December is a magical time in Philadelphia.
The City of Brotherly Love shines bright during the holidays, with light shows, ice skating rinks, tree lightings, concerts and fireworks display. Let’s also not forget the the unbeatable holiday shopping opportunities (with no sales tax!) at pop-up shops and local boutiques spread throughout the area.
Beyond the holiday festivities, blockbuster exhibitions like Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor at The Franklin Institute and monumental public art displays such as Parkway 100’s Winter Fountains bring rich cultural experiences to enjoy, and events like the Coffee and Tea Festival and the Army-Navy Game keep the city buzzing.
The month ends with two of Philly’s biggest annual events: the SugarHouse Casino New Year’s Eve on the Waterfront and the epic Mummers Parade, two outdoor celebrations that are not to be missed.
Read on for all of our top picks this month.
Dates vary by attraction
The heart of Center City is packed with holiday pop ups, including the brand-new, nightly KLIP Collective creation, Deck the Hall Light Show at Dilworth Park. The outdoor Rothman Institute Ice Rink & Rothman Institute Cabin offer ice skating, skate rentals, twinkling lights and indoor space to warm up and fill up on snacks, cocktails, beer and hot drinks, while America’s Garden Capital Maze is a living labyrinth of seasonal plants and lights. Philly’s official tree overlooks North Broad Street, as does Craft Hall, an indoor beer garden, bakery and barbecue featuring Lost Breads and smoked meats. Within the open-air courtyard, the carousel returns, along with the Hernhut stars-topped stalls of the Made In Philadelphia Holiday Market of independent local vendors.
Friday, November 23, 2018 – December 31, 2018
The Grand Court in the National Historic Landmark Wanamaker Building has hosted a Christmas Light Show since 1956. The department store revives the tradition of sugarplum fairies, dancing snowmen and more with a 100,000-light show narrated by Julie Andrews and accompanied by the famed Wanamaker Organ. Free performances take place every two hours during store hours. Between shows, visitors often tour the second floor’s vintage Dickens Village, setup of animated dolls retelling A Christmas Carol; each free walkthrough ends in a chance to meet and get photos with the real Santa.
Friday, November 24, 2017 – March 04, 2018
The popular Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest returns for year five with fire pits; a Kids Lodge arcade; a cozy, chalet-style Lodge Restaurant and Bar; 12 nights of Christmas movies; sweets from Franklin Fountain Confectionery Cabin; and hearty fare from Garces Group and Chickie’s & Pete’s — all centered around a regulation skating rink with a spectacular view of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Thursday, November 08, 2018 – December 31, 2018
The Franklin Square Holiday Festival featuring the Electrical Spectacle Light Show makes this park twinkle, with free shows every 30 minutes between 4 and 8 p.m. on weeknights and 4 and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Among the 50,000 lights set to music are a giant, illuminated kite and key. Festivities include #FranklinSquareFridays; Saturdays with Santa; Seasonal Sounds on Sundays; rides on the holiday train and carousel; treats such as make-you-own s’mores, hot doughnuts, local beer and hot beverages — served in a warming tent or around fire pits in a beer garden; and mini-golf.
November 23, 2017 – January 1, 2018
A massive, street-level, high-resolution LED display shows The Comcast Holiday Spectacular, 15-minute features of dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet and a magical sleigh soaring through Philadelphia’s skyscape.
November 23 – December 24, 2017
The German-style Christmas Village returns to a restored JFK Plaza, also known as LOVE Park. For the 10th year, 80 wooden booths of local and international merchants display and sell Käthe Wohlfahrt trimmings, wintry apparel, handmade toys and all manner of edible and drinkable treats, while entertainment keeps things festive. The LOVE sculpture makes its triumphant return in February 2018.
Monday, December 31, 2018 – January 01, 2019
The SugarHouse Casino New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront features two major pyrotechnics displays over the Delaware River — one at 6 p.m. and another at midnight. The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest gets in on the action too with entertainment, favors, outdoor seating and great views of the fireworks.
Tuesday, January 01, 2019 | 9:00 am
This only-in-Philadelphia New Year’s Day tradition dates back to 1901 and today includes thousands of men, women and children wearing feathers and sequins while dancing to music and parading along Broad Street from Philadelphia City Hall, site of competition among the Comic, Comic Wench and String Band divisions, to Washington Avenue. The indoor Fancy Brigade Finale competition at the Pennsylvania Convention Center consists of Broadway-inspired music-and-dance routines for prizes and bragging rights. phillymummers.com. Tickets for bleacher seating at City Hall and for the Fancy Brigades are available at the Independence Visitor Center.
Through March 4, 2018
In 1974, a farmer digging a well in China struck one of history’s most significant archaeological discoveries: thousands of life-sized warrior sculptures that had been guarding the tomb of China’s first emperor since 210 B.C. Ten of the mysterious structures and 170 related artifacts, including weapons, jade and gold ornaments and ceremonial vessels, are now on display at The Franklin Institute for Terracotta Warriors, an exhibition that examines the story, craft and science behind the terracotta army. Philadelphia is one of just two cities hosting the exhibition.
The drama unfolds exhibit by exhibit at the brand-new Museum of the American Revolution. Just two blocks from Independence Hall — the command center for the Revolution — the newest addition to America’s most historic square mile documents the strategic wins, crushing losses and world-altering consequences of the war for We the People. Visitors learn stories of well-known and everyday people who experienced the tumult through galleries, engaging films and a collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, diaries and works of art.
December 9, 2017
The Army Black Knights take on the Navy Midshipmen in this epic collegiate rivalry, now in its 118th year and returning to Lincoln Financial Field.
November 30, 2017 – March 2018
The centerpiece exhibition of Parkway 100 is Winter Fountains, made up of four massive outdoor domes set along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway featuring surreal, glowing circular surfaces for video projections inspired by the boulevard’s grand fountains.
The holiday season shines bright in Philadelphia as neighborhoods citywide transform with spectacular decorations. You could easily spend an entire evening (or more) admiring the holiday light displays throughout the region. Click the button below for our guide to holiday lights in Philadelphia.
November 23, 2017 – January 7, 2018
Thousands of topiaries, wreaths, mirrors and floating cranberries, apples and gilded walnuts transform Longwood Gardens’ heated, four-acre, Versailles-inspired Conservatory, site of free and ticketed holiday performances, during A Longwood Christmas. Outside, 500,000 lights glitter in the trees, and gloriously renovated fountains dance to seasonal music. Fridays through Sundays, Terrace hosts by-reservation breakfasts with Santa.
November 10, 2017 – January 6, 2018
Bucks County’s holiday hub kicks off the moment the Clauses throw the switch on one million lights in the Grand Illumination Celebration (November 17), an event replete with carolers, warm apple cider and roasted marshmallows. Simultaneously, the Village Gazebo hosts a few dozen creations in the annual Gingerbread Competition & Display (November 17 to January 6). The Village Christmas Festival fills a weekend with a pair of Santa parades and Victorian decoration (December 2 to 3).
November 24 – December 24, 2017
Every holiday season, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia’s indoor haven for all things food, sets up an impressive holiday railroad display. This year’s all-new display features five magical interactive model train vignettes celebrating the history of the Reading Terminal Market, the Reading Railroad and the joys of the holiday season.
From Rittenhouse Square to Old City, areas all around town (and the countryside, too) bring a plethora of holiday cheer with brightly lit Christmas trees at their centermost spots. Lighting celebrations kickoff the illuminated fun, where live entertainment, caroling and other festivities often take place to add to the merriment.
Find something for everyone on your holiday shopping list — and treat yourself as well — at Philadelphia’s awesome retail destinations, creative craft bazaars, special holiday shops, independent boutiques, charming main streets and top-rated shopping malls. You’ll find a ton of amazing deals and holiday specials unfolding all monthlong and, best of all, there’s no sales tax on most wearable goods like clothing (some exceptions apply). Click the button below for our guide to holiday shopping in Philly.
December 8-31, 2017 (select dates)
The Pennsylvania Ballet returns to the grand for an elegant (yet kid-friendly) Philadelphia dance tradition. Tchaikovsky’s iconic score pairs with lavish sets, lavish costumes and enchanting performances — by the dancers, members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Philadelphia Boys Choir. This year’s sensory-friendly performance takes place December 27.
Stages both large and small all across the city get into the holiday spirit with special shows throughout the season. Find new twists on old classics, original works and more that close out a wonderful year of performances in Philadelphia.
December 1-30, 2017
Marvel at the world’s tallest underwater Christmas tree, which makes its debut at Adventure Aquarium this year. The 18-foot-tall tree, part of the attraction’s Shark Realm, will be illuminated for the first time on Friday, December 1 and will be on display through December 30. Alongside thousands of twinkling lights and colorful shells and coral, visitors will get the chance to see Scuba Santa and his “elfish” helpers swimming beneath the surface and celebrating the season.
With pop-up shops, annual celebrations and more holidays lights than you can count, Philadelphia is bursting with things to do and see this holiday season. For even more fun ideas to celebrate the season, browse our guide to the Top Holiday Events by clicking the button below.
December 12-17, 2017
Alice Walker’s most famous novel-turned-Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival, The Color Purple, hits The Forrest Theatre as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series. Catch it during its six-day stint this month.
An array of awesome exhibitions invite residents and visitors to warm up inside Philly’s many great museums this month. From a photographic display at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art featuring Chuck Close to a sculptural exploration at the Barnes Foundation honoring the 100-year span since Rodin’s death to a mixed-art display with works from five black women artists at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, plenty of arts and culture adventures await for you to take in. Click the button below for our complete guide to must-see exhibitions in Philadelphia this season.
December 2-3, 2017
The buzz returns every year when the annual Coffee and Tea Festival comes to town. The event, held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, offers more than 50 exhibitors to check out, along with tastings, gift bags and much more.
Book the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package for stays through June 15, 2018 and get FREE hotel parking as well as a $25 We ♥ 13th Street restaurants gift card, a $25 CHeU Noodle restaurants gift card, a $25 gift card to R2L, a free cheesesteak from Campo's and a $10 Lyft credit.