Best Things to Do in December in Philadelphia

Philadelphia's Best Bets for Sharing Holiday-Related Fun with Friends and Family

Spending the holiday season in Philadelphia doesn't have to mean you miss out on seasonal fun and entertaining winter activities. Whether you're here with a group or traveling solo, there are a plethora of things to brighten up the days, as well as the nights. Interested in seeing some holiday sparkle? Why not check out the traditional Macy's Holiday Light Show, which is a classic in this city. For a newer take on the holiday light show, trek on up to Franklin Square and view Electrical Spectacle. It's short and sweet, is great for families and small groups, and doesn't take a whole lot of planning (or funds) to see it. For a more formal and culturally enriching evening, your group may want to order tickets to the Pennsylvania Ballet's annual performance of the Nutcracker performed at the Academy of Music. It promises to deliver a night of entertainment and holiday cheer. Couple it with dinner in town or a drink at a local bar, and you've got a great evening out. For active families, there's always ice skating, and what better time to enjoy that then during Waterfront Winterfest at the Blue Cross River Rink. In addition, be sure to check out the giant new light show at the Philadelphia Zoo. These activities, as well as the many other that go on during this time of the year in Philadelphia promise to make the holidays extra enjoyable.


Waterfront Winterfest at Blue Cross River Rink
Photo courtesy of Sharon Rigney

Winter is no reason to stay cooped up inside. Winterfest at the Blue Cross River Rink lets everyone experience some fun this season. What is Winterfest? It's a wonderful little park of fun that celebrates all that's winter and holiday-themed. It's around from post-Thanksgiving until the beginning of March, so make sure to get there before the start of Spring to take part in the fun. You'll be able to enjoy light and video shows, holiday decor, fire pits, great food options, warm beverages, live entertainment and local shopping. It combines many of the fun parts of the colder season with the joy and beauty of the holidays, culminating in a great place to get outside and play, eat, drink, shop and just have fun.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Waterfront Winterfest takes place outside and successfully brings winter and holiday festivities together for everyone to enjoy.

Sharon's expert tip: To catch the light show, check in every hour, on the hour from 5-11pm.

Read more about Waterfront Winterfest at Blue Cross River Rink →

Held annually to mark the start of the holiday season, Rittenhouse Square's annual tree lighting officially welcomes this special time of year. Locals, visitors, area employees, and even just fans of the holidays all gather at this well-known and lovely center of entertainment and activity to partake in the tree-lighting. This event is perfect for families and friends alike, who can also share a hot chocolate, enjoy Christmas carols or visit with Santa. The tree remains lit throughout the holidays as a magical, illuminated sign of the season. There is also a giant menorah that will be lit in the square at the start of Hannukah to further beautify this lovely park.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A fun event in one of the most attractive and active squares in the city, this annual tradition is family-friendly and nice for small groups.

Sharon's expert tip: Make an evening of this event with dinner at any of the nearby restaurants, shopping or a drink at one of the local bars.

Read more about Rittenhouse Square Annual Tree Lighting →

The Pennsylvania Ballet's annual performance of the Nutcracker is a holiday event that adds a bit of culture and musical appreciation to the season. It's the perfect opportunity for show-lovers to pass along the tradition of attending this iconic event to the people they love. Always an incredible performance, the event reenacts the story of Marie and her prince as they fight the evil Mouse King. Attracting roughly 50,000 patrons annually, this show is much-loved and a part of many people's must-do holiday traditions. Musically rich, full of beautiful dancing and incredible scenery, this show is one of Philadelphia's most popular holiday events. Make sure you don't miss it.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A cultural tradition sure to add class to any holiday season, this is a wonderful night out and a great annual tradition to pass along.

Sharon's expert tip: Reserve tickets early and even aim to make a night of it with dinner plans or a stay at an area hotel.

Read more about PA Ballet's Nutcracker at the Academy of Music →


Nothing brings the holidays to life more than beautiful, seasonal music. In Philadelphia, some of the best voices in town join together at the Kimmel Center to present a holiday showcase of of songs featuring classics, choral and gospel music, and the incredible pipe organ that is the centerpiece of this venue. Recently, the show added the 150-person Philadelphia Boys Choir for a wonderful treat. This organization sings in the acoustically-incredible Kimmel Center, which is a must-experience venue for anyone who appreciates good sound. Adding the holiday theme to the talent of the group, combined with the superior sound of the performance hall delivers a show that will resonate with anyone who sees it.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Not all holiday-themed celebrations need to be kid-themed. Some performances are perfect for adults of all ages, especially those looking for an enriching evening out.

Sharon's expert tip: Be sure to check out the architecture here in addition to the show. It's incredible.

Read more about Philly Pops →

Outside the city
Longwood Gardens
Photo courtesy of J. Fusco for Visit Philly

11,000 different types of plants make Longwood Gardens one of the world's most grandiose public gardens. With 20 indoor and 20 outdoor gardens, artistic exhibitions, performances by some of the most popular names in music, a children's conservatory and magnificent fountain displays –" all spread across more than 1000 acres of land half an hour west of Philadelphia –" even the most horticulture-adverse will surely be impressed. A wonderful event for multi-generational outings, the light show here is full of sound, sights, smells and scenery to wow you and take you away from reality for a bit. A true winter wonderland, it contrasts fire and ice and features 500,000 lights shimmering in the trees as well as a 200-foot tunnel of light, fountains, fire pit flames and spectacular seasonal music.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This event is unique, fun to see, and a wonderful attraction to share with friends and family, especially with anyone who also loves flowers, greenery and nature.

Sharon's expert tip: If you're coming at Christmastime, when Longwood Gardens is at its most resplendent, magical and romantic, be sure to buy timed tickets in well in advance (we recommend nighttime for maximum enjoyment of tens of thousands of lights and breathtaking fountain shows).

Read more about Longwood Gardens →


You may have seen holiday light and visual shows, but none will compare to the one put on at the Comcast Center. The screen here is one of the world's highest resolution LED screens, delivering a picture like no other. In fact, it's equipped with a resolution that's five times that of an HDTV. Gigantic in size, it serves up images and scenes that help transport you to the heart of the season in so many ways. See dancers perform from the Nutcracker ballet. Watch talented ice skaters and cute animals and see lovely scenery from around town. Lasting 15 minutes, this modern light and imagery show dazzles spectators big and small.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is modern holiday lighting and entertainment on a grand scale, perfect for a cheery holiday experience no matter who you're with.

Sharon's expert tip: If you go on Saturdays during the holidays, there is family fun for all ages.

Read more about Comcast Holiday Spectacular →

Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm
Photo courtesy of Sharon Nolan Rigney

Stay in your vehicle for a tour around the farm decorated for the season. Giant light displays take you on an adventure through all kinds of genres, with music and seasonal sights to boot. So many iconic holiday characters, as well as characters and buildings from around the world lit up in lights make this a true wow-worthy endeavor. More than 3 million lights greet you, illuminating acres of farmland. Should you desire, they also have an open-air wagon ride to take you through the display (weather permitting, call ahead for details). After the ride you're free to shop, warm up with a hot beverage or snack, grab some locally-produced items, purchase a Christmas tree, reserve a private campfire, sign up for breakfast with Santa for later or simply relax and enjoy the evening.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Located on a spacious farm, this light show has the ability to lead you on a wonderful adventure and bring on the holiday cheer for everyone you're with.

Sharon's expert tip: Take a device that's good at capturing night photos, as you'll want a few memories of the incredible lights you see here.

Read more about Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm →

This light show at Franklin Square is inspired by the imagination of Benjamin Franklin. Encompassing seven-minutes of pure entertainment, this show makes use of more than 50,000 lights, features seasonal songs sung by the The Philly Pops, and centers around a 10-foot-tall illuminated kite. It runs every 30 minutes between the hours of 4:30 and 8pm and is a wonderful treat for children as well as adults. In addition, food trucks will rotate out each night, allowing visitors to try a variety of cuisine, depending on their taste and budget. Electrical Spectacle promises to add holiday cheer to this already well-known and centrally-located area, treating guests to the splendor that is Philadelphia during the holidays.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's relatively new and it's neat. It's inspired by Benjamin Franklin's imaginative works and delivers lights, sounds, food and fun for all ages.

Sharon's expert tip: Don't be afraid to sample some of the eats at the many mobile food trucks that visit here nightly - it's half the fun!

Read more about Electrical Spectacle at Franklin Square →

This pop-up holiday market (Christmas Village) mirrors German-style markets and offers shoppers a fun experience as well as a chance to shop, eat and drink festive offerings. Individual stores are housed in wooden shed-like houses, and display their holiday wares for shoppers to wander by and peruse. Items vary from decorative to functional, and feature fun things as well as useful items sure to please. Food is also available and you can snap a seasonal photo by the well-known Philadelphia landmark LOVE sculpture located at the top of the plaza. A huge Christmas tree is located in the center area, adding elegance and festivity to the whole experience. This year there's an incredible addition to the scene: a ferris wheel to take you up for scenic views of the area! You can also walk across the street to Dilworth Park to enjoy additional fun including ice skating and festive, twinkling lights.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Love Park is fresh off a huge remodel, delivers the fun of an authentic German Christmas market, and gives you a chance to get outside.

Sharon's expert tip: Remember you'll be carrying your treasures, so bring a large, comfortable shopping bag.

Read more about Love Park PopUp Holiday Market →

This iconic seasonal performance has outlasted several retailers that have occupied the building it resides in. Generations of children and adults have enjoyed this show every year and it continues to be one of the biggest draws to the city during the holidays. The show features more than 100,000 bright, energy-efficient LED lights which combine to illuminate classic holiday images. The Wanamaker Organ is the centerpiece of this show, and is the largest playing pipe organ in the world, with more than 28,000 pipes. The show is completely free, is 15 minutes in length and runs every two hours on the hour daily from the day after Thanksgiving until the end of the year.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Where else can you combine shopping with a traditional light show that's such a huge part of Philadelphia history?

Sharon's expert tip: Get there early for a performance and grab a good place to watch the show. Then relax and enjoy!

Read more about Macy's Holiday Light Show →


Meet Sharon Nolan

Sharon is a native to the Philadelphia area, but loves to wander from its familiar borders. She has traveled to more than 30 countries, trekked five continents, ventured out with family,...  More About Sharon