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Where to celebrate the holidays in Old Florida: Best Christmas light displays

Last updated on December 26th, 2021 at 11:21 am

Mount Dora, St. Augustine and Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park work to offer the best Christmas lights in Florida

Best holiday lights in Florida: Lightner Museum decorated during St. Augustine Nights of Lights (Photo courtesy FloridasHistoricCoast.com.)
Lightner Museum decorated during St. Augustine Nights of Lights. (Photo courtesy FloridasHistoricCoast.com.)

It’s a shame the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are so full of shopping and events, because this is a terrific time to enjoy Florida’s natural beauty.

One way to squeeze in a weekend is to combine the outing with your holiday celebrations. These three spots are also excellent places to hike, kayak, bicycle and explore Florida historic sites.

Sure, every community has decorations and parades, but these three destinations go all out to have the best holiday lights in Florida in a charming non-commercial setting. 

Mount Dora Christmas lights are centered around Donnelly Park, a well-used park in the middle of the downtown entertainment and shopping district. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Mount Dora Christmas lights are centered around Donnelly Park, a well-used park in the middle of the downtown entertainment and shopping district. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Mount Dora Christmas Lights Festival

Mount Dora is always having a weekend festival. (Here’s our guide to Mount Dora and its special events.) But the city’s Christmas lights festival lasts for a month and includes a wide variety of events.

Mount Dora decorates with three million lights. They flip the switch during the Thanksgiving weekend, although in 2021, there will be no “Light Up” event celebrating that moment.

The center of the Christmas lights is downtown Donnelly Park, but there are lights throughout the town, including around the Christmas tree in Sunset Park. There’s a fun lights exhibit (with moving displays) around the marina and boating center.

On Thanksgiving weekend 2021 the streets were busy with people admiring the lights and going to and from the many restaurants and bars downtown. The park was full of families with kids, many of whom were licking ice cream cones from the popular nearby Scoops on 5th. (On the other hand, traffic was intense. There were waits for tables at restaurants and the town was packed.)

Mount Dora has a series of holidays events:

  • Friday, Dec. 3, 2021: Mount Dora Christmas Walk, an evening geared to Chirstmas shopping and dining. Shops are open until 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 at 10 a.m.: The 60th Annual Mount Dora Christmas Parade
  • Saturday Dec. 4, 2021 at 7 p.m.: The Lighted Board Parade
  • Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021 from 5 to 9 p.m.: Christmas snow in the downtown Donnelly Park.
Best Christmas light in Florida: Mount Dora.
Some of the best Christmas lights in Florida are in Mount Dora.

Mount Dora keeps its lights shining through January.

More details about Christmas in Mount Dora

St. Augustine Nights of Lights

St. Augustine Nights of Lights (Photo courtesy FloridasHistoricCoast.com.)
St. Augustine Nights of Lights (Photo courtesy FloridasHistoricCoast.com.)

St. Augustine turns on the lights on Nov. 20, 2021 and they stay lit up all the way through Jan. 31, 2022. Like Mount Dora, the Oldest City estimates it has 3 million lights. (By city ordinance, all holiday lights in the historic and residential areas must be white.) One of its most spectacular displays is lighting up the iconic and historic Bridge of Lions.

St. Augustine’s holiday decorations have been ranked among the 10 best holiday light displays by National Geographic, and they can enjoyed by land and sea – there are boat tours, horse and carriage rides, pedicabs, trolley tours, golf cart tours and more. Old Town Trolley’s lights tour departs nightly beginning at 6 p.m. from the Visitor Information Center. You can find a variety of tours on land and water listed here.

Two favorite photo spots are the Bridge of Lions and the the Plaza de la Constitución, a central park in downtown St. Augustine, where there is a Christmas tree and live music on weekends. 

Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Christmas lights in Florida: Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (Photo by Florida Department of Environmental Protection)
Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (Photo by Florida Department of Environmental Protection)

Mount Dora and St. Augustine are whole cities of decorations, but this state park decorates so extensively that thousands of people come to see the lights that outline the majestic oak trees and historic buildings in this park along the Suwanee River. The park museum, which looks like a mansion from “Gone With the Wind,” is decorated too. 

Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (Photo by Florida Department of Environmental Protection)
Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park (Photo by Florida Department of Environmental Protection)

The lights will twinkle from Dec. 10 to Dec. 24, 2021.

Here’s how it will work this year, according to Andrea Thomas, park service specialist:

  • This year, tickets are per person (vs per car) and will be $4. (Children under 3 are free.) You do not pay an additional entrance fee to the park.
  • You can view the lights from dusk until 9 p.m. Last ticket is sold at 8:30 p.m.
  • Santa will be back this year! Another family favorite, the model train display, is not available this year.
  • Every night except Dec. 24 will be a “Holiday Magic Night” with complementary hot cocoa, popcorn and marshmallow roasting by a bonfire. The evening of Dec. 24 is a “Silent Night” with just viewing of the lights but no other activities.

More resources for Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park:

Make holidays plans: Florida Rambler’s 2020 Holiday Boat Parade Calendar

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.

This page may include affiliate links, such as Amazon and Hotels.com, from which we may earn a modest commission. We also include free links to local small businesses, such as kayak outfitters and restaurants, for the convenience of readers. 

This article is the property of FloridaRambler.com and is protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


Comments Welcome

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Michael Richardson

Thursday 18th of November 2021

Also, is there a newsletter that one can sign up for? I would be very interested! Thank you and warm regards; Michael Richardson

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 18th of November 2021

Yes, we have a monthly newsletter and I've signed you up.

Michael Richardson

Thursday 18th of November 2021

Looking for info on upcoming "Christmas Ships" (Holidays on the Water) in the Fort Lauderdale / Miami area for 2021 Christmas season. Like routes and where H.O.W. can be seen in these areas. Thank you and warm regards; Michael Richardson

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 18th of November 2021

You might be looking for holiday boat parades, which we've list here: https://www.floridarambler.com/florida-festivals/holiday-boat-parades/

I'm afraid we don't have information on where to get the best views for each one, which I know can be a challenge.

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