Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I love the sights and sounds of Christmas. Going to do “Christmasy” activities is something I love to do with my husband. We’re lucky that we are only a couple of hours from New York City, which has some of the most beautiful things to see at Christmas time.
But, we don’t have to go further than our own city and suburbs to see lots of Christmas displays. The Philadelphia area offers a lot of sights and special activities during the holiday season. I’ve pulled together a list of my top 10, to help you figure out what to put on your list of things to see.
The list is divided into geographic regions to help you map out your trip. So, go out and enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas!
CENTER CITY PHILADELPHIA
The following activities are all located in Center City Philadelphia, and within close walking distance of each other.
1. CHRISTMAS VILLAGE
This is always the highlight of my visit to Center City Philadelphia at Christmas time. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Christmas Village is designed to replicate the Christmas Markets you would find in Germany.
The Christmas Village sets up more than 80 wooden booths, where vendors can sell their merchandise. What I like most about the village, is you can find some unique and hand-crafted items there.
Tip #1: Be sure to check out the Kathe Wohlfahrt store. It’s the large white tent. Not only does it give you a chance to go inside and get warm, but Kathe Wohlfahrt is Germany’s top Christmas ornament and décor company. I’ve spent a lot of money on ornaments here over the years!
In addition to merchandise, there are also places to grab a bite to eat and something to drink. You’ll find all sorts of German food including bratwursts, potato pancakes and spätzle. One of my favorite booths is Chaddsford Winery’s booth. You can get hot mulled wine in a special Christmas Village collector’s mug, or buy their wine by the glass or bottle.
Tip #2: If you’ve been to the Christmas Village before and have your mug from previous years, be sure to bring it back. Chaddsford Winery will refill it, and you’ll save yourself the expense of buying a new mug.
There are also lots of special events that happen each day. Make sure to check their website at www.philachristmas.com for a list of musicians, dance groups, and other special events. The Christmas Village is open from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. It’s typically open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the weekends. The Christmas Village is back at Love Park this year, after being at City Hall for a few years while the park was being refurbished.
2. THE COMCAST HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR
If you need to warm up while visiting Center City, stop inside the Comcast Center and watch the Comcast Holiday Spectacular. The video wall in the lobby of the building – called the Comcast Experience – is one of the world’s largest and highest-resolution LED displays. The screen is 83.3 feet wide by 25.4 feet high.
In 2008, the Comcast Center started broadcasting its Comcast Holiday Spectacular. The 15-minute video features lots of familiar Christmas carols, dancers, and even some scenes from the Pennsylvania Ballet performing The Nutcracker.
Tip #3: If you visit during the day and are looking for a bite to eat, head downstairs. There are several small restaurants downstairs including a Di Bruno Brothers and a Termini Brothers Bakery – both of which are Philadelphia staples! There are also bathrooms downstairs if you need those.
I won’t completely ruin the surprise at the end of the show, but this picture will give you a little hint!
The Comcast Holiday Spectacular runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. Show times are at the top of each hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. They do NOT run a show at 5 p.m. during the week.
3. MACY’S CHRISTMAS LIGHT SHOW
Another Philadelphia Christmas tradition is the Christmas Light Show and Wanamaker Organ Concert at Macy’s in Center City. Macy’s has been putting on the show for over 50 years.
During the show, more than 100,000 LED lights combine to form all sorts of Christmas characters and holiday images.
Tip #4: If you want to hear the Wanamaker Organ being played, go to the show that starts at noon. The organ is played during the finale of the show.
Tip #5: This show is all about the view. You have to get there early to get a prime spot. The store gets extremely crowded and warm, so be prepared!
In addition to the light show, be sure to check out the third floor of the store, where the Dickens Village is recreated. Macy’s also decorates their outdoor windows, so be sure to pass by those as well.
The shows occur daily at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
4. CITY HALL LIGHT SHOW
A brand new attraction this year is the Deck the Hall Light Show at Dilworth Park at City Hall. This year, City Hall has been decked out in festive lights. During scheduled times, the lights turn into a choreographed light show complete with music.
If you’re looking to get some exercise after watching the lights, there is an ice rink at the park as well. There are also some tents set up with shops.
The show started on November 20th and runs through New Year’s Day. On Sunday through Thursday, the show happens at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, it plays every half hour beginning at 5:30 and ending at 9:30 p.m.
After all of that walking and being out in the cold, I’m usually ready to warm up and sit down. One of the coolest places to do it in the city is at SkyGarten. Located on the 51st floor of 3 Logan Square, it’s designed to feel like an indoor German biergarten. There are large bench tables, where people can sit and enjoy some food and beers.
The menu contains lots of German favorites like pretzels and bratwurst, as well as American fare like wings and burgers.
Tip #6: During the winter they have a spiked hot chocolate bar. It’s a little pricey for what you get, but definitely a cool experience.
If you want to brave the cold, you can walk out on the outdoor observation deck. It’s a beautiful view of the city from 50 floors up. Bundle up, because it will be windy and cold, but it’s worth a quick peek! Skygarten is open on Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 pm. Note that there is a small cover charge on certain nights.
OTHER PHILADELPHIA LOCATIONS
6. FRANKLIN SQUARE HOLIDAY FESTIVAL
During the holidays, Franklin Square is transformed into a holiday light festival. The Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show features over 50,000 lights. There are two alternating shows featuring different holiday music. The shows happen every 30 minutes between 4:30 and 8 p.m. weekdays, and until 9:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
In addition to the light show, the Square also has mini golf, a carousel and a train that runs around the Square.
There is also a food and beverage tent where you can purchase food from SquareBurger. They also serve local craft beer and wine, as well as other cocktails.
Tip #7: There is limited seating at the Square. There are few fire pits, but seats around those are premium.
7. BLUE CROSS RIVER RINK WINTERFEST
If you like outdoor ice skating, this is for you! The Blue Cross River Rink has been open for the last 24 years, but for the 5th year in a row, they’ve transformed the rink into a winter festival. In addition to ice skating, the park includes holiday decorations, outdoor seating with fire pits, a kid’s area with arcade games, and a chalet-style lodge with food and beverages from local restaurants.
Tip #8: You do have to purchase tickets to enter the park and to skate. Tickets are sold by “skating sessions”. You can buy tickets in advance on-line at http://www.delawareriverwaterfront.com/places/blue-cross-riverrink-winterfest.
The Blue Cross River Rink Winterfest is open 7 days a week, including holidays. It’s a great place to view the fireworks on New Year’s Eve as well. The special New Year’s Eve session starts at 5 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m. You have to buy special tickets to that session, which includes skating, food, entertainment, and a view of the two fireworks shows.
If you don’t want to go into the city, there are also plenty of things to do in the suburbs. I’ve only listed my top three, but there are lots of others out there.
8. LONGWOOD GARDENS
Longwood Gardens puts on one of the most spectacular Christmas displays around. There is everything from lights decorating all of the outdoor trees, to huge indoor Christmas trees, to fountain shows set to holiday music. There is even an organ-led Christmas carol sing-a-long.
Tip #9: One of my favorite things to see every year are the homemade ornaments made by kids at local elementary schools. They decorate individual little trees with the ornaments from each school. You can find the display inside the greenhouse.
Tip #10: There is a LOT of walking involved, and a lot of it is outdoors. Wear comfortable shoes and bundle up!
Tip #11: It can get very crowded during peak times. It’s never a problem for walking outside, but for the inside attractions (i.e. the greenhouse, lobby/gift shop, etc.) it can be shoulder to shoulder. It can also make parking a challenge. Keep in mind that at peak times (Friday and Saturday night), they may park you in the remote lot, which requires you to take a shuttle bus to the entrance.
Tip #12: They sell timed tickets to help spread out the crowds, but once you are inside, you can stay as long as you want. To avoid some of the crowds (and give yourself a better chance to get closer parking), buy a ticket for late afternoon and see the indoor attractions first. The outdoor lights turn on around 3:30 pm, and it gets pretty dark here by around 4:30 pm. You can see the outdoor lights and still be done before the big crowds start, and with plenty of time to grab dinner.
The Christmas display can be viewed from now until January 7th. Go to www.longwoodgardens.org for more information and to buy your timed tickets in advance.
9. MEDIA, PA
The Philadelphia suburbs contain lots of little towns that have great “main streets” in their downtown area. One that’s close to me and one of my favorites is Media, PA. It’s located in Delaware County, off of I-476 (just north of the Philadelphia International Airport).
Media is a great little town any time of year. There are lots of unique shops and really great restaurants. The thing I love most, is that almost all of the business are small businesses that are locally owned.
At Christmas time, the downtown area gets decorated with lots of lights and the storefronts contain lots of holiday displays. Additionally, they even do carriage rides down the main drag in downtown Media.
I love walking through Media at night at the holidays and enjoying all of the lights, shopping and finding some great gifts for people, and then warming up for a nice dinner and some drinks.
Tip #13: There are lots of great restaurants in Media. One of my favorites is Ariano, which serves Italian food and brick oven pizzas. If you like sushi, check out Azie for some great upscale Asian food.
You can find more information about things happening in Media on their website at http://visitmediapa.com/.
10. PEDDLER’S VILLAGE
If you head to Bucks County, you’ll find Peddler’s Village. This is another great place to visit any time of year, but is really special at Christmas time. Peddler’s Village contains lots of shops and restaurants for you to visit. During Christmas, the village is decorated with thousands of lights, to make it really beautiful to stroll through while getting some Christmas shopping done. They also do a Gingerbread House Competition and Display.
Tip #15: When you are done visiting Peddler’s Village, take a short drive over to downtown New Hope, PA. Like Media, this is a great little town with lots of shops and some great restaurants. Marsha Brown’s is one of my favorite restaurants, if you are looking to treat yourself to a nice dinner. Check out my post on visiting Bucks County for more information.
So there you have it! My 10 favorite things to do in the Philadelphia area at Christmas time. Hope you find it helpful to plan your visit!
Have questions about these sites in Philadelphia? Do you have places in the area you like to visit at the holidays that we didn’t mention? Comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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