The economic downturn’s got everyone buckling down and saving money, but the holiday season is quickly approaching. Besides shelling out the cash for gifts and home decor, many folks will be figuring out how to spend wisely when it comes to their winter sight-seeing and fun.

Here’s a few winter and holiday escapes right here in the Carolinas. No plane tickets required. You can even make some into a day trip!

Christmas at Biltmore
November, December
There’s nothing more magical than a trip to the historic Biltmore Estate during the holidays. You and your family can be a part of a Christmas tradition going back as far as 1895 when George W. Vanderbilt first invited his friends and family to partake of the warmth and beauty of his new estate.
Hundreds of Christmas trees, almost 1,500 poinsettias and miles and miles of ribbons, bows and garland fill the Asheville estate with holiday sparkle and fun. Treat your children to pictures with Old St. Nick and your partner to a cheerful winter wine tasting.

Tanglewood Festival of Lights
Nov. 15-Jan. 1
Take the family for a stroll — well, more like a drive — through an enchanted night-time journey in the Tanglewood Festival of Lights at Forsyth County’s Tanglewood Park. Located right outside of Winston-Salem, the park offers miles of holiday themes including winterscapes, holiday heroes, storybook scenes and other holiday themes. The event bills itself as one of “the largest and most spectacular light shows in the entire southeast,” with more than a million lights in displays set across the entire park.

Colonial delight
November, December
While you’re in Winston-Salem, set up shop in one of the city’s downtown hotels and take the family on a walk down historic Main Street in Old Salem. Watch bakers create old-style Moravian cookies or sing along with Moravian Christmas carols during a traditional love feast with sweet coffee, homemade buns and traditional, 18th century bees-wax candles.

Charleston Festival of Lights
Nov. 14-Jan. 4
If you’re in the Palmetto State and want a taste of a great holiday light spectacular, check out Charleston’s Festival of Lights. More than three-miles of lighted holiday scenes put sparkle into any family’s winter fun. While you’re in Charleston, don’t forget about the Town and Country Christmas (Dec. 6-27 on Saturdays). Take tours of the beautiful, old Middleton estates all decked out for the happiest season of the year.

Holiday Flotilla
Nov. 28-29
Join more than 50,000 revelers for one of the Top 20 “Must See Events in the Southeast.” Decorated and lighted boats make their way around Wrightsville Beach, N.C. for a festival of lights on water.

Gingerbread houses, oh my!
Nov. 19-Jan. 11
Mmmm. Tasty. But these treats aren’t for eats. Hundreds of entries in the National Gingerbread House Competition & Display at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville make for a wonderful holiday delight. Make your stop here while your visiting Biltmore!

— Be sure to check in with our Out and About calendar throughout November and December for more holiday and winter events.