Everything You Must Do in Charlotte This Winter

To help navigate the onset of winter in the Queen City, it helps to have a game plan. Start out the season with some holiday cheer as you marvel at the five-million-strong light display of WinterFest before running into 2020 (literally) during the New Year’s Eve Trail Race. As the new decade hits, save time for visits from Oprah and Diana Ross as you make your way between local donut and wine festivals. Before you know it, it’ll be time for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. So grab a cup of something hot and hit the streets. Here’s everything you need to do in Charlotte this winter.

Dance with the Sugar Plum Fairy during Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker

Now through December 23 
Belk Theater 
Nothing says “the holidays are here” quite like The Nutcracker. Get into the spirit as Charlotte Ballet brings snow, gifts and sweets to Belk Theater. From the costumes and sets to the Charlotte Symphony bringing the music of Tchaikovsky to life, it’s a holiday classic for the whole family.  
Cost: $25-$150

Get lost in a winter wonderland of five million lights at WinterFest

Now through December 31
If you love the holidays, WinterFest is your jam. From performers to delicious desserts, you will feel like you are visiting the North Pole (rather than the border of North and South Carolina.) Make sure you check out the 70-foot tree and the eye-popping display of five million lights. 
Cost: $26 and up

Skate surrounded by skyscrapers during Holiday on Ice

Now through January 5
NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza 
Lace up your ice skates and dream of the Olympics (or just not accidentally bowling over anyone else on the ice.) Whatever your goals, make ice skating a holiday tradition at Charlotte’s only outdoor ice skating rink in the heart of Uptown. 
Cost: $12 admission (or $16 with skate rental)

See the light at the Whitewater Center

Now through February 16
U.S. National Whitewater Center
You may not think of 1,300+ acres of woodlands as a space to find art. Yet that is exactly what you will find at the Whitewater Center this season. Lights is a half-mile walking trail that will blow your mind, with Charlotte artist Meredith Connelly creating light installations that range from honeycombs to vines to crystals and more. Whether you are taking the family or looking for a cute date idea, go see the light! The Whitewater Center is also sporting a new 17,000-square-foot ice skating rink this winter, complete with hot chocolate and beer served inside of an on-ice Airstream.
Cost: Lights free; skating $20 (includes skate rental) 

Catch a holiday show for those who don’t like holiday shows

December 20-21 
McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square 
Quentin Talley created A Soulful Noel for the people who don’t like traditional Christmas shows. The OnQ Productions founder chronicles the black experience (including the holidays) but rather than getting caught up in the general madness of this time of year, it’s just good music that happens to have a holiday theme. 
Cost: $25

Fly high for the holidays with Cirque de Noel

December 28
Belk Theater 
What happens when the symphony meets the circus? An unforgettable evening with the Charlotte Symphony called Cirque de Noel. Taking place the weekend before New Year’s, this is pretty much the perfect holiday evening. 
Cost: $69-$323

Finish the year with football as the Panthers take on the Saints

December 29 
Bank of America Stadium 
One of Charlotte’s many perks comes in the form of its own NFL team. Sure, the Carolina Panthers are not very good right now, but look on the bright side: tickets are cheaper as a result. Close out the year with the team’s regular season finale against the division rival New Orleans Saints. 
Cost: Tickets start at $42 

Bow out of 2019 in bowl fashion at the Belk Bowl

December 31
Bank of America Stadium 
Start New Year’s Eve off with football. A noon kickoff gives you plenty of time to enjoy an epic ACC versus SEC battle as Kentucky takes on Virginia Tech before you ring in 2020 later that night. 
Cost: Tickets start at $36 

Run into 2020 during the New Year’s Eve Trail Race

December 31
U.S. National Whitewater Center 
If you have always dreamed of running into the new year, the New Year’s Eve Trail Race was made just for you. At 11:45pm, you and fellow avid runners will begin either a 5K or a 10K to wrap up 2019 and dive into 2020. Note that headlamps are required. Cool, right?
Cost: $32-$42

Celebrate Dr. King’s legacy across Uptown

January 18 
Various locations
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is remembered each year in Charlotte through a number of events, from a memorial service to a basketball showcase to a parade through Uptown. Local community organizations, marching bands, drill and step teams honor the memory of Dr. King at this great event for the whole family.  
Cost: Free (admission fee required for basketball showcase)

See your life in 2020 vision as Oprah comes to Charlotte 

January 18 
Spectrum Center 
Oprah Winfrey’s first national arena tour in five years includes a stop in Charlotte for Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus. It’s Oprah. What else do you need to know?
Cost: Tickets start at $85 

Wear waterproof makeup to the opera for La Boheme

January 18-25
Belk Theater 
If you love the Broadway production of Rent, you will love La Boheme, the opera from which Jonathan Larson drew his inspiration. Centering around starving artists struggling with tuberculosis in the 19th century, it’s both tragic and magnificent. Bring tissues. Dress up. Go on a fancy date. And wear waterproof makeup. 
Cost: Tickets start at $22

Fall in love all over again during a performance of My Fair Lady

January 21-26
Ovens Auditorium 
Whether you grew up on the musical or this is your first time seeing it, you will fall in love with this Cinderella story. Prepare to laugh, cry, and feel like you could have danced all night. 
Cost: Tickets start at $25

Immerse yourself in art at Innovative Works: Beyond the Mint

January 24-February 15
Center for Dance 
Charlotte Ballet and The Mint Museum are about to show you what happens when you combine art forms. Choreographers Duane Cyrus and Christopher Stuart, as well as company dancer Chelsea Dumas, will create works inspired by the Mint’s current exhibit Immersed in Light: Studio Drift at the Mint to kick off 2020 with their performance of Innovative Works: Beyond the Mint. 
Cost: Tickets start at $27

Dig into donuts at the CLT Donut Festival

February 23
Norfolk Hall 
Donut lovers, unite! Try sweets from local bakeries, but do not stop there. Sip coffee, juice and more while you shop local vendors and listen to live music to complete the experience. Then go back for another donut. And another. Starting to see a pattern here? VIP tickets also include craft beer and/or spiked cider.
Cost: $20-$35

Experience the glory of the CIAA Basketball Tournament

February 25-29 
Bojangles’ Coliseum & Spectrum Center 
Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association), the nation’s first African American athletic conference -- which competes at the NCAA Division II level and is the only Division II conference to play its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in an NBA arena. When you are at the CI, you are family. Experience the final year before the tournament heads up to Baltimore.  
Cost: Tickets for the entire tournament start at $150 

Pop the cork for a good cause at Uncorked: Charlotte Wine Festival

February 29
Discovery Place Science
If you love wine, this night was made for you. Try 100 different wines from all over the globe with gourmet food vendors, a photo booth, interactive exhibits and more. The event benefits local community nonprofit Kids-N-Technology.
Cost: $60-$90

Celebrate a living legend as Diana Ross comes to town

February 29
Belk Theater 
It’s called Diamond Diana: 75th Birthday Celebration. Can you imagine a better way to celebrate an icon? Yes, we are talking about Diana Ross. And yes, you should be there.
Cost: Tickets start at $35 

Run around Uptown during the Corporate Cup

March 7
Starts at the corner of MLK Boulevard & Tryon Street
Run around Uptown in the 41st annual Corporate Cup 5K, Half Marathon and Relay to kick off the YMCA 2020 Race Series. Help raise money in the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s largest road race, with more than 3,000 runners hitting the road in the 2019 edition. Well, what are you waiting for? Lace up your shoes and get moving! 
Cost: $30-$90

Feel the luck of the Irish at the Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade

March 14
Various locations 
Get ready for the 24th annual Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Charlotte Goes Green Festival to take over Uptown. Wear all the green you’ve got and get ready for the sound of bagpipes, Irish dancers and plenty of food and beverages. The parade kicks off at North Tryon and 9th Streets, with the festival located on South Tryon Street between 3rd and Stonewall Streets.
Cost: Free 

Heed the call of a new season at the Green River Revival

March 14
U.S. National Whitewater Center 
Bundling up for winter worked for December, but now it’s time to prepare for spring with the Green River Revival. Whether you want to run the Color Me Green 5K, practice yoga, listen to live music while rafting down the river, play around with any of the other regularly offered activities, or see the water turn emerald green, being outside is enticement enough to attend this event. 
Cost: Free to attend the festival; fees vary per event

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Ashley Mahoney is a Thrillist contributor.