The best things to do for Christmas in Philly

The City of Brotherly Love offers no shortage of festive holiday attractions & seasonal events. While indulging in Philly cheesesteaks and authentic Italian cuisine, climbing the Rocky steps, visiting all the historical sites, and taking in the local sports scene will give you plenty enough to do, a December visit bring forth even more opportunity to take in the local flavor. Christmas in Philly is a magical time of the year, with festive ice rinks, shows, and special events to look forward to.

Philadelphia Holiday Tree
The gorgeous Philadelphia Holiday tree, topped with a Liberty Bell!
City Hall at Christmas
The amazing historic Wanamaker Building (now a Macy's) decked out for the holidays!
Macy’s – the former Wannamaker building

While the city’s Christmas events may not get as much coverage as top holiday destination cities like NYC and Chicago, Philly’s holiday traditions are just as beloved by locals and visitors alike. From a classic 60+ year old Light Show in one of the country’s first department stores, to a newer LED show on one of the world’s largest highest resolution screens, to classic winter ice skating at 2 magnificent outdoor rinks, there’s something for everyone in Philly.

Below are 10 of the most festive events & attractions to put on your Philly holiday bucket list!

1. Macy’s Light Show

Macy's Light Show in the historic Wanamaker Building in downtown Philadelphia

The historic Wanamaker building is the place to be during the holiday season in downtown Philly. This architectural wonder opened in 1910 as one of the country’s first and largest (12 floors at the time!) department stores. The store’s Grand Court Organ is the world’s largest fully functioning pipe organ.

With a dazzling light & sound show featuring 100,000+ lights, 3 floors of shopping, a special telling of “A Christmas Story” featuring animatronics, and festive holiday windows, there is more than enough to do to here to justify placing a visit to Macy’s on the top of your holiday bucket list.

Macy's Center City Philadelphia Holiday windows
One of the creative holiday windows for the 2019 season

The holiday light show tradition dates back to 1955, and is definitely the must-see in Philly this time of year. If you only have time for 1 holiday event, let Macy’s show be it. The spirited show features popular Christmas tunes, accompanied by LED characters from The Nutcracker and Frosty the Snowman. Noon shows feature live music from the Wanamaker Grand Organ. This show really is a timeless classic, and perhaps one of the best long running Christmas events in the country!

  • Location: Macy’s Center City (1300 Market Street Philadelphia, PA).
  • Show times: Nov 29th-Dec 31st, 10am, Noon, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm
  • Tip: Head up to the 2nd floor for a prime view and fewer crowds!

2. Ice skating at Dilworth Park

Ice skating at Dilworth Park in downtown Philly

Dilworth Park is the central gathering spot in the heart of Center City. In the wintertime, the area is bustling with numerous seasonal events including Christmas Village, a German inspired shopping market, an ice rink, the Philadelphia Holiday tree, and a festive choreographed light show projected onto City Hall.

Ice skating really is the go-to Christmas activity. What cheesy Hallmark/ABC Family Christmas movie does not feature the trademark ice skating scene? Whether you are a seasoned skater, or just looking to enjoy a classic winter activity, ice skating is sure to get you into the festive spirit. The Rothman Rink is large enough to accommodate the (oftentimes) large crowds and offers the perfect urban wintry setting. They often play festive music in the background, which adds to the ambiance. Unlike the super pricey $30+ NY rinks, admission is just 8 bucks ($10 for skate rentals).

After breaking up a sweat (ice skating is one of the best calorie burners out there!) treat yourself to a hot cocoa or a sweet treat at adjacent Rothman cabin.

  • Location: 1 S 15th St, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dates: Nov 4th – Feb. 26th (check the Dilworth website for this year’s hours).
  • Tip: If you prefer less crowded surroundings, opt for a weekday afternoon or late night (after 9pm) visit!

3. Comcast Holiday Spectacular

Nutcracker scene in the Comcast Experience holiday show in Philadelphia

The Comcast Spectacular LED show, featuring incredible modern technology, is one of the newer additions (the tradition began in 2008) to the downtown Philly holiday lineup. Although it does not offer the classic nostalgia and festive department store setting like Macy’s, this show is pretty mesmerizing and definitely worthy of a spot on your Philly holiday bucket list.

Get ready for Christmas cheer via one of the world’s largest LED continuous video screens (2100 square feet, 27 million pixels). Since 2008, thousands upon thousands of locals and return tourists come to watch this brilliant show featuring classic Christmas tunes, a short cameo by the Pennsylvania Ballet, and various animated scenes. The show is 15 min long, free to attend, and conveniently located within walking distance of Dilworth Park.

  • Location: 1701 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 
  • Dates/times: The show runs every hour from 10am-8pm (no show at 5 on weekdays), from Nov. 24th-Jan 1st.
  • Tip: As the Comcast Center is located within close walking proximity to City Hall, you can easily head to this show before/after the City Hall show, which runs every half hour.

4. Christmas Village

Christmas Village in downtown Philadelphia

Christmas Village is a traditional German inspired shopping village where you can shop for handcrafted authentic German style Christmas gifts, indulge in traditional German foods like bratwurst and strudel, sip hot cocoa in a cute collectors mug, and snap some photos near the giant walk-thru LED present. It’s a fun way to get into the holiday spirit even if you do not plan on buying anything. However, if you do have the cash to spend, you will find some of the most gorgeous Old World ornaments here.

Growing up in Chicago, I always took a stroll around Christkindlmarket every holiday season. Visiting Christmas Village in Philly takes me back to the days of seeing the old-school Marshall Fields windows, followed by a trip to Daley Plaza to see the Christmas tree and awe at all the gorgeous glass blown ornaments. Just like the renowned Chicago market, Philly’s Christmas Village continues to give guests the rare opportunity to enjoy a traditional European style Christmas experience minus the pricey flight.

  • Location: 1501 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dates/times: Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, 11am-7pm (Sun-Thurs), 11am-8pm (Fri & Sat), 11am-5pm on Christmas Eve.
  • Tip: Put a stroll around Käthe Wohlfahrt tent on the top of your list! There are too many gorgeous wooden and glass ornaments here! Be prepared to wait as entrance is limited to cut down on traffic.

5. A Longwood Christmas

Holiday decor at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania

Longwood Gardens, a 1000+ acre nature oasis located about an hour outside of downtown Philly, is a must-see if you have the means to travel to the suburbs. This gorgeous botanical garden puts on an extravagant Christmas celebration featuring 1000’s of poinsettias, dozens of decorated Christmas trees, and a gorgeous collection of winter blooming plants. Add in festive synchronized fountains shows and colorful light displays both inside and outside, and a trip to Longwood is highly justifiable.

Poinsettia tree at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania

Highlights here include a wonderful bonsai collection, poinsettias in every hue, Paperwhite Narcissus, and thousands of twinkling lights and festive holiday decor. The fountain show, accompanied by holiday tunes, is a sight not be missed. Grab a hot cocoa, bundle up and enjoy a stroll around the lovely grounds after taking in over 4000 plants in the warm tropical indoor conservatory.

  • Location: 1001 Longwood Rd, Kennett Square, PA
  • Dates/times: Nov. 18-Jan. 8. Tickets are timed entry, so reserve in advance to guarantee your preferred time slot.
  • Tip: Time your visit in mid-afternoon so you can enjoy both the indoor and outdoor festivities. Also, avoid busy weekends or be prepared for single file lines!

6. Winterfest at RiverRink

Beautiful ice rink along the Delaware River front in Philadelphia

RiverRink Winterfest is a fun & festive seasonal event located along the beautiful Delaware River waterfront near historic Old City. Like Dilworth Park, they also put up an ice rink every November. This ice rink offers numerous advantages. First off, it is much bigger, and thus, there is more room to skate, especially if you arrive near opening. Second, the setting along the river is both gorgeous and unique. On the downside, the music choice is rarely festive. Special events include a NYE skating extravaganza with a prime view of the River Casino fireworks show.

Admission to Winterset itself is free and there are a bundle of activities, so do not feel left out if you are not a skater! Non skating activities could possibly include sipping a hot cocoa made with real chocolate, roasting S’Mores via firepit, cozying up in a swing chairs complete with a comfy blanket, and enjoying the festive holiday lights.

  • Location: 101 S Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dates/times: Nov. 25th-March 5th. Check out the public skating and holiday schedule.
  • Admission: $5 entrance, $12 for skate rentals. Free entry to Winterfest area.
  • Tip: Treat yourself to a coffee from La Colombe, the best roaster in town.

7. Deck the Hall Light Show

Deck the Hall holiday light show in downtown Philadelphia

Dilworth Park really is the centerpiece of all the holiday excitement each December. Along with the Rothman ice rink and Christmas Village, you will also have the opportunity to see a pretty cool light show which projects onto this grand historic building. This beauty was built for $24 million between the years of 1871-1901.

New for 2021, organists and pianists will be on-site for a special Play the Lights special event, held Tuesday & Wednesday nights from 8:45-9:30pm.

It’s a pretty fun and rare experience to see a colorful, spirited light show projected on to such an old building, so do take the time out for this one!

  • Location: 1400 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA
  • Dates/times: Nov. 21st- Jan 1st. The show runs daily, every hour between 5:00-9:00pm.
  • Tip: Check out the nearby Philly Holiday tree before/after the show! Check out one of the newer additions, a 65 foot Ferris Wheel.

8. Peddler’s Village Holiday Festival

Peddler's Village holiday light festival in Pennsylvania

Peddler’s Village should be near the top of your list if you love colorful light displays. Featuring over 1 million lights, this is one of the biggest & best light displays in the region. Also on-site are dozens of imaginative gingerbread houses. Winning creations are quite over-the-top and spectacular. Besides taking in the wonders of the season, you can browse in over 60 local boutique shops, finding that perfect unique gift. Best Gift Idea Ever, Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn, Country Accents, and Fehrenbach are all worth a look.

Grab dinner at Cock N’Bull or Hart’s Tavern restaurant, enjoy a wine tasting at Chaddsford Winery, or indulge in a sweet ice cream treat at Nina’s Waffles – make a whole night of it to justify your drive. Keep in mind that a village wide Happy Hour is offered from 4-6pm, Monday through Friday. As if you didn’t need another reason to check out the gorgeous light display…

The quaint ambiance and old-fashioned shops make this the best choice for anyone looking to escape the craziness of downtown Philly for a night.

  • Location: 2400 Street Rd, New Hope, PA
  • Dates/times: Nov. 18th-Jan. 8th. Check out the directory and extended holiday shopping hours.
  • Tip: Check out the free Holly Jolly festival featuring live entertainment. The 2 day event includes a festive Santa parade.

9. Dickens Village

Dickens Village at Macy's Center City Philadelphia

See the beloved “A Christmas Carol” come to life via animatronics and a gorgeous set design. Since 1985, the Center City Macy’s has transformed over 6000 square foot of space into a walk through Christmas Carol wonderland. Relive the classic Dickens story via 26 scenes featuring over 100 characters. It’s like a nostalgic step back in time to 1840’s Victorian London.

As one of Philly’s favorite holiday events, this one is better visited on a quieter weekday! Be prepared to wait if you visit on a holiday weekend, especially in the week leading up to Christmas.

You will pass by the Macy’s Holiday Shop on the way. There are so many gorgeous ornaments, beautifully lit trees, and decor pieces to browse through at this rather large shop.

Holiday Shop at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia
  • Location: 1300 Market Street (The Holiday Shop is on the 3rd floor).
  • Dates/times: Nov. 25th-Dec. 31st (closed on Christmas). Entrance is free. Reservations required.
  • Tip: Visit on a weekend so you can leisurely stroll and enjoy all the intricate details.

10. Elmwood Park Zoo Lights

Elmwood Park Zoo Lights in Norristown, Pennsylvania

Elmwood Park offers a nice smaller zoo lights event which comes with a much smaller price tag than the Philadelphia Zoo Lights. Known as Wild Lights, the event features millions of colorful lights. Also on the lineup are seasonal performances, pictures with Santa, and festive food and drink specials. Check out the lineup of special seasonal events.

Located in Norristown near the King of Prussia Mall, this is a great add-on activity if you plan on checking out one of the country’s most extravagant shopping spaces.

  • Location: 1661 Harding Blvd, Norristown, PA
  • Dates/times: Nov. 18th-Dec. 30th, 5pm-9pm on select days. Check the events calendar for this year’s holiday lineup.
  • Tip: Admission is a bit pricey at $20. Save 2 bucks online by entering code WL2019 at checkout.

More holiday fun!

Christmas Ferris Wheel near City Hall in downtown Philadelphia
New for 2019 is a giant 65 foot Ferris Wheel in front of City Hall. For just a few bucks, you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of all the holiday pizazz!

Craft fairs galore! All the small towns and suburbs around Philly seem to be alive with craft fairs from Thanksgiving throughout the first few weekends of December. Skip the chain stores in favor of shopping for something a bit more personal and handcrafted from all sorts of local vendors.

Miracle on South 13th Street – This neighborhood in South Philly has been decking their entire block in over-the-top decor for decades. Every house is in on the action without a single home barren! This is a great add on activity, but not necessarily worth going out of your way for! A bit overhyped, yet nonetheless worth a quick drive-thru if you happen to be in the vicinity.

Miracle on South 13th Street in South Philly
Unfortunately, there is no parking anywhere near by, so it’s hard to get a quality picture of this event! I recommend visiting on a weekday to enjoy a more leisurely, traffic free cruise!

Holiday Shopping

King of Prussia mall. This massive mall is the place to go if you feel like shopping til you drop. As the second largest mall in the US, you will find no shortage of stores here. Over 400 to be exact! Lots of great dining choices too like Grand Lux Cafe, The Cheesecake Factory, and Maggiano’s. It also doesn’t hurt that La Colombe (one of the best local roasters) has a coffee stand on-site (find it in front of Neiman Marcus). As a bonus, the space is decorated quite nicely for the holidays!

Mall directory

Holiday decor at King of Prussia mall in the Philly suburbs

Shopping in Old CityOld City is lined with all sorts of unique specialty shops. You will have no problem finding anything and everything for those hard to shop for people on your list. Stop by Franklin Square to check out the annual choreographed light show while in the vicinity! It’s not necessarily worth going out of your way for, but a nice detour this time of year!

Franklin Square Holiday light show in Old City Philadelphia
Light shows take place every half hour from 4:30-8pm (9 on weekends).