Stray from the coast for this enchanting central Florida town that celebrates Christmas with boat parades and real snow.

It’s time to stray from your coastal comfort zone and push into the heart of Florida until you reach a small town flanked by lakes and captured by time. Less than an hour from Orlando, Mount Dora, settled in the late 1800s, is anything but commercial. The historic downtown is lined with old-fashioned facades that play host to specialty stores to hit for your Christmas wares and antique dives to dig for your vintage finds. It’s the kind of town where street names mean something. You won’t go a block without seeing the namesake, “Donnelly,” plastered on some sign or plaque, paying homage to a founding family and the town’s first mayor, Capt. John Philip Donnelly. Donnelly Park and the historic Donnelly House back up to Donnelly Street, making navigation an interesting endeavor for outsiders. In a town so dedicated to celebrating its history and preserving its time-old charm, it’s hard not to feel a nostalgic tug at the heart. Here’s why you need to pay a visit to this enchanting Florida town at Christmastime.

It’s a town that knows how to celebrate year-round.

Mount Dora boasts an impressive reputation as “Festival City,” with festivals each month covering a never-dull spread of interests. You can just as easily step in on a weekend packed full of art, indie films, artisanal crafts, or antiques as encountering a similar celebration of blueberries, paddle boarding, or Scottish Highland culture (one of our favorites). In December, though, it’s all about having a Mount Dora Christmas.

The small town is illuminated with over 2 million twinkling lights.

Festivities kick off the weekend after Thanksgiving when over 2 million lights get draped over downtown, its historic homes, and Donnelly Park; and the Christmas tree on Main Street is officially lit. This night is arguably the most magical of the season.

You'll feel like a local at the holiday street party and waterfront boat parade.

Get your fill of festive cheer throughout the first weekend in December with the annual Christmas Walk (basically a holiday street party!) when you can join the town locals with a night of live music, dancing, and holiday shopping under the twinkling lights; a tour of the historic Donnelly House hosted by Santa and overflowing with holiday treats like hot cocoa; and, perhaps the most beloved town tradition, the Lighted Boat Parade on the downtown waterfront when local boaters decorate their vessels and compete for most festive charter.

You'll experience real snow in the South.

Get ready for snow sledding in Florida! Southerners almost never get treated to the many holiday memories that stem from beautiful white snow, but you’ll get a taste of the fun in Mount Dora with its annual snow-packed extravaganza in Donnelly Park. Ice skating, sledding, and Santa make the snow-laden day fun for everyone.

Ride the Polar Express for some holiday magic and lifelong family memories.

You can feel like you’re heading to the North Pole on the Polar Express train ride that leaves from Tavares, less than ten miles from Mount Dora, on a trip that recreates the Christmas magic of the favorite holiday story for the whole family. 

Cozy up to the fire at the historic waterfront inn opened over 130 years ago.

Enjoy a festive holiday meal at the historic Lakeside Inn, opened over 130 years ago. The lakefront two-story hotel hosts a candlelit Christmas Eve dinner that feels cozy, elegant, and full of laughter.