Historic Oakwood has always been a Raleigh neighborhood we’ve dreamed of living in, and last night further cemented that as we wandered the streets on an unusually balmy December evening enjoying the beautiful homes decorated for Christmas.
In 2020, it was our first time and we loved it, even though it was the COVID version, where it was only viewing of the outside of the homes.
Then in 2021, we were allowed back in and were completely in awe of how warm and welcoming the owners of their homes were as they invited us in to see, not just their beautiful Christmas decertations, but their stunning architecture. They were also very gracious in sharing the history of their homes and the stories of those who lived there (old and current).
It was another reminder of why we love living in Raleigh so much.
I’ve never experienced something like this before in any other places we’ve visited. Perhaps, we have just not noticed or sought it out, but I think this is one of those unique Raleigh experiences that sprinkles in a little history with a festive spirit that lives by the city’s motto:
“Y’ all are welcome here”.
So much, that they’ll decorate their Oakwood homes for you each year with particular ornaments and color schemes that tell stories of hope, tradition, and gratitude.
I can’t imagine this happening in Australia, where we open our homes up to strangers to come look inside.
Two of the strangest cultural differences that stood out to us when we first moved over to Raleigh was that many homes were not separated by fences, it was just an open passageway from one to the other, and that Americans tend to sit on their front porches, watching the world go by and waving as you passed, hoping for a little social chit chat.
Australians’ close off our properties with fences and tend to sit out the back on the privacy of our decks. Less common is to see people hanging out on their front porches.
It took us awhile to unwind those cultural fences and adapt to this welcoming, friendly style.
So much that now I can see myself adding our (dream) historic Oakwood home to the Candlelight Tour list each year, with doors wide open and welcoming cocktails in hand to show you how these Aussies adapted to decorate their homes with a little traditional flair mixed in with a surfing Santa with elves dressed in flip-flops and board-shorts. Now we’ve just got to buy the home!
UPDATE: the above paragraph was written in 2020. And then guess what we saw in 2021:
YEP! A surfing Santa in flip flops on the porch welcoming in those on the Candlelight tour!
And then as we were leaving this house the owner walked past who we recognized. We had met him only a few weeks before at Pellagric Beer, Oakwood’s friendly neighborhood watering hole!
What is the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour?
The annual Candlelight walking tour is produced by the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood. 2023 will be its 52nd year.
For one weekend, each December, a limited number of tickets are sold to those wanting to tour the homes that participate in the event.
It’s a self-guided tour, with a map you can follow and information by way of the app. You can tour the homes in any order you wish. You can see the holiday decorations on the outside of each home, but can also tour the interior. Each home is staffed with docents who will tell you about the history and architectural styles of each property, sometimes it’s the owners themselves.
Apart from the unique Holiday grandeur you can experience on this tour, a reason to REALLY love it, is it saved this historic district in Raleigh, the only intact nineteenth century neighborhood in Raleigh.
By 1970, Oakwood was rundown and earmarked for urban renewal and the state had planned to demolish half of the neighborhood to put a highway through the middle of it.
The neighbors joined together to form the Society for the Preservation of Historic Oakwood and keep the developers at bay. The Candlelight tour was their Special Forces. The thoroughfare plan was thwarted, and the neighborhood revitalization of the Victorian, Queen Anne, and Craftsman architectural styles continues to this day.
Thank you to the residents for coming together to fight this and proving this neighborhood should be persevered.
While you’ll see and learn about many of the homes in the neighborhood dating back to the 1800s to the early 1900s,, there are also several modern homes with their own stories to tell.
The Oakwood Candlelight Tour Experience
When is the tour in 2023?
In 2023, the tour is on Saturday, December 9th & Sunday, December 10th from 1-7pm each day. Tickets are valid for one day only. and you can’t re-enter properties.
You check in at Tucker House (418 North Person Street) to begin the tour. You’ll receive a printed Tour Ticket which includes a map of the neighborhood and the location of each property on tour.
You may check in any time after 12:30 PM, however, homes don’t open until 1pm.
Tips for making it a great experience
Of course, the Oakwood Candlelight Tour is best viewed at night, but that’s when it will be busiest and you may encounter waits to get into the properties.
This year the Oakwood Candlelight Tour will have ten homes you can visit. I’m sure there were more when we did it in 2021. We allowed for three hours, but really needed four, as there were a few we missed by the 7pm end.
We recommend you walk between the homes – it’s easy enough to do, and parking will be a nightmare otherwise. Walking from house to house is part of the experience, as many of the homes in this neighborhood will be decorated for Christmas even if they aren’t a tour home.
Make sure you plan your route out first to save you walking back and forth. Wear comfortable shoes as there is a lot of walking.
I feel like Jones St is the grandest street in Oakwood (it has the largest homes anyway) so we tend to go there first before the crowds gather, and then circle around.
The homes at the back near Oakwood Cemetery seem to have less crowds, but definitely worth a visit.
Parking: On-street parking is available throughout Oakwood but space is limited. Free parking is available on weekends in the State parking lots, north and south of the nearby Governor’s Mansion.
What does the Historic Oakwood Candlelight tour cost?
If you purchase your ticket before Nov 10th, it’s $30. After that it’s $35. You can purchase online or in person at The Tucker House on tour days. Children under 6 are free when with a paying adult. This tour always sells out, so I’d buy them online beforehand to be sure.
Groups of 10 or more can get a special rate of $28 so gather all your friends.
All ticket sales are final and the Historic Candlelight tour of the homes in Oakwood is on rain, hail, or shine! Pack your raincoat just in case!
Unfortunately access is limited for disabled person due to the nature of these historic properties.
Starting location is The Tucker House, 418 N. Person Street. Each featured house will also have a small sign in their yard indicating what stop they are on the tour.
A Few of our favorites on the tour
It’s up to the owners of each home as to whether they want to join the tour and open their doors to the public. It takes a lot of work to prepare elaborate themes and decorations, tell the historical stories of the home, and then hand over the home for a several hours for two days to have strangers walk through.
Some of these homes may not be open for the 2023 tour!
This home was featured in the 1983 Brainstorm movie featuring Natalie Wood. I loved learning about the Second Empire-style tower, similar to the Second Empire Restaurant on Hillsborough Street which was built by the same builder!
I loved the symbolism of this Victorian cottage’s design. Purple was chosen to evoke calm in what has been a chaotic year and to bring hope for 2021! There are several large teddy bears that symbolize security, unconditional love and happiness.
806 N. Bloodworth Street
I loved the upside down Christmas tree inside the large cape myrtle on the front lawn. Not just symbolic of this year, but also a symbol of the Holy Trinity used by a Benedictine monk in the 7th Century.
601 Leonidas Court
Tucked into a cul-de-sac opposite Oakwood Cemetery is the Phillip’s-Hallam House built in 1994 and owned by Greg Hallam and Madonna Philipp’s, a nationally acclaimed artist. We loved the “Sparkle” themed holiday decorations of this. In 2021, we were able to go inside the home and see some of Madonna’s artwork in her gallery.
504 N. East St
Props have to be given to the owner who climbs out onto the pitched roof each year to hang the wreath on the turret. The owner and her friends were coming outside of the house as we were gawking. They told us just how dangerous her commitment to holiday decorations was! We thanked her!
229 Elm Street
Want to kiss under the mistletoe? Head to this Neoclassical Revival style home built in 1908. It hangs over the historic oak tree over the sidewalk.
What I appreciated more was this tree is also the Cancer Caring tree. You can select a ribbon from the box to hang from the tree as a reminder to all those fighting cancer to stay strong.
This is also a home not to miss during Halloween!
516 E Jones Street
The largest and second-oldest home in Oakwood is the Thompson-Anderson-Allen-Robertson House. It’s beautifully decorated with welcoming seasonal greens, cones, fruit and red ribbons. Many charitable events and concerts are held here – yes please!
Some beautiful interiors
I can’t remember a lot of the homes we entered during the 2021 tour and I no longer have the map to help me. But here are some photos from the 2021 Candlelight tour so you can get a glimpse of what to expect when you tour these wonderful homes.
While here Explore North Person St
We’re always looking at ways we can enhance an experience. We rarely show up just for an event and then leave. We always incorporate a coffee, beer, or something to eat.
Historic Oakwood is located right near North Person St, so you have lots of options before or after the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour.
Stop in for a meal, or even a beer at the new Standard Beer + Food, which has a lot of outdoor space right next door to the neighborhood garden.
We love the neighborhood feel of Pelagic Beer or William and Company.
We grabbed a beer and cider before our walk and then picked up a few doughnuts from Krispy Kreme for our kids. There’s also Two Roosters if they prefer ice-cream!
Video of the Candlelight Tour in Oakwood 2020
More Christmas Events in Raleigh
- 63+ Things to do in Raleigh for Christmas
- All you need to know for the Raleigh Christmas Parade
- 12 Amazing Christmas Experiences in North Carolina including the fun Polar Express (for the little kids)
- Downtown Illuminate Art Walk
- North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary
- Illuminate the Holidays with these Christmas Light displays in Raleigh