I'd never before been to Philadelphia to celebrate the holiday season, and I couldn't have found myself more delighted with all the City of Brotherly Love has to offer during the holidays. Stying local, frequenting independent businesses, and spending money on experiences rather than stuff are all ways to “buy American”.
Here are some of the best and most popular things to do in Philadelphia during the holidays. Even if you find yourself on a budget, there are many ways to enjoy the city without spending any money. Whether you're out for a girl's weekend, with your partner, or with family and friends, these free holiday activities in Philadelphia are great suggestions for any and everyone.
Did we miss anything? If so, let us know in the comments section below what holiday activities in Philadelphia you like to do!
Free Holiday Activities In Philadelphia
Walk through Rittenhouse Square to see all the lights and enjoy a calm part of the city. There's a farmer's market during the day with vendors selling local goods, from produce to baked goods, candles and plants, among other things. At night the lights glow among all of the trees and statues. It's pretty picturesque and worth a stroll.
See the Macy's Light Show. The holiday light show consists of dancing lights around the larger than life Magic Christmas Tree hung in The Grand Court of the historic Wanamaker department store. The show is accompanied by the famed Wanamaker Organ, which is the world's largest pipe organ. The narration during the show is done by Julie Andrews, which I found surprising and interesting. Free performances of the show, which have been running since 1956, take place every two hours during Macy's store hours.
Image credit: Photo by G. Widman for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
Rittenhouse Hotel Holiday Traditions starts after Thanksgiving and offers anyone walking through the city a festive space to enjoy hot chocolate made from a blend of Jivara (milk chocolate /40%) and guanaja (dark chocolate /70%) with whole milk and heavy cream served with peppermint sticks and house-made marshmallows, as well as roasted, salted chestnuts from 2 pm to 5pm daily. The hot chocolate is excellent and doesn't disappoint. Stop by to see the beautiful Gingerbread house displays too.
Walk around the Wintergarden to see the festive, seasonal plants and lights. You won't want to miss the Made In Philadelphia Holiday Market which is filled with dozens of independent local vendors selling their wares. It all surrounds the picturesque backdrop of City Hall. This year there was a fabulous local female performing cellist, Aijee Evans, playing her string instrument to the notes of popular hip-hop songs. It was a fun, festive and uniquely Philadelphia part of the market scene.
Hotel Stay in Philadelphia
While Center City has most of the free holiday activities in Philadelphia, I like the Rittenhouse Square area of the city best. It is quaint and local. It seems like those who live in the city frequent restaurants, markets, and bars in that area of Philadelphia. I would say West Village is to Rittenhouse Square as Times Square is to Center City.
We were hosted by Sonesta Rittenhouse Square for a two-night weekend stay. The hotel was in the perfect location. It was a few blocks from the Square and about a 10-15 minute walk to City Hall, Macy's and Reading Terminal. The Sonesta hotel in Philadelphia was perfectly situated to do all the fun, free holiday activities during the day and then to take advantage of the quaint restaurants and bars like locals would at night. The rooms were spacious and modernly decorated too. The Sonesta hotel staff is friendly and ready to help you find what you need around the city during your stay. We loved the silvery, shiny holiday decor as well!
Best Holiday Cocktails in Philadelphia
Even if you don't want to get a drink, I highly recommend taking a peek inside The Dandelion. It's the most quaint and festive bar we found in the city, with lots of different rooms and a cozy fireplace when you walk in. I enjoyed Faux Swizzle, made with Bombay Dry Gin, cranberry, star anise, lemon, and Troegs Dreamweaver (Pennsylvania made beer).
USA Love List's founder, Sarah's favorite little hideout in the city is not as flashy as the popular speakeasies like the Hop Sing Laundromat or the Ranstead Room. It is the XIX Bar at The Hyatt Bellevue Hotel. It is small, hidden, and has a blazing fireplace. If you're wondering how to get into XIX Bar, you can enter the hotel at 200 S Broad St. Go all the way through to the back right corner, past Williams Sonoma, and past Teucher Chocolates (which makes Sarah's favorite champagne truffles!). Go into the hotel lobby to the gold elevator in the far left corner, skip all other elevators. You should see a little sign near and in the elevator that says XIX. The elevator will open on the restaurant which is beautiful. Walk past the hosts (or ask where the bar is). Go down the hallway that is at 3 o'clock on the circular dining room, past a prep station. You will emerge in the bar. If you get a chance, peek into the ballroom at the end of the hall.
Image credit: Hyatt Bellevue
The Library Bar is inside the Rittenhouse Hotel off Rittenhouse Square. It's small, quaint and has live music in the hotel lobby, which makes for a great way to spend a Friday or Saturday evening. The drinks are a bit pricey for Philadelphia, but the one we enjoyed was well worth it. We had The White Rabbit, Toki Japanese Whiskey, Amaretto, Lemon, Peychaud's Bitters and Fresh Thyme. It was complex, well-balanced, and not too sweet, making for a great cocktail.
Image credit: Rittenhouse Hotel
Header image credit: Photo by G. Widman for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®