How to Make the Most of Your Holiday Season in Philly

Whether you’re looking for lights, Santa, or an ultra-luxe holiday, check out these festive must-do’s to make the most of your season.

holidays christmas lights philadelphia

A stretch of lighted rowhouses on the 1700 block of South 13th Street is affectionately known as the “Miracle on 13th Street.” / Photograph by K.Kelly for Visit Philadelphia

I don’t care how jaded you are — when Julie Andrews’s voice greets you at the top of the Macy’s light show or the Sugar Plum Fairy floats across the stage, you’ve got to feel a little warmer. The holidays are back, after years of muted celebrations and canceled plans, and I cannot wait for all the lights, music, togetherness, and excuses to day-drink mulled wine in a park. You’ve got a month to fit in all the festiveness, so let’s get started with five very different (but all very Philly) holiday experiences.

Twinkling Lights 

So much to choose from in Center City alone: the stone-cold classic Macy’s (née Wanamaker) show; Franklin Square’s Electrical Spectacle; projection-mapping onto City Hall. Head west for the Philadelphia Zoo’s LumiNature display of animal-themed lights and installations (the 25-foot pink flamingo tree is our personal fave), plus a new show starring a gigantic penguin. And who doesn’t love a gigantic penguin? Still further west, in Oaks, Tinseltown returns with its walk-through winter wonderland, plus ice slides and skating. Want to stay warm in your car? Opt for the drive-through experience at Philadelphia (née Franklin) Mills. Want to stay warm in someone else’s vehicle? The BYOB Founding Footsteps trolley tour of lit-up attractions like Smedley Street and the Miracle on South 13th Street is for you. Check out our guide to holiday lights here.

A Fancy Day

Book the luxe Holiday Lodge suite at the Logan as your home base. Then head to the Rittenhouse Hotel for Teddy Bear Tea — your kid gets a Gund bear, and you get tiers of scones and sandwiches, so where’s the downside? (The Philadelphia Ballet is also having a special tea with the Sugar Plum Fairy on December 18th.) And of course, your fancy holiday wouldn’t be complete without the Philadelphia Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker under the chandelier at the Academy of Music. 

Because Standard Santa Photos Are So 20th-Century

Gritty Claus at Tinseltown / Photograph courtesy of Comcast Spectacor

Sure, you can see Santa in Christmas Village or at Macy’s (back in person this year!) for a traditional snap. But imagine your friends and family opening their cards to see the crazy eyes of Gritty Claus! At Tinseltown, you can make that happen on select nights. Or meet Phanta Claus (the Phillie Phanatic as St. Nick) at the Citizens Bank Park tree lighting. At Adventure Aquarium in Camden, there’s Scuba Santa. (Okay, I feel like we’re stretching it a bit.) And an always-fun Santa experience: riding SEPTA with him on Black Friday to the ice rink at Dilworth Park. Should Santa be too wholesome for you, there’s always his terrifying counterpart, Krampus, who rises from the deep to make a North Bowl appearance on December 10th.

Noël Nightcap

Drink a cocktail out of an ornament while surrounded by ornaments at Tinsel. Get Grinchy at Uptown Beer Garden’s Whoville makeover. And Midtown Village standby McGillin’s Olde Ale House always goes over-the-top with its holiday decorations and is the perfect spot for a drink break amid your Center City holiday shopping. Check out our guide to all the festive holiday-themed bars here.

Uptown Beer Garden’s Grinchy holiday makeover / Photograph by Society Hill Films

Lightning Round

You’ve dropped the ball. It’s the last weekend before Christmas, and you’ve got to jam in as much jolly as you can. Hop the PHLASH bus, and let’s do this. Stop 1: Christmas Village and Dilworth, with all the treats and gifts you can imagine, plus a carousel, a Ferris wheel and mulled wine. A quick walk gets you to Reading Terminal for cannoli and other goodies. Stop 2: Take PHLASH to Old City for shopping, followed by a leisurely stroll to Franklin Square for Chilly Mini Golf and the light show. Stop 3: Hop back on the bus to Penn’s Landing for Winterfest at the RiverRink. The candy-cane-fueled adrenaline will keep you going until you collapse into a fireside Adirondack chair with a s’mores kit. 

Published as “Hit List: Holidays and Nights” in the December 2022 issue of Philadelphia magazine.