Holidays in Philly: A Master Guide
Celebrate the holidays in Philly, starting at the center and working our way out. Don’t miss a festive thing around town!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There’s no shortage of things to do during the holidays in Philly—light shows, skating, shopping… the list goes on and on. How to do it all?*
Let’s start from the middle and work our way out. If you’re taking public transportation, ride the subway to City Hall station or the Regional Rail to Suburban Station. Oh, and before you even leave the station, you can head to Track 0 and walk through a festive Frozen train on select dates!
Ok, head above ground, and here we go!
1400 JFK Blvd.
You don’t get more central than this, so let’s begin with the very middle—City Hall Courtyard—where you’ll find a festive carousel and some vendors. Walk through the courtyard to the north side of City Hall (at JFK Boulevard and North Broad Street) to see the magnificent Philly Holiday Tree at the newly named Wawa Holiday Plaza. The 50-foot tall fir with a dazzling display of lights will have a tree lighting ceremony on December 4, including family-friendly festivities, live entertainment by local stars, and more! The plaza also has the new Christmas Village Ferris Wheel, which offers fantastic views of the city! Little ones will also like the new train ride, also in the plaza.
Now things get really interesting. Walk around (or through) to the west side of City Hall to reach…
Dilworth Park: Rothman Rink, Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, and more
1 S. 15th St.
Dilworth Park is a holiday celebration unto itself right now. You can skate on Rothman Rink (it’s even open on holidays), and kids can rent cute little penguin skate helpers to aid in their balance. Afterwards, visit the Cabin for food, treats, hot beverages, and even cocktails—there’s a kids’ menu with favorites like chicken fingers. They added cozy firepits out back if you’d rather enjoy your food there. The Rothman Rink will also offer skate lessons (plus fun events) after the holidays, so you can visit even after we ring in 2020.
Next, walk past the rink to the Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, where more than 40 local artisans, designers, crafters, and confectionaries have unique selections for gifts and special holiday foods. This market was designed to complement Christmas Village across the street—but only focuses on locally made gifts. There’s also another treat tent within the market, with hot chocolate and other snacks.
Just past the market is the Wintergarden maze, a lovely little holiday-inspired garden with reindeer topiaries, twinkling lights, and lots of photo ops.
Stick around at night and catch the Deck the Hall light show projected onto City Hall starting at 5:30 pm and running every hour on the half-hour (and every half-hour on Fridays and Saturdays). This show uses the architecture of City Hall to create projected large-scale animation and music, and is really a sight to behold.
1500 Arch St.
Now walk across the street to Love Park, where Christmas Village is in full swing. To call this just a holiday market is a great injustice, because this is basically a month of holiday cheer in the middle of Philadelphia. Modeled after the traditional Christmas markets in Germany, this annual market features over 80 vendors in wooden booths selling authentic European food, ornaments, crafts, clothing, and more from all over the world. You can also buy your Christmas tree here (as well as ornaments and other decorations), at the Christmas Tree Stand.
In addition to the amazing assortment of wares, there are festive events all month long including live music, storytimes, wine tastings, and visits with Santa! They also have great food, from waffles to mulled wine (Pro tip: buy the commemorative mug for discount refills—you won’t be sorry). New to Christmas Village this year is a beer garden, too!
Returning to Christmas Village, “The Present” is a glowing, 27-foot-tall, walk-through holiday gift box made of thousands of LED lights. Not only does it make the perfect photo op, it’s also a way to give back. Guests can text to donate to various Philadelphia causes and leave a message of love with gift tags inside. Another way to give back inside Christmas Village is the Wish Wall—purchase a wooden heart ornament from Information and write your wish, then hang it on the wall to share with visitors. $1 from each heart goes to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. While the Wish Wall is there all season, Christmas Village also hosts a Make-a-Wish Weekend (December 22—23) with more opportunities to support Make-a-Wish.
Thanks to the recent renovations done to Love Park, Christmas Village is now stroller-friendly!
Macy’s: Santaland, Dickens Village and the Christmas Light Show
1300 Market St.
To quote Julie Andrews’s narration of this 100,000-light spectacle, it the Macy’s Christmas Light Show is a “grand tradition.” If you’re from Philly, you probably grew up watching it, and not a thing has changed. The bears, the dancing snowmen, the “magic Christmas tree,” the Wanamaker Organ finale—it’s all there, and it’s all aglow in colorful nostalgia.
Note that the light show is only every two hours (10 am—8 pm), so you may want to plan your day around which show you are making. And because of the infrequency, the Grand Court gets very crowded, so come early to get a good spot.
After the show, visit the “Believe” station (just past the Eagle, near the shoes) to write a letter to Santa and drop it in the bright red Santa Mail mailbox. For every letter, Macy’s will donate $1 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Next, head up to the third floor to Dickens Village, and walk through an animatronic telling of A Christmas Carol, then go into a private room where you can sit on Santa’s lap and get a photo. Note: if you don’t want to see Santa, you can bypass this second line after Dickens Village.
As you leave Macy’s, be sure to check out their holiday window displays on the Market Street side!
Keep going on this side of Macy’s and check out…
Reading Terminal Market
51 N. 12th St.
The market is always a great place to grab a bite, but if you have a little train lover in your family, swing by here to check out the Reading Terminal Holiday Railroad train display. They redid it last year, and now it’s interactive, with all trains, lights, and devices being controlled by buttons your kids will want to press over and over.
Let’s go back to the center and go in a different direction…
Comcast Holiday Spectacular
Comcast Center, 1701 JFK Blvd.
Now entering its tenth year, the Comcast Holiday Spectacular is a 15-minute festive musical on one of the world’s largest highest-resolution LED displays. Running at the top of the hour (except 5 pm on weekdays), the show includes holiday songs, expansive aerial footage of Philadelphia, parts of the Pennsylvania Ballet’s The Nutcracker, and more. At the end, marvel as it begins to snow in the lobby of the Comcast Center.
Santa is also expected to visit the Market at the Comcast Center on weekends, which will also have live entertainment, so stop by for some extra festiveness.
But were you planning to go to a special holiday show instead? Let’s head in a different direction, south on Broad Street from City Hall!
10 Avenue of the Arts
Stop in for decadent holiday hot chocolate at Aqimero— you’ll get rich dark drinking chocolate topped with brûléed marshmallows alongside candy canes, chocolate snowball cookies, and sugar cookies. And for an extra $5, the grownups can get it spiked.
The Ritz-Carlton will also have a very fancy gingerbread house workshop (reservations required) on December 15, where you’ll make some confectionery masterpieces and even see Santa Claus.
George Balanchine’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St.
In our family, the holiday season just isn’t complete without the Pennsylvania Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker. From the Tchaikovsky score to the timeless story of holiday magic, this ballet is a classic for a reason. Come early for photos with the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Mouse King in the lobby! December 14 and 15 are “Tea with the Sugarplum Fairy” days with photos and brunch buffets. The sensory-friendly performance is December 30 at noon has accommodations both inside and outside the theater to make children who are on the autism spectrum, or who may have sensory sensitivities, more welcome.
A Philly POPS Christmas: Spectacular Sounds of the Season
Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St.
This Philly tradition features over 300 performers bringing an all-new repertoire of favorite holiday classics. In addition to the fabulous pop orchestra, the concert features vocals by Hamilton’s Mandy Gonzalez, the Philadelphia Boys Choir, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas Gospel Choir, and the Philly POPS Festival Chorus.
Time to Hop on the Philly PHLASH Holiday Festival Shuttle
There’s even more holiday fun to be had in Philly, but your tired little legs can’t make it across town. So go back to City Hall by nightfall, because this year, there is a Holiday Festival Shuttle powered by Phlash, which runs from 6—10 pm every 20-30 minutes from Thursdays through Sundays! The world is your oyster! Let’s follow the loop around and tell you where to stop…
Transfer at City Hall for: Luminature
Philadelphia Zoo, 3400 W. Girard Ave.
New for this year, the Philadelphia Zoo presents a nighttime multimedia holiday spectacle the likes of which you have never seen. Throughout the zoo, giant animal-themed installations will glow, Evergreen trees will talk, and you’ll be surrounded by pure fantasy. Seasonal fare, strolling performers, hot chocolate (and adult beverages) add to the festiveness. This display has been years in the making, and involves more than 600,000 lights animating everything from a 35-foot polar bear to 200 little penguins to a 25-foot pink tree made of lawn flamingos! Read all about this new holiday experience in our preview!
Or follow the loop around and stop at…
Historic Holidays in Old City
Shuttle stops at Third and Chestnut streets
Old City is hosting holiday events all season long, beginning with the tree lighting celebration to kick things off on December 5 at the Betsy Ross House. There will also be a menorah lighting on December 22.
The shops of Old City are having a window decorating contest, so make sure to check out their efforts as you stroll the street. Be sure to download the brand new Historic Holiday Pass for discounts at Old City museums, attractions, shops, restaurants, and more!
Santa will be at Fireman’s Hall on Fridays and Saturdays, too, so drop by! And for a more immersive and private Santa visit, check out the Old City Santa photo experience, complete with a tour of Santa’s Workshop and storytime.
And speaking of snapping photos, don’t miss Photo Pop’s new Winter Wonderland installations at The Bourse. More than 15 local artists have lent their talents to create over 30 installations and murals with all things festive!
Franklin Square Holiday Festival
Sixth and Race streets
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, and the holidays in between, Franklin Square will celebrate with magnificent lights, and lots of free festive fun. There will be celebrations for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve!
Catch the Electrical Spectacle light show every 30 minutes beginning at 4:30 pm, where the square lights up timed to a holiday soundtrack. To warm up between light shows, drop into Ben’s Sweet Treats tent for hot chocolate, s’mores stations, and more.
Santa will visit every Saturday night, and you can buy tickets to have cookies with him in the heated Pavilion before he comes out to greet the public. But it’s not just Santa visiting Franklin Square—throughout the season, on some Franklin Square Fridays, there will be visits from characters from The Nutcracker, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, and more! See our preview for all the events and celebrations coming to Franklin Square this year.
As always, you can play Philadelphia-themed miniature golf and ride on the beautifully illuminated carousel—now playing holiday music through December 31. In addition to these mainstays, you can ride the Lightning Bolt Holiday Express Train around the square on Saturdays and Sundays. These extra activities are pay-as-you-go.
Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest
101 S. Columbus Boulevard
For 26 years now, the Blue Cross RiverRink has brought fun and merriness to Philadelphia every year after Thanksgiving. In recent years, the Delaware River Waterfront has made the RiverRink even more of a holiday destination, expanding into Winterfest—with food, games, photo ops, cozy cabins, and more.
The city’s only regulation-sized outdoor ice skating rink is a favorite winter spot for all ages, and has amazing views of the river and Ben Franklin Bridge. There’s also food and drinks inside The Lodge, an indoor arcade, and firepits for roasting s’mores (available from Franklin Fountain’s stand by the rink).
Winterfest will have special holiday events all season, beginning with their tree lighting on December 6. Come on Saturdays for Storytime in the Lodge, too.
Lead photograph by Laura Swartz.
*There is so much more around town, but we are making it manageable here by sticking to the big institutions that can all be accessed on a loop within Center City-ish boundaries. So be sure to check out our events posts every week (you’ll find them at the top left of the site) to see even more special things to do—like Fairmount Park’s historic mansions, Scuba Santa at the aquarium, business district shopping nights, and of course all the stuff in the suburbs.
Annamarie Beck December 19, 2020
I’M GOING TONIGHT WITH MY SIS TO SHOP SOME CHRISTMAS GIFTS & I/WE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE EVERYTHING IN CENTER CITY ESPECIALLY THE CHRISTMAS STORY ON CITY HALL IN LIGHTS. I KNOW EVERYTHING WE SEE AS WE SHOP WILL BE MAGNIFICENT,,, THIS IS PHILADELPHIA WE ALWAYS HAVE ❤ THE BEST ANYTIME OF THE YEAR….AMEN 🙏❤