If you haven’t heard, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg Tennessee are highly recommended vacation destinations during the Christmas season. Our last visit to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge was a two-day stop on our road trip to Atlanta, Georgia. We arrived on Christmas Day and were so excited after hearing about the area’s transformation during the holidays. Read more to find out what our visit was like and what you should know about visiting during the holiday season.
Where Exactly is Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg?
The reason Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are typically grouped together although they are two separate cities is because they are about a 15 minute drive from each other and are both popular tourist destinations. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are located in Eastern Tennessee with Pigeon Forge approximately 40 minutes southeast of Knoxville, and Gatlinburg an extra 15 minutes south of Pigeon Forge.
Where To Stay When Visiting Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge on Christmas
The Parkway, the main road that goes through Pigeon Forge, can have a lot of traffic during busy seasons. If you plan to visit a lot of the main attractions in Pigeon Forge, it’s best to stay as close as possible to the entertainment center, which I consider to be The Island at Pigeon Forge.
We decided to stay at The Best Western Plus on the Parkway. It was the closest hotel to The Island at Pigeon Forge that had the best reviews for the most affordable price. Aside from the look of the elevator, which was run down, and the smoky smell of the hallways, I was pleasantly surprised. Other complaints would be that the parking was extremely limited and the room was fairly small. However, the complimentary breakfast was decent and the rooms were clean. Although it would not be my first choice; for the right price, I would stay here again.
The Inn at Christmas Place
As you can probably tell by the name, The Inn at Christmas Place is a popular place to stay when visiting Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on Christmas. The Bavarian inspired theming and visits from Santa Claus make this location a magical place during the Christmas season. The Inn at Christmas Place is also directly across the street from the Christmas Place holiday store.
It can be hard to get a reservation around the Christmas season at The Inn at Christmas Place so if you’re interested in staying here, you’ll have to act fast. For pricing and availability, and more pictures and information, click here.
Dollywood Dreammore Resort & Spa
An attraction to be sure to fill you with the Christmas spirit is Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and if you want to check it out, what better place to stay than on property at the Dollywood DreamMore Resort & Spa. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas has a spectacular Christmas light display, fireworks show, and Christmas performances. By staying at Dollywood, you’ll receive perks like transportation to and from the park, and complimentary Time Saver passes that will be sure to make your Christmas that much merrier.
The Island at Pigeon Forge on Christmas
We arrived at The Island at Pigeon Forge around 7 p.m. on Christmas. As expected, it was quite crowded and except for the main restaurants, most stores were closed. We stayed long enough to enjoy the Christmas lights and the special Christmas fountain light show. To learn more about what The Island at Pigeon Forge has to offer, you can read my visitor’s guide on it by clicking here.
Are Restaurants in Pigeon Forge Open on Christmas?
Many restaurants like Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen are open on Christmas but as expected, they will be extremely crowded and have long waits. To make matters worse, some of the restaurants, such as Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, do not take reservations making it almost impossible to get in without arriving early and waiting for hours.
By the time we were ready to eat dinner around 7:30 p.m. on Christmas, there were no restaurants with any availability and the waiting lists were closed for the night. After calling around for a while, we gave up and began looking for some fast food options but most of them were closed.
We ended up at the only place we could find to eat, CiCi’s Pizza. CiCi’s PIzza is a budget all-you-can-eat pizza restaurant and can be a good option if you love pizza or are traveling with kids. However, some CiCi’s are less than spic and span and this was one of them. Hopefully the crowd level and staff shortage were to blame. Even though the restaurant was not very clean, the pizza, which continued to come out fresh, was pretty good. Cici’s PIzza on the Parkway gets a rating of😒 (unamused face). Cleanliness is very important to me, so I don’t think I would return.
Exploring Pigeon Forge on Christmas
There are a ton of attractions in Pigeon Forge, most of which are open during the Christmas season. You can choose to visit some of the more popular attractions or just explore Pigeon Forge like we did.
The Old Mill
The Day after Christmas, we headed out bright and early after breakfast to explore Pigeon Forge. We started at the end of the Parkway, right before the road leads into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and made our way back down the Parkway. We stopped at The Old Mill, an area we had never explored before. The Old Mill dates back to the early 19th century and is one of the oldest operating grist mills in the country. It was built by Isaac Love, an essential figure in the history of Pigeon Forge, in 1830.
We walked around the historic Old Mill Square checking out the shops and of course, we made a stop at a popular Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg store, Candy Kitchen. The entire area was decorated beautifully for Christmas, which made the area that much more fun to explore.
Afterward, we continued down the Parkway and stopped at one of the many arcades. After the arcade, we continued down the Parkway and came across Three Bears General Store which advertised that we could see live bears inside! With our curiosity peaked, we headed inside. The store itself was an amazing place. You could buy unique gifts and souvenirs, you could play dress-up and take pictures in various western stages, get an aqua massage, and of course, there were bears. There was a small fee to walk through to see and feed the bears. And by feed I mean placing a piece of fruit into a tube that went into the bear exhibit.
Review of Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen in Pigeon Forge
After feeding the bears, we headed back to The Island at Pigeon Forge and let the kids get on a couple of rides. We were pretty hungry at this point and needed to make up for our sad Christmas dinner, so we headed to Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen for lunch.
Paula Deen’s is a family style all-you-can-eat southern restaurant. You pick a few main courses, and a few sides, and they continue to bring food to your table until you ask them to stop. We ordered three entrees: smothered pork chops, fried chicken, and fried fish. Our sides were collard greens, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. Our meal also came with homemade biscuits and a dessert of our choice for each of us.
The food was delicious and fresh. Even my 8-year-old, who is a picky eater, loved it and cannot wait to go back, and neither can the rest of us. Paula Deen’s gets a rating of 😁 (Beaming face with smiling eyes) which if converted to stars would be a 5 out of a 5. We will probably eat here every time we visit the area. You can check out more reviews at Tripadvisor.com.
Pro Tip: Be prepared that if you are visiting around the holiday season, especially the day after Christmas like we did, the options may be limited. There were a few menu items that Paula Deen’s had run out of due to high demand on Christmas day.
Exploring Gatlinburg the Day After Christmas
After Paula Deen’s, all we wanted to do was go back to the room and sleep but there was so much more to do and see. So we went back to the hotel for a couple of hours and then took the 30-minute drive into Gatlinburg (there was quite a bit of traffic) after dark.
When we arrived, Gatlinburg immediately welcomed us with Christmas lights. The entire town was lit up and beautifully decorated for the holidays. We passed by Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and Anakeesta Adventure Park. If the exterior decorations were any indication, both places looked like great attractions to check out during the Christmas season.
During this visit, our plan was to walk the streets of Gatlinburg and check out the shops. We stopped inside the Tennessee Cider Company, to sample ciders. The hot cider and pineapple cider were my favorites. After, we listened to a live band while sitting in rocking chairs outside of the Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine Company.
The more we walked, the more crowded it seemed to become. The sidewalks in Gatlinburg are extremely narrow and being the day after Christmas, it was overcrowded and overwhelming to deal with especially with two young children so we headed back to the hotel.
What Is There To Do in Gatlinburg on Christmas?
Browsing the shops in Gatlinburg is enough to keep you busy and entertained during the holiday season. However there are a couple of popular holiday attractions if you’re looking to make your Christmas visit unforgettable.
Enchanted Winter at Anakeesta
Anakeesta is a theme park like no other, located high in the Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg. It’s so high in the mountains that you need to take a chair lift or a gondola to get there. This is not your typical theme park filled with rollercoasters and other mechanical thrill rides. Anakeesta is an outdoor adventure park with zip lines and other treetop and outdoor adventures.
During the Winter, around the Christmas season, Anakeesta transforms into a winter wonderland for their annual Enchanted Winter event. During this event, the entire park is decorated with the most spectacular Christmas light displays. The mountain views are enough to make your mouth drop. Add the Christmas light music show and this will be an experience both you and your children will remember forever.
Lights Over Gatlinburg Skylift Park
Skylift Park is one of the most popular ways to experience the Smoky Mountains and it becomes even more popular around Christmas time with its light displays. Walk through the tunnel of lights on North America’s longest pedestrian cable bridge. Take a selfie laying thousands of feet above the ground on the glass floor in the center of the bridge. The Skylift Park is a bucket list worthy experience. Add their Christmas display and the experience becomes that much more special.
Should You Visit Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge on Christmas?
The crowds in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on Christmas Day are crazy and because of that, I don’t know if I would plan to visit again on Christmas Day unless I were to rent a cabin and stay inside for the day. However, visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge during the Christmas season is a must-do family vacation.
The Christmas decorations and lights display Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in a way you can never see during the rest of the year. If you’re looking for a place where you can feel the Christmas spirit then Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are the perfect destinations.
To explore prices on hotels and cabins in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge during the Christmas season, click here.