Note: This travel article is updated every year in the early fall. Read on to find out what kind of holiday experiences are waiting for you in Lexington, Kentucky.
In Lexington and the Bluegrass, you can experience the holidays in the light of your choice.
Be dazzled by tens of thousands of twinkling lights at the state’s largest animated light display — or bask in the glow of candlelight at a historic house. Watch your children’s faces light up with excitement at a holiday parade, arts performance or Christmas sing-along — and lighten the task of finding just the right gifts by shopping at Bluegrass craft shows and unique shops.
From mid-November through the end of the year, the calendar abounds with special exhibits, home tours, performances and family fun. Call the numbers provided to verify dates, times and prices before finalizing your travel plans.
A Horsey Highlight
Lexington is the “horse capital of the world,” so it shouldn’t seem too surprising that the holiday season features some equine enchantment.
At Southern Lights: Spectacular Sights on Holiday Nights at the Kentucky Horse Park, horses of light “race” in front of a cheering crowd, clear a steeplechase fence, and graze in Bluegrass pastures. The unique horse scenes help make Southern Lights one of the most distinctive lights festivals anywhere. And with tens of thousands of shimmering lights, it’s Kentucky’s largest lights festival and an 20-year tradition.
You’ll also enjoy animated scenes featuring Santa and his reindeer, elves, snowflakes and other traditional holiday characters as you drive along the three-mile route through the park.
Through December 23, you can park and check out the indoor exhibits and entertainment. Youngsters can pet exotic creatures in the petting zoo and talk to Santa in the park’s International Museum of the Horse, where animated figures and a model railway exhibit enhance the regular equine-related exhibits. You can also shop for handmade arts and crafts, or just enjoy cookies and hot chocolate while you listen to local choirs and other entertainers.
Catch Southern Lights nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. November 22 through December 31. Admission is $15 per car ($20 on Fridays and Saturdays), $30 per extended van, $50 per mini-bus, $75 per school bus and $125 per motorcoach. The indoor attractions are closed on Thanksgiving Day, and December 24-31, but the drive-through portion remains open every night through the 31st. (859) 255-5727
|Blue Note: This year Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park features the annual Southern Lights Stroll/5K Run to benefit several charities. On November 21, the night before opening to the public, participants will run, walk or stroll three miles along light displays. Back at the Visitor Center, awards and door prizes await. Call (859) 259-4219 or (859) 259-4280 for information.|
The Glow of Holidays Past
Imagine what Christmas was like in the days before “hot toys” and artificial trees. At historic houses and sites in and around Lexington you can experience the sights, sounds and spirit of Christmas as it was celebrated in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Christmas on the Estate. This year the Henry Clay Estate will open its doors for three Holiday Candlelight Tours on Sunday, December 1 from 6:30 p.m.to 8:00 p.m. and December 20 and 26 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with the last admission at 7:00 p.m. Enjoy live music on self-guided tours of the mansion and refreshments in the Keeper’s Cottage. This year’s theme is “A Currier and Ives Christmas at Ashland.” Mistletoe from the Ashland Estate will be on sale. Reservations are not required. $15 for adults, $7 for young adults 17 and under and a family rate of $40.
Also on December 1, a live 100 foot, 100 year old Norway Spruce will be lit for the holiday season on the lawn of the Estate. The ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Antebellum Christmas. At Waveland State Historic Site, you can see what the holiday season was like on a Bluegrass plantation. Antebellum decorations, music, refreshments and costumed historic presenters will be featured at this year’s Christmas Candlelight Tours from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. December 6-7. Refreshments will be served in the plantation's 200-year-old log cabin. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for students. (859) 272-3611.
In the Region
Simple Gifts. The simple beauty of the Shaker celebrations takes on special significance during special holiday events at the restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg. Among the many special offerings, enjoy a special Holiday Tea in the Trustee’s Office from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in December. On December 7, the village will host a special “illuminated evening”. Visit with Mrs. Santa Claus and help light the tree. Tours December 1 - 31 celebrate “The Simple Gifts of Christmas”--Shaker life, music and Christmas customs. Admission is $7.00 for adults and $3 ages 6 - 12 (free for ages 5 and under). Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. (800) 734-5611.
Landmark Christmas. Visit beautiful Ward Hall for a Christmas Open House and Holiday Market. Open the first weekend of December, the 1st and 2nd; Saturday 10 a.m. -5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. This elegant Greek Revival home, built around 1855 is located on US 460, west of downtown Georgetown. (859) 879-0303.
Harrodsburg Holiday Homes. Six Harrodsburg homes from the 19th and early 20th century and an historic Mercer County church will open their doors for the 19th Annual “Come Home to Christmas” holiday homes tour, December 7 from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event is sponsored by the Harrodsburg Historical Society. Purchase $15 tickets ($11 for Seniors) and begin the tour at the Historical Society’s office, 220 Chiles Street. (859) 734-5985 or the Tourist Commission at (800) 355-9192.
Spirited Cooking. Enjoy a Kentucky gourmet lunch at the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery in Woodford County during Holidays at Woodford Reserve, November 23 through December 22, as well as December 28 and 29. Enjoy a traditional Kentucky holiday buffet with a contemporary twist prepared by Chef Ouida Michel. In the past guests have enjoyed selections such as roasted loin of pork, bourbon-glazed chicken, slow-roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon, pumpkin cheesecake and Woodford Reserve cake. Lunch will be served Wednesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Sundays 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Cost is $25.00 plus tax per person. Reservations recommended. The gift shop will be open and full of holiday gift ideas. (859) 879-1953. (Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.)
Love a Christmas parade? Wave to Santa and other celebrants at the Lexington Christmas Parade, December 3, a Tuesday, beginning at 6:00 p.m. The state’s largest holiday parade begins at Main and Midland, and proceeds along Main Street to Mill. Free. (859) 425-2593.
Light and lively! Lexington officially kicks off the holiday season with the lighting of the city tree — a local tradition that dates to 1913. This year the activities will take place during the annual Luminate Lexington Festival on November 29 at Triangle Park. Festivities begin at 2:30 p.m. and continue through the afternoon with food vendors, live music, arts and crafts vendors, and more setting the mood for a delightful day downtown. The traditional tree lighting takes place at 6:30 p.m. Santa Claus will flip the switch. (859) 425-2593.
Glide and Slide. The Unified Trust Company Ice Rink at Triangle Park opens for the season November 8. Bring your own skates if you’d like, but skate rentals are included in the price. The rink is open from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Kids feeling chilly? Grab some hot chocolate at Main Cross Café beside the rink. And no worries, there are plenty of places to sit and observe if you don’t want to venture out onto the ice yourself.
|Blue Note: For information on annual December Kwanzaa celebrations in Lexington, call the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center at (859) 257-4130. Celebrated by millions throughout the world, this African American and Pan-African holiday brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.|
In the Region
A Country Christmas. Renfro Valley (located off I-75, exit 62, about 35 miles south of Lexington) has something for all ages at its Christmas show November 15 through December 21. Christmas in the Valley features a large light display, Santa’s workshop, strolling carolers and clogging elves comedy and an original music performance. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. (800) 765-7464.
Holiday Express. Climb aboard the Bluegrass Scenic Railway's Santa Claus Special for a scenic holiday train excursion past holiday scenes, elves and Bluegrass countryside. The 45-minute excursions leave from Woodford County Park on December 14-15 and 21-22. Departure time is 2:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays,with an added 11 a.m. excursion on December 22. Tickets are $13.50 adults, $12.50 seniors and $11.50 ages 2-12. You can purchase tickets online at www.bgrm.org. (859) 873-2476.
|Blue Note: Many Bluegrass communities woo shoppers with unique shops, refreshments and entertainment during the holiday season. Enjoy carriage rides, marching bands and kids’ activities at the annual “Downtown Frankfort Candlelight Tour” in Frankfort November 9-10. (502) 223-2261. In Georgetown, explore antiques shops during the annual “Holiday Market”in November and December. Call (502) 863-2547 for details. Pick up a piece of Kentucky heritage at the Berea College Crafts Holiday Sale on November 16 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. (859) 985-3220.|
Messiah Magic. If it’s just not Christmas without the Messiah, we’ve got it covered! On December 7 at 7:30 p.m., hear The Lexington Philharmonic with guest solists and the Lexington Chamber Chorale sing Handel’s Messiah in the stunning setting of The Cathedral of Christ the King on Colony Boulevard. Call (859) 233-4226 for tickets and reservations. The Lexington Philharmonic forms Handel’s Messiah again in nearby Richmond at the EKU Center for the Arts on December 8. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. (859) 622-7469. Enjoy the holiday classic performed by The Lexington Singers with special guest tenor Gregory Turay on December 13 at 8:00 p.m. at UK Singletary Center for the Arts. (859) 257-4929.
Winter Blast. Head to the atrium of Victorian Square on December 15. The UK Opera Theatre will breathe new life into many Christmas standards at their annual Holiday Celebration of Song at 5:00 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. Here’s your chance to sing along with award-winning vocalists. Free. (859) 257-9331.
Toe Tapping Family Fun. The Lexington Philharmonic Family Series presents a Candy Cane Concert on December 15 at 3:00 p.m at the UK Singletary Concert Hall. Mischievous holiday spirits from the Magic Circle Mime Company come to Lexington with their own ideas of what a holiday concert should be. Two of the spirits squabble, and LexPhil is caught in the middle.!The spirit of "Music" comes to the rescue, leading the audience in an unusual holiday sing-a-long. Tickets $12. (859) 233.4226.
Holiday Ballet. It wouldn’t be Christmas without “The Nutcracker.” At Lexington’s lovingly restored Opera House, you can see Kentucky Ballet Theatre’s interpretation of this holiday classic December 14-5 and 21-22. For ticket information call (859) 252-5245. See the Bluegrass Youth Ballet’s one act version at the UK Singletary Center for the Arts on December 20 and 21. For information call (859) 271-4472. And in case you just can’t get enough of this beloved tradition , check out the Lexington Ballet C’ompany’s version of the Nutcracker at the EKU Center for the Arts. The show runs December 7 and 8. (859) 622-7469.
Mannheim Steamroller. Christmas hits Lexington on November 22. Now in its 27th year, this show is still met by sold-out audiences . The shows will feature the favorite Christmas music of Mannheim Steamroller along with state-of-the-art multimedia effects in an intimate setting. Times: 2 pm and 7:30 pm. Lexington Opera House. (859)233-3535.
Bourbon Traditions. On December 5 at 7 p.m. Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort kicks off another holiday season. Come out to the gardens of Buffalo Trace for their annual Lighting of the Trace. Cookies, hot chocolate and coffee will be available in the clubhouse, and Santa will stop by for a photo. While you are there you can visit the George T. Stagg Gallery featuring historic photos and bourbon artifacts. And, of course, the Gift Shop! Arrive at 6 p.m. for a candlelight tour of the distillery. (502) 696-5957.
Hot Toddy Time. What better way to spend a winter’s evening than a warm holiday meal at Woodford Reserve Distillery, followed by a guided tour of the distillery by lantern light? Top it all off with a Woodford Toddy. Friday and Saturday evenings from November 20 to December 22. $50 per person, plus tax and gratuity. Call (859) 879-1953 for reservations.
Oh, Christmas Tree! Looking for the perfect pine, the best balsam, the most fabulous fir? You can find it — already beautifully decorated, to boot — at Trees of Life: A Festival of Trees, November 23 through December 27 downtown at The Shops at Lexington Center. (859) 277-8259.
Simpler Shopping. Escape the hectic pace of mall shopping and drive to Shaker Village for the Pleasant Hill Craft Store . A village admission ticket is not required to shop in the two craft stores. After shopping and visiting with craftsmen, enjoy a meal or tea in the Trustee’s Office dining room. (800) 734-5611.
Stocking Stuff-a-rama. Gift shops at Lexington’s top attractions are great places to find that special something with a Kentucky connection. The gift shop at the Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Iron Works Pike, has everything for the horse lover. Many items are Kentucky-made. Another haven for equine themed gifts is the gift shop at Keeneland Race Course, which carries items ranging from jewelry to kidstuff to Keeneland logowear. The Museum Shop at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate on Richmond Road, has julep cups, cookbooks, and a host of items relating to life in the Victorian Era. Visit the Kentucky Proud Market at the Lexington Shops in our convention center to find food products, Kentucky wines, jewelry, housewares and even Kentucky-made pet treats. Open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Need shopping ideas? See The Right Stuff.
For even more holiday events, go to www.visitlex.com and click on the Calendar of Events.
updated October 1, 2013