Christmas in Florida is filled with unique venues, quirky decorations, and exciting towns. I’ve experienced small-town Christmas celebrations, parades, boat parades, and more. Each year, I 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 at any time of the year. However, 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, and along the public spaces, hotels, restaurants, inns, bay-front 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 when the Lake Dora Waterfront gets lit up for Light Up Mount Dora.
The Christmas boat parade is a spectacular event and not to be missed! Mount Dora’s Lighted 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 Enchant, presented by the Hallmark Channel. Home to the Tampa Bay Rays, Tropicana Field transforms into a breathtaking magical display of lights. You’ll be blown away by the Christmas Light Maze and 100-foot Christmas 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.
Shop Hallmark gifts and wine at the Hallmark Channel Holiday House. This is also where you drop off your maze passport to be entered to win a visit to a Hallmark Channel movie set.
Pro Tip: If you plan to stay overnight in St. Petersburg, make reservations early. There are some wonderful nearby towns. 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.
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 build your own gingerbread house.
Give Kids The World Village in Kissimmee is an 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. It also puts on a fabulous Christmas light extravaganza.
This year, Give Kids The World Village’s Night of a Million Lights takes place at Island H2O Water Park. In addition to Dazzling Lightscapes, there’s live entertainment, a giant snow globe, plus holiday arts, crafts, and letters to Santa for the kiddos. Make a s’more in the winter wonderland and wash it down with a hot cocoa. This magical sight and sound experience is not to be missed when in the Orlando or Kissimmee area.
The Stetson Mansion is located in the small Central Florida town of DeLand. Known as the “House That Hats Built” is a beautiful estate to tour any time of the year. During the mansion’s annual Christmas Spectacular! 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. 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: Reservations are required to tour the mansion, whether you choose the self-guided or guided version.
8. Fort Lauderdale
It’s exhilarating to watch 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 Seminole Hard Rock 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.
Over a million spectators are expected to attend as The Winterfest Boat Parade 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.
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 season.