10 Can’t-Miss Holiday Traditions in Cincinnati

If you’re looking for an authentic “Cincinnati” way to celebrate the holidays, you’ve come to the right place! Cincinnati is a city that’s full of holiday history and tradition. From the Zoo’s Festival of Lights to the Cincinnati Ballet’s Nutcracker, there are so many “holiday musts” in the Queen City. 

Here are 10 Can’t-Miss Holiday Traditions in Cincinnati:

PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo’s PNC Festival of Lights is one of the best-loved holiday traditions in the city. The 3 million twinkling lights transform the Zoo into a Winter Wonderland that’s straight out of a fairy tale. This year’s 39th anniversary event features all your favorite traditions, from a Madcap black-light puppet show, the BB&T Toyland Express, the Wild Lights show on Swan Lake and hot chocolate and S’mores stands. Get your insider tips HERE

Dates: Nightly from Nov. 19 through Jan. 8, 2023 (with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).
Cost: Included with general Zoo admission

See a Christmas Show with The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnatirudolph

Each holiday season, The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati puts on incredible shows. This season, catch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Jr.!

Dates: Dates very depending on show
Cost: Infant Lap passes are required for kids 12 months and under and are $8.

The Nutcracker | Cincinnati Ballet

If you have to pick just one holiday event to attend in Cincinnati, make it The Cincinnati Ballet’s Nutcracker. Year after year, this holiday show continues to awe audiences of all ages with its beautiful dancing and memorable music. The story of Clara and her Nutcracker Prince, the graceful Snow Queen and King, delightful Sugar Plum Fairies and mischievous mice will surely capture your kids’ hearts. (And a dancing #TeamFiona adds delightful humor and fun to this show!) Families will be enchanted by the Cincinnati Ballet dancers as they perform this beloved holiday classic – set to Tchaikovsky’s swoon-worthy score — with grace and beauty. (Even the dancing hippo is elegant and poised!)

Dates: Dec. 15-25 at Music Hall
Cost: Check website.

WinterFest at Kings Island

Kings Island’s WinterFest is a beloved holiday tradition. The focal point of WinterFest will be the world’s largest Christmas tree display wherein the park’s iconic 314-foot tall Eiffel Tower will be decorated with thousands of lights that can be seen for miles. Below the Eiffel Tower, International Street will be transformed into a festive winter village, with outdoor ice skating on the park’s Royal Fountain, Christmas carolers and homemade crafts. Of course, WinterFest happens at the Midwest’s Largest Amusement Park — and several of Kings Island’s rides will be operating during the festivities, as well!

Dates: Select days November 26 – December 31
Cost: Tickets start at $25.99

Ice Skating and Bumper Cars | Fountain Square

Ice skating at Fountain Square is a beloved Cincinnati tradition – nothing says “holidays” quite like ice skating! And with options for skating newbies (tie-on cleats) and plenty of family-friendly activities (including weekly skate dates with Santa), this is one holiday tradition you have to try.

Dates: November 6 – February 20, 2023
Cost: Admission starting at $10

Water Wonderland with Scuba Santa 

Since 2003, Scuba Santa has visited the shark tank, diving down to swim and chat with his visitors. The entire aquarium transforms this season; adding festive touches throughout the exhibits, with the highlight being a personalized visit with Santa. You’ll find playful bubbles, twinkling lights and friendly elves, ready to make your holiday visit to the Newport Aquarium a memorable one. When you reach the theatre, you’ll see the signs for Santa. If you have nervous little ones, this is the perfect Santa experience! They have a line set up, so you can chat with an elf (they share some important info with Santa), and even talk with the big guy himself.

Dates: Nov. 26-Dec. 24 at the Newport Aquarium
Cost: Included with admission to Newport Aquarium

Holiday Junction Featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains

Holiday Junction Featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains is open daily, and is a must for each and every Cincinnatian this holiday season. More than 300 rail cars and 60 locomotives chug through a mini metropolis on 1,000 feet of track. Holiday Junction also boasts a kid-sized train ride, Lionel and Thomas the Tank Engine (and friends!) train displays, build-your-own snowman, interactive snowy space, and a twinkling light tunnel that kids will love wandering through! And over in the William L. Mallory, Sr. Gallery is Brickopolis – an epic winter wonderland featuring working trains and vehicles, tons of different scenes, local buildings and pop culture characters – all created with LEGO bricks by local LEGO pros Cincy Lug.

Dates: Daily through Jan. 2, 2023 at the Cincinnati Museum Center
Cost: Free for CMC members and included with general admission

Trains and Traditions, A Cincinnati Holiday

Between the trains, buildings and flowers, Krohn Conservatory is transformed into something magical each holiday season. Kids will have fun recognizing all the local landmarks, like the Mt. Airy Treehouse and even the Krohn Conservatory building. This year’s exhibit also features a stunning replica of the Union Terminal, which makes for a pretty awesome photo opp.

Dates: Now –  January 8, 2023
Cost: Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for kids 5-17 and free for children 4 and under

Holiday Toy Trains at the Behringer-Crawford Museum

This under-the-radar train display is the epitome of kid friendly, featuring loads of buttons for kids to push in order to interact with the set; fun, hidden characters; a kid-sized layout and even dancing, life-size Santa. The exhibit includes over 250 feet of model train tracks, vintage Lionel and Plasticville trains, Thomas the Tank Engine and more than 30 moving, interactive displays.

Dates: Open through January 18, 2023
Cost: Admission is $9/adults and $5/kids 3-17

Holiday Pops

Music is an integral part of our memories — and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is pure magic during the holidays! We are especially partial to the Pops: in his red coat, conductor John Morris Russell is as festive as the Jolly Elf himself! Check out the JMR-conducted Holiday Pops Dec. 13-15 at Music Hall.

Dates: December 3-5 & 10-12 at Music Hall
Cost: Tickets vary

For more holiday fun, be sure to check out 50 Free Things to do in Cincinnati this Holiday Season 

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