” spectacle of light and fireworks at Memorial Hall. Other attractions: a nightly Christmas parade, story time with Mrs. Claus, photo ops with Santa, gift shops and on-site food vendors. Inner-tubing on Snow Mountain and staged shows cost extra.

If you go: Through Jan. 3. Park entry is $15 per day, $40 per year per vehicle. Admission is free with an Adventure Pass per person ($19.95-$24.95 plus tax). 1000 Robert E. Lee Blvd., Stone Mountain. 800.401.2407. Details HERE.

About A. Scott Walton

A.  Scott Walton has for decades immersed himself in the sports, entertainment, travel, lifestyle and fashion worlds. Besides writing for Encore Atlanta, he writes extensively for major print and digital publications nationwide. Scott was born in South Bend, Ind., educated at Vanderbilt University and, for 15 years, covered every aspect of life for readers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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