The Top 10 Things to Do With Kids in Philly This December
Holiday lights, celebrations, shows, skating, and so much more festiveness to cram into this month.
The holiday season is in full swing, and Winter Break is right around the corner. As the year winds down, here are the best of the best family-friendly events in Philly to add to your calendar.
After a couple years in Oaks, the walk-through holiday lights experience that began in the Wells Fargo Center parking lot during the pandemic is coming back in South Philly, this time at FDR Park. Not only can attendees stroll through over 2.5 million lights powering glowing sculptures and displays, but there are new activities like the skating ice trail, tubing down the ice slide, and storytime with Mrs. Claus. Don’t worry: Santa and Gritty Claus will both make appearances as the season goes on — Gritty will be there Fridays in December. There’s also a marketplace as well as a tent with treats, warm drinks and cocktails for the grownups. Tinseltown runs through January 1st.
For a unique holiday celebration, take a trip over the bridge to Camden where Santa Scuba awaits your visit. Visit him in Ocean Realm to take selfies through the glass (or visit his study if you prefer a more traditional snap). The aquarium will also have the World’s Tallest Underwater Christmas Tree (18 feet of custom sculpted coral) and more decorations throughout, including inside the sea creatures’ homes. While you’re there, you can also enjoy holiday-themed crafts, trivia and other daily activities. Plus, it will snow indoors! Pro tip: The aquarium remains open for Christmas, so it’s a nice thing to do when little else is open (though Santa will have left for the North Pole by then).
Franklin Square’s holiday extravaganza runs through February 25th. Their Philly-themed mini golf transforms into Chilly Philly Mini Golf for the season with decorations, lights and other fun surprises. They also brought back street curling from last year. While you’re there, you can also ride the carousel, hit the playground and watch the Electrical Spectacle light show around the fountain. Light shows run every 30 minutes from 5 p.m. to closing, and feature holiday songs and more than 200,000 lights. Decorate some cookies, toast some s’mores, and warm up by the outdoor fire pits with hot chocolate (or spiked hot chocolate) from the Ben on the Rocks tent. Stop by on Saturday evenings when Santa will be there. Celebrate Hanukkah on December 8th and Kwanzaa on December 29th. And, finally, close out the year with a free New Year’s Eve party including crafts, music, and a 6 p.m. “square drop” celebration.
In addition to Franklin Square’s nightly shows and Tinseltown’s all-out festiveness, you can catch spectacular holiday lights all around Philly and beyond. The classic nostalgia of Macy’s, LumiNature’s zoo lights, farm lights, even a trolley tour of lights — the list goes on and on. Check out our guide here for all the best holiday lights.
The holiday season always brings classic family-friendly performances to town, and this year is no different. Of course, there’s The Nutcracker — a must-see tradition danced by the Philadelphia Ballet at the Academy of Music, plus variations including an all-Black version by Chocolate Ballerina Company, a tap-dance version by the Lady Hoofers, and even a one-man version.
Check out our guide to holiday performances here.
For festive wintertime memories, you can’t beat a spin around the ice with holiday music playing and lights twinkling. And you can get that experience at Rothman Rink in Dilworth Park, as well as the 30-years-running Blue Cross RiverRink. The latter’s Winterfest offers a cozy lodge, food and drink, rides, photo ops, fun and games, and river views to make it a holiday must-do even for those not interested in strapping on a pair of skates.
Christmas Village is back for its 16th season, running through December 24th. Modeled after the traditional Christmas markets in Germany, this annual market features dozens of unique vendors in wooden booths selling gifts, ornaments, crafts, clothing and more from all over the world. They also have great food, from brats to raclette to strudel to mulled wine; and rides including a giant Ferris wheel, a kiddie train, and a double-decker carousel in City Hall courtyard. Be sure to check out their weekly story times with the Free Library on Tuesdays, and stick around to visit Dilworth’s sister Made in Philadelphia market, skating rink and Wintergarden. New for this year, a brand-new holiday attraction called the Festival of Trees has popped up in LOVE Park’s erstwhile visitor center (a.k.a. the “flying saucer”). Over a dozen unique trees created by local organizations, artists, designers and volunteers compete for bragging rights and it’s all for a good cause — proceeds benefit CHOP. (Admission is free; donate what you wish for a voting token.) Bonus: On weekends, Santa will be there for photos!
At Philly Museums
Don’t miss the Franklin Institute’s annual winter celebration, Franklin Frost. The holiday programming runs through December 31st and includes a 25-foot-tall “celestial-themed tree,” miniature train displays, crafts and other festive activities. While you’re there, check out their new, the two-floor Wondrous Space exhibit. Kids and adults of all ages can explore space travel, rocket science, and the cosmos with hands-on, sensory, and problem-solving activities. On-screen activities include building a rocket, designing a spacesuit, guiding a rover, and searching for life-supporting planets. It’s part of a longterm overhaul planned at the iconic museum, coinciding with its 200th anniversary. All activities are included with admission.
Meanwhile, the Please Touch Museum’s current special exhibit takes kids inside the PBS series Dinosaur Train. Little ones can climb aboard the train, and engage in STEM learning through fun, hands-on activities like hunting for fossils in the dig pit. The exhibit is included with regular admission and will run through December 31st.
And over at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, check out Art Kids events including weekend pop-up studio activities and tours, Winter Break activities, and more. On Thursday, December 28th, students, caregivers, and staff of the School District of Philadelphia (including charter schools) will get free admission to the Art Museum all day, along with musical performances and art-making activities.
This free annual event at the historic Fairmount Park playground is a holiday treat. On December 15th from 4 to 7 p.m., Smith partners with local organizations and businesses for an evening of family-friendly activities including s’more roasting, arts and crafts, ice games, book giveaways, playground fun and more. To give you a peek of activities to expect, participating Philly partners include the Discovery Center, the Art Museum, Treehouse Books, and Action Karate. The event is completely free, but you can avoid the line by pre-registering online. And come early, because it gets crowded and giveaways can run out.
Countdown to Noon
The kids (probably) aren’t making it up till midnight, so plan for one of the many kid-friendly NYE celebrations around town. The Please Touch Museum goes all out with their signature Countdown2Noon event, which features performances, crafts, dance parties and a ball drop (and confetti shower) in Memorial Hall. For a party later in the day, Franklin Square (above), Cherry Street Pier and the Blue Cross RiverRink time their family-friendly New Year’s celebrations to culminate with the Delaware waterfront’s 6 p.m. fireworks. Franklin Square’s free party includes music, crafts, light shows, and a “square drop,” along with pay-as-you-go activities like mini golf and carousel rides. Cherry Street Pier has a family party with PopUp Play-led craft activities, a dance party and fantastic views of the waterfront fireworks. Want to watch those fireworks from the ice? Book a ticket to RiverRink’s 5 p.m. New Year’s on Ice party and enjoy them from the rink, along with rides, food and music.