32 kid-friendly holiday things to do in Pittsburgh — and many are free!
Photo above courtesy of Pittsburgh Zoo.
Pittsburgh families celebrate the holidays in many fun and personal ways. It’s a great time of year to launch a new family tradition and make memories. You can make the most of the season in Pittsburgh with a wide range of activities, many of which are free. Check out this fun-packed guide to holiday things to do in Pittsburgh, and be sure to pack your masks and visit each organization’s website or social media to stay updated about safety protocols.
1. Cookies with Santa
Lots of kids love Santa – and love cookies, too. They will satisfy both holiday needs with these Allegheny County events. Stop by Round Hill Farm on Dec. 4 or Boyce Park on Dec. 11 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 on Nov. 30. 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. View the exhibit in the exterior windows of Two PPG Place along Fourth Avenue, Downtown, through Jan. 1. Free.
4. 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 Jan. 7. A holiday tradition since 1999, the Pittsburgh Crèche is the only authorized replica of the Crèche in St. Peter’s Square, Rome. Free.
5. Chanukah Ice and Fire
Chabad of the South Hills – Jewish Center for Living & Learning invites the community to a Chanukah celebration on Dec. 1 in the parking lot of Dormont Pool. The evening includes a fire show, giant ice menorah, music gelt drop, latkes and donuts. Registration is free, but donations are appreciated.
6. Holiday KidsPlay Selfie Garden
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 “Peg + Cat.” The Selfie Garden is open daily through Dec. 28 (except Thanksgiving Day). Free.
7. AWCommunity Day: Holiday Edition
The August Wilson African American Cultural Center hosts the AWCommunity Day: Holiday Edition on Dec. 4. The lineup of family-focused activities includes a Kwanzaa celebration and a visit by the man in the red suit. Many activities will be held outside the August Wilson Center for African American Culture on the plaza and sidewalk. Click here to view the final schedule as it is released. Admission is free.
8. 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 (except Thanksgiving) through Dec. 23. Free.
9. 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 2021. A hands-on creative workshop welcomes the whole family to pitch in on Dec. 11 at the Braddock Battlefield History Center. Registration is free but required to save your space.
10. Virtual Stories with Santa
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens hosts Santa Claus, who will read bedtime stories on select evenings from Nov. 26 through Dec. 23. Featured books include “The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale” and the magical “Snowmen at Night.” Register for a select date and time, and you’ll receive a Zoom link. Virtual Stories with Santa is free.
11. UPMC Ultimate Holiday Tree Experience
This year, the Christmas tree centered in the UPMC Rink at PPG Place is a dazzling, technological wonder. Measuring over 66 feet tall, the tree’s high-resolution LED lights provide a kaleidoscope of colors, images and scenes synchronized with musical choreography. Watching the sound and sight extravaganza is free. Get the details on skating prices and reservations here, including the Ho! Ho! Holiday Skate with Santa happening on Dec. 4, 11 and 18.
12. 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 11-1:30 p.m. on Dec 1, 3, 6-8, 10 and 13-17. Enter through the box office doors on Penn Avenue. Free.
13. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Sweater Drive
Doing good deeds is a terrific way to help kids understand and emulate the spirit of Fred Rogers. The Children’s Museum in Pittsburgh has hosted the Sweater Drive for 22 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.-5 p.m. daily through Dec. 15.
14. Skate with Santa at Schenley Ice Rink
Meet Santa on the ice at Schenley Park Ice Rink from 1:30-3 p.m. Dec. 12. Admission is $4 for kids, seniors and vets; $5 for grownups. Skate rental is extra. If you can’t make it to Skate with Santa, head to the Family Skate every Thursday night over the holidays. Kids are free with paying adults.
15. Moonlight & Cocoa
Grab mittens and scarves for a brisk evening stroll through Pittsburgh Botanic Garden along trails glowing from thousands of candles and sparkling lights. Moonlight & Cocoa, running Dec. 2 to 5, is a lovely family-friendly winter celebration with hands warmed by mugs of hot cocoa. Tickets are $3 for ages 13 and younger, $20 for all others.
16. “A Lyrical Christmas Carol”
Pittsburgh Musical Theater presents another 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 Dec. 16-19. Tickets go on sale on Dec. 1.
17. Allegheny County Skate with Santa
The jolly old elf will make a stop at South Park Ice Rink on Dec. 18 and North Park Ice Rink on Dec. 19. Follow the links to the registration. Tickets are $5 for Allegheny County residents, $6 for all others.
18. Candy Cane Walk
Kids can search for candy canes along this 2- to 3-mile scavenger hunt through Frick Park on the Candy Cane Walk. Venture Outdoors hosts the outing through wooded trails on Dec. 11. The hike ends with warming cups of hot cocoa. Registration is $5 for kids, $8 for grownups.
19. 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. 26 to Jan. 2. Tickets are $8 or $5 as an add-on to Science Center general admission.
20. “The Nutcracker” Botanical Ballet Class
You can add a bit of learning to your list of holiday things to do in Pittsburgh. Let’s Move Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre teamed with Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens for a virtual class of movement and dances from “The Nutcracker.” Kids will learn ballet basics, see how poinsettias are grown at Phipps and enjoy a storytime reading of “The Nutcracker.” Registration is $12 per household for the Dec. 12 event.
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. Or you can 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. 9. This year’s theme, Sparkle and Shine, is fully realized with glowing gardens inside and out. Look for the 8-foot tree rotating on a chiming music box, more than 1,600 poinsettias, a room filled with sparkling ornaments in twinkling silver trees and an ice castle in the Winter Light Garden. Tickets are $11.95 for kids, $17.95 for seniors and $19.95 for adults.
23. Holidays at the National Aviary
The National Aviary is all dolled up for the season and is offering special holiday programming. Families will appreciate extra attention at Season’s Greetings Saturdays running Nov. 27 to Dec. 18. Kids will meet a beautiful bird during a winter-themed storytime, pick up a take-home holiday craft and send a letter to Santa. Holidays in the Garden presented by Hefren-Tillotson, Inc., with twinkling lights and evening hours during Dec. 26 to 29. All events are included with general admission of $14.95 for kids, $16.95 for seniors and $17.95 for adults.
24. Santa Cruises
The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers cool holiday-themed cruises your kids will love. 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 to the 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 dates run through Dec. 19.
25. “The Nutcracker”
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s annual journey into the Land of Enchantment returns to the Benedum Center, following last year’s virtual performances. 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 from Dec. 10 to Dec. 29 and includes a sensory-friendly performance on Dec. 17. Tickets start at $29.
26. “The Polar Express 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 dates run through Dec. 23. Timed tickets are $9.95.
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.
28. Super Science Saturday: Holidays Around the World
Kids will explore holiday traditions at Carnegie Museum of Natural History with Jólakötturinn (Jóla for short), the Icelandic Yule Cat. They’ll be challenged to solve Jóla’s riddles on a scavenger hunt to earn prizes and learn how to play dreidel. Super Science Saturday takes place from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 18 and is included in general admission. A sensory-friendly session is planned earlier in the day from 8:30 to 10 a.m.
29. “Hip Hop Nutcracker”
“Hip Hop Nutcracker” is a mash-up of contemporary dance set to Tchaikovsky’s original music. Watch a dozen all-star dancers, a DJ and violinist join MC Kurtis Blow, one of hip hop’s founders. 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 Dec. 30. Tickets start at $32.
30. 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. 2. Tickets are $19.99 to $24.99.
31. Cirque Dreams Holidaze
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 the Benedum Center on Nov. 26 and 27. Tickets start at $41.
32. 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. Add a treat bag that includes an ElfBurgh ornament for an additional $12.
Looking for more holiday things to do in Pittsburgh? Check out our guide to 6 beautiful miniature train exhibits you won’t want to miss during the holidays!