Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas: What to Expect

the island at pigeon forge tennessee christmas tree fountain lights

Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas transform into the most beautiful, festive towns to spend your holidays. Our last visit to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas 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. In this blog, we’ll discuss everything you should know about visiting these Smoky Mountain destinations during the holiday season.

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Where To Stay When Visiting Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN 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.

In 2021, we stayed at The Best Western Plus on the Parkway. At the time, it was the closest hotel to The Island at Pigeon Forge, with 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. The complimentary breakfast was decent and the rooms, though small, were clean. The balcony room was also a nice touch. If you’re not picky and just looking for a clean, affordable place to stay, The Best Western Plus can be a good choice for your family.

In 2022, we stayed at the Super 8 in Pigeon Forge. You can read our review of the Super 8 in Pigeon Forge here.

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, TN on Christmas. The Bavarian inspired theme 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 Christmas Place, the South’s largest Christmas store, where you’ll find the most amazing Christmas displays. Whether you’re there for photo ops, shopping, or a visit with Santa, you won’t be disappointed.

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 book early.

Dollywood Dreammore Resort & Spa

An attraction that is 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, check out my blog on The Island at Pigeon Forge.

The Fountain light show at The Island at Pigeon Forge on Christmas

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. 

The next year, we learned our lesson and arrived at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen at opening time and were eating within the hour.

Review of Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen in Pigeon Forge

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.

You can choose from smothered pork chops, fried chicken, spare ribs, fried catfish, and more. And then you choose your sides: collard greens, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, candied yams, casseroles, green beans, and many more. Your meal also includes the most delicious homemade biscuits and a dessert of your choice for person.

The food was delicious and fresh. Even my 9-year-old, who is a picky eater, loved it and cannot wait to go back, and neither can the rest of us.

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 Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN 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. Below are some of the places we explored.

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.  

Exploring Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas

In good traffic, it takes approximately 15 minutes to get into Gatlinburg from Pigeon Forge. During the holidays, because of traffic, it can take around 30 minutes.

During the Christmas holidays, Gatlinburg gives you the warmest, most festive greeting as soon as you enter the town. One minute, you’ll be driving through the dark roads of the Smoky Mountains, the next you’ll see sparkling lights up ahead.

The entire town was lit up and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Two popular attractions to visit during the holidays in Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas are Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and Anakeesta Adventure Park.

Another fun thing to do in Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas is simply to walk the streets and check out all 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.

Pro Tip: During the holidays, the narrow sidewalks can get very crowded, so if you have anxiety related to crowds, you may want to visit at a less popular time of day or year.

What Is There To Do in Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas?

Browsing the shops in Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas is enough to keep you busy and entertained. However, there are a couple of popular holiday attractions if you’re looking to make your Christmas visit unforgettable.

Enchanted Christmas 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 Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas?

The crowds in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas Day are crazy but the experience is one that’s sure to put you in the Christmas spirit. If you love a Christmas town, then you’ll want to visit Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN on Christmas.


  1. […] Probably the most popular place to eat at The Island and my personal favorite is Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. Paula Deen’s is a family style restaurant, which if you’ve never been to one essentially means that  large portions of food are sent out for the table to share, and when that’s gone, you can ask for another helping. To read our review of Paula Deen’s, CLICK HERE.  […]

  2. […] Probably the most popular place to eat at The Island in Pigeon Forge, and my personal favorite, is Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen. Paula Deen’s is a family-style, all-you-can-eat restaurant. You pick between a number of entrees and a number of sides for your group, and they are continuously sent to your table until you’ve had enough. To read our review of Paula Deen’s, CLICK HERE.  […]

  3. […] Visiting Pigeon Forge around Christmas? Check out my blog about what to expect when you visit Pigeon… […]

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