The best Christmas activities in Pittsburgh

Although Pittsburgh is not thought of as a top Christmas destination city, there are a number of festive activities, attractions, and events to enjoy this time of the year. From a big city ice rink with a dazzling Christmas tree as the centerpiece, to rustic Christmas tree farms located just outside of the city, along with easy access to winter recreational areas, there is something to do no matter your personal style. And what is Christmas without snow? A snowy backdrop adds a wintry touch to any holiday activity. Although temps will be cold, only a few inches of snow typically fall each December. That being said, Pittsburgh is one of your best bets for seeing a White Christmas – it ranks 5th in terms of major US cities!

Take a look below at the top 10 holiday activities in the Pittsburgh metro area.

1. Ice skating at The Rink at PPG Place

UPMC skating rink in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

If you love ice skating, festive lights, and holiday music, then you will definitely want to plan for a night of skating downtown. In 2020, the rink celebrated its’ 20th anniversary with a new 1 million dollar rink. The centerpiece 66 foot Christmas tree really gives this rink a special festive touch. Skating here is a bit pricier than other major cities I’ve visited/lived in and the ice definitely needs to be zambonied more frequently considering the large crowds. Advance tickets online are an absolute must due to the popularity. After your skating session, stroll over to Market Square and enjoy shopping at a European inspired Christmas Village, as well as access to a number of restaurants.

Festive Santa show on the PPG Christmas tree in downtown Pittsburgh
  • Location: 4, PPG Place, Third Avenue Suite 100
  • 2022 Pricing: Adults $11-12, Children/Seniors: $10-11. Skate rental: $5.
  • Hours/More info

2. View the Spirits of Giving From Around the World exhibit

Santas around the world exhibit in downtown Pittsburgh

This international display of Santa representations from around the world is a great add on activity if you will be skating downtown. From November 18th through January 1st, you can explore Christmas traditions world-wide via over 2 dozen life like Santas, beautiful paintings, and folklore from around the world. The exhibit is free and conveniently located nearby the ice rink at Christmas market.

Festive Santas around the world exhibit in downtown Pittsburgh
  • Location: One and Two PPG Place
  • Admission: Free
  • 2022 Dates: November 18th – January 1st.
  • 2022 Hours: Mon-Thurs: 9am-7pm, Friday: 9am-8pm, Saturdays: 11am-8pm, Sundays: 11am-6pm

3. Shop at the People’s Gas Holiday Market

Holiday shopping market at Market Square in Pittsburgh

Many cities around the country unveil their holiday markets Thanksgiving weekend. Although Chicago is home to the best holiday market outside of Europe, numerous US cities offer a festive seasonal market where you can shop for handmade treasures. The Pittsburgh Holiday Market in Market Square has been going strong for 11 years. Highlights include:

  • Käthe Wohlfahrt – handcrafted German ornaments
  • Helmut’s Strudel – authentic Austrian strudel
  • Cinnaroast – roasted chestnuts and festive nuts of all kinds
  • European Folk Art – handmade Polish decor and gifts

The market is especially festive at night with a unique sphere Christmas tree and festive lights. The market is also located within walking distance of the PPG ice rink.

Holiday market in downtown Pittsburgh

4. See the Highmark Unity Tree

Highmark Unity Tree in downtown Pittsburgh

In Pittsburgh, the holiday season officially begins with the lighting of the Highmark Unity Tree. The 100 foot tall tree is located on the old Joseph Horne’s department store. The tree was first erected in 1953 and called the Horne’s tree. Today it is known as The Unity Tree. The celebration begins on Nov. 19th in a festive, yet overcrowded event called Highmark Light Up Night. The event features live music, tree lightings, fireworks, and more. If you prefer to avoid crowds, skip the event and view the tree on a quieter weeknight or weekend morning.

5. Cut down your own Christmas tree

Candletree Christmas tree farm near Pittsburgh, PA

There are many family Christmas tree farms located just a short drive outside of the city limits. Candle Tree Farm is located just 40 minutes south of the city and is one of the best picks. The trees here are quite affordable and there are a number of free amenities including hot cocoa and coffee. The wreaths are especially beautiful. Do make sure you visit earlier on in the season as they tend to run out of quality trees early on, especially Fraser Fir and Blue Spruce. A tractor will take you to the fields where you can cut your own tree (saws available or bring your own). Precut trees also available. Enjoy the fresh country air and the unique opportunity to choose your tree the old-fashioned way!

Christmas wreaths at Candletree Farms near Pittsburgh

6. Enjoy a budget friendly drive-thru light show

Clinton, PA drive thru Christmas light show

Pittsburgh offers a number of drive-thru light shows, almost all of them totally overpriced in my opinion. I prefer old-school walk through light displays, unfortunately, the area is lacking in this department. In terms of value, the Clinton Park drive through show is your best bet. Priced at just 10 bucks (as opposed to $30-40), this festive 1 mile light extravaganza features over-the-top holiday cheer. It’s located just 30 min west of the city. Note that there is a bit too much religious advertising and bible quotes along the course, although the lights are beautiful.

A free option for all is the Moon Park drive-thru show in Moon Township, located about 20 minutes from the city. This show is fairly small, although nicely displayed and super festive.

Moon Township drive through Christmas light show
  • Location: Clinton Light Up (600 Clinton Park Dr) Moon Park Lights (1350 Ewing Rd)
  • 2022 Dates: Clinton (Nov. 19th-Jan. 1st, 5-10pm). Moon (Dec. 3rd-January 8th, Dusk-7:30 weekdays, 10pm on Thurs-Sat).
  • Pricing: Clinton show is $10 per car (cash only). The Moon show is free.

7. Ice skate at South Park

South Park ice skating rink in Bethel Park, PA

Skating at South Park is a great alternative to the pricey downtown rink. Admission is just $5 ($6 for non residents) and skate rentals $3. Although it is not as festive with the lights at night, the beautiful natural landscapes make it the perfect skating destination the entire winter season. 2022 special events include: Skating with Santa. The NHL sized rink is very spacious compared to the downtown rink. It was built in 1958, giving it more historical significance. The skating ribbon is a fun bonus. Extra amenities include an outdoor firepit and a food/cocoa stand.

Skating at the South Park ice rink in Bethel Park, PA
Cozy fireplace at the South Park ice rink in Bethel Park, PA
  • Location: 30 Corrigan Dr, Bethel Park, PA
  • 2022 Dates/hours: Check website for the public skating sessions
  • 2022 Pricing: Residents $5, non residents $6. Skate rentals $2 residents ($3 non residents)

8. View the gingerbread display & tree at the City Council building

Annual gingerbread competition at the City Council building in Pittsburgh, PA

2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the Gingerbread competition, held annually in the lobby of the City Council building. Pittsburgh’s official Christmas tree is also located here. The 2022 tree is a 60 foot tall Blue Spruce planted at St. Alphonsus Church in Springdale. This tree is also lit on Highmark Light Up Night on November 19th. After enjoying the festivities, treat yourself to lunch at a local restaurant. Chinatown Inn is wonderful and located just minutes away.

Gingerbread display at the City Council building in downtown Pittsburgh
  • Location: 414 Grant St
  • 2022 Dates: Thanksgiving weekend – Jan. 6th
  • Hours: 10am-6pm (5pm Sat & Sun and Christmas/NYE)
  • More info

9. Take in the gorgeous decor at Omni William Penn resort

Omni William Penn downtown Pittsburgh at Christmas

The Omni William Penn is the most gorgeously decorated hotel in the Pittsburgh region. The beautiful Christmas tree, garland, and gingerbread houses in the lobby make it feel super festive in comparison to other lodging options in the area. Even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet in The Terrace Room or treat yourself to a coffee in the gorgeous dining room. The beautiful hotel is located within walking distance of the Cultural District, so a great place to stay if you intend on seeing a holiday production.

Festive wreath at the Omni William Penn in Pittsburgh
Gorgeous Christmas wreath at the Omni William Penn in Pittsburgh

10. See the Perry Como statue

Perry Como statue in downtown Canonsburg, PA

One unique roadside attraction to add to your bucket list is the Perry Como statue in downtown Canonsburg. The iconic singer was born in the area. The Perry Como Christmas album is considered one of the best. After viewing the statue, take a walk down Main St. and enjoy local shopping and dining.

Location: 68 E Pike St, Canonsburg

More holiday fun throughout the ‘Burgh!

Beautiful Christmas tree at Station Square in Pittsburgh

See a show – From The Nutcracker, to Holiday Pops, to A Christmas Story, there is something for everyone.

Museum holiday events – Most museums offer some type of special holiday event. The Carnegie Science Center screens The Polar Express on the Giant Screen and also displays a holiday train set. The Carnegie Museum of Art displays 5 gorgeous Christmas trees (the tradition started in 1961) in the stunning Hall of Architecture. Not only is the display gorgeous, but both the Museum of Art and Natural History are worthy of a visit.

Carnegie Museum of Art Christmas trees

Holiday craft fairs – A number of small towns around the city offer festive craft fairs, typically held anywhere from late November through mid December. Joy of Christmas, an annual extravaganza held at St. Louise de Marillac School and LeGras Parish Center is your best bet.

Christmas trees at Station Square & The Strip District – Both areas look festive with holiday decor. Plus, there are many restaurants and coffeehouses to enjoy.

Christmas tree at Station Square in Pittsburgh

Holiday Shopping & Dining

Holiday shopping – The Mall at Robinson and South Hills Village both look festive this time of year and offer a nice range of mid and upscale shops. Skip Ross Park Mall.

Holiday pastries – Treat yourself to a festive holiday pastries at one of a number of local bakeries and coffeeshops. Mediterra (Sewickley & Mt. Lebanon) bakes a delicious Eggnog danish. The coffee and ambiance are both great too!

Eggnog danish at Mediterra Cafe in Sewickley, PA

Pop up bars – There are a number of festive holiday pop up bars to choose amongst including the very popular Miracle on 6th.

Downtown Sewickley – Out of all the small cities in the metro area, Sewickley is the most festive. Stop by Mediterra Cafe for a delicious cup of coffee or hot cocoa. Special seasonal treats include Christmas Tree Zebra Cakes.

Festive holiday display window in Sewickley, PA

Winter recreation

Boyce park – Home to the only downhill skiing snowtubing in Allegheny County. Opening date for 2022 is Dec. 20th.