Many people like to escape the hustle and bustle of the city during the holidays but my family can’t stay away from it! With four days off from school and work during the Thanksgiving holidays, we decided to bypass Black Friday and invest our dollars into a travel experience rather than products. With few days to plan, we hit the road Friday morning and headed to one of our all-time favorite cities. We wanted to discover the best things to do in Philadelphia during the holidays and we were not disappointed.
While driving, we counted that we’ve been to Philadelphia four times in the past two years! We’d been for Spring Break and the dead of winter, but we had never been to Philadelphia for the holidays. We couldn’t wait to get started!
Where to stay in Philadelphia
We stayed at the Sonesta Philadelphia Dowtown Rittenhouse Square and it was perfect for our clan of four! The location is ideal and the hotel was fully renovated two years ago. The artfully inspired hotel offers a contemporary design and provides visitors with a hip and fun sense of home.
As someone who works in the arts, I loved Sonesta’s Art Gallery. Launched in partnership with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists, Art Gallery showcases a rotating exhibition of local Philadelphia artists. The fabulous works of art are sprinkled throughout the hotel creating the feeling that you’re in a contemporary museum rather than a standard structure.
The hotel also offers the yummy Art Bar. The family-friendly lounge serves local fare, small plates and art inspired cocktails for mom and dad who definitely need it after a day exploring the City of Brotherly Love. We were so grateful for the Art Bars’ grab-and-go snacks for sightseeing in Philadelphia and coffee bar to get a rush of caffeine in the morning too.
Things to do in Philadelphia during the Holidays
As soon as we got settled in our comfy room, we looked at our watches and realized it was almost show time for the Macy’s Christmas Light Show. This was one of the many stops on our holiday things to do in Philadelphia list. Luckily, we were staying just a few blocks away from Macy’s so we ran on over. A longstanding tradition in Philadelphia, the Macy’s Christmas Light Show in the old Wanamaker Building is a spectacle of lights.
Julie Andrews narrates the light display. We were thrilled to hear the historic Wanamaker organ being played. If that wasn’t enough excitement, we headed up to the third floor and stepped right into 19th Century London as they have transformed almost the entire floor into a Charles Dickens’ Village.
The best part was getting to see Santa! We loved that he was in his own little room and each family got to spend their own special time with Mr. VIP. My kids very thoroughly went through their wish list and he listened intently. Thanks, Santa!
Another MAJOR perk to staying at the Sonesta Philadelphia Rittenhouse Square during the holidays was that we could see City Hall’s Christmas Village from the hotel. Christmas Village is an outdoor holiday marketplace modeled after the traditional Christmas Markets in Germany. This should definitely be on your “what to see in Philadelphia” list! There are 80 vendors selling everything from doggie treats to jewelry to international holiday gifts. The smell of delicious bratwurst and apple strudel permeates throughout the air and really got us into the Christmas spirit.
After all the yummy German fare, we decided we needed to burn off some calories by going ice skating. We headed to Penn’s Landing and the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. I’m definitely a beach person. My husband and kids loved the colossal skating rink overlooking the Delaware River. There was a fabulous DJ playing music from all eras and skaters of all skill levels having a great time.
After a few laps around the rink when the weather starts to get a bit frightful, you can head to the ski chalet-style lodge where adults can enjoy festive libations and an array of pop-up restaurants with everything from hamburgers to crab fries. There truly is something for everyone.
Being a huge fan of Philly’s famous Franklin Fountain, my fave part of Winterfest was grabbing a hot cocoa at their pop up cabin and sitting by a cozy, warm fire pit.
Want to recreate a ski cabin scene? Rent a warming cabin at Winterfest (90 minute rentals run between $50-$100 depending on the size of the cabin). We happened to be there after a rain storm and were able to catch ten minutes in a cabin after a family left early. Super fun treat for everyone!
If you need a break from anything holiday related, head over to the Franklin Institute (always on our things to do in Philadelphia list!) and check out their new exhibit, Jurassic World: The Exhibition. Inspired by the legendary movie, kids of all ages will love this display which plunges you into recreated scenes from the film. It truly is the closest you’ll ever get to a dinosaur! My son, Luca, was enthralled with coming face to face with the dinosaur of all dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus rex!
One of my favorite discoveries from this trip was Shane Confectionery. They have a booth at City Hall’s Christmas Village but nothing compares to the quaint, old-fashioned store they have on Market Street. From chocolates to hard candy and even unique hot chocolate offerings during these frigid months, this confectionary has been operating since 1863 and re-opened its storefront in 2011. This was our last stop before hitting the road to head back home.
As you can see, there are so many things to do in Philadelphia during the holiday season. Step back in time, enjoy and relax. Come back and tell us your favorite stops after you explore!
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Many thanks to Sonesta Philadelphia for hosting me and my family one night for the purpose of review. As always my opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know. What to do in Philadelphia Pinterest image by J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®