17 Magical Ways to Enjoy a Helen Georgia Christmas
A Helen Georgia Christmas is truly special, well worth a spot on your bucket list. The tiny Bavarian town in the Blue Ridge Mountains bustles with festive cheer and offers a range of memorable holiday activities. Use this guide to help plan an unforgettable Christmas in Helen GA!
Arriving in quaint Helen, Georgia, feels like stepping through a portal to Europe.
The lively mountain town is full of charming Bavarian-style architecture, restaurants, and bars serving German-centric menus. People walk everywhere, zig-zagging across the street, popping in and out of shops.
This is true year-round, but especially so during the holidays. There’s nothing quite like a Helen Georgia Christmas, when the entire town is draped in colorful lights and cheery decor.
Like Leavenworth, Washington, Helen was once a booming logging hub. Once it started to decline, the local government re-imagined the town with a new Alpine theme. Today, the local economy—true to its new roots—is bolstered by dining, drinking, and abundant holiday activities.
In this guide, we’re sharing how to plan the perfect Christmas in Helen trip, so you can enjoy all those things!
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Jump ahead to:
- What to Expect From a Helen Georgia Christmas
- Best Things to do at Christmas in Helen GA
- 1. Lighting of the Village
- 2. Christkindlmarkt
- 3. Carriage Ride Through Town
- 4. Ride the Georgia Mountain Coaster
- 5. Watch the Helen Georgia Christmas Parade
- 6. Christmas in The Mountains Festival & Parade
- 7. Hike Anna Ruby Falls
- 8. Play a Round of Alpine Mini Golf
- 9. Victorian Christmas at Hardman Farm
- 10. Go Wine Tasting in Helen
- 11. Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen
- 12. Knock Out Your List at The Christmas Shoppe
- 13. Sample Glühwein
- 14. Play Royalty at the Uhuburg Castle
- 15. Experience the Magic of BabyLand
- 16. Snap a Festive Selfie
- 17. Bonus: Witness the Dropping of the Edelweiss on NYE
- Tips for Having the Best Helen Georgia Christmas
- Where to Stay in Helen
- Restaurants in Helen Open on Christmas Day
What to Expect From a Helen Georgia Christmas
Helen is so festive and magical that you could absolutely do no advance planning, and still show up to have a fabulous stay. However, if you’re reading this, chances are you want to plan every detail of your Helen Georgia Christmas. Here’s everything you need to know.
How to Get to Helen GA
Reaching picture-perfect Helen isn’t at all difficult, whether you fly or drive. Most folks come from Atlanta, a 2-hour drive and the closest major airport.
Plus, being nestled in North Georgia, other major cities are close, too. Columbia, South Carolina, is less than two hours away, and Chattanooga is around three hours by car.
Need to rent a vehicle for your Christmas trip to Helen? Whether you drive in from a neighboring state or fly into Atlanta, we highly recommend booking through RentalCars.com.
The aggregate site rounds up tons of pricing and details across several companies, letting you choose your preferred vehicle type, rental company, and features.
What’s the Weather Like?
Helen’s winter weather is dependably mild. Highs average in the 50s, and ice, snow, and freezing temps are pretty rare. That makes it easy to enjoy all the (mostly outdoor) festivities, as well as north Georgia’s incredible hiking and other outdoor recreation.
Planning a Stay in Helen
Helen’s a small town. Not counting tourists, it only has a year-round population of about 545 people! Particularly from November through January, the holidays draw tens of thousands of people to the small area.
As a result, Helen Georgia Christmas means crowds. While the city does an excellent job managing it all, traffic and lines are unavoidable at times.
Accommodation can be especially hard to come by the closer you get to the holidays, so book Helen GA hotels or vacation rentals well in advance.
When is Christmas in Helen GA celebrated?
Like other US cities and parts of the world that celebrate the holiday, Helen commemorates Christmas on December 25th. With that said, note that the vast majority of businesses are closed on Christmas day.
There are some exceptions, namely when it comes to Helen restaurants, which we’ll dive into a bit further down!
Leading up to the big holiday, most Helen Georgia Christmas activities take place on December weekends. The holiday season officially kicks off the day after Thanksgiving.
When is the Best Time to See Christmas Lights in Helen?
Speaking of the Friday after Thanksgiving…this is when the town dons its holiday best for the season, going all-out with Christmas lights and decorations.
The best part? They stay lit through late February!
If you’re hoping to enjoy them with a bit of tranquility, plan your visit during weekdays or go in the New Year. Of course, there’s no denying the distinct allure of a Helen Georgia Christmas on a buzzy holiday weekend — just manage your expectations and pack plenty of patience!
Best Things to do at Christmas in Helen GA
A Helen Georgia Christmas means activities well beyond the famously festive lights and decor. Here are some of the best things to do in Helen, specifically during the holidays.
1. Lighting of the Village
Kick off Christmas in Helen with a warm, welcoming ambiance at the official Lighting of the Village. Held at 5:00 pm the day after Thanksgiving, the festive event illuminates the town’s meticulously arranged 8,000-some lights and 20-foot Christmas tree.
Enjoy live music, food vendors, photo ops, and an appearance by Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Best of all, this event is totally FREE!
Also, remember that you can see the beautiful decorations all season long. There’s certainly plenty to be said about attending the official holiday kick-off, but don’t put pressure on yourself.
Over the two weekends following Thanksgiving, downtown Helen transforms into a bustling, European-style Christmas market. 2023 marks the event’s 16th continuous Christmas in Helen GA.
Explore the extensive selection of ornaments, pottery, handmade items, and other gifts at Christkindlmarkt. German-style musical performances, beer and mulled wine, and the aroma of baked goodies create a cheery atmosphere, and there are also plenty of kid-friendly activities.
3. Carriage Ride Through Town
For a quintessential Helen Georgia Christmas experience, book a horse-drawn carriage ride through town.
Cozying up with loved ones in the vintage-style coach is the most enjoyable way to take in the town’s sights. Plus, isn’t there something so regal about being chauffeured around in a carriage?!
A few companies offer carriage rides in Helen, including Pegasus Horse Drawn Carriages and Alpine Carriage Company. They line up at the end of River Street, right downtown, and you can typically just show up without reservations (although there may be a wait).
Rides cost $10-20 and last about 20 minutes.
4. Ride the Georgia Mountain Coaster
A Helen Georgia Christmas isn’t just about cozy holiday cheer — there’s a healthy dose of adrenaline, too! Whiz through the mile-long Georgia Mountain Coaster, built to go up to 28 mph through the forest right next to downtown. Hold on tight!
The activity is family-friendly and totally safe, with the option for parents and children to ride together. Passengers must be at least 3 years old and 38” tall, and the maximum combined weight cannot exceed 375 pounds.
Tickets start at $17, plus the second ride is half-off. Show up at opening to avoid a wait, or go in the evening for a light-filled ride.
5. Watch the Helen Georgia Christmas Parade
One of the best ways to get into the holiday spirit during Christmas in Helen GA is to watch the annual parade. Helen’s small-town heart really shines during this event, which the entire community (plus some!) seems to show up for.
The uplifting parade is filled with impressive floats from local businesses, fire trucks, and a variety of live performances. And, expect lots of candy (and other surprises) to be thrown out into the streets!
The Helen Christmas parade typically takes place on the second Saturday of December. To be right in the center of the action, watch from the gazebo downtown.
6. Christmas in The Mountains Festival & Parade
If you have a soft spot for small town parades, pop over to the neighboring town of Cleveland the first weekend in December for Christmas in the Mountains.
Just a 20-minute drive from Helen, Cleveland’s parade is a county-wide kickoff event signaling the start of the holiday season. Much like the Helen Christmas parade, this one features floats, fire trucks, and other vehicles decked out in holiday cheer.
Dress warm and bring some cash for the hot cocoa stands and snack booths.
7. Hike Anna Ruby Falls
In much of the US, the holidays don’t overlap with hiking season. But that’s not the case in Helen! Lace up your boots to hike stunning Anna Ruby Falls, just beyond downtown.
The twin falls are among the tallest in Appalachia, with the left cascade (Curtis Creek) dropping an impressive 153 feet. Anna Ruby Falls flows year-round, and during the winter after the trees have dropped their leaves, the views along the trail are even better.
Hiking to Anna Ruby Falls is suitable for even the youngest or most inexperienced hikers, as the trail is less than one mile in length and completely paved. It offers just enough of a challenge, making it a wonderful addition to any Helen Georgia Christmas itinerary.
Note that while the trail is accessible every day, the visitor center, restrooms, and other facilities are closed on Thanksgiving day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
8. Play a Round of Alpine Mini Golf
Take in the town’s distinct Bavarian architecture and mountain scenery during a round of mini-golf. Whether the game inspires family bonding or a bit of amicable competition, Alpine Mini Golf is one of Helen’s hot spots, popular with all ages.
It’s the perfect backdrop for an easy-going afternoon, but it’s absolutely adorable at night during the holidays. Like the rest of Helen, the course lights up in its holiday best after dark. As a major bonus, it costs just $9.50 for 18 holes.
9. Victorian Christmas at Hardman Farm
Celebrate the holidays through a historical lens at Hardman Farm State Historic Site. Operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the farm is home to a sacred Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound and an impressive 19th-century mansion, nestled in bucolic surroundings.
On December weekends, Hardman Farm hosts immersive festive events. Enjoy live music, marvel at the period dress and decor, and sip hot chocolate while you toast s’mores over a campfire.
Be sure to book tickets in advance, as Victorian Christmas does sell out. Even locals love this unique way to celebrate Christmas in Helen!
10. Go Wine Tasting in Helen
It turns out that north Georgia’s rolling hills aren’t just pretty; they produce fantastic wine, too. And what better way to get into the festive ‘spirit’ (ha!) than sipping wine?
Right in Helen proper, you can walk to Sweet Acre Farms Winery or The Gourmet Shoppe Tasting Room. While this one isn’t a vineyard, it is the home of Fox Vineyards, plus serves local Georgia wine from Horse Creek Vineyards and Still Pond Vineyards.
On the very edge of town, don’t miss (actually, you literally can’t) Habersham Winery, one of the oldest and largest in the region. And just outside Helen in tranquil Sautee Nacoochee, check out Sylvan Valley Lodge & Cellars, which also has cabins and traditional lodge-style accommodations.
You also have a ton more options in Georgia Wine Country, within a 20 to 30-minute drive.
In neighboring Cleveland, pop into Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Limoges Cellars, or CeNita Vineyards. Adorable Dahlonega is also home to Kaya Vineyard & Winery.
Heck, while we’re at it, North Carolina’s wine country is just 3-4 hours, too!
To really dive into North Georgia Wine Country, book a wine tour so you don’t have to worry about driving!
11. Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen
It just isn’t quite Christmas in Helen GA without a stop at beloved Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen. The shop, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, makes all manner of tasty, nostalgia-inducing sweets including fudge, peanut brittle, caramel apples, truffles, and more.
You may even see the candy makers finishing off some goodies!
The shop also sells a nice selection of toys and of course, you can bring boxed candy or chocolate home for a fantastic gift.
12. Knock Out Your List at The Christmas Shoppe
Open from Memorial Day through Christmas Eve, the Christmas Shoppe is a haven for holiday enthusiasts. This shop’s curated selection caters to all your festive needs, offering unique, intricate ornaments, elaborate decorations, and more.
The selection includes hand-crafted, hand-painted, locally-made, and one-of-a-kind items, so it’s a fantastic place to get a gift or add a special little something to your tree. Ornaments also make excellent souvenirs, so consider picking one out to commemorate your Helen Georgia Christmas.
And if you need one more reason to stop in, Mrs. Claus is known to make surprise appearances throughout the holiday season!
13. Sample Glühwein
Helen’s fun German vibe isn’t found only in its architecture, but also in the local foodie scene. Head to King Ludwig Biergarten, right on the main town square, to sample authentic Glühwein, a German classic.
A hot mulled wine made with aromatic spices and sometimes raisins, it’s the perfect accompaniment to brats or a pretzel. There’s also often live music, especially during the Helen Georgia Christmas season.
14. Play Royalty at the Uhuburg Castle
One of Helen’s newest attractions (completed in May 2023), the whimsical Uhuburg Castle transports you to a dreamy place straight out of a fairytale. Set in a beautiful, lush green valley, Uhuburg lets you experience Christmas in Helen in a whole new way.
In addition to simply marveling at the incredible Renaissance architecture, you can climb eight stories up the castle tower, stroll through the gardens, or go on a mural walk. You can also book a guided tour to see everything impressive Uhuburg offers.
Coming soon, visitors will also be able to take a falconry workshop or stay overnight in the castle.
15. Experience the Magic of BabyLand
If you have little ones in tow for your Helen Georgia Christmas trip (or you’re an ‘80s or older baby and have a soft spot for nostalgic throwbacks), don’t miss visiting the BabyLand General Hospital.
At this totally free experience in Cleveland, you’ll witness Cabbage Patch Kids being “born.” It’s incredibly immersive — no matter how old you are. This is true year-round, but during Appalachian Christmas in Helen GA, the hospital goes all-out with its display.
Not only is the hospital filled with thousands of original and rare Cabbage Patch dolls and toys in a wide variety of elaborate displays, but it even organizes birthing tree demonstrations with Mother Cabbages.
Other experiences at BabyLand include nurseries filled with adoptable Cabbage Patch babies and an adoption center. Plus, when you enter, you’ll have to sign in and wait in the lobby until a nurse escorts you back, just like a real hospital!
For an additional fee, children can also design (and adopt, of course) their own custom doll. If you choose to create a brand new baby, he or she emerges from a hole in the Magic Crystal oak tree! Talk about a memorable gift.
16. Snap a Festive Selfie
One of the best things to do in Helen, especially when holiday festivities are in full swing, is look for the fun photo ops around town. Between the Bavarian architecture and tens of thousands of Christmas lights, prime selfie spots abound.
Some of the best local spots include the colorful gazebo at Unicoi Hill Park, right next to Hofer’s Bakery, and the Helen Windmill, at the Heidi Motel. There are also plenty of Instagrammable giant decorated Christmas trees dotting Main Street and the town square.
17. Bonus: Witness the Dropping of the Edelweiss on NYE
Although it’s technically after Christmas in Helen GA, New Year’s Eve is also a festive can’t-miss. And, bonus, some (not all!) of the Christmas crowds thin out by the first of the year!
Helen hosts a very unique, very festive annual NYE celebration called the Dropping of the Edelweiss.
A mini, Bavarian-themed version of the ball dropping in NYC’s Times Square, this event takes over the Festhalle, turning it into a buzzy venue with live music, hors d’oeuvres, and a midnight champagne toast.
We spent NYE 2022 here, and highly recommend it. It allows you to enjoy the famed Helen Georgia Christmas with fewer crowds, plus ring in the new year in a truly unique way.
The mild weather really (pleasantly) surprised us, and we took full advantage by hopping around Main Street during the day. Then, we stepped up our traditional annual First Day hike by visiting several North Georgia waterfalls: Anna Ruby, DeSoto, and Helton Creek.
If this sounds appealing, consider booking a week-long stay (Helen hotel and cabin recommendations below!). Enjoy Christmas in Helen GA and the new year! As a major, major bonus, we found it much more affordable than many other destinations.
Tips for Having the Best Helen Georgia Christmas
- Give yourself a couple of days. There’s a LOT to see and do, and during Christmas in Helen, it’s all amped up with lights and music. Packing too much into a day trip will lead tyuito over-stimulation and burnout. Trust us.
- Book accommodation WELL in advance. Piggybacking on the previous tip, if you’re making a weekend or overnight trip of your Helen Georgia Christmas experience, plan early. Hotels and cabins in town book out several months ahead!
- Avoid parking stress and use a pay lot. Parking is a major issue during the holidays (and Oktoberfest!), but thankfully, Helen is very walkable and there are several city- and privately-owned lots throughout town.
- Bring small bills. Whether it’s for parking, tips for a carriage ride, or goodies from a street vendor, it’s a good idea to have some cash when you’re exploring Helen.
- Plan ahead for dinner. For a tourist town, restaurants—and even bars—close inexplicably early (8-9:00 pm for most). If you’re arriving late, pick something up on the way, and while you’re in town, plan to eat a bit earlier than you might otherwise.
Where to Stay in Helen
- Best cabin for a group – Nestled in the woods above the Georgia Mountain Coaster and within walking distance of Main Street, with two large decks and a dedicated office.
- Family-friendly hotel in Helen – The Holiday Inn Express offers complimentary hot breakfast, free parking, and indoor heated pool.
- Romantic couples’ stay – Valhalla Resort is an upscale castle-themed, adults-only hotel with a pool, golf course, spa, and private balconies.
- Pet-friendly cabin – Modern 4-bedroom cabin with accommodations for up to 8, plus parking for 5 vehicles, an electric vehicle charger, fire pit, and washer and dryer.
- Tiny cabin within walking distance of downtown Helen – Gorgeous, modern tiny cabin with a hot tub, arcade games, and full kitchen, a 10-minute walk from downtown.
- Best cabin for outdoor enthusiasts – Private 13-acre property in the Chattahoochee National Forest, with a private pond, hiking trails, multiple decks, and game room.
Restaurants in Helen Open on Christmas Day
Spending Christmas in Helen but not sure where to eat out on the actual holiday? Several restaurants in town stay open to serve on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
Bodensee: Quaint and casual traditional German restaurant open with normal hours; no reservation required
Unicoi Lodge Restaurant: Comforting southern fare just outside of town; reservations required for the holidays
Caledonia at Valhalla Resort: Upscale restaurant tucked into the hills; advance reservations not required but highly recommended.
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