events and activities to do in cincinnati for the holidays
Explore Cincinnati,  Travel

15 + Cincinnati Holiday Traditions and Events To Do In 2022

Your complete guide of things to do in Cincinnati this 2022 holiday season. 

Twinkling light displays, classic holiday performances, and festive winter activities are holiday traditions that many look forward to year after year. We have partnered with Ohio. Find It Here. to highlight all the fun things and events to do in Cincinnati this holiday season.

Cincinnati Holiday Traditions and Events
Krohn Conservatory a Cincinnati Holiday Tradition

Catch The Festivities at Fountain Square

Ever since I was a little girl, we would make an annual pilgrimage downtown every holiday season. Our first stop would often be the old Shillito’s to see the elves, followed by a stroll on Fountain Square. Today Fountain Square has become the heartbeat of holiday festivities in the city with live music, holiday events, and an ice skating rink.

Splurge for a festive overnight overlooking the square at the Westin Hotel, and dine at the new Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse before an evening of ice skating under the city lights. Another great spot to stay overnight in downtown Cincinnati is the Hilton Netherland Plaza. Grab a seasonal cocktail at the Bar at Palm Court, then cross the street for fabulous tapas at Mita’s or a french inspired cuisine at Royce before visiting Fountain Square.

Tree Lighting Ceremony

Fountain Square is the home to Cincinnati’s official Christmas Tree, with the official lighting happening the day after Thanksgiving. It has become an annual tradition for many to venture down to the square for ice skating, shopping at the holiday market, and getting their family photos by the Christmas tree.

UC Health Ice Rink

Ice skating rinks pop up all over the tri-state area during the holidays. However, Cincinnati holds one particular rink close to its heart; The Ice Skating rink on Fountain Square. Right in the heart of downtown, rosy-cheeked skaters zip through the ice under the twinkle of lights.

Bumper cars on ice return this year for added fun on the square! During bumper car sessions, the rink is split, allowing ice skating and bumper cars.

The ice rink will operate seven days a week from November 5 through February 20, 2023.

PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo has been a holiday staple for decades, four to be precise. 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of this “Wild Wonderland”. While the animals may have gone in for the evening, the zoo comes alive with twinkling lights, gorgeous lantern animals, and classic holiday characters like Santa and Frosty.

PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo

Hop aboard the North Pole Express, a train ride that takes you through the lights and then around swan lake. While the train may be the best seat to watch the synchronized light show over swan lake, be sure to catch the show near the entrance of gibbon island.

Be sure to come dressed for the weather. The Cincinnati Zoo is hilly, so strollers are recommended for younger children. The zoo does sell hot chocolate, smores, and roasted nuts for a wintery treat. The Festival of Lights runs till January 8, 2023.

The PNC Festival of lights is one of many stops along Ohio Holiday Lights Trail which features 55 dazzling stops throughout the state, including all 5 Ohio zoos.  Check out the complete guide to Ohio Zoo Lights.

PNC Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo Making Smores
Making Smores at the Festival of Lights

Local Tip For Visiting: Come for the animals; stay for the lights. Arrive at the zoo between 3–4:00 pm. Arriving early allows you to see some zoo animals before the zoo transforms into a magical wonderland. It is easier to find parking as well.

Budget Tip: The festival of lights is included in zoo admission and for members it is included in your zoo pass. The Cincinnati Zoo offers a 50% discount on admission if you have a membership for a reciprocal zoo.

Shop Local This Holiday Season

One of my most cherished holiday traditions is shopping local and supporting the small businesses that make our city incredible. Small businesses often have unique finds, the tastiest goodies, and the sweetest owners. There is no better way to show love this holiday season than by shopping locally and supporting families in our hometown.

shop local this holiday season
Shop local this holiday season

Go Shopping at the Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market

One of my favorite holiday traditions is going to the Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market with my mom. The Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market is at the Duke Energy Convention Center in early November. Over 300 vendors bring booths full of holiday decor, crafts, gifts, treats, and more. Grab a photo with Santa, enjoy free gift wrapping, chances to win merry money, and the wine and appetizer lounge.

Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market
Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market

The Greater Cincinnati Holiday Market is only one of many holiday markets happening around Cincinnati. Other favorites are the Chriskindlmarkt at Germania and the Holiday OFF Market.

Go Shopping in Downtown Milford

Take a stroll through the town, taking in its beautifully decorated window displays. Swing into the Mercantile Mall for over 20 antique dealers, browse the curiosities at Enchanted Moments, then conclude your visit with homemade chocolate from Tickled Sweet.

Window shopping in Old Milford
Window shopping in Old Milford

Downtown Old Milford is evolving into a dynamic hot spot, full of trendy eateries, Little Miami Brewing, charming boutiques, along popular housing developments, all situated along the Little Miami River.

Christmas Glow at the Land of Illusion

As southwest Ohio’s largest Christmas Light Drive-Thru event, Christmas Glow at the Land of Illusion is quickly becoming a yearly tradition for many families. Guests will love the 3.8 million colorful holiday lights at the 2-mile-long Christmas Around the World drive-thru experience along with the dazzling displays. 

What makes the Christmas Glow an extraordinary experience is that it is more than lights; guests can visit Santa at the Christmas Village Santa Workshop or take in the majestic lights of the 45-foot Christmas Tree as you and yours warm by the gas fire pits.

Planning Tip: Visit during the week to experience fewer crowds and purchase tickets online to save time.

The Children’s Theatre’s Performance Of Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer

Kids and adults will love this holiday classic as it soars off the screen in this 60-minute musical adaptation of the beloved television special. Filled with holiday hits like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer™ JR, features all of your favorite characters including Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and, of course, Rudolph.

Planning Tip: Shows are typically at Taft Theater downtown. Make a day out of the show by exploring fun holiday favorites downtown after or before the show.

Kings Island’s Winterfest

The Midwest’s largest amusement park embraces an old-fashioned winter with an ice skating rink right in front of an illuminated Eiffel Tower and spectacular holiday decorations, all to the tune of carolers who make their way through the park. Kings Island transforms into a winter wonderland complete with a holiday market offering everything from glistening ornaments to freshly baked gingerbread.

Kings Island Winterfest
Kings Island Winterfest

Take advantage of the spectacular Winterfest Wonderland Parade, which happens at night. The parade route starts by the Zephyr, so I recommend grabbing a spot along the Coney Mall route and then taking advantage of shorter lines after the parade passes.

King’s Island’s Winterfest runs on select evenings through December 31. 

There are quite a few extras that you can add to enhance your WinterFest experience. Ice skating is extra, in addition to cookie decorating.

Winterfest Wonderland Parade
Winterfest Wonderland Parade

Planning Tip: I do not recommend ice skating here for first-time ice skaters. The rink is very crowded. For first-time ice skaters, check out the rinks at 50 West Brewing or Summit Park in Blue Ash. 

Budget Tip: WinterFest is included for guests with a Kings Island Gold Pass. Gold Pass holders can also purchase discounted admission tickets for guests at $19.99. Another deal to take advantage of is the refillable Hot Chocolate Cup with $1.00 refills. This cup is good for multiple visits as well.

Don’t Miss The Holiday Train Displays

Holiday Junction at the Cincinnati Museum Center

The beloved Duke Energy Holiday trains are a holiday treat for the whole family. The Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati’s iconic train station Union Terminal, offers a dynamite train display.

The trains featured at Holiday Junction hold a special place in the heart of Cincinnatians as they are the famous Duke Energy Holiday Trains formerly displayed downtown. The Duke Energy Holiday Trains have been a Cincinnati holiday staple since 1946, delighting generations since they first debuted downtown in 1946. 

Holiday Junction’s riding train is popular with kids while the whole family will enjoy Brickopolis. Brickopolis, a blizzard of LEGO bricks crafted into fantastical scenes from the magical worlds of Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, and Harry Potter.  The stunning lego metropolis is always a crowd favorite.

Holiday Junction runs from November 11 – January 2.

EnterTrainment Junction: Holiday Trains

EnterTrainment Junction offers a variety of festive activities, including the Main Street Holiday Train Display. After seeing the winter wonderland, pay a visit to Mrs. Claus in her kitchen and meet Santa! It should be no surprise that the Largest Indoor Train Display in the World would be incredible!

Holiday Trains at EnterTrainment Junction
Holiday Trains at EnterTrainment Junction

Various ticket options are available, including an all-inclusive pass that gives guests access to the funhouse full of classic entertainment like a mirror maze, curtain maze, and more.

LOCAL TIP: The black hole exhibit has a loud gust of air that will come out of nowhere and possibly frighten small children and adults alike.

Budget Tip: EnterTrainment Junction often runs a Groupon that offers decent savings.

Catch The Nutcracker By The Cincinnati Ballet

The magic of the Nutcracker comes alive with an awe-inspiring performance by the Cincinnati Ballet. Follow Clara on her dreamy adventure to the land of sweets with her nutcracker prince. The company at the Cincinnati Ballet does a tremendous job making it family-friendly and attention-grabbing. The ballet is often at Cincinnati’s iconic Music Hall across from Washington Park.

Catch the Nutcracker at the Cincinnati Ballet
Catch the Nutcracker at the Cincinnati Ballet

Budget Tip: Sign up to be on the mailing list for Cincinnati Ballet. They will often send out discounts and specials for upcoming performances.

Nights Of Lights at Coney Island

One of Cincinnati’s favorite Drive-in-the-Lights is the Nights of Lights, held annually at Coney Island. Watch snowmen sing along to holiday classics, drive through a tunnel of lights, and if you look out in the distance, you can watch the Grinch try to sneak off with a tree! Tune the radio to the designated station for holiday music that the lights are synced to.

Nights of Lights at Coney Island
Nights of Lights at Coney Island

While the entire display is a treat for the eyes, get the kids to notice all the details by having them go on the elf scavenger hunt. Throughout the whole drive, elves are hidden, waiting to be spotted!

Local Tip For Visiting: There are often few lines if you visit on a weekday before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, to avoid long lines, arrive early and visit on a weekday.

Visit Krohn Conservatory

A long-time Christmas Eve tradition is a visit to Krohn Conservatory followed by lunch at Skyline Chili. One thing that makes Krohn’s holiday train display stand out from the rest. is that the display is centered around iconic Cincinnati landmarks created out of “Botanical Architecture.” The bright, colorful flowers and greenery accompany the displays, making them a delight to watch.

Krohn Conservatory
Krohn Conservatory

Get your photo next to the poinsettia tree, take a stroll through the fern house, walk behind the waterfall and conclude your visit with a stop at the live nativity. The Celestial Holiday runs until January 8, 2023.

Local Tip: After your visit, venture to the Eden Park Lookout. It offers a stunning view of the Ohio River. It is a short drive to the top of the hill with plenty of free parking at the park.

Watch A Christmas Carol By Playhouse In The Park

For many, the holidays are not complete with a trip to the theater to catch the beloved classic, “A Christmas Carol.” Playhouse in the Park has perfected this traditional tale with thrilling special effects, elaborate costumes, and telling this heartwarming story in a way only the cast at Playhouse in the Park can.

With the return of live performances, seating is limited, and protocols are in place. Learn more about Playhouse in the Park and secure your tickets on their Playhouse website.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

CSC’s holiday smash hit Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) is back again for another season of holiday hilarity! What begins as another annual production of A Christmas Carol, soon devolves into a slightly irreverent look at all of our favorite “Beloved Holiday Classics” including pop culture favorites like It’s a Wonderful Life, Rudolph, Charlie Brown, and more! Add in topical references that always keep this annual tradition fresh and fun as we send up everything from Dickens to Dr. Seuss in an evening of high-octane happiness and frivolity.

Planning Tip: This production is not for theatergoers who still believe in Santa.

Rent an Igloo

Many local restaurants and bars have brought back outdoor igloos as colder weather sets in. One of our favorite winter activities in Cincinnati is the rooftop igloos that boast sweeping views of the queen city. It is an excellent option for a fun holiday date night, dinner out, or get-together. Often, igloos will need to be reserved in advance and may have a fee.

Rent a igloo
Rent an igloo

Yuletide Village Season of Lights

Yuletide Village Season of Lights is held at Renaissance Park in Warren County every Friday and Saturday, November 25 – December 17, 2022. Guests can enjoy shopping at the Yuletide Market, visiting Santa Claus or Krampus, and strolling the beautifully lit village while carolers serenade guests.

We hope that this guide will help get you and the entire family in the holiday spirit and start a new holiday tradition by finding all that Ohio. Find It Here. has to offer!

Cincinnati Holiday Traditions and Events

Cincinnati Holiday Traditions and Events