holiday events in Pittsburgh

34 kid-friendly holiday events in Pittsburgh — many of them free!

Photo above by Yevhen Buzuk used by permission via Unsplash.

The most wonderful time of the year is here, and the Pittsburgh community finds dozens of ways to celebrate. From miniature trains, laser lights and a menorah parade to a holiday sweater drive, cookies with Santa and Kwanzaa fun for all, there are so many holiday events in Pittsburgh for folks of all ages.

Explore the list below, visit our guide to sensory-friendly fun and check out our reader-submitted calendar of events here, too. 

1. Cookies With Santa

Lots of kids love Santa – and cookies, too. They’ll find both at these Allegheny County events. Stop by Boyce Park on Dec. 3 or Round Hill Farm on Dec. 4 for a Santa session that includes hands-on crafts. Registration is free.

2. Grand Menorah Parade

Celebrate the third day of Chanukah with the annual Grand Menorah Parade, happening this year on Dec. 20 at 5 p.m. Vehicles topped with giant menorahs leave the Rodef Shalom parking lot and head to Fifth Avenue for a cruise through Shadyside and Squirrel Hill. Join the party at the parade’s end with entertainment, latkes and donuts. Free.

3. The Spirit of Giving from Around the World

This annual Pittsburgh tradition of life-size Santas from folklore and ethnic traditions represents 16 countries. Consider your family’s ancestry and learn about other customs. You can see the exhibit Downtown in the exterior windows of Two PPG Place and in the lobby of One PPG Place along Fourth Avenue through Jan. 1. Free.

4. Santa Trolley

Santa is back at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum for the season. Take a trolley ride, get your photo with Santa, and enjoy the festivities back at the depot. There are several model displays for the holidays, plus crafts and refreshments. Kids ages 2 and under are free, and tickets for the rest of the family can be purchased here. Saturdays and Sundays through December 18. 

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Creche.

5. The Pittsburgh Creche

Located in the plaza area outside of U.S. Steel Tower on Grant Street, the Pittsburgh Creche displays 19 larger-than-life figures on view through epiphany (Jan. 6 this year). A holiday tradition since 1999, the Pittsburgh Crèche is the only authorized replica of the Crèche in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. Free.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Symphony.

6. Holiday KidsPlay 

Heinz Hall Courtyard, Downtown, has been redesigned as a little kid’s TV fantasy. Families can explore the space at their own pace, stopping to snap selfies with some of their favorite characters. Check out the sidewalk games, too. Characters and cutouts include favorites from “Odd Squad,” “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and “Alma’s Way.” The Selfie Garden is open daily through Dec. 23. Free.

7. Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum Holiday Show

It’s the time all of the volunteers at the model railroad museum wait for each year – their holiday show comes just once a year, and it’s a fan favorite. Come see model trains and displays that showcase the Pittsburgh region for the holidays. On Friday evenings, their Steam at Twilight performance shows visitors what evenings used to be like in our once-smoggy steel city. Tickets are priced affordably for families. More info can be found here

Image courtesy of the August Wilson Center.

8. AWCommunity Day: Holiday Edition 

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center hosts the AWCommunity Day: Holiday Edition on Dec. 17 from noon through 4 p.m. The lineup of family-focused activities includes a Kwanzaa celebration and a visit by Santa himself – with brown skin. Many activities will be held outside the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on the plaza and sidewalk. Click here for more details about the event. Admission is free.

things to do with kids in Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

9. Peoples Gas Holiday Market

Market Square is transformed into a bustling European shopping district, filled with chalets and vendors. It’s a fun place to window shop, plan a visit with Santa and savor delicious treats. Live entertainment is planned for lunchtime concerts, happy hour merriment and all-day music on the weekends. The Peoples Gas Holiday Market is open daily through Dec. 24. Free.

family-friendly events this weekend in Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Culture Trust.

10. First Night Parade Workshop

One of the coolest and most creative holiday things to do in Pittsburgh is helping build puppets for the First Night Parade that will close out 2022. A hands-on creative workshop welcomes the whole family to pitch in on Dec. 8 at the Neighborhood Museum of Play in Beaver Falls and/or on Dec. 18  at the Braddock Battlefield History Center. Registration is free, but required to save your space.

11. Dazzling Nights at the Pittsburgh Botanical Gardens

Check out this sparkling holiday event in Pittsburgh: On Sunday evenings through Jan. 1, guests can wander through the twinkling lights at the Botanic Garden. They have one million bulbs, interactive installations, sounds, and more. There are food and drink options available for this magical night for the whole family. Find tickets and more info here

holiday lights
Photo courtesy of Shadrack’s.

12. Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland has a new location in Butler this year (Cooper’s Lake campground, about 10 minutes away from their previous location at the fairgrounds). As you explore more than two miles of holiday lights elaborately choreographed to holiday music played, you’ll travel through a 300-foot color-changing tunnel, among other custom-built light displays. Santa’s Village is open nightly, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., with food trucks, fresh kettle corn and a station where kids can write letters to Santa. Prices range from $30 to $40 per passenger car (up to 8 people). Buy tickets in advance or at the booth (note: cash isn’t accepted at the booth). Open through Jan. 1.

Photo courtesy of Phipps.

13. Virtual Stories with Santa

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden hosts Santa Claus, who will read bedtime stories on select evenings from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22. Featured books include “The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale” and “The Polar Bear Who Saved Christmas.” Register for a select date and time, and you’ll receive a Zoom link. Virtual Stories with Santa is free.

Photo courtesy of Heinz History Center.

14. Holidays at the History Center

The holiday season has begun at the Heinz History Center. The Great Hall has been transformed into a winter wonderland showcasing the Pittsburgh region’s holiday traditions. You’ll find memorable objects from Kaufmann’s Santaland and more, including the Batch-a-Toys drive. Details here.

things to do this weekend in Pittsburgh
Photo courtesy of the UPMC Rink at PPG Place.

15. UPMC Ultimate Holiday Tree Experience

Come see the dazzling Christmas tree centered in the UPMC Rink at PPG Place. You can watch this sound and sight extravaganza for free, or get the details on ice skating prices and reservations here.

Photo courtesy of the City of Pittsburgh Department of Parks and Recreation.

16. The City of Pittsburgh’s Skate with Santa

On Dec. 10, the big man himself is hitting the ice to create some holiday memories. Families can register here for tickets to ice skate with Santa at the Schenley ice rink from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Bop along to holiday music while Santa leads the party. Appropriate for all ages. 

17. Heinz Hall Christmas Tree Viewing

The Pittsburgh Symphony invites families into Heinz Hall to get a close-up look at its beautifully decorated 25-foot Canaan Christmas tree. Lunchtime viewing runs from 11 a.m. through 1:30 p.m. on the following dates in December: Mondays (5th, 12th and 19th), Tuesdays (6th and 13th), Wednesdays (7th, 14th and 21st), Thursdays (1st, 8th and15th), and Fridays (2nd, 9th and 16th). Enter through the box office doors on Penn Avenue. Free.

Photo courtesy of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

18. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Sweater Drive

Doing good deeds is a terrific way to help kids understand and emulate the spirit of Fred Rogers — and the spirit of the holiday season. The Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh has hosted the Sweater Drive for 23 years, collecting more than 42,000 sweaters. Gather and donate new and gently worn sweaters in adult and children’s sizes in the bins at the museum from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily (and also at the Oaklander Hotel) through Dec. 15.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Musical Theater.

19. A Lyrical Christmas Carol

Pittsburgh Musical Theater presents their version of the story of Scrooge and his bah-humbug ways. This Young Artist Production features PMT Conservatory students alongside professional guest artists.  “A Lyrical Christmas Carol,” full of familiar carols, runs this year from Dec. 13 through Dec. 18. Sensory-friendly performances are available. 

Image courtesy of Carnegie Science Center.

20. Laser Holiday Magic

The laser show at Carnegie Science Center’s Buhl Planetarium takes a seasonal turn with Laser Holiday Magic. The laser action is choreographed to classic and contemporary Christmas music. The shows run from Nov. 25 to Jan. 1. Tickets are $8 (or $5 as an add-on to Science Center general admission). 

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

21. Highmark Holiday Pops

Pittsburgh Symphony’s annual Holiday Pops concerts run over two weekends from Dec. 10-19 at Heinz Hall. It’s a family favorite with carols, classic tunes and singalongs. Tickets start at $22 for the live shows. You can also stream the Holiday Pops Concert online for free. Also available is the Holiday Sensory-Friendly Concert with closed captions, ASL interpretation and shortened time.

22. Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show

Prepare to be dazzled as Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens revives its Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show through Jan. 8. This year’s theme is Arctic Adventure, with dripping icicle lights, hanging snowflakes and glowing blue trees. You’ll also find topiaries, exquisitely detailed props and stunning flowers, including amaryllis, orchids and more than 1,600 poinsettias. The fun continues outdoors in the Winter Light Garden, filled with surprises including a tunnel of neon orange and green rope lights alongside planters of gleaming mesh flowers. Admission is $19.95 and up (depending on date/time) for adults, $17.95 for seniors and students, and $11.95 for children (ages 2 – 18). Members and kids under 2 enter free. All tickets must be reserved in advance.

Penguins at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh are ready to welcome kids to holiday festivities.

23. Holidays at the National Aviary

The National Aviary is all dolled up for the season again this year and is offering special holiday programming. Families will appreciate extra attention at Season’s Greetings Saturdays running until Dec. 17. There are evening shows from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30. Kids will meet a beautiful bird during a winter-themed storytime, pick up a take-home holiday craft and send a letter to Santa. All events are included with general admission of $14.95 for kids, $16.95 for seniors and $17.95 for adults.

Photo courtesy of Gateway Clipper Fleet.

24. Santa Cruises

The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers fun holiday-themed cruises designed with kids in mind. The Santa Fun Cruise includes a meet-and-greet with the big man, a DJ dance party and a special treat. The Santa Story Time Cruise adds Buddy the Elf for extra holiday star power. Kids will make ornaments, write a letter to Santa, sing songs and hear stories from Buddy. Each cruise is $20 for kids, $32 for grownups. Multiple cruise dates run through Dec. 19.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

25. The Nutcracker

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s annual journey into the Land of Enchantment returns to the Benedum Center, and we’ve got all the details right here. The family favorite has been delighting children since its premiere in 1892. The PBT has performed its updated, Pittsburgh-set version since 2002. “The Nutcracker” runs this year from Dec. 10 to Dec. 29 and includes sensory-friendly performances on Dec. 3 and 27. Tickets start at $29.

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Science Center.

26. “The Polar Express” in 3D

Head to the Rangos Giant Cinema at Carnegie Science Center for a 3D viewing of “The Polar Express.” The Christmas classic, starring Tom Hanks, is based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg. Multiple showings run through Dec. 30. Timed tickets are $10 for nonmembers and $8 for members.

Photo by Paul Selvaggio courtesy of Pittsburgh Zoo
Photo by Paul Selvaggio courtesy of Pittsburgh Zoo.

27. Zoo Lights Drive-Thru

Take a slow cruise through the Pittsburgh Zoo in your family car and admire the 80-some lighted animals at the Zoo Lights Drive-Thru. Your drive is accompanied by a podcast of animal facts and entertaining holiday music. Timed tickets are priced at $50 per vehicle and this event occurs Friday nights through Dec. 30. 

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

28. Hip Hop Nutcracker

“Hip Hop Nutcracker” pairs contemporary dance with Tchaikovsky’s original music. Watch a dozen all-star dancers, a DJ and violinist join MC Kurtis Blow, one of hip hop’s founders, for this powerful performance. The Nutcracker story is moved from Germany to a vibrant New York City in this remixed and reimagined version of the classic ballet, which takes the Benedum Center stage on Nov. 30 this year. Tickets start at $32.

Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk.

29. Holiday Lights at Kennywood Park

Holiday Lights returns to Kennywood bigger and better than ever. More than a million lights surround Pennsylvania’s tallest Christmas tree, measuring 100 feet tall. Live entertainment is planned and select amusement rides – like the Jack Rabbit and Grand Prix – will be operating. Kids can make reservations for dinner with St. Nick, check out the petting zoo and send letters to Santa. Holiday Lights runs through Jan. 1. Tickets run from $19.99 to $24.99.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

30. Holiday Dreams: A Spectacular Holiday Cirque

This Broadway-style musical extravaganza combines over 300 costume designs with an elaborate display of contemporary circus artistry. The spectacle of mind-bending gymnastics and beautiful songs will put even the biggest Scrooge on the right path to holiday bliss. Cirque Dreams Holidaze plays at the Benedum Center this year on Dec. 29 and 30. Tickets start at $45.

Photo courtesy of ElfBurgh.

31. ElfBurgh Christmas

ElfBurgh Christmas returns to Hundred Acres Haunted Manor from Nov. 26 – Dec. 23.  This drive-thru holiday attraction sends families along Elf Lane, guided by a half-million lights, past vignettes of Santa’s helpers preparing for the big day. The road leads to Santa’s Ice Castle through the Elf Forest of decorated Christmas trees. Timed tickets are $25 per vehicle.


The heart of this month-long winter festival is a playable and interactive art installation called Impulse, located in Schenley Plaza. This free experience, open Nov. 18 through Dec. 17, includes 15 sound- and light-producing seesaws. Beyond Schenley Plaza, you’ll find buildings, public spaces and unexpected corners throughout Oakland’s business district brought to life by various kinds of light-based art, along with music, entertainment, vendors and games during December. Special events will include a Small Business Saturday celebration and a family-friendly closing weekend. Details here.

33. Reindeer on the Roof 

The reindeer are back on the rooftop at Hotel Monaco on Saturday, Dec. 17 and Sunday, Dec. 18. Guests who are having brunch at The Commoner can head up to visit the stars of Santa’s sleigh for just $10. Those looking to skip breakfast and make a beeline to the top can meet & greet with Santa’s reindeer for $12. Complimentary hot chocolate and cider available for all guests. Reservations are recommended.

34. Photos with Santa at The Waterfront

Dec. 3 through December 22, Santa will be at The Waterfront. From 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you can find Santa between Carhartt and the Children’s Place in the Town Center. Walk-ins are accepted along with online photo time slot reservations for $5. All proceeds will be donated to Jeremiah’s Place, helping those in need within the community.

Looking for more holiday things to do in Pittsburgh? Check out our guide to holiday lights displays you won’t want to miss during the holidays and sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss a thing.