Note: This post includes dates and details for the 2020 Christmas season. Some events that normally happen around the holidays in Cleveland just aren’t taking place this year; these are noted at the end of the post. We’ll also be keeping this post updated with any new closures/cancelations in the coming weeks.
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 2020)
1. Kick off the holiday season at Winterfest
When: Virtual tree lighting on November 28; nightly light/animation shows
Where: Public Square and downtown Cleveland
The annual kickoff to Christmas event normally happens each year in Cleveland the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In normal years, Winterfest is a one-day event that takes place in Public Square. The all-day event usually includes live music, carriage rides, ice skating, food trucks, and more, and culminates in the lighting of the Public Square Christmas tree and fireworks.
In 2020, things will work a little differently. An official lighting ceremony will take place on November 28 like normal, but this year it will be broadcast live (on WKYC Channel 3) from 7-7:30 p.m. so everyone can watch safely from home.
The rest of the usual Winterfest activities originally were scheduled to still take place, but have now been canceled out of an abundance of caution.
There will NOT be carriage rides, an ice skating rink, or visits to the Terminal Tower Observation Deck this Christmas. But Public Square still has all its beautiful lights up, and there’s a light/animation show that will run three times per hour between 6 and 10 p.m. every night.
How much: Free
Other neighborhood holiday kick-off events happening in 2020 include:
- Light Up Lakewood, December 5 in Lakewood. This holiday kick-off usually includes a parade, tree lightings, fireworks, and more, but will be a virtual event in 2020. More info here.
2. Visit the Winter RiverFest
When: Beginning November 27 and running through January 18, 2021. The winter village will be open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. most days. (Igloo rentals started on November 6.)
Where: Rivergate Park and Merwin’s Wharf
A new event in 2020 put on by MTD and the Cleveland Metroparks, the Winter RiverFest is a holiday event taking place along the Cuyahoga River in The Flats.
The RiverFest will feature social-distance-friendly activities like 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.
With 2020 being what it is, you’ll be able to make reservations for ice skating and igloo dining. Learn more here.
How much: Ice skating will be $7 with a $3 skate rental fee; 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: 5:30-9:30 p.m. on November 19-22 and 27-29, and December 3-6, 10-13, 17-23, and 26-30 for the walk-through event; drive-through tickets will be sold on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from November 17-December16.
Where: 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will once again be putting on a winter lights display in 2020. 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.
In 2020, tickets will be limited in order to allow for proper social distancing, and masks will be required for those doing the walk-through option.
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 already 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.)
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.
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, and all are likely to be extra popular during the 2020 holiday season.
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 25, 2020 though January 2, 2021. Entry prices are per vehicle, and start at $23 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 5-9 p.m. December 1-22, 2020. 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 27 through December 27, 2020. 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 27-29, and December 4-6, 11-13, and 18-30. It costs $10 per car, and is open 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 6-9 p.m. on weeknights.
I would normally include a Lolly the Trolly holiday lights tour on this list, but unfortunately these tours are not running in 2020. Hopefully they’ll be back in 2021!
5. Go to GLOW at Cleveland Botanical Gardens
When: Event runs Wednesdays through Sundays from Saturday, November 21, 2020 through Saturday, January 3, 2021; 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 festival held inside and out at the gardens that includes decorated trees, gingerbread house displays, photo opportunities, and more.
In 2020, visitors will travel along a one-way path through both indoor and outdoor holiday displays. They will be offering evening hours this year, too, with special “Glow Nights” programming that will include things like ice sculpting, live music, and beer and wine. Learn more here.
How much: Timed GLOW tickets must be purchased in advance. Admission to the gardens is $15 per adult and $10 per child for non-members. Buy tickets here.
6. 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. 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.
In 2020, things are running pretty normally at the house, though masks are required for all guests at all times inside the A Christmas Story House and Museum.
How much: Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids
7. Skate at a holiday ice rink
This year, Cleveland will have two different outdoor skating rinks for people to enjoy – perfect for social distancing!
Here are all the details for these ice rinks in 2020:
- 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 open Fridays through Sundays from December 4-February 15, and every day from December 21-January 3. Admission is $2, and skate rentals are $3. This year, they are limiting the rink to 30 skaters at a time, and masks will be required.
- 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 27, 2020, and advanced reservations are recommended. It costs $7 to skate and $3 to rent skates, and you can book your time slot here.
The biggest rink each year is usually the Cleveland Foundation Skating Rink in Public Square, but the rink sadly won’t be opening in 2020.
8. 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 ventilated and sanitized 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.
Other spots with igloos include: The South Side, The Rustic Grill at Stonewater, Felice Urban Cafe, and Betts Restaurant, among others.
9. Visit with Mr. Kringle
When: Breakfasts are taking place December 5-6, 12-13, and 19-20 at various times
Where: Hilton Cleveland Downtown
The annual Kringle’s Inventionasium is usually a favorite among kids and parents when it comes to Christmas events in Cleveland each year. This is a completely unique Santa experience that encourages kids to be creative in Mr. Kringle’s top secret inventing laboratory and help invent toys.
But, due to the pandemic, the Inventionasium won’t be open for the 2020 holiday season. Instead, Mr. Kringle is taking things mostly virtual; you can schedule an e-visit with the Big Guy himself – and, I mean, the kiddos are used to talking to everyone else on Zoom by now, so why not Santa?
There’s also an option to book a breakfast with Santa. These breakfasts are happening on three weekends in December, and include a 60-minute breakfast with Santa and his helpers at the The Burnham Restaurant inside the Hilton Cleveland Downtown. There are several breakfast times each day (pajamas encouraged!), and they will be following all COVID guidelines.
How much: Tickets for breakfast are $45 for adults and $32 for kids and include food, cookie decorating, s’more-making, a meet-and-greet with Santa, and more. E-visits start at $28.
10. Get festive at a Christmas-themed pop-up market or bar*
There are usually several pop-up markets, Christmas bars, and more in Cleveland that are only around during the holiday season. There are fewer on offer this year, but still a couple to know about.
Pop-up Christmas shops and markets in 2020 include:
- Home for the Holidays – A pop-up shop in Lakewood filled with hand-made gifts and goodies. You can shop in-store or online.
- Made Cleveland – Along with visiting the Made Cleveland holiday pop-up shop on select days in Coventry Village, you can shop handmade goods from local makers online here.
- 78th Street Studios Black Friday event – Usually open to the public on the third Friday of each month, 78th Street Studios will also be open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Black Friday (November 27) for holiday shopping. It’s free to go, but you do need to register here.
- Holiday Market at the Van Aken District – The North Union Farmers Market will be hosting an artisan holiday market from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on December 5 and 12.
Christmas pop-up bars opening in 2020 include:
- 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 and snacks to enjoy. The Christmas Corner Bar opened early this year on November 6, and is following COVID-19 rules by requiring reservations for 90-minute seatings. You can book your table here.
*I should note: I debated including any bars on this list because I personally am avoiding eating/drinking indoors during the current COVID-19 spike and stay-ay-home advisory. But as long as they remain open and follow all safety guidelines, I’ll still let you know about them so you can make your own decision.
11. Enjoy Christmas decorations everywhere
Cleveland knows how to do holiday displays! While some of these locations may end up NOT putting up decorations this year, here are the 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
- The festive Higbee’s window displays at the JACK Casino in Terminal Tower
- 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, but the greenhouse is still closed due to COVID-19, and there’s no word on whether they will still be doing their annual poinsettia sale or not this year (but my guess is probably not).
12. Listen to holiday music
In a normal year, I would tell you to get your butt over to Severance Hall to listen to the incredible Cleveland Orchestra perform Christmas classics.
Unfortunately, those concerts have all been canceled this year due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases locally.
So while there won’t be any live Christmas music this year, you can do what I’m planning to do, and just tune your car radio to one of Cleveland’s local stations that will be playing Christmas music 24/7.
105.7 and Star 102 are both already playing all-day Christmas music.
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. The event has now been canceled for 2020, 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 27-December 30. In 2020, tours through the house will be one-way on the first floor only, but there will be more lights and holiday displays outdoors in the gardens.
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. Santa arrives November 20 this year. Online reservations are required in 2020, as are face masks.
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 2020 run December 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 20, 22, & 23. Reservations are required this year. More info here.
What’s NOT happening this year?
There are a handful of crowd-favorite Christmas events that simply aren’t happening this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve already mentioned a few of them, but we’ll list them here, too. Hopefully these favorites will be back next year!
- Winterfest; the big public tree-lighting and day-long holiday festival won’t be happening this year.
- The Public Square ice rink won’t be opening this year.
- The Festival of Trees at Playhouse Square won’t be something you can see this Christmas.
- Speaking of Playhouse Square, there won’t be any holiday theater productions this year, either.
- The Cleveland Orchestra won’t be performing any live Christmas concerts.
- Lolly the Trolley is not conducting holiday lights tours this year.
- Kringle’s Inventionasium is not opening in 2020, and we assume the Toy Soldier Show at Tower City will also not be happening.
- The Polar Express on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has also been canceled as of Nov. 18.
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.