Take a trip to lights fantastic

Whether it's tasteful, wreath-lined streets, or homes lit up like Chevy Chase's in "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," the Charlotte area isn't lacking in holiday sparkle.

In fact, the city and its suburbs boast some of the biggest light displays anywhere.

Here are a few that may be worth the trek.

Carolina Christmas

Charlotte Motor Speedway may technically be dark until NASCAR season revs up again, but there will be plenty of light in and around the Concord venue - more than 3 million LED lights, in fact.

The winding road from the entrance (at adjacent zMAX Dragway) to the speedway is lined with dozens of ornate displays. Once inside the speedway, drivers get a brief opportunity to put the pedal to the metal (within reason) on the track before slowing down for more light displays.

Before exiting, visitors can make a pit stop at the Christmas Village, which includes pony rides, a small amusement park, a Bethlehem village and live nativity, an arts and crafts sale, fair foods, Santa and more.

The Boulevard of Lights is open 6 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 31 (excluding Christmas Day). The Christmas Village is open Thursday through Sunday.

Cost: $20 per car (maximum 8 passengers), $50 per van and $175 for buses.

Details: www.visitcarolinachristmas .com .

Christmas Town, USA

For 56 years, the tiny town of McAdenville in Gaston County has transformed into a twinkling Christmas village for 26 days out of the year. What started with a handful of trees has grown to include over 375 trees (all live), 200 wreaths and numerous other electrified decorations.

The heart of the lights display surrounds the lake at the center of town, where the effect is doubled by the reflection in the water. What's more, you can walk or drive the two-mile path of holiday cheer.

This year, McAdenville introduces the Inaugural Christmas Town Festival. Santa will be there each night from 6 to 9 p.m. Free hot chocolate and kettle corn will be served to the first 1,000 attendees each evening. The festival also includes live music from community schools and churches on Dec. 3 and 10, respectively, as well as a live nativity on Dec. 17.

Cost: Free.

Details: www.mcadenville-christmastown.com.

Holiday Lights

at the Garden

The Biltmore Estate may get the most buzz for its striking Christmas décor, but the Charlotte area has its own spectacular gardens gussied up for the holidays.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens (6500 S. New Hope Road, Belmont) adds to the natural beauty of plants, flowers and trees along the banks of Lake Wylie with a festive lights display. Other attractions include model train displays, carriage rides, Christmas crafts, caroling, hot chocolate, music, shopping and a 16-foot orchid tree that's become a favorite among patrons.

Open 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday (excluding Christmas Day), through Dec. 31. Special events include Santa's Workshop on Saturdays through Dec. 17 and Holiday Tea on Dec. 4 and 11.

Cost: $12; $11 for seniors and $6 for kids 4 to 12. Carriage rides are available, Thursday through Sunday, for an additional $4.50-$6.50.

Details: www.dsbg.org.

A Kannapolis Christmas

The Kannapolis Christmas Festival kicks off the city's fourth annual Celebration of Lights Saturday with a carnival that includes live entertainment (including singing bears!), craft vendors, a gingerbread house-making contest, Santa, fireworks and the annual tree lighting ceremony at downtown's Village Park (700 West C. St.).

Saturday's festival begins at 2 p.m. and signals the start of the city's holiday lights display, which also is set in Village Park and runs through Dec. 31 (excluding Dec. 24-25). The Winterland Express offers train rides through the park, where passengers can view the 175,000 lights that line buildings, form arches and encircle trees.

The lights display and Santa's studio are open at 6 nightly. The singing bears perform nightly at 6, 7, 8 and 9.

Cost: Train rides are $2. Saturday's kick-off event is free, although there is a charge for carnival rides and traditional holiday treats.

Details: 704-920-4343; www.kannapolischristmas .com .