Free Things to Do in Pittsburgh During the Holidays

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays: One of the fun holiday decorations in Downtown Pittsburgh - a giant Christmas ornament.

If you’re like I am, your holiday budget is already taking a wallop. So, why not look for things to do in Pittsburgh that are both fun and free? From holiday kickoffs to beautiful light displays, here are the best free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays. 

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays: Comcast Light-Up Night

Christmas in Pittsburgh is probably my favorite time of year to head into the city. Yes, it’s chilly. And, yes, it’s snowy. But I have a hard time imagining the holiday season without that magical combination. Here are my favorite fun, and free, things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays that will keep your wallet, and your budget, in check this year. 

Before you dig in here’s the full scoop on the holidays in our 2019 Pittsburgh Holiday Guide

1. Light Up the Night, Pittsburgh-Style

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays
The gorgeous Point State Park Christmas Tree, one of several that get lit up on Light-Up Night.

 

One of my favorite ways to kick off the holiday season in Pittsburgh is Comcast Light-Up Night. This year, Pittsburgh is celebrating its 59th Annual on November 22nd and, happily, most activities are free! You’ll be able to watch ice sculpting in action, check out Christmas trees being lit up for the first time starting at noon, and even catch a live concert (or 8!) beginning at 6pm. This year, Adam Lambert is headlining on the Comcast Main Stage at 8:30pm, and I cannot wait to watch. 

Did I mention there will be two fireworks shows as well? Yep. You can catch the first one at 7pm for the Highmark Christmas Tree Lighting & Rooftop Fireworks at Fifth Avenue Place. The second is the BNY Mellon Fireworks Finale by Zambelli at 9:30pm. 

Here’s the complete Comcast Light-Up Night 2019 schedule to get your night in order. 

2. View a Larger Than Life Nativity

Pittsburgh Crèche
The Pittsburgh Crèche

 

If you love a larger-than-life nativity like I do, you’ll definitely want to check out the Pittsburgh Crèche. It’s been adorning the courtyard at U.S. Steel Tower for 20 years this season and truly is a beauty to behold. You can start visiting this year beginning on Light-Up Night on November 22nd through Epiphany in early January. 

A little trivia about the Pittsburgh Crèche: it takes nearly $70,000 a year for its maintenance and housing. Compliments of an endowment fund, we and our future generations can enjoy it for decades to come. 

Have only one day in Pittsburgh? Here’s the scoop on Pittsburgh day trips when you visit. 

3. Catch a Musical Light Show in the Square

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays

 

How about a giant, synchronized light show to your favorite holiday songs every half hour? BNY Mellon Season of Lights has been doing it for years in Market Square in Downtown Pittsburgh, and it’s something my family looks forward to every year. Starting at 5:45pm on Light-Up Night, grab a good viewing spot in the Square and watch the PPG Place buildings light up. 

 

3. Check Out Hundreds of “Sweet”  Mini Houses

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays: Gingerbread House Display and competition

In years past, the Annual Gingerbread House Display & Competition was held in the Wintergarten area of PPG Place. This year, the contest is getting a new home in Grand Lobby of the Pittsburgh City-County Building. Head to Grant Street beginning on Light-Up Night through January 3rd. 

Here’s the viewing schedule:

Gingerbread House Hours in the City-County Building:

  • 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Mondays thru Saturdays
  • 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Sundays

 

4. Learn About Santas From Around the World

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays: PPG Wintergarten Santas

Along with the Gingerbread House display, “Spirits of Giving Around the World” is getting a new location this year: Lobbies One and Two in PPG Place. 16 Santas from around the globe will highlight country traditions, which I find absolutely fascinating. 

For viewing, here’s the schedule from November 22-December 31:

Monday-Thursday:   9am-7pm
Friday:                         9am-8pm
Saturday:                     11am-8pm
Sunday:                        11am-6pm

Please note: The displays will be closed on both Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. 

Want some ideas for road trips when you’re in the area? Here’s our guide to the best winter day trips from Pittsburgh

5. Check Out How Christmas Is Celebrated Around the World with an Educational Spin

Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms

If you want a lesson in how countries around the world celebrate the holidays, heading to the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland is ideal. In the Cathedral of Learning, classrooms are decked out in holiday splendor from November 9th through January 18th this year. You can feel free to pop into rooms and look around as long as class isn’t in session free of charge. However, if you want the full tour, a small charge of $4 per adult is charged. 

For the holiday schedule and tour times, please visit the official Nationality Rooms website

 

6. Hop on a Free Ride Around the City

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays: Holly Trolley
Photo Courtesy of Molly’s Trolleys Pittsburgh

When I think of a fun, free way to get around Downtown Pittsburgh during the holiday season, Molly’s Trolleys come to mind. This year, the company is, once again, giving a lift to shoppers in need. Each Saturday in December from 11am to 5pm, the Holly Trolley will make 7 stops:

  • Fifth Avenue Place
  • PPG Place
  • City-County Building
  • U.S. Steel Tower
  • PG&H
  • Heinz History Center
  • Heinz Hall Courtyard (Holiday KidsPlay)

If you can’t make the Holly Trolley schedule, remember that the “T” is free year round for stops in the Golden Triangle and North Shore. 

7. Parade Around Pittsburgh

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays:  WPXI Holiday Parade
Photo courtesy of WPXI Holiday Parade

 

I LOVE a good parade, especially when it’s in Pittsburgh. On November 30th at 9am, Annual WPXI Holiday Parade will start working its way down Liberty Avenue and will be filled with balloons, marching bands, and hometown celebrities, both big and small. 

8. Shop ‘Til You Drop, European Market-Style

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays: Peoples Gas Holiday Market
Peoples Gas Holiday German Market.

There’s no way to mention the holidays in Pittsburgh without mentioning the Peoples Gas Holiday Market. Fashioned after German Markets, the shopping continues for just over a month from November 22-December 23. also available are photos with Santa, but they’ll cost you a $5 donation to the Pittsburgh Food Bank – a worthy cost, in my humble opinion. 

Here’s the official shop hours schedule for Peoples Gas Holiday Market:

  • Monday – Thursday: 11:00am – 8:00pm
  • Friday: 11:00am – 9:30pm
  • Saturday: 10:00am – 9:30pm
  • Sunday: 10:00am – 6:00pm

Note: The Holiday Market will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. 

Free things to do in Pittsburgh during the holidays

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