Downtown lights

30 ways families can celebrate the holidays in Pittsburgh

So much to do, so little time to do it all! Begin your family holiday bucket list with these fun and interesting activities:

Carnegie Science Center
Carnegie Science Center holiday crafts

Give your brain a workout, Santa style!

Science meets Santa in a variety of crazy fun ways at the Carnegie Science Center this season:

Kids ages 6 and up can make laser-cut holiday ornaments at an exciting Fab Lab Family Workshop on Dec. 3, 10 and 17.

Or how about creating a twinkling ornament? Your kids will also learn about the science behind semiconductors at this LED Ornaments Family Workshop on Dec. 11.

Party all night at the Polar Express Sleepover on Dec. 16. Your whole family can spend the night at the Science Center. Explore the museum, watch “The Polar Express” and enjoy holiday-themed activities and workshops.

There is nothing cuter than shiny-faced kids in their best flannel jimjams. Could that be the reason PJ Parties are back? Kids will watch “The Polar Express,” take photos with Santa, make crafts, and sip hot chocolate — topped with liquid nitrogen frozen marshmallows! The PJ parties take place on Dec. 3, 10, 11, and 18. Sensory-sensitive events are planned for Dec.11 and 18.

Perhaps your future architect will benefit from the Gingerbread Engineers workshop on Dec. 30 at the Science Center. Kids ages 4 and 5 will design their own gingerbread house, then participate in candy cane science experiments. Sweet!

At Carnegie Museum of Natural History, it’s not just science, it’s Super Science. On Dec. 10, the museum welcomes kids to play scientist and explore the world. Kids can discover new cultures through artifacts, food, crafts, and foreign specimens through holiday-themed stations.

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Maker time at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

Get crafty, elf style!

So many busy hands, so many opportunities for creating. Kids can make shadow puppets, robot gear printing, fabric button accessories and plastic bag art at Handmade Arcade on Dec. 3 at David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Pittsburgh’s largest independent craft fair is jam-packed with a full day of free activities for the whole family.

Kids will be as busy as Santa’s elves at The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh many maker sessions. Join them in their studio for garland making using recycled materials on Dec. 10 and 11. Families can test their creativity quotient using handmade stamps to design one-of-a-kind wrapping paper on Dec. 17 and 18. Or try wreath making with winter plants on Dec. 24 – just in time to make that last Christmas gift.


Venture Outdoors
Candy Cane Walk photo courtesy Venture Outdoors

Get outside, snowman style!

A little brisk weather won’t slow down your family fun. Bundle up the kiddos and enjoy family friendly holiday outings with Venture Outdoors. Each session combines invigorating exercise with sweet treats:

Your little ones can search for candy canes hidden along the Candy Cane Walk in Highland Park on Dec. 4. Use the candy canes to stir the hot chocolate reward at the end of the hike.

Older kids will go on a scavenger hunt at the Gingerbread Letterboxing event on Dec. 11. Kids will be led through Highland Park in search of letterboxes holding stamps representing materials needed to build a gingerbread dessert. Edible art is the finished product.

Red noses and bright eyes continue with the Twinkle Lights and Hot Cocoa Walk on Dec. 17. Families will take an urban hike through Downtown Pittsburgh, taking in the city lights and holiday decorations. The big finish? Of course, a comforting cup of hot cocoa.

Phipps Conservatory glows.

Kids will have a blast at the light-bright spectacle of “Snow Day at Phipps,” this year’s theme for the Winter Flower Show and Light Garden at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden running through Dec. 26. Lights, lights and more lights fill the glass house, while the Discovery and Outdoor gardens glow with 62,000 square feet of lights. New this year is a tunnel of lights reminiscent of a twinkling night sky.

Will kids recognize their favorite amusement park draped in close to 2 million dazzling lights? Kennywood Holiday Lights is open to strolling visitors through Dec. 23. Entertainment includes “The Polar Express: A 4-D Experience,” a choreographed lagoon light show and performances by local choirs. Even if your kids aren’t as tall as Kenny Kangaroo, they can jump on up to 10 Kiddieland rides, plus visit Noah’s Ark and ride the Gingerbread Express and Merry-Go-Round. A handful of more exciting rides will operate for the older kids.

National Aviary in Pittsburgh
The National Aviary in Pittsburgh gets festive with penguins.

Make friends, penguin style!

What’s your family’s favorite bird? If you live in Pittsburgh, it has to be a penguin. This year, The National Aviary in Pittsburgh will be offering three different holiday camps on Dec. 28, 29 and 30. Your little camper will get up close and personal at a private penguin feeding, help prepare breakfast for the penguins and receive an original piece of art created by the penguins themselves.

Tired of crooning those same-o, same-o carols? Your kids will have a giggly time singing parodies like “Silent Flight,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Chicken” and “Silver Gulls.” These family sing-a-longs, fashioned after old-time radio shows, will be part of the Aviary’s twice daily Wings in Winter Holiday Show, running through Jan. 2.

A penguin “elf” will be helping Santa on Dec. 3, 10 and 17. Santa and his penguin helper will pose for photos, while kids will create a holiday craft. Or join the jolly old elf for brunch Dec. 4 and 11, featuring a catered meal from Atria’s, photos with Santa, a take-home craft kit, general admission and tickets to the Wings in Winter Holiday Show.

Gemnii Theater
Gemini Theater’s “Gift of the Ice Queen”

Get theatrical, stage style!

Your young tree climbers and acrobats will delight in a performance of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze,” a spectacle that combines gravity-defying acrobatics, huge musical numbers and unforgettable costumes. The extravaganza – featuring 20 acts, 30 artists and 200 different costumes – runs from Dec. 29-30 at the Benedum Center.

It’s not quite Elsa, but Gemini Children’s Theater’s “Gift of the Ice Queen” might be a close second. The interactive musical play – running through Dec. 17 – tells the story of two worlds, including a group of fairies and goblins living atop a snowy mountain. The story teaches kids to approach the world with an open mind and an open heart.

Dancing, snowflakes, dancing flowers, dancing rats? Of course, they’re part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker,” running Dec. 2-27. But have your kids keep an eye out for local pop culture in this Pittsburgh-set creation, now in its 15th year. Watch for the Kaufmann’s clock, a toy penguin in a hockey jersey and even rats waving Terrible Towels.

Get theatrical, cinema style!

Little girls might have a hard time not belting out “Let It Go,” but they will be thrilled about attending the screening of “Frozen” on Dec. 4 in Carnegie Museum of Art’s newly upgraded theater.

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” Catch the cult favorite, “A Christmas Story” at the Museum of Art on Dec. 17. You can meet special guest Ian Petrella, the actor who played Randy. You know, the picky kid with mashed potatoes all over his face.

Free family film screenings of the classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” will run twice daily from Dec. 18-23 at Regent Square Theatre. Learn how angels get their wings!

Kid’s Play activities stretch down Liberty Avenue. Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Get into the spirit, Downtown style!

More free family fun runs through Jan 7. Kids can explore life-size Santas and perhaps learn a little about their own family’s origins at the Spirit of Giving From Around the World in the Wintergarden of PPG Place. An incredible collection of gingerbread houses is great inspiration for making your own at home.

Holiday Kid’s Play – also free – is back with some new surprises through Dec. 17 at three locations along Liberty Avenue. Story time, Penny Arcade crafts, comedy workshops and holiday films are part of the fun. Jump aboard the Holly Trolley for a free ride from noon to 5 p.m. daily.

Go slip, sliding away at the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink. Or allow your kids to show off their mad ice skating skills. The new rink is 25 percent bigger than the original and surrounds the 65-foot Christmas tree, all within the mirrored walls of PPG Place. This beautiful outdoor skating rink will be open through Feb. 26.

And while you’re in the neighborhood, don’t forget to check out the Peoples Gas Holiday Market and Santa’s House in Market Square.