Note: This post includes dates and details for the 2021 Christmas season, as far as we know them. We’ll update this with more details as the holiday season gets closer!
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 2021)
1. Kick off the holiday season at Winterfest
When: Saturday, November 27, 2021
Where: Public Square and downtown Cleveland
The annual kickoff to Christmas event happens each year in downtown Cleveland the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Winterfest itself is a one-day event that takes place in Public Square and surrounding downtown area, featuring live music, carriage rides, ice skating, food trucks, pop-up shopping, and more. The event culminates in the lighting of the Public Square Christmas tree and a fireworks show.
Read our full Winterfest guide here: Cleveland Winterfest 2021: How to Enjoy the City’s Holiday Kickoff Event
How much: Free
Other neighborhood holiday kick-off events to look forward to include:
- Light Up Lakewood, December 4 in Lakewood. This holiday kick-off includes a parade, tree lightings, fireworks, and more. More info here.
- Wintertide, in Gordon Square. Scheduled for December 11, 2021. More info here.
- Holiday Circlefest, in University Circle. Scheduled for December 5 from 12-7 p.m.
2. Visit the Winter RiverFest
When: Beginning November 26 and running through January 1, 2022. The winter village will be open from 4-8 p.m. on weekdays, with extended hours on weekends.
Where: Rivergate Park and Merwin’s Wharf
For the second year running, the Cleveland Metroparks (this year in partnership with Troy-Bilt) will put on the Winter RiverFest, a holiday event taking place along the Cuyahoga River in The Flats.
The RiverFest will feature a synthetic ice skating rink, festive light displays, a beer garden with firepits, a holiday retail shop, and an igloo village at Merwin’s Wharf. There will also be appearances by Santa on weekends.
Reservations are recommended for ice skating and igloo dining. Learn more here.
How much: Ice skating will be $15 for anyone 6 and up (which includes skate rental); igloos require a $50 deposit, and there are food/drink spend minimums.
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3. See Wild Winter Lights at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
When: The event is running November 16, 2021-January 2, 2022. Hours are 5:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday-Sundays for the walk-through event; drive-through tickets will be sold on select Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
Where: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will once again be putting on a family-friendly winter lights display in 2021. Wild Winter Lights will feature hundreds of lighting displays across holiday-themed areas including Candyland, Enchanted Forest, Conservation Trail, and Santa’s Workshop. There will be several walk-through displays great for photos.
Along with the light displays, there will also be carousel rides, model train displays, ice carvers, live music, and even a light show.
The Zoo is also offering a drive-through experience for those who would rather enjoy the lights from the safety of their own cars. (Elliot and I did this in 2020, and while it’s not the same as walking through all the displays, it’s still festive – and feels very safe.)
Check out this video for a preview:
How much: Tickets are $18 for Zoo members and $20 for non-members if purchased in advance. Drive-through tickets are $54 per car for Zoo members and $60 per car for non-members. It’s highly recommended that you book your timed tickets in advance. You can buy them here.
Looking for kid-friendly things to do in Cleveland this Christmas? We’ve got you covered here.
4. Go to a drive-thru lights show
Speaking of drive-through holiday lights shows, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo isn’t the only option. There are several excellent drive-through lights shows in the Cleveland area.
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 featuring the latest LED technology and digital animations at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds. It runs daily from 5:30-10 p.m. from November 24, 2021 though January 2, 2022. Entry prices are per vehicle, and start at $18 per vehicle if you purchase tickets online in advance.
- Country Lights – This drive-through at Lake Metroparks Farmpark is another great option. It takes place daily 6-8:30 p.m. November 30-December 22, 2021. Advanced tickets are required, and tickets are $27.50 per car.
- Lights on the Lake – This light display in Ashtabula County claims to be the largest holiday light display on Lake Erie. It has 70 displays across the 54 acres of Lakeshore Park. It runs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from 6-9 p.m. from November 26 through December 31, 2021. A donation of $5 per car is suggested.
- Drive Thru Holiday Lights – Located at the Medina County Fairgrounds, this drive-through holiday light display runs November 26-28, and December 3-5, and 10-26. It costs $10 per car (cash or check only), and is open 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 6-9 p.m. on Sundays and weeknights.
I would normally include a Lolly the Trolly holiday lights tour on this list, but unfortunately these tours are not running in 2021. Hopefully they’ll be back in 2022!
5. Go to A Garden Holiday at Cleveland Botanical Gardens
When: November 20, 2021-January 2, 2022 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. every day except Mondays.
Where: Cleveland Botanical Gardens, 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. A Garden Holiday is a holiday festival held inside and out at the gardens that includes decorated trees, gingerbread house displays, photo opportunities, and more.
In 2021, all the usual indoor displays will be back, and families can also enjoy outdoor activities like marshmallow roasting and crafts on the weekends.
As part of A Garden Holiday, the garden will also be hosting a Krampusnacht with music, drinks, and crafts on December 4, as well as Breakfast with Santa on select Sundays in December.
How much: You’re encouraged to purchase timed tickets for A Garden Holiday in advance. Admission to the gardens is $16 per adult and $12 per child for non-members. Purchase tickets (up to 2 weeks in advance) here.
6. Visit the A Christmas Story House
When: Every day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. from November 1-24, then 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekends through the end of December. The house is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and is only open until 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 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.
Tours run every 30 minutes from 10:15 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.
How much: Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids
7. 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 2021, check out:
- A Christmas Carol at Great Lakes Theater*
- Light It Up at Cleveland Play House*
- The Nutcracker at Hanna Theater*
*Note that in 2021, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is required for anyone attending a show at Playhouse Square.
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 from December 4-23. Tickets are $20-$45 and can be purchased online.
8. Check out the Festival of Trees
When: November 27-December 22, 2021 (not details on hours yet)
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
9. Listen to holiday music
When: December 9-19, 2021
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 and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and cover all the Christmas classics.
How much: Christmas Concert tickets run $49-$129 depending on dates and seats.
*Note that in 2021, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is required for anyone attending a concert at Severance Hall.
Separately, the Cleveland Pops Orchestra is performing its Home for the Holidays concert at 2 pm on Sunday, November 28 at the Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square.
The Maltz Performing Arts Center at Case Western also has a full lineup of holiday concerts this year, from jazz to polka.
10. Skate at a holiday ice rink
There are always a handful of seasonal outdoor ice rinks to enjoy around Cleveland, and this year is no different! A few to check out include:
- Cleveland Foundation Skating Rink in Public Square – The Public Square rink usually opens the day after Thanksgiving, and remains open through early January. (This year, the exact dates are November 26, 2021-January 17, 2022.) Admission is $12 per person, which includes skate rentals.
- The Rink at Wade Oval – This rink is a great place to stop off between museum visits in University Circle, or after going to GLOW at the Botanical Gardens. It’s usually open from early December through early February. This year, this rink is open December 3, 2021-February 22, 2022. Admission is just $2, with skate rentals costing an additional $3. More info and hours can be found here.
- Merwin’s Wharf Rink – As part of the Winter RiverFest, Merwin’s Wharf will have its own synthetic ice rink this winter overlooking the Cuyahoga River. The rink opens on November 26, 2021 and will be open through January 2, 2022. Advanced reservations are recommended. It costs $15 to skate (including skate rental), and you can book your time slot here.
11. Have dinner in an igloo
We’ve already mentioned the igloo village coming to Merwin’s Wharf during the Winter RiverFest, but there are several other spots around Cleveland where you can rent out a private igloo for drinks or a meal.
If you want to rent an igloo on a patio that’s also decked out in holiday cheer, then you want to head to the Georgetown in Lakewood, which has 5 igloos on its twinkling patio. Igloos can be rented for two hours at a time, and are cleaned in between each group.
Many local restaurants are installing these igloos this year, so you have several different options! Read more about heated patios and igloos in Cleveland in this post.
12. Shop local at a holiday market or pop-up shop
There are usually several pop-up markets and shops in Cleveland that are only around during the holiday season. These are always an excellent option to get some holiday shopping done in a way that also supports local makers and businesses!
A few notable pop-up Christmas shops and markets in 2021 include:
- Home for the Holidays – A pop-up shop in Lakewood filled with hand-made gifts and goodies from local makers. You can shop in-store or online.
- Made Cleveland – You can shop handmade goods from local makers online here, or visit their physical holiday shop in Coventry.
Find our full guide to Cleveland area Christmas markets and pop-up shops here. (There are lots of one-day holiday markets to visit this year!)
13. Drink up at a pop-up Christmas bar
Get ready to raise a cup of good cheer at one of the city’s pop-up Christmas bars this year! There are always a couple of these opening each holiday season. Notable festive bars this year include:
- Christmas Corner Bar – The Around the Corner Bar in Lakewood transforms for a few weeks each year into an over-the-top Christmas bar, with tons of decorations, a themed drink menu, and even Christmas karaoke.
- Miracle on 4th Street – Miracle is a national chain of pop-up Christmas bar, and this year it’s popping up for the season at Society Lounge on East 4th St. The cozy bar is decked out in holiday decorations, and is serving up a tasty menu of festive cocktails.
- Sleigh – Located on the third floor of JACK Cleveland Casino, this themed bar is serving up a large menu of both hot and cold holiday cocktails.
Be sure to check out our post on pop-up bars and Christmas bar crawls for more details on all of these!
14. Enjoy Christmas decorations everywhere
Cleveland knows how to do holiday displays! Here are spots with holiday displays you can see for free:
- Lights, wreaths, and a Christmas tree at the Cleveland Arcade
- The holiday light display at GE Lighting Center in Nela Park
- And of course the lights and tree in Public Square
You can book a holiday walking tour to see many of these downtown decorations this year with Tours of Cleveland.
I also always love the Christmas displays of holiday plants and decorations at Rockefeller Park Greenhouse, too, and it sounds like the WILL be doing their annual poinsettia sale this year, which means the greenhouse will be decorated, too!
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:
North Pole Adventure 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 North Pole Adventure is THE place to be around the holidays if you have kids. The train transforms for a few weeks each year, with cookies and hot chocolate on board, and a chance for kids to deliver letters to Santa. More info here.
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 26-December 30. In 2021, the theme is “Lights, Cameras, Christmas,” and will feature decorations inspired by classic Christmas movies.
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. Online reservations are required for tours in 2021.
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 2021 run December 4, 10-11, 17-19, and 21-23. Reservations are required this year. More info here.
READ NEXT: The Best Things to Do in Cleveland in Winter
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. She’s been running Cleveland Traveler since January 2019.