Holiday traditions run deep in the Queen City, with stunning holiday light displays, animatronic elves, poinsettia trees, and magical train displays. We are thrilled to be partnering with Ohio. Find It Here. to share a guide of our favorite holiday things to do in Cincinnati, Ohio. We hope this inspires you to indulge in your favorite traditions or make a new one.
Ohio Holiday Light Trail
Cincinnati comes aglow during the holidays with numerous stops along Ohio’s Holiday Light Trail. Stroll under illuminated jellyfish, take a tour around the world or sit back in the comfort of your car for a dazzling synchronized display.
Continue to light up the holidays by visiting all 43 locations throughout Ohio. Thirteen of these light shows are in southwest Ohio. Many have been a holiday tradition for years, with a few new ones quickly becoming yearly staples.
Kings Island WinterFest
The midwest’s largest amusement park embraces an old-fashion winter with an ice skating rink right in front of an illuminated Eiffel Tower, spectacular holiday decorations, all to the tune of carolers who make their way through the park. International Street is transformed into a holiday market offering everything from glistening ornaments to freshly baked gingerbread.
The newest addition to Kings Island’s WinterFest is the WinterFest Wonderland Parade. The nightly parade starts at 8:30 pm in Coney Elf Village with float aglow, traditional characters, and more.
While not all of Kings Island’s rides are open, a few such as the Flight of Cheer indoor rollercoaster, the Zephyer, and a good amount of rides in Planet Snoopy.
There are quite a few extras that can be added to enhance your WinterFest experience. Ice skating is extra, in addition to cookie decorating. King’s Island’s Winterfest runs on select evenings through December 31st.
Budget Tip: WinterFest is included for guests who have a Kings Island Gold Pass. Gold Pass holders also can purchase discounted admission tickets for guests at $19.99 apiece. 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.
Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
The Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo has been a holiday staple for decades. 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.
Hop aboard the North Pole Express, a train ride that takes you through the lights 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 9th, 2022.
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 member admission. The Cincinnati Zoo does offer a 50% discount off admission price if you have a membership for a reciprocal zoo.
Christmas Nights Of Lights at Coney Island
One of Cincinnati’s favorite Drive-in-the-Lights is the Christmas Nights of Lights held annually at Coney Island. Tune the radio to the designated station that the lights are synced to. 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!
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 during a weekday before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, to avoid long lines, arrive early and visit during a weekday.
Budget Tip: Take advantage of the carload pricing at $30 for up to 8 people.
Holiday in Lights At Sharon Woods
Another popular light display to enjoy in the comfort of your car is the Holiday in Lights at Sharon Woods. I often found this display perfect for children of all ages and those young at heart. Watching the lights tells a story full of whimsy, enchantment, and wonder are what makes this display so magical.
The mile drive is through a beautifully wooded area of Sharon Woods. They also offer the opportunity to enhance your experience by purchasing special effects glasses.
Budget Tip: Go to the Holiday In Lights website and print out a coupon for $1.00 off!
Lumaze Christmas Light Market and Festival
Experience Lumaze Cincinnati’s Glow Around the World. Lumaze is a unique light display featuring ornate displays representing landmarks and countries from all over the globe. Step inside a Taj Mahal of lights, get your photo next to a dazzling Eiffel Tower, then take in a twinkling windmill from Holland.
During your journey, ensure that you grab a passport to get it stamped in different countries. Then bring your full passport and trade it in for an ornament.
Festive glow cups are another unique souvenir that guests can purchase. Lumaze runs until December 30th at the Duke Energy Center downtown.
Budget Tip: Get online to find discounts codes making this experience more affordable. They often have a code on their website to save.
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, tastest goodies, and sweetest owners. There is no better way to show love this holiday season than by shopping local and supporting families right in our hometown.
Here are a few fun ways to shop local with a sprinkling of holiday magic thrown in.
See The Beloved Shilito Elves
Growing up in Cincinnati, my parents would bundle us up every year and drive downtown to Shillito’s Department Store to see Santa and his magical elves. Shillito’s had the most elaborate display of mechanical elves that told a story as you twisted your way through the queue. Since the 1950’s the Shillito’s elves have been a Cincinnati holiday tradition.
After Shillito’s was eventually bought out and Lazerus’s was the last department store to occupy the space. When Lazerus’s closed in 1996, the elves went out of the public eye only to reemerge in 2005 after being purchased at a local auction. The elves have traveled to various locations, but they are making their appearance at Findlay Market this year.
The elves will be on display at the old Leader Furniture building till the end of the year.
Findlay Market is Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market full of local vendors. In addition to grabbing the freshest produce, pick up tons of holidays goodies from local bakeries, butchers, and specialty food vendors.
Don’t forget to pick up a few holiday gifts such as succulents, Cincinnati gear, teas, and more. Be sure to check out the Findlay Market Gift Guide for a few great ideas.
Go Shopping in Downtown 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.
Take a stroll through the town, taking in their 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.
Great boutiques such as Lei Marie Unlimited, Roads Rivers Trails, and Enchanted Moments line the main street. Grab a bite to eat at Padrinos, May Cafe, or The Governor. Brew fans will love a visit to Little Miami Brewing, which serves up freshly made pizzas. The area is continuously developing, with a new coffee shop, a distillery, and shops popping up.
Expect to plan to spend an entire morning, afternoon, or evening exploring old Milford’s downtown area.
Local Tip: Remember that many smaller shops will close up early on weekdays with varying hours on the weekends and holidays. Downtown Milford is also a designated DORA district allowing visitors to take their alcoholic beverages throughout the DORA boundaries.
Explore The Shops In Downtown Hamilton, Ohio
Hamilton is a small town undergoing a big transformation as chic boutiques, trendy restaurants, and new experiences have been popping up all over town. Charming boutiques line the street filled with unique finds, stylish clothing, and high-end goods. Each side of the river offers excellent shopping, so it can be challenging to pick a side to start it.
Our Guide to Downtown Hamilton will help you plan out the perfect shopping excursion.
Visit A Holiday Market
A great way to get into the holiday spirit while shopping local is by going to a holiday market. Throughout November and December, holiday markets start popping up. Browsing the vendors, you often find handmade items, novelty gift ideas, and delicious foodie finds.
Holiday Traditions In Cincinnati
Holiday lights and shopping excursions are not the only holiday traditions that Cincinnati offers. Be sure to check out a few of these favorites; you never know you may end up creating a brand new family tradition!
Visit Krohn’s Conservatory
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 watch.
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. Holiday Trains and Traditions runs until January 9th, 2022.
Local Tip: After your visit, venture to the Eden Park Lookout. It is a short drive to the top of the hill with plenty of parking at the park. It offers a stunning view of the Ohio River.
Holiday Junction at the Cincinnati Museum Center
There is no better spot to catch holiday trains than at an actual train station. 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.
In addition to trains, Holiday Junction offers Brickolopis, a display of LEGO bricks crafted into fantastical scenes from the magical worlds of Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, and Harry Potter.
Local Tip: Tickets are limited, and timed entry is required, so purchase yours in advance. Holiday Junction is free for Members, but timed entry is required, and guests of Members will also need a paid, timed ticket.
Watch A Christmas Carol At 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.
The Nutcracker At 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.
Budget Tip: Sign up to be on the mailing list for Cincinnati Ballet. They will often send out discounts and specials for upcoming performances.
Ice Skating On Fountain Square
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.
This year they have added in the bumper cars on ice! During bumper car sessions, the rink is split, allowing ice skating and bumper cars.
Pair this fun winter activity with a nice dinner out downtown for the perfect holiday evening!
EnterTrainment Junction: Holiday Trains
It should come as no surprise that the World’s Largest Indoor Train Display in the World would have an incredible holiday train display. 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 then meet Santa!
A variety of different 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 will often run a Groupon that offers decent savings.
Rent an Igloo
Many local restaurants and bars have brought back outdoor igloos as colder weather sets in. One of our personal favorites is the rooftop igloos boast sweeping views of downtown. 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 associated with them.
Catch A Tree Lighting Ceremony
Small towns and townships like to ring in the holiday season with tree lightings ceremonies. These smaller celebrations bring the community together with music, food, and entertainment. We often venture to Light Up Maderia and other nearby tree lighting ceremonies for a lower-key celebration than Fountain Square’s big tree lighting ceremony.
Fountain Square is the home to Cincinnati’s official Christmas Tree, with the officially lighting happening the day after Thanksgiving. It has become an annual tradition for many to venture down to the square for shopping, the holiday market, ice skating, and tree lighting.
The holiday season is the perfect time to make lasting memories and traditions that are handed down for years to come—wishing you and your family a magical season of excitement, wonder, and joy.