Pittsburgh Holiday Guide | 2016

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays

Families all bundled up whirling and twirling their way around a giant Christmas tree surrounded by the clippity clop of horse hooves. Kids staring at the sky, mouths gaped open in awe of the tens of thousands of Christmas lights at a German Market or fireworks lighting up the night. Can you picture it? Every holiday season, Pittsburgh goes all out and sets this picturesque scene for its visitors and residents. Beginning on mid-November and spanning from Point State Park to Kennywood Park, Pittsburgh holiday events are not to be missed! Check out our 11 favorite reasons to head into the city for the holiday fun this year for this year’s Pittsburgh Holiday Guide.

One of the fun holiday decorations in Downtown Pittsburgh - a giant Christmas ornament.
One of the fun holiday decorations in Downtown Pittsburgh – a giant Christmas ornament.

Comcast Light-up Night

Pittsburgh Light-Up Night events
Light-Up Night with a view from one of the Sister Bridges spanning Downtown and The North Shore.

Comcast Light-up Night officially kicks off the start of the holiday season, and the fun doesn’t wait until the sun goes down. Starting at lunch time on Friday, November 18th, the city shows off its gorgeous twinkling displays and outdoor musical shows, ice sculpting, and a huge fireworks display by the famous Zambelli Fireworks that draw well over 400,000 people into the city.

There are holiday parties, including Blast VIP Party by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Free horse-drawn carriage rides are offered or families can stroll through the streets checking out pretty Christmas displays. Molly’s Holly Trolley’s free service during the holidays runs every 15 minutes making stops at popular downtown holiday spots.

Peoples Gas Holiday Market

Peoples Gas Holiday German Market
Peoples Gas Holiday German Market.

Designed to look and feel like a traditional outdoor German Market, the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square offers one-of-a-kind gifts and German wares. Local artists and musical groups add to the holiday fun on the performance stage. Kids wanting to tell Santa their Christmas lists and take a photo on his lap can bring a non-perishable donation and visit Santa’s House, helping the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

PPG Place in Downtown Pittsburgh

PPG Place Santas
The famous PPG Place Santas.

Not only is PPG Place in Downtown Pittsburgh one of the most iconic skyscrapers that defines the city’s skyline, but the holiday happenings in and around the all-glass building draw thousands of families each Christmas season. The MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink has been a childhood favorite since 2001, and not only can ice skaters of all levels have a blast whirling and twirling around the giant Christmas tree in the center of the ice, but special skating events, including skating with a Pittsburgh mascot, put giant smiles on the faces of the skaters from mid-November through early March.

Need to head indoors? Check out Wintergarden for the annual Spirits of Giving Around the World. You’ll see life-sized Santas depicted in their traditional garb who tell the story of each country’s jolly old elf. Also on display is the Gingerbread House Display, a city-wide competition showing off tasty skills from hundreds of competitors.

Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms

Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms

Learning about holidays around the world is a snap with a visit to the Cathedral of Learning’s Nationality Rooms. 29 rooms, each lavishly decorated in that particular country’s traditions will have you hard-pressed to pick a favorite. From mid-November through Martin Luther King Day, winter holidays are celebrated with decorations from Christmas trees to New Year celebrations. Timed guided tours are available and jam-packed with information.

Carnegie Science Center

Carnegie Science Center Miniature Train Display

Kids (and big kids!) love miniature trains, and the Miniature Railroad & Village at Carnegie Science Center  is sure to get your family in the Christmas spirit. Free with paid admission, the miniature train display room showcases the four seasons of Western Pennsylvania including the smallest of details that make the area so popular.

Breakfast Express is a fun annual Saturday tradition at the Center, with a showing of The Polar Express and some fun in the train room it is always a blast for Santa fans. Kids from ages 4-10 can participate in science day camps during Christmas vacation, and educational camps featuring age appropriate themes and activities.

Pittsburgh Crèche

Pittsburgh Crèche

Erected in 1999, the Pittsburgh Crèche is the world’s only authorized creche outside of the Vatican in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Beginning on Pittsburgh Light-up Night, the life-sized Nativity is available for viewing at the USX Tower Plaza on Grant Street, and has 20 statues including detailed animals. There is no cost for visiting the gorgeous nativity and photos are encouraged.

Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights

Kennywood Park's Holiday Lights event.
Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights event.

Bundle up and get ready for over one million twinkling lights at Kennywood Park‘s Holiday Lights! Families can walk around the park at night listening to local choirs sing Christmas carols or hop on the Gingerbread Express for a beautiful view of the park. Kids can whisper in Santa’s ear what is on the top of their Christmas list during the event. Open on weekends, Kennywood Park’s Holiday Lights is a favorite annual draw for locals, and the outdoor fun is even prettier when it’s snowing.

Penguins on Parade at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Penguins on Parade at Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
Penguins on Parade! Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

In December, Penguins on Parade lets families see the fun that Pittsburgh Zoo’s penguins have in the snow. The feathered waddlers walk on the visitor’s pathway during the fun, and the parades are held starting the first weekend in December, weather permitting at 11:30 a.m. outside PPG Aquarium. We love that breakfast or lunch with Santa is also held on December weekends.

Not only can kids have some one-on-one time with the man in red, but they can check out some fun zoo animals, decorate Christmas cookies, make some holiday crafts, and enjoy a tasty meal.

Carnegie Museum of National History

Carnegie Museum of Natural History Christmas Trees
Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Last year’s Christmas trees were a salute to Pittsburgh Scottish heritage.

The Hall of Architecture in The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is home to five giant Christmas trees and the beautiful Neapolitan Presepio. A miniature nativity decorated annually by The Museum of Art Women’s Committee, but by miniature it’s anything but! Celebrating holidays around the world, the themed Christmas trees are on display during regular museum hours. Don’t forget to take your camera as the wide-eyed, opened mouth gazes from your wee ones will make a fun photo op.

National Aviary

National Aviary Wings in Winter

The National Aviary on the North Shore hosts Wings in Winter from November through early January. Each day, the aviary’s Holiday Show will have you singing along to avian-themed Christmas carols. The fun birds soar over the crowd showing off their pretty plumage, too Take a walk through the Southside Pole to see the penguins surrounded by Christmas trees, and don’t forget to look for Fleury, the aviary’s Snowy Owl figurine.

Photos with Santa and his Penguin Helpers take place on Saturdays in December. Holiday Penguin Camps let kids and adults get up close to the popular penguins.

Phipps Conservatory


Again for this holiday season, Phipps Conservatory in Oakland will host Winter Flower Show and Light Garden. Bringing to life the popular Christmas Carol, “Winter Wonderland.” Tons of Christmas lights on fir trees, poinsettias as far as the eye can see, and Candlelight Evenings make the Winter Flower Show even more magical. Several rooms have added holiday flowers, trees, and plants.

At night, visits to Phipps  are a must for families that love the magic that falling snow creates in the outdoor gardens. Children’s activities and hands-on tables throughout will provide some learning over the school break and may just instill a love of horticulture in your child.

Pittsburgh Holiday Guide. From events and shows to miniatire train sidplays and massive Christmas trees, here's out 11 favorite things for 2016!

What are you looking forward to most this holiday season in Pittsburgh? Let us know in the comment section below!

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3 Thoughts to “Pittsburgh Holiday Guide | 2016”

  1. Can’t wait to visit Pittsburgh for some of this year’s activities! 🙂

    1. Karyn Locke

      That’s so awesome! What are you looking forward to most?

  2. Tim

    One of the my favorite things to do is visit cities other than my own (Atlanta) during the holiday seasons. I try to take in that city’s annual Christmas tree lighting but it’s often hard to find some that align with my days off. Though I missed the lighting of the tree, Pittsburgh is on my list this year. I especially look forward to the life size nativity; something you don’t see everywhere. Thanks for the article.

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