Christmas in Philadelphia: The Ultimate Holiday City Guide

Christmas in Philadelphia: The Ultimate Holiday City Guide

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We haven’t missed one year of celebrating Christmas in Philadelphia since we moved abroad in 2017. Traveling back to the States during the holiday season means we get to revisit our favorite Christmas attractions and traditions in Philly. We book a hotel, reconnect with some of our oldest friends and enjoy all that Philadelphia has to offer at Christmas.

Each year we look forward to the festive Philadelphia fun at Christmas and here are some of our favorite things to do in Philadelphia at Christmas.

We’ll share how to plan your own Christmas trip to Philadelphia including:

    • How to Get to Philadelphia
    • Where to Stay for the best Philadelphia Christmas Experience
    • What to Expect in Philadelphia at Christmastime 
    • The 10 BEST Things to Do in Philadelphia at Christmas 

Some links may be affiliate links. This means we may get paid if you buy something or take an action after clicking certain links at no extra cost to you. 

30th street station philadelphia

Driving: Philadelphia is conveniently situated between New York City and Baltimore along Interstate Highway 95 (I-95). This means it’s about 90-120 minutes from both cities depending on traffic and easily reached from most destinations on the east coast. There are also convenient and cheap buses from New York City, Baltimore and Washington DC.

Train: Since Philadelphia is located near so many northeastern cities, it’s also well-connected by train. AMTRAK’s northeast corridor runs to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and connects the region from Boston to Washington, DC. You can often find low fares to travel to Philadelphia by train if you book in advance and are flexible with travel dates.

Flying: Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) is easy to fly into from airports all over the country and the world. The airport is just south of the city center and easily linked to ground transportation. You can also taxi or Uber from the airport. International and cross-country travellers can also consider flying to Newark or an airport in New York City and taking a train or bus to Philadelphia.

Check SKYSCANNER for the best flight deals to Philadelphia

Where to Stay In Philadelphia at Christmas

rittenhouse square christmas in philadelphia
Rittenhouse Square Philadelphia at Christmas

Any time you visit Philadelphia, center city is the best place to stay, and it’s even more true during the Christmas season. The majority of Philadelphia Christmas attractions are in center city, so you’ll want to stay in Philly’s downtown. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods and we know them all well, especially those in center city.

Our suggested center city neighborhoods are Rittenhouse, the Gayborhood/Midtown Village and Washington Square. They stretch the center city landscape from west to east and are all safe, full of things to do as well as restaurants, nightlife and shopping.

Sonesta Hotel Philadelphia: Rittenhouse

The Sonesta Hotel is a great midrange option in Rittenhouse Square. This four-star hotel is well-priced for the neighborhood and places guests on Market Street – steps from public transportation and some of the city’s best attractions. They also have a health club and valet parking which makes it easy to drive up and back out to visit attractions outside of center city.

Double Tree Center City: Gayborhood/Midtown Village

The DoubleTree Center City is one of our favorite places to stay in Philadelphia. We have been lucky to catch a good deal there on a few trips back to Philly and we’re always blown away by the service and the rooms. It’s in a great location steps from the Broad Street Line subway and center city attractions. They also have a pool, fitness center and self-parking which is super important in center city.

Philadelphia Marriott: Old City

The Old City neighborhood is one of the best neighborhoods to see the typical Philadelphia attractions and seasonal Christmas attractions. The Marriott is a perfect 4-star option for your Christmas trip to Philadelphia and it’s ideal for families. The hotel has the quality you can expect from Marriott with a fitness center and parking. 

What To Expect During a Christmas Trip to Philadelphia

You may not think of Philadelphia in December as an ideal trip – but it’s fantastic. The city is busy and bustling right up until Christmas day. With Christmas lights and decorations lining the streets, you can’t help but feel the holiday spirit during December in Philadelphia.

The temperatures are chilly but it’s far from the cold you get in the depths of winter. A winter hat, jacket and gloves are necessary, but severe cold and snowfall are more likely later in winter. You’ll feel comfortable walking around the city and even though it’s cold outside there’s a festive warmth about Philadelphia during the month of December.

The 10 BEST Things to Do in Philadelphia at Christmas

Let’s get right into it – here are our favorite events and places to visit in Philadelphia at Christmas! If you’re in the city during November and December – these are your must-see Philly Christmas attractions.

1. Visit Christmas Village at LOVE Park

love park christmas village in philadelphia

LOVE Park is an iconic place to visit in Philadelphia and every year it’s transformed into a festive Christmas village. The area around the fountain is wrapped with rows of merchant and refreshment stands. You can shop for unique local gifts and bask in the Christmas spirit of LOVE Park.

In the park you have a stunning panoramic view, do a spin and see gorgeous City Hall, the skyline of center city and views of the art museum down Benjamin Franklin Boulevard. Each year a Christmas tree is placed on a platform covering the park’s fountain. While it’s always a great photo spot, make sure to take a photo of the LOVE sculpture and the Christmas tree in the background.

2. Explore Dilworth Park and City Hall

Christmas in Philadelphia dilworth park

Dilworth Park is a beautiful plaza outside of Philadelphia’s City Hall building – a gorgeous site in its own right. Dilworth is. a great place to visit at Christmastime and when you’re there you’ll see a small ice skating rink, vendors and a festive vibe. Visitors can rent ice skates and take it to the ice or just linger in the WinterGarden Cabin for a cocktail, beer or hot chocolate. 

After exploring the festivities at Dilworth, head into City Hall and visit the building’s courtyard. There you’ll find the Philadelphia holiday tree, carousel and more vendors. There’s often entertainers and actors to show you a good time and get your into the Christmas spirit.

3. Enjoy the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show at Franklin Square

christmas in philadelphia franklin square

Franklin Square is the place to be for beautiful light shows and they have them throughout the year. It’s not surprising that their Christmas festivities are remarkable. No matter where you stay in the city, plan a trip to Franklin Square for a walk through their Electric Spectacle Holiday Light Show. 

Besides the festive Christmas lights we love this square because it’s one of the five open spaces that founder William Penn planned for the city. He wanted to have green space for the citizens and he was petrified of losing the city to a fire so he built five open squares into the city’s plan.

Another reason to visit Franklin Square is because the park there has been restored and renewed through community efforts. It was once considered one of the city’s most dangerous areas and it’s now prime real estate. The efforts to transform the historic square were all community driven as is the light show and events like Franklin Square holiday festival. The landmark is a true Philly success story.

4. See a Holiday Performace

christmas in philadelphia philly pops

Greater Philadelphia has a fantastic and underrated theatre and performing arts scene that shines during the Christmas season. It’s hard to make just one suggestions for what to see so we made it easier for ourselves and offer two suggestions for a holiday show. Whichever direction you go, Christmas shows in Philadelphia will not let you down!

The Philly POPS Christmas Show: While you’re in Philadelphia at Christmas, head to the Kimmel Center and see the Philly POPS brilliant Christmas performance. The Philly POPS are an orchestra that focuses on classical music as well as American pop music and their festive Christmas shows cannot be outdone.

The Nutcracker by Pennsylvania Ballet: When you think of a Christmas performance, nothing is more fitting than a performance of The Nutcracker. The incredibly talented Pennsylvania Ballet performs the classic every year in downtown Philadelphia at the American Academy of Music, Philadelphia.

5. Go Ice Skating at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest

The only thing better than ice skating during Christmas is skating with a gorgeous view. Head to Blue Cross Riverrink at Penn’s Landing and you can skate and then relax in the adjacent tent or surrounding fire pits. Best of all you can do it with a lovely backdrop of the Delaware River waterfront and skyline of Camden, New Jersey. 

  • Admission $4
  • Skate Rental $10

6. Have a Drink at Tinsel, Philly's Pop Up Christmas Pub

Philadelphia is home to one of the coolest holiday-themed bars – Tinsel. The pop up bar is decked out in full Christmas decorations and opens seasonally to massive crowds. Tinsel’s grand opening is Black Friday and the crowds rival those of shopping malls early in the season. If you visit during the week or pop in to reserve a table for two, four or six you have a good chance of enjoying the pub. It’s larger inside than you’d expect but it’s enormously popular, so plan ahead before you visit.

7. One Liberty Observation Deck's Sky-High Holiday Tour

Liberty One observation deck is one of the coolest things to do in Philadelphia all year long. We always recommend getting a good view of the city to whoever visits. Visiting the observation deck at the Liberty One skyscraper gives you those perfect views along with a historical tour to learn about the city. The beauty of the tour around Christmas is they have a seasonal version explaining the holiday history of celebrations in Philadelphia. You can also look down on other Christmas attractions in the city like Dilworth Park, LOVE Park and Rittenhouse Square.

8. See An Epic Indoor Christmas Light Show

Macy’s Holiday Light Show: The historic Macy’s Department store in New York City is more well-known than the one on Market Street in Philly, but head there anyway. That’s where you can see the fabulous holiday light show and tour the Dickens Christmas Village on the third floor.

Comcast Holiday Spectacular: Not to be outdone, the modern Comcast Technology Center Building hosts an hourly Holiday Spectacular indoor light show in the building’s lobby. On the weekends Santa is among the attendees and families of all ages love to enjoy the show.

9. Plan a Holiday Day Trip From Philadelphia

longwood gardens christmas in philadelphia

One of the best things about the city of Philadelphia is how close it is to other cities and attractions. There are so many things to do in Philadelphia and even more if you plan a day trip from Philadelphia. Here are some of the best Christmas day trips from Philly:

Longwood Gardens: This massive botanical gardens is about 45 minutes from Philadelphia and they put on an unforgettable Christmas exhibition every year. If you need a good photo for your Christmas cards – head to Longwood Gardens and pose pretty much anywhere!

Peddler’s Village: If you drive about an hour north into neighboring Bucks County you’ll find the picturesque small town of Peddler’s Village. It’s a charming collection of 60+ shops and six restaurants in colonial homes. Peddler’s Village is a great place to do Christmas shopping and walk around their festive light-filled pathways.

Hershey Park: Hershey, Pennsylvania is a super fun place to visit near Philadelphia and they have a fantastic Christmas celebration each year called Christmas Candyland. 45 of their amusement park rides remain open and the grounds are decked out in lights and decorations.

Morris Arboretum: Okay, Morris Arboretum is technically still in the city of Philadelphia, but it’s in the outskirts of Chestnut Hill. The arboretum is full of beautiful gardens and interactive exhibits and festive treats at Christmas. Kids love to watch the holiday garden railway display that returns to the arboretum each year. 

10. Visit The Best Christmas Lights in Philly: Miracle on South 13th Street

christmas in philadelphia miracle on 13th street

This one is a little bit outside of the city center, but it’s so worth the trip to the mot festive block in South Philly. Neighborhood Christmas lights are one of the best parts of the season, and this stretch of row homes along South 13th Street nails it every year. Their light displays attract visitors from all sections of the city and it’s a locals secret that we just had to pass on. 

To reach this block of professional level decorations – head to 1600 S. 13th Street. You can also take the Broad Street subway line to the Tasker-Morris station and walk two blocks east for a truly beautiful local Philly Christmas display.

As locals, this is by far our favorite Philadelphia Christmas attractions because it’s non-corporate and all community. There’s nothing more authentic than Philly folks spreading the Christmas spirit from their front stoop.

Now You Know Everything You Need About Christmas in Philadelphia

There you have it – how to get to Philly, where to stay, what to expect and the 10 best things to do in Philadelphia at Christmas. All you have to do is plan where you’ll watch the New Years Eve fireworks. On and when you plan your own Christmas trip to Philadelphia, let us know what you think.

For us, the best part of Philadelphia is being reunited with friends and family after time apart, but it’s made even better with so many cool things to do. Merry Christmas to you and your family and friends! We hope the city of Philadelphia also gives you a little Christmas joy.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Philadelphia during Christmas? Let us know in the comments.

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Derek Hartman

Derek Hartman is an American expat from Philadelphia, currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. His blog, Robe Trotting focuses on travel, expatriation and lifestyle topics.

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