What to Do with Your Family in Pittsburgh This Christmas Season 

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It’s Christmas time in Pittsburgh! This is one of my favorite times of the year, and despite hating the cold, getting ready for Christmas and sharing different experiences with my kids is something I really look forward to doing. The key is balance: if you’re out one weekend, do something at home the next.  

Hopefully, these ideas will give you some inspiration on what to do with your family this December (and into early January).  

First off, the lights. Closer to Christmas, there’s always the option of driving around different neighborhoods with Christmas music on and checking out the local light displays people put up in their yards.  

There’s also: Kennywood (you can visit during the day and stay for the lights), the Pittsburgh ZooShadrack’s at the Butler County Fairgrounds (recommended by Pittsburgh Mom Collective (PMC) Contributor Julia Furgiuele), the drive-through lights in Clinton, PA (a family favorite), and the North Park Laser Light Show. (PMC Contributor Jessie Wagner seconds the laser light show!)

If you feel like traveling a bit, Oglebay is also a pretty cool destination. We’ve also traveled to the Columbus Zoo for Christmas lights before, and the Cincinnati Zoo has a cool display, too. 

One of the drive-through light tunnels at Oglebay.

The Miniature Railroad & Village at Carnegie Science Center is always a fun thing to see with your kids. While you’re there, check out the Laser Holiday Magic laser show in the planetarium or Polar Express 3D in the Rangos Giant Cinema. 

Speaking of trains, the Western PA Model Railroad Museum has a holiday train show, too! It’s located in Gibsonia.    

PMC Contributor Chelsea Cross loves painting ornaments with her kids at Katie’s Clay Studio in Allison Park. There are also other small businesses in the region that do this, too. 

PMC Contributor Chelsea Cross’s kids making Christmas ornaments.

Typically, Pitt’s Nationality Rooms were open for tours and decorated for Christmas – in the stylings of that country’s holiday traditions – but this year, tours end on December 18 and the rooms will not be decorated. Bummer, but if you’re looking for something fun to do, the tour itself is still interesting.  

Just across the way from the Cathedral of Learning, the Christmas display that is up can be found at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The Carnegie Trees exhibit is open until January 20 and features five huge Christmas trees in the Hall of Architecture. While you’re there, check out the Friends and Family Photoshootgift-making workshops, and weekend musical performances. I’ll be there at least once this season!  

And then there’s the Gingerbread House Display that used to be at PPG Place near Market Square. Last year, it moved to the City-County Building, where the top 50 displays can still be seen in-person (voting takes place online now). Check that out here 

An old picture from 2011 at Market Square in Christmastime.

If you go downtown to check out the Gingerbread House Display, you’ll want to visit the Market Square Holiday Market. My personal favorites are the shops for Wendell August Forge, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, Love, Pittsburgh, and the strudel place – Handel’s, I think. The World’s Largest Pickle Ornament is nearby in EQT Plaza, there’s a kid’s play area in the Heinz Hall Courtyard, and of course, ice skating at PPG Place. You have to reserve tickets ahead of time, just like last year, so plan ahead.  

The Christmas tree at the PPG Ice Skating Rink.

If ice skating is your thing but downtown isn’t, South Park, North Park, and Schenley Park all offer outdoor skating rinks. There are other smaller community rinks, too.  

My husband and our oldest son in 2010 at the Schenley Ice Skating Rink.

If you’re looking for fewer crowds, try a winter hike! Once you’re bundled up, you don’t notice the cold much. Last year, we went winter hiking in OhiopyleBoyce Mayview Park (especially the Wingfield Pines Conservation Area), the Laurel Highlands, and most recently, the kids and their dad checked out Bethel Green, a newer conservation area in Bethel Park.  

Hiking in the Wingfield Pines Conservation Area in 2020.

There’s also sled riding, once there’s enough snow. Near us, the Sunny Slopes area of South Park is one of the best places to go (so I’m told; I can’t reiterate enough how much I hate cold weather).  

Sled riding at Sunny Slopes in South Park, 2020.

Another fun way to pass the time and enjoy the holidays with your family (at home) is to take advantage of your library’s resources! Take-and-make kits are a mainstay at most libraries, and the theme/activity always changes. In the past, we’ve done painting, holiday-themed crafts, dinosaur kits, coloring, and more. Check with your local library to see what they offer. Our libraries here also offer adult take-and-make kits, too. Perfect for an at-home wine or beer pairing!  

Also, don’t forget about baking cookies with your kids. If you’re low on patience and don’t want a huge mess, I recommend the sugar cookie mix from Pillsbury, where all you do is unroll it, cut out the shapes, and then decorate once they’re baked. If you’re feeling more adventurous, by all means, have them help you make something from scratch!  

From St. Patrick’s Day 2020, but an apt example of what happens when you let your kids decorate their own sugar cookies.

What do you plan to do with your family this holiday season? Add to our list – tell us in the comments what we missed!  

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