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How to spend the holidays in Natchitoches, Louisiana

Crowds along the Natchitoches Riverbank during the annual Christmas celebration The Natchitoches Riverbank buzzes with holiday fun during the city’s annual Christmas celebration. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

If practice indeed makes perfect, then Natchitoches’ 96th annual Christmas celebration should be sublime. Begun in 1927, the Festival of Lights has evolved from a single-day event to a 7-week-long party with lights, music, fireworks, and festivities that commemorate the season while illuminating the city’s many charms.

The city (pronounced NACK-a-tish) launches the celebration when it flips the switch on 350,000 Christmas lights in the historic downtown area on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (November 19). Then, until January 6, a full schedule brims with home tours, arts and crafts fairs, parades (on land and water), and children’s activities. Each Saturday concludes with a fireworks show followed by music.

What to do in Natchitoches

Crowds amid the light displays including a Christmas tree at the Festival of Lights

More than 350,000 twinkling lights, plus fireworks and decorated boats, illuminate Natchitoches during its 7-week festival. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

A Christmas Gala presented by Northwestern State University kicks the festivities into high gear November 30 through December 2. More than 400 students in the university’s Dear School of Creative and Performing Arts enthrall audiences during 4 performances of holiday-themed singing, dancing, skits, music, and ballet.

Especially appealing to families, the Holiday Kids Fest on the Riverbank is held on several Fridays and Saturdays with inflatable bounce houses, a bungee trampoline, and other activities. Santa will visit with children nightly from December 4–23. Closed to vehicles on Fridays and Saturdays during the festival, the Riverbank will also feature food vendors. Admission to the area is free except on Saturdays from November 19–December 17, when it’s $10 per person; children under 6 get in free.

Find more family fun at Dark Woods Adventure Park, an outdoor attraction that transforms into Dark Woods’ Christmas during the holidays. Enjoy meet-and-greets with costumed characters as you stroll through a winter wonderland with a 128-foot lighted footbridge and yuletide displays on your way to the Kringle Outpost for a photo op with Santa. Taste seasonal holiday treats at the park’s Black Café and at Molly Moo’s Soft Serve and Sweets.

Inside the Weaving Room at Melrose Plantation

A National Historic Landmark, Melrose Plantation has preserved 9 buildings that date to the early 1800s. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

Some of the holiday festivities will lead you into Natchitoches’ 33-block National Historic Landmark District, which is filled with buildings dating as far back as the late 1700s. Explore the region’s heritage—including its sports history—in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum complex.

Other sites include Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site with its replica 1716 garrison, and Melrose Plantation, a National Historic Landmark built by former slaves in the early 1800s that today features 9 historic buildings.

Read more: A holiday getaway to Coastal Mississippi

Where to shop in Natchitoches

Shoppers browse at Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile

Find vintage wares and modern goods at Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, which opened in 1863. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

The aroma of chocolate will hit you as you walk into Louisiana Purchase, where you’ll find fresh fudge and pralines along with souvenirs. Step back in time in the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, established in 1863, and peruse classic toys, kitchenware, home and garden items, tools, and more.

Read more: Savor the cuisine, music, and history of Louisiana’s Cajun Country

What to eat in Natchitoches

A hand pie at Lasyone's Meat Pie Restaurant

Stop in at Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant to sample the city’s savory signature dish. Photo courtesy Louisiana Office of Tourism

Natchitoches is noted for its meat-filled hand pies—seasoned ground meat folded inside a pastry shell and fried. Locals flock to Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant for this famous treat as well as for its Cane River Cream Pie. Dig into a stuffed potato smothered in crawfish étouffée and topped with a jumbo fried shrimp at Merci Beaucoup Restaurant.

Read more: Holiday foods around the U.S.

Where to stay in Natchitoches

The front of the Steel Magnolia House

At the Steel Magnolia House bed-and-breakfast, a filming site of Steel Magnolias, you can stay in rooms named after some of the movie’s characters. Photo by Steve Jordan/Alamy Stock Photo

Among 30 bed-and-breakfasts is the 1840 Steel Magnolia House, which served as the Eatenton home when Steel Magnolias was filmed. Its rooms and cottage are named after film characters. Rates start at $265. For a hotel experience, Church Street Inn has 20 suites with decor honoring local history. Rates start at $159.

Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

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