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10 Special Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s northern neighbor New York City gets a lot of attention when it comes to holiday visitors. It may be hard to compete with the iconic tree in Rockefeller Center or the amazing window displays on Fifth Avenue, but Philadelphia has plenty to offer locals and tourists alike that want to celebrate Christmas in Philadelphia.

In the past, we visited Philadelphia in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and we were pleasantly surprised at how quiet and less crowded Philly was compared to NYC at Christmastime. After visiting again this year in early December on a holiday press trip, I was again struck by how nice it is in Philadelphia at Christmas (and less crowded than when I was recently in Chicago for Christmas.)

It seems like Philly gets overlooked when it comes to the holidays but that is a shame (or a great hidden secret, depending on how you look at it). There is so much to do that is holiday-related, plus you have the great historical sights, museums, and terrific restaurants.

Here is a sampling of how you can enjoy Philadelphia around the holidays.

10 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Philadelphia

Note: I was recently hosted on a press trip by Visit Philly to revisit the city during the holidays. We have also visited on our own. All opinions are my own.

Christmas Village at LOVE Park

LOVE Park Christmas Village

From Thanksgiving through the Christmas Eve, LOVE Park transforms to a German-style Christmas Village. (Check current dates and hours. ) The outdoor market features food stalls with waffles, gingerbread, spatzle, candies and more, as well as shops with 80 vendors from around the world. There is mulled wine from local wineries in souvenir mugs, mouth-watering raclette (melted cheese spread onto bread), Bratwurst grilled over hot coals, and local craft beers.

Philadelphia Christmas Village hand painted houses

You can shop for gifts like Christmas ornaments from Germany and other handcrafts, and watch performances from local bands and dance groups. Plus, you can take a picture with the iconic LOVE sculpture! In 2018, you can also walk inside of a giant Christmas present made of lights.

LOVE Park present made of lights

After visiting the Christkindlmarkt in Chicago, I fully expected the village to be jam-packed with crowds on a Friday night, but I was pleasantly surprised. The park is large enough to allow for space between the aisles for people to easily pass. The booths weren’t blocks by lines of people waiting for food. And there was a nice picnic seating area to enjoy all the delicious treats.

While the vendors weren’t all traditional German handicrafts, and not all were Christmas-related (like the guy selling truffle oil), I still rate this as one of my favorite markets because of the food and the space to move around. For me overwhelming crowds can really detract from my enjoyment of an experience or destination.

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest

RiverRink Winterfest

Located not far from the Old City near Penn’s Landing, the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest celebrated its 25th year in 2018. Winterfest offers visitors and locals everything they need to enjoy some winter outdoor fun with a great view of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

There is a regulation-size ice rink, outdoor fire pits, an arcade, comfy couches, and 12 nights of Christmas movies. The cozy, chalet-style Lodge Cabin offers hearty fare from Iron Chef Jose Garces’ Garces Group and local-favorite Chickie & Pete’s.

Winterfest is open from November 23, 2018 through March 3, 2019 (check website for current times and hours.) If you are in town on December 8, 2018, you should stay for the Parade of Lights along the Delaware River, which takes place at the nearby Independence Seaport Museum. This includes a parade of illuminated boats including tugboats and other working vessels. During the day the museum offers visits with Santa, gingerbread crafts, and the opportunity to learn how snow is made.

Ice Skating at Rothman Rink in Dilworth Park

You can also skate outdoors just beside City Hall at Rothman Rink in Dilworth Park. This smaller skating rink offers Learn to Skate programs, open skating and rink rentals. There is also a spot to fill up on snacks, cocktails, beer, and hot drinks.

Christmas in Philadelphia

If you are visiting the Christmas Village across the street, also stick around for the nightly Deck the Hall Light Show on City Hall (November 19, 2018 through January 1, 2019.)

Around City Hall you will also find Wintergarden, with seasonal plants, lights and topiaries. Philadelphia’s official tree overlooks North Broad Street (lighting on November 28, 2018). And there is a Made in Philadelphia Holiday Market, Craft Hall with an indoor beer garden, bakery, and barbecue featuring Lost Breads and smoked meats, and a carousel.

Franklin Square Holiday Festival

Franklin Square holiday festival

Close to Old City’s Independence Hall, Franklin Square hosts a Holiday Festival from November 15 through December 31, 2018 . The centerpiece of the festival is the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light show featuring over 75,000 lights that are coordinated to holiday music from The Philly Pops. The light show takes place daily every 30 minutes between 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm on weeknights and 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays (weather permitting.)

Franklin Square carousel

Families will enjoy this because there is also a carousel and the city’s only Philadelphia-themed mini golf course. In addition to treats such as some delicious churros and burgers at SquareBurger in Franklin Square, there is also a Ben’s Sweets & Treats Tent featuring make-your-own-s’mores, local brews, cocktails, and hot beverages. You can enjoy these treats while sitting around one of the many fire pits and watching the light show.

Franklin Square fire pit

Macy’s Holiday Light Show & Dickens’ Village

From November 23 – December 31, 2018, Macy’s continues the Wanamaker tradition of a holiday light show, which has been running since 1956. The famed Wanamaker Organ accompanies more than 100,000 lights that create holiday images like snowflakes, ballerinas, and reindeer in the center city store’s Grand Court atrium. Shows run every two hours during store hours.

Macy's Christmas Light Show

In addition to the interior holiday light show, the store’s elaborate window displays rival its sister store in NYC. They have also transformed the third floor into a Dickens Village for the holiday season with a 6,000 square foot village and more than 100 animated figures from A Christmas Carol. You walk through various scenes from the story, including visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Macy's Dickens Village

Just be prepared to get there early to catch one of the light shows at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, etc. And there will be a long line to visit Dickens Village if you head to the third floor directly after one of the light shows. Therefore, you may want to leave a little time in between so you can enjoy the displays without the press of the crowd. It helps to understand the story of A Christmas Carol in advance, but kids can always enjoy a visit with Santa at the end. And, of course, you will exit into an area selling toys.

Miracle on South 13th Street

Miracle on 13th street sign

Each year, a neighborhood on South 13th Street in South Philly takes it upon itself to decorate for the holidays in a manor worth a visit. This one-block stretch of row houses go all out with lights, signs, music, and other decorations both outside and in their windows.

Miracle on 13th street lights

It is worth finding a spot to park and walking up and down the block to see the details these residents have incorporated, from writing a letter to Santa to inflatables ready for Instagram poses. You can find these phenomenon on South 13th Street between Tasker and Morris Streets.

Christmas in Longwood Gardens

A couple of years ago, we had a chance to visit Longwood Gardens, in suburban Philadelphia, at Christmastime for its amazing gardens and outdoor light display. This year I returned and I continue to be wowed by their holiday displays.

Longwood Gardens floating trees

Each year is different so even if you have already been, it is worth a return trip. You will need a timed-entry ticket and it is recommended that you visit mid-week if you can, or at least early in the season. I can say that visiting in early December versus right after Christmas made a HUGE difference in the crowd levels (for the better), plus it was much warmer and more enjoyable to spend a longer time outside.

Longwood Gardens outside trees

Longwood Gardens covers 402 acres in Brandywine Valley and was once the home of business and philanthropist Pierre S. du Ponte. A Longwood Christmas includes exhibits in the four-acre Conservatory and 500,000 lights outside. There are fountains that dance to seasonal music, organ music, holiday caroling, and even special events like breakfast with Santa.

Longwood Gardens fountains

I think it is best to book a mid-to-late afternoon ticket. That way you can arrive and tour the inside conservatories while it is still light (these usually take at least an hour.) This way you can still see the grounds at dark and enjoy all the outdoor holiday lights but before the night gets too cold.

What I learned on this visit is that it is a good idea to make a reservation at 1906, the fine dining restaurant on property. I was blown away by the quality of the food, presentation, and service. Certainly not what I would have expected from a restaurant inside a botanical gardens. If the fine dining option is not in your budget, you can also eat at the quick service cafe.

1906 Mushroom soup

Keep in mind that nearby Kennett Square is the capital for mushroom growing so be sure to try the mushroom soup and anything else mushroom on the menu. Even the bread is served in individual flower pots and look like big mushrooms.

While tickets to Longwood Gardens aren’t cheap, there are a number of discounts available (Veterans,

 Adventure Aquarium in Camden

Just across the river in Camden, NJ, Adventure Aquarium offers a way to get in out of the cold and entertain the kids for a while. In addition to seeing hippos and touching stingrays, if you visit at Christmas you may get to see Rudolph and the Abominable Snowman like we did on our visit year.

The Abominable Snowman at Adventure Aquarium

Shady Brook Farm

There are many other holiday celebrations in the greater Philadelphia area, including the Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania in Bucks County. They use more than three million lights to create a holiday spectacle that you can drive through, or ride through in wagons. There are illuminated tunnels and celebratory nighttime displays. You can also visit with Santa and enjoy hot chocolate by the bonfire.

The Holiday Light Show runs from November 17, 2018 through January 6, 2019. Check the website for current hours and dates.

Mummers Parade

Of course if you are sticking around for New Years Day, the Mummers Parade is a Philadelphia tradition that is not to be missed. It dates back to 1901 and can only be found in Philadelphia. The parade involves thousands of adults and kids wearing feathers and sequins while dancing to music and parading along Broad Street from City Hall to Washington Avenue.

The night before features fireworks over the Delaware River and before the parade, MummersFest gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at set-building, rehearsals, and opportunities to dress up.

Check out Visit Philly for more ideas on what to do in Philadelphia for the holidays. You can also learn more about the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, which offers overnight guests free hotel parking, tickets to the Barnes Foundation, ice skating bath the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, and more perks.

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10 Ways to celebrate Christmas in Philadelphia. Enjoy fewer crowds, history, and great restaurants along with ice skating, Christmas markets, lights festivals, and visit to Longwood Gardens to start. #philadelphia #philly #christmas

20 Comments on “10 Special Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Philadelphia

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  1. Philly looks absolutely beautiful during the holidays! I’ve only been right before in the November timeframe 🙂

    So many great suggestions!

    Hope you had a very Merry Christmas in Philadelphia!
    It looks like a lovely place to celebrate the holidays with family.

    I looove love love Philly! Though I never really considered going over the holidays. Now you have me thinking maybe I should! That picture of the tree is stunning!!

      Katie, that was in the Macy’s and is accompanied by a sound and light show. I think NYC gets all the attention and Philly gets overlooked when it comes to holiday decorations and festivities.

    Gah! You did so much! What a beautiful city at Christmas time! The skating looks so fun and I’m loving that blue Christmas tree!

      The upside of traveling with 1 tween, plus a couple things we have done in the past couple of years.

    We always have the best time going home for the holidays! I’ve been going to the Macy’s lights before it was Macy’s and love sharing the tradition with my kids and hubby!

    it’s been such a long time since i went to philly! like over 20 years ago.. i don’t remember too much. i’ve always wanted to visit the northeast to have a white christmas, but i definitely need to prep myself for actual cold weather. 🙂

      We lucked out and it was in the 50s when we were there but this week we will see negative numbers in RI 🙁

    I’ve never been to Philly this time of year. It looks like there’s so much to do. I’ll have to keep it in mind for future family adventures. Thanks for all the suggestions!

    Who knew there was so much to do there during the holidays? Great post and fun photos! Now I want to go to Philly!

    There is nothing I love more than a Christmas market!! So magical.
    I love the variety of Christmas activities you’ve shared – skating and gardens and aquarium (another personal fave). Looks like a great destination!

      Thanks Colleen, definitely so much yo do and see.

    Wow, so much to see and do! Philadelphia has not been on my radar, I was there (I think) as a child, but I definitely want to check it out for its historical past – with my hubby being a fairly new American citizen, he loves American history and Philly is a perfect place for it!

    I can only remember one other travel blogger who traveled with kids. This inspires me to travel more with my own!

      Jen, there are definitely so many family travel bloggers but I am glad if it provides some inspiration. My hope is to provide info that makes family travel planning easier and less intimidating to encourage families to try it out.

    Philly looks absolutely beautiful during the holidays! I’ve only been right before in the November timeframe. Thank for sharing this nice article.

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