Christmas in Florida is filled with unique venues, quirky decorations, and exciting towns. We’ve experienced small-town Christmas celebrations, parades, boat parades, and more. Each year, we try to find at least one more quirky or fun Christmas spot to add to our list.
Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce sponsored my visit. All opinions are my own.
1. St. Augustine
Nights of Lights in St. Augustine is superb! As you stroll the historic streets where decades of history have taken place surrounded by millions of tiny twinkling white lights, the magic of the ancient city stirs your soul. Set against the backdrop of the harbor and the Bridge of Lions, St. Augustine is a special place any time of the year. But at Christmas, the city is magical!
America’s Oldest City is a fantastic destination any time of the year, but it is even more so at Christmas. There is something just awe-inspiring about walking the historic brick-paved streets as thousands have done before you. There is a unique tinge of romance in the air during the Christmas season.
The lights are draped on the trees, over the Bridge of Lions, along the public spaces, hotels, restaurants, inns, bayfront buildings, and rooftops. A great way to truly experience the magic of St. Augustine during Nights of Lights is with a nighttime tour.
You can tour by land or sea, with trolleys, boats, party boats, and carriages. Another great way to experience Nights of Lights is with The Tasting Tours’ unique themed tours, or take a romantic carriage ride through the city as you sip a delightful bottle of wine and hold hands.
Pro Tip: Parking is difficult during Nights of Lights, and there is a free shuttle service to take you into the historic district.
2. Mount Dora
Head into the heart of Central Florida for Christmas in Mount Dora. Less than an hour from Orlando, Mount Dora is snuggled on the shores of Lake Dora and is one of those Florida towns filled with old-fashioned hospitality and historic downtown.
Specialty stores and boutiques line the streets of downtown, and you’re sure to find that perfect item you didn’t think you needed but can’t live without.
Christmas in Mount Dora is a step back in time and nostalgic. The Christmas holiday merrymaking kicks off the weekend after Thanksgiving. Millions of lights are draped across downtown, its historic homes, and Donnelly Park. The official Christmas tree on Main Street comes to life with twinkling lights, music, and decorations.
The Christmas boat parade is a spectacular event and not to be missed! Taking place on December 4, 2021, the boat parade boasts all types and styles of boats, all lit up as they cruise the waterfront lake.
3. St. Petersburg
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, you’ll find St. Petersburg, a perfect place to visit any time of the year, but at Christmas, the city shines!
The best St. Petersburg light display is at Tropicana Field, Enchant Christmas, Nights of Wonder. The stadium is the home to the Tampa Bay Rays, but it transforms into a breathtaking magical display of lights during Christmas.
Enchant Christmas 2021 theme is the Mischievous Elf and is the opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves into the story of Eddie the Elf.
You see, Eddie has misplaced some very special and important gifts, and he needs your help to find them within the fantastic lights of the North Pole.
As you search for the misplaced gifts, you’ll be blown away by the 100-foot animated tree, discover the ice skating trail, and along the way, snap a photo or two with Santa, and indulge in a sip and treats too.
Pro Tip: If you plan to stay overnight in St. Petersburg, make reservations early. There are some wonderful nearby towns, and Dunedin and Clearwater are just a short distance away and perfect for a holiday getaway.
4. Daytona Beach
Daytona’s reputation as the World’s Most Famous Beach does not stop at Christmas. Daytona seems to put the foot to the gas pedal during the holiday season, and things are definitely in high gear.
First up is Magic of Lights at the Daytona International Speedway. Imagine taking a slow 1.5-mile drive through millions of sparkling, twinkling lights. The unique Tunnel of Lights will leave you breathless. But that’s not all! You’ll find a 200-foot Snowflake Forest and Candy Lane.
Pro Tip: This is an ideal activity for the entire family. Be sure to grab an early bite to eat and hit the Speedway at dusk.
5. Ormond Beach
A short distance from Daytona Beach, in Ormond Beach, is where your Christmas gingerbread fantasy comes to life! Rose Villa, built as a bed and breakfast in the 1800s, is a favorite dining spot for locals and visitors alike.
During Christmas, this Victorian home transforms into a spectacular gingerbread house. Stop and take a selfie in front of Rose Villa, and slake your hunger and thirst with some gingerbread snacks and signature cocktails. For aspiring artists, Rose Villa offers an opportunity to build your own gingerbread house with family and friends.
Pro Tip: Make reservations for lunch or dinner and maybe you’ll build your own gingerbread house.
Ground zero for a fabulous Christmas light extravaganza is Give Kids The World Village in Kissimmee. The village is a whimsical 89-acre nonprofit resort that offers week-long, zero-cost wish vacations for critically ill children and their families across the globe who want to visit Central Florida.
Give Kids The World Village transforms itself into a magical winter wonderland for Christmas! You are immersed in a spectacularly decorated fairytale neighborhood during the Give Kids The World Village Night of a Million Lights.
Each house has been carefully draped in hundreds of colorful twinkling lights, and the yards meticulously decorated with larger-than-life holiday displays.
Night of a Million Lights features a 360-degree dancing lights show, a brilliant tree trial, and several selfie spots where you can step into a holiday frame or stand in front of a backdrop for the perfect Christmas selfie.
Plan a visit to the holiday market, or take the holiday tram through the village. This magical sight and sound experience is not to be missed when in the Orlando or Kissimmee area.
The Stetson Mansion, known as the “House That Hats Built” is a beautiful estate to tour any time of the year. At Christmas, the mansion is spectacular, and the decorations are over-the-top and not to be missed!
The mansion itself is eclectic, with various details incorporated into its design, including cottage, Tudor, Gothic, Moorish, and Polynesian. The use of the design aspects makes the mansion a stunning example of Victorian architecture.
The Stetson home, just under 10,000 square feet, is a scaled-down version of what John Stetson originally envisioned for his winter home, and it sits on 2 acres. The mansion is Florida’s first luxury home, built in 1886.
The Stetsons entertained on a grand scale. Among the notable friends of the Stetsons were the Astors, Mellons, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, President Grover Cleveland, and of course, Henry Flagler.
Today the home is privately owned and has been entirely renovated by the current owners, who reside in the house. Rather than keep this extraordinary gem to themselves, they have opened the Stetson mansion for the enjoyment of the public.
The mansion transforms itself for the Christmas season. JT Thompson, one of the current owners, oversees the home’s transformation into a dramatic and dazzling Christmas extravaganza. Each element in each of the rooms is meticulously curated to tell a story.
Pro Tip: Make reservations to tour the mansion. All tours for 2021 are self-guided and include room descriptions that are sent to your cell phone in advance of the tour.
8. Christmas Boat Parades
It’s exhilarating watching a slow parade of boats, all decked out in twinkling lights and decorations, make their way down any waterway. The lights reflecting off the water, Santa and his elves waving … for water lovers across the globe, the holidays signal the time-honored tradition of a Christmas boat parade!
In Florida, the mack daddy of all Christmas boat parades is in Fort Lauderdale. Appropriately named the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale has almost as many waterways as it does roads.
The Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade draws all types and categories of watercraft, from small private boats to mega-yachts. Some vessels will have music, lights, entertainment, decorations, musical groups, and celebrities.
This year, the Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade’s route begins at the Stranahan House, then heads east down the New River to the Intracoastal Waterway. From there, it heads north to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach.
Pro Tip: Drawbridges close to traffic for hours to allow boats to pass. If you need to cross a bridge, you need a plan. Also, this year’s event is estimated to have over one million spectators.
With so many choices of fantastic Christmas light displays throughout the Sunshine State, you’ll find yourself returning year after year to celebrate the holidays with a tropical vibe. Florida is a fabulous destination choice for multigenerational families who are looking for options for the entire family during the Christmas holiday season.