Note: This post included dates for the 2019 Christmas season. It will be updated for 2020 in November!
Christmas tends to be a favorite holiday for most people. And for people in Cleveland, the holiday means lots of extra themed things to see and do!
If you’re looking for something festive to do in Cleveland this Christmas, here are a dozen holiday-related things to consider.
Looking for Cleveland gift ideas instead? Check out our guide to the best local Cleveland gifts, too!
Things to do at Christmas in Cleveland (in 2019)
1. Kick off the holiday season at Winterfest
When: November 30, 10 am-8 pm
Where: Public Square and downtown Cleveland
The annual kickoff to Christmas event happens each year the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Winterfest takes place in Public Square, and the all-day event includes live music, carriage rides, ice skating, food trucks, and more. The event culminates in the lighting of the Public Square Christmas tree and fireworks.
Nearby businesses and attractions will take part, too, offering holiday activities, entertainment, pop-up shops, and more. Look for festive Winterfest things to do at Tower City, The Arcade, Cleveland Public Library, The Ritz-Carlton, and more.
How much: This event is free!
Other neighborhood holiday kick-off events include:
- Light Up Lakewood, December 7 in Lakewood. A parade, tree lightings, fireworks, and more. More info here.
- Holiday Circlefest, December 8 in University Circle. Free museum entrance, carriage rides, ice skating, and more. More info here.
- Wintertide, December 14 in Gordon Square. Free pop-up theater performances and family-friendly activities. More info here.
2. See Wild Winter Lights at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
When: 5:30 pm-9:30 pm on weekends beginning Friday, November 22; it will also be open Thursdays beginning December 5, as well as select Mondays during the holidays. Wild Winter Lights concludes Sunday, January 5.
Where: 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland
After a multi-year hiatus, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will once again be putting on a winter lights display in 2019. Wild Winter Lights will feature more than a dozen “interactive zones,” from Snow Safari to Santa’s North Pole Lodge. There will be various kinds of displays, including the A-Roar-A Borealis (the zoo’s version of the Northern Lights), and a light show on Waterfowl Lake.
Along with the light displays, visitors will also be able to play games, decorate cookies, and of course take photos with Santa.
How much: Tickets are $15.50 for Zoo members and $18.50 for non-members if purchased in advance. A 4-pack can be purchased for $50. This event is expected to sell out, so definitely get your tickets ahead of time! You can buy them here.
BONUS: Drive-thru lights shows
Other places to see Christmas light displays in the Cleveland area from the comfort of your own car include:
- Magic of Lights – A drive-through light display at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds. Entry prices are per vehicle.
- Country Lights – This drive-through at Lake Metroparks Farmpark takes place through the month of December.
- Lights on the Lake – This light display in Ashtabula County claims to be the largest holiday light display on Lake Erie.
3. Go to GLOW at Cleveland Botanical Gardens
When: Saturday, November 23 through Saturday, January 4; hours vary
Where: 11030 East Blvd, Cleveland
The Cleveland Botanical Gardens are a gem in Cleveland as it is, but during the holidays the gardens burst with holiday cheer. GLOW is a holiday light festival held inside and out at the gardens that includes decorated trees, gingerbread house displays, crafts, and more.
Holiday drinks are sold in the Garden Cafe, holiday gifts are offered in the Garden Store, and kids can ride the Garden Express train through the gardens.
How much: Admission to the gardens is $15 per adult and $10 per child for non-members.
4. See a Christmas theater production
When: Various dates in November and December
Where: Various locations
Cleveland’s Playhouse Square is the second-largest performing arts center in the US after Lincoln Center in New York City. So you’d better believe there are some Christmas shows to enjoy!
There are always a mix of annual holiday favorites and other Christmas classics at Playhouse Square. In 2019, check out:
- A Christmas Carol at Great Lakes Theater
- A Christmas Story at Cleveland Play House
- The Nutcracker at Hanna Theater
- White Christmas at KeyBank State Theater
Also of note is the Black Nativity at Karamu House. The Karamu Performing Arts Theatre on Cleveland’s East Side is the oldest African-American theater in the United States, and has a unique connection to the Black Nativity. The Black Nativity is a “gospel-drama” by Langston Hughes (it heavily features gospel music) that debuted on Broadway in 1961. Hughes lived and worked in Cleveland, and taught at Karamu House as a young man.
The Black Nativity runs Thursdays-Sundays from December 5 through Christmas, and also on Dec. 27-29. Tickets are $20-$45 and can be purchased online.
5. Check out the Festival of Trees
When: 5-11 pm Tuesday-Friday, 11 am-11 pm on Saturdays, and 11 am-10 pm on Sundays November 23-December 23
Where: Allen Theatre Lobby, 1407 Euclid Avenue
The Festival of Trees is an annual tradition at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square. Every holiday season, the lobby of the theater is filled with more than 25 Christmas trees sponsored by various local organizations and individuals. Each tree is uniquely (and often elaborately) decorated by local artists and designers.
The highlight is the theater’s Rotunda, which features several trees, including one massive tree at its center. There are also a couple dedicated spots set up for fun holiday photos.
How much: Free
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6. Listen to a holiday concert
When: December 13-15 and December 18-22
Where: Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave, Cleveland
Cleveland is home to one of the top orchestras in the nation, and the Cleveland Orchestra always delivers at Christmastime with a series of holiday concerts.
This year, the Cleveland Orchestra will be performing its Christmas Concert a dozen times in December. The concert will include the Cleveland Orchestra, the Blossom Festival Chorus, the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, and more, and cover all the Christmas classics.
There will also be two Christmas Brass Quintet performances on December 13 and 14.
How much: Christmas Concert tickets run $52-$97 depending on dates and seats.
Separately, the Cleveland Pops Orchestra is performing its Holiday Spectacular at 2 pm on Sunday, December 1 at the Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square.
7. Visit the A Christmas Story House
When: Every day, 10 am-5 pm in November, 10 am-7 pm in December, and 10 am-9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays leading up to Christmas. Tours of the house run every hour beginning at 10:15 am.
Where: 3159 W 11th St, Cleveland
This isn’t strictly a Christmas activity since the A Christmas Story House & Museum is open for tours year-round, but the holiday season is definitely the preferred time of year for a visit.
The yellow house in Tremont was used for exterior shots in the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” In the early 2000s, a fan and developer purchased the Cleveland house and turned it into an exact replica of Ralphie Parker’s home as it was in the film.
Today, you can tour the house (which is always decorated for Christmas!), and visit the museum across the street to see costumes and behind-the-scenes photos from the movie.
How much: Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for kids
8. Skate at a holiday ice rink
When: Cleveland Foundation Skating Rink is open November 30-February 28; the Rink at Wade Oval is open December 6-February 17.
Where: Public Square and Wade Oval
Outdoor ice rinks pop up in a few places around Cleveland during the holiday season. The biggest rink each year is the Cleveland Foundation Skating Rink in Public Square, which will open during Winterfest.
You can also skate at a smaller outdoor rink at Wade Oval at University Circle. This rink, open mostly on weekends, is a great place to stop off between museum visits in University Circle, or after going to GLOW at the Botanical Gardens.
How much: You can skate at Public Square for $10 (including ice skate rental) or $7 if you bring your own ice skates. Skating is free at Wade Oval, with $3 skate rentals.
9. Take the kids to Kringle’s Inventionasium
When: It opens November 23 and runs Nov. 23-24 and 29-30, and December 1; 5-8; 12-15; and 18-24.
Where: Tower City, 230 W Huron Rd, Cleveland
Move over, traditional mall Santas. Kringle’s Inventionasium is a completely unique Santa experience that encourages kids to be creative in Mr. Kringle’s top secret inventing laboratory and help invent toys.
This isn’t just the usual “stand in line and take photos with Santa” routine; the Inventionasium experience can last up to an hour, and gives families the chance to be silly (pajamas or festive outfits are encouraged) and creative together. Kids’ tickets include an Invent-A-Toy Kit, and every family gets some time (and photos) with Mr. Kringle at the end.
And parents, you might like to know that this is a STEM-accredited educational experience!
How much: Tickets start at $24 per person.
BONUS: See the The Toy Soldier Show
Speaking of Christmas at Tower City, don’t miss the famous Toy Solider Show, now in its 30th year. The 45-minute show is happening three time this holiday season: at 2 pm on November 30, December 7, and December 15. The shows are free to attend, and are followed by an hour-long meet and greet.
10. Enjoy Christmas decorations everywhere
Cleveland knows how to do holiday displays!
Enjoy some of the best holiday displays for free, including:
- Lights, wreaths, and a Christmas tree at the Cleveland Arcade
- Holiday plants and decorations at Rockefeller Park Greenhouse
- The holiday light display at GE Lighting Center in Nela Park
- The festive Higbee’s window displays at the JACK Casino in Terminal Tower
- And of course the lights and tree in Public Square
11. Go on a Lolly the Trolley Christmas light tour
When: December 7-8, 14-15, 19-23, 26-29; tours depart at 7 pm
Where: Tours depart from the Powerhouse at Nautica
Lolly the Trolley is a local favorite, offering transport and city sightseeing tours throughout Cleveland. Normal city tours are only offered on weekends between November and April, but special holiday tours fill the schedule in December.
Lolly the Trolley is once again offering its Silver Bells CLE Tour this holiday season. This tour traverses through Public Square, Playhouse Square, and the Tremont neighborhood to look at holiday displays and lights, and to talk about how Cleveland has been changing and growing in recent years.
How much: $16 for adults, $11 for kids
Note: There’s a popular BYOB version of this tour offered in conjunction with Jukebox. Many tour dates for 2019 are already sold out. Find more info here.
12. Get festive at pop-up markets and themed bars
Lastly, there are some pop-up markets, Christmas bars, and more that are only around during the holiday season. In 2019, you can check out:
Lake Effects – The Christmas pop-up bar is back again this year inside the Schofield Building (corner of E. 9th and Euclid Ave.). It will be open from November 29 through New Year’s Eve every night except Mondays.
Christmas Corner Bar – The Around the Corner Saloon in Lakewood transforms each Christmas into the Christmas Corner Bar. The holidays explode all over the bar, and there are Christmas drinks, snacks, and karaoke to enjoy. The Christmas Corner Bar opens November 22 and is open every evening in December, but doesn’t really have regular hours. I recommend consulting their Facebook page for full details on when they’re open.
Miracle on 4th Street – This holiday pop-up bar opens on November 30 inside the Society Lounge on East 4th St. It’s open every night through the holiday season. Find more info here.
#MadeInTheMDWST pop-up shop – This year, the people who usually bring us a seasonal Cleveland Flea are doing something a little different. From November 12-December 24, you can shop Midwest-made gifts at the MDWST holiday pop-up shop and weekend mini markets inside the Market Hall at The Van Aken District. The shop will be open Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm (8pm on Fridays). More info on weekend mini markets and weekly workshops here.
Christmas beyond Cleveland
I feel like one of those people on an infomercial now… but wait, there’s more!
If you’re willing to drive a little ways outside of Cleveland, there are lots of other holiday-themed things to enjoy in northeast Ohio, too.
Winter favorites like the toboggan chutes in Strongsville and snow sports at Boston Mills and Brandywine are always on the table, of course, but Christmas-specific things you can do not far from Cleveland include:
The Polar Express in Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Cuyahoga Valley National Park is already a pretty cool place to visit in the winter, but the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express is THE place to be around the holidays. The train transforms into the Polar Express for a few weeks each year, with cookies and hot chocolate on board, and a reading of The Polar Express on every journey. The train makes a stop to visit the elves at The North Pole, and Santa joins the return journey. Tickets for 2019 are already sold out, but bookmark this page for next year.
Deck the Halls at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens – Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron celebrates the holidays with its annual Deck the Halls event, held on select nights November 29- December 30. Rooms within the manor house are decorated according to a theme (in 2019, the theme is “Classic Comic Hero Christmas”), and the gardens are decked out in light displays. This year, there will even be a giant interactive snow globe for photos.
Castle Noel – Castle Noel in Medina bills itself as an “indoor year-round Christmas entertainment attraction,” but of course it’s always more fun to visit around the holidays. Inside, you’ll find animated Christmas windows, props and costumes from your favorite Christmas movies, plus interactive exhibits including a slide. Santa arrives November 21. Online reservations are recommended around the holidays.
Christmas at Hale Farm – The Western Reserve Historical Society celebrates the holidays with its popular holiday lantern tours of Hale Farm and Village in Bath, Ohio. Visitors can take a lantern-lit tour of the historical village and its cheery holiday scenes. Tours in 2019 run November 30, December 7-8, 13-16, & 19-23. More info here.
What are your favorite things to do in Cleveland at Christmas?
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Amanda was born and raised in northeast Ohio, and has always been a fangirl of the state. Now, she wants to share her love of Cleveland with the world, highlighting all the best things to do, see, and eat in the CLE.