Wondering about the best places to see Christmas lights in Austin this holiday season? You’re in luck, since our town has a multitude of fabulous spots for enjoying spectacular lights displays. We’ve also got holiday events of all varieties, whether you enjoy neighborhood light displays; larger, more ceremonial holiday light events; gingerbread house building; live performances or something else entirely. Read on to learn where to see the best Christmas lights in Austin and find out about other fun, popular holiday events around town, so you and your loved ones can make holiday memories that will warm your hearts for years to come.
The Best Christmas Events In Austin For Families
We are lucky to have so many great Christmas events in Austin, and many of them are perfect for families, as well as individuals of all ages. Here are some of our favorite Christmas events so that you and your family can maximize your holiday enjoyment.
A classic way to kick off the holiday season in Austin is with a trip to Zilker Park for the Zilker Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony. Each year since 1967, Zilker Park has hosted a ceremonial lighting of the Zilker Tree around the end of November or the beginning of December. With over 3,300 lights and standing over 15 stories tall, the holiday tree is truly a dazzling sight to behold. Snacks and drinks, including hot cocoa, are also available on-site.
Many people also enjoy following up a visit to the Zilker Tree with a trip just across Barton Springs Road to the Trail of Lights, another longtime holiday tradition. The Trail is yet another Austin classic (read: incredibly popular), so it’s a great idea to purchase advance tickets online and plan your trip to simplify parking and other logistical issues. The Trail features food trucks, music, nightly entertainment and more, along with the 65 colorful displays comprising of over two million twinkling lights. There is also an annual evening Trail of Lights Fun Run for active Austinites who want to walk or run a 2.1-mile course through the twinkling displays. Make sure to visit Pooh’s Corner, one of our favorite displays and an area sponsored by ABC!
The Trail of Lights isn’t your only option for breathtaking Christmas lights displays; another can’t-miss display is Mozart’s Christmas Lights Show on Lake Austin. Through the month of December, this festive holiday lights display out on the deck at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters is sure to delight revelers of all ages. Mozart’s is right on the water, making for a lovely and serene backdrop to over one million twinkling lights in a variety of colors and designs. The only problem? This free lights show has become almost as much of an Austin tradition as the Trail of Lights, which means it’s wildly popular! Plan to arrive early and park in the larger lot located across the street.
The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center offers a different kind of holiday lights display with its annual Luminations event when the Center glows with soft light from thousands of luminarias set along its many garden paths. Complete with delicious food and drink, festive music and special performances, this can’t-miss experience delights Austinites of all ages.
If live performances are more to your taste, why not take the whole family to see The Nutcracker at Ballet Austin? The world’s best-known ballet has been lighting up the Austin stage since the mid-1960s. This memorable holiday tradition is presented at the Long Center, with a range of ticket options to accommodate a variety of budgets.
For lovers of classical music, the Austin Symphony Orchestra offers Christmas in the Community, a series of free concerts held throughout Austin each December in locations like Barton Creek Mall and the Central Public Library. Handel’s Messiah, also performed by the Austin Symphony and accompanied by Chorus Austin, is another joyous and timeless tradition for classical music enthusiasts and their families, although perhaps less ideal for younger children.
Things To Do In Austin In December
There are so many fun holiday events and other things to do in Austin in December that it can be tough to narrow down your options! Here are some of the best ways to revel in holiday cheer in December:
- Holiday shopping at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar: This iconic Austin cultural event has been going strong for decades, providing holiday shoppers with a live music and art festival experience. Check off everyone on your holiday shopping list while perusing artwork and handicrafts made by local artists and makers, and enjoying delicious, locally made food and drinks. Admission is free for children 12 and under.
- Holiday shopping at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar: A slightly newer, yet still iconic event, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar offers holiday shoppers art, handicrafts and kitschy items made by local artists, with free admission for all. Discover unique finds for everyone on your holiday list, including photography, ceramics, jewelry, clothing, accessories, glassworks and more.
- Taking in a free holiday movie screening: For over a decade, Austin Parks Foundation and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Rolling Roadshow have partnered to host Movies in the Park, a series of free family-friendly films screened from spring through fall in neighborhood parks around the city. In December, the Season Finale free movie screening is normally a Christmas-themed film. Don’t forget to bring a picnic blanket or chairs and your favorite holiday recipes, and leave the adult beverages, glass bottles and Styrofoam coolers at home!
- Taking in a live performance at ZACH Theatre: A Christmas Carol at ZACH is an annual Austin holiday tradition, promising “a musical sleigh ride through rhythm and time,” but this beloved theatre also has other holiday offerings during the month of December. Check the theatre calendar for showtimes and tickets.
- Riding the North Pole Flyer: This annual special event hosted by Austin Steam Train Association is a two-hour train ride departing from the historic Bertram Depot, complete with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus as well as hot cocoa with unlimited refills, delicious holiday cookies, photo ops with the Clauses and more.
- Visiting the Pfestive Pfarmers Market in Pflugerville: Enjoy live music as you shop this special, annual Pflugerville Pfarmers Market event. In addition to the regular market’s produce, eggs, plants and other offerings, the Pfestive Market also features locally made crafts and other holiday items for sale.
- Enjoying an Adult Beverage at Lala’s Little Nugget: It’s been Christmas year-round since 1972 in this kitschy little bar in north-central Austin that definitely fits right in with the “Keep Austin Weird” ethos. You don’t have to wait for the holiday season to enjoy a cold drink in the warm glow of Christmas lights, surrounded by holiday ornaments, twinkly Christmas trees, boughs of holly and even Santa and his reindeer perched on the roof.
Austin Ice Skating Rinks Around Town
Chaparral Ice in north-central Austin is the most well-known ice-skating facility in town, offering seasonal programming each December — but it’s certainly not your only option when it comes to Austin ice skating rinks during the holiday season.
The flagship Whole Foods store downtown is locally famous for its annual outdoor Ice Skating on the Plaza event, which is open to the public on Fridays through Sundays during the holiday season. Each Friday, KUTX provides the rink’s music soundtrack with its Music Fridays series; your admission fee includes skate rental.
Head just a little south of Austin to San Marcos for the annual Sights & Sounds of Christmas festival, where you can enjoy ice skating beginning the week after Thanksgiving, along with a carnival, petting zoo, pony rides and life-sized Jenga and other games at the Reindeer Games station.
If you’re in the mood for even more of a drive—but one that’s well worth it—head west to Fredericksburg to go ice skating at Eisbahn (which is the German word for ice rink). Part of your admission fee goes to charity, and pizza, candy, sodas and hot cocoa are offered at the concession stand.
Best Austin Neighborhood Christmas Lights Displays
In years past, the best place to see spectacular Austin neighborhood Christmas lights was just north of the university on 37th Street in Hyde Park. In more recent years, that decades-long local tradition dwindled and even went on hiatus for a number of years, but as of the 2018 holiday season, it seems to have been revived.
Still, 37th Street isn’t the only good spot for viewing Austin neighborhood Christmas lights displays. There are plenty of other great neighborhoods perfect for cruising and enjoying the twinkling lights as you listen to your holiday playlist on your car’s stereo. Just keep in mind that since neighborhood lights displays are maintained by private individuals rather than by businesses or the city, their open hours can change from year to year. Be sure to check social media or do a quick Internet search before heading out, in case this year’s displays are on hiatus. Or, just head out with an open mind, as you’re sure to discover something spectacular in almost any Austin neighborhood you might visit.
Here are our favorite Austin neighborhood Christmas lights displays, and a few that are a bit farther afield:
- Willis Littlefield’s house in central Austin: Longtime Clarkesville resident Willis Littlefield has been inspiring holiday cheer since 1998 with lights displays at his home on West 12th Street. Littlefield himself may be there handing out candy canes if you visit!
- Bear Creek neighborhood lights in southwest Austin: Families in the Bear Creek neighborhood put on lights displays each year and play holiday tunes.
- Chinati Court Christmas Lights in Cedar Park: The families who live on the Chinati Court cul-de-sac in Cedar Park go all out in lighting up the holidays, and also collect donations for Brown Santa to assist underprivileged children and seniors living in Travis County.
- Rhodes Family Christmas Lights in Cedar Park: This neighborhood holiday lights display appeared on ABC’s Great Christmas Light Fight, and the family collects donations for the Cedar Park Area Food Bank.
- Harlien Family Christmas Lights in Georgetown: This holiday lights display, going strong for over twenty years now, also has a heart: The Harlien family uses their display to raise money for Make-A-Wish Central and South Texas and sponsor wish trips for local children who are critically ill.
If you don’t mind a bit of a drive out of town, there are also some impressive holiday light displays in New Braunfels, Wimberley, Johnson City, Marble Falls and Georgetown that are well worth a visit. Since they’re typically smaller and parking is usually easier, these can be wonderful alternatives to both neighborhood displays and Austin’s larger, more crowded events—not to mention the fact that they provide a great excuse for a short trip into the beautiful Texas countryside.
ABC Can Install Your Lights So You Can Enjoy The Season
Would you love to have a holiday light display that rivals the best Christmas lights in Austin? If so, you might balk at the physical exertion that installing lights requires. The very thought can be enough to dim anyone’s holiday spirit. Instead of going to all that trouble and losing your holiday spirit in the process, why not just reach out to ABC Home & Commercial Services? Our team members are experienced at festive holiday light installations of all sizes and designs. We’ll work with you to develop and understand your vision and then bring it to life, so you can relax and enjoy the holiday season.