A Clevelander's Guide to the Holidays
Be there with Bells On
Image by Cody York
For New Year’s Eve events, please scroll to the bottom of the article.
While we're not entirely sure we're ready to take on the holiday madness, our gorgeous city is already well on its way to rolling out the festive red carpet. You see, we've mastered the magic, splendor, beauty and all that other mushy stuff you get around the holidays through twinkling light shows, jingling musical performances, festive decor and even on-stage productions of classic holiday films.
But this is Cleveland. And, we do things our own way. Check out these other holiday happenings to celebrate the season.
Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
The very popular Polar Express events have sold out this year (they go quickly, so start looking for next year's events in October!), but there's still some holiday fun to be had on the tracks.
What would a Cleveland holiday list be without your token Ugly Sweater party? But we like to kick it up a notch. Nov. 24-Dec. 21, the CVSR hosts Ugly Sweater Holiday Train Rides. Bring out your ugliest holiday sweater for an adult-only adventure traveling through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and splurge on holiday drinks at the cash bar.
Holidays at the Higbee
Take a step back in time at the JACK Cleveland Casino. But, wait, didn't the casino just open in 2012? Well, yes. But the iconic building in which it is housed is the former home of the Higbee Department Store, which once served as a Mecca for elaborate interior and exterior holiday decorations, including classic window displays. The casino brings back many of the celebrated decorations--along with several gorgeous window displays--during its Holidays at the Higbee event happening Nov. 21-Jan. 1. And, heck, since you're there, you might as well play a quick hand of blackjack, amiright?
Every year, the Cleveland Botanical Garden transforms into the king of holiday events here in Cleveland. Even when it's not the holidays, the Cleveland Botanical Garden's indoor glasshouses--complete with flowers, plants, wildlife and even dozens of butterflies--is truly a sight to behold. During the holidays, it takes on new life with brilliant Christmas trees, a huge gingerbread competition, holiday music and even a kids' train ride through the garden. It's called GLOW and it's one heck of a family-friendly hotspot Nov. 24-Dec. 31. Admission is free for Botanical Garden and Holden Arboretum members, $16 for non-member adults, $12 for non-member children (3-12) and free for children 2 and under.
PRO TIP: Book a breakfast with Santa on Sunday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 10, 10 a.m.–noon, and get exclusive access to GLOW before it opens to the public in the evening.
Wild Lights at the Akron Zoo
Just 45 minutes south of Downtown Cleveland, you can witness the Akron Zoo lit up with thousands of lights and visit with Santa so he knows exactly what to leave under the tree this year. At Akron Zoo’s Wild Lights, each weekend showcases a different holiday theme, as well as live entertainment and ice-carvers. The fun runs from 5–9 p.m. on Dec. 1-3, Dec. 8-10, Dec. 15-17, Dec. 21-23, and Dec. 26-30.
Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge
When the weather outside is frightful, head to Great Wolf Lodge for the annual Snowland celebration. Just an hour west of Downtown Cleveland, you will love taking a break from the chill while surrounded by beautifully decorated trees and a life-sized gingerbread house. You can even dine in an indoor snow shower that melts in the 84-degree water park. Dive right in Nov. 25-Jan. 1.
Downtown in December Trolley Tours
If you're a holiday lights buff or a fan of the cult classic movie A Christmas Story, the famous red Lolly the Trolley will take you on two separate tours around Cleveland to see it all. Available on various dates throughout December, Lolly is offering the Silver Bells CLE tour as well as the A Christmas Story House tour.
Dinner + Deck The Hall
Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, located in the Akron area, is an estate featuring a historic 65-room Tudor Revival manor house, conservatory, lodge and 70 acres of artistically landscaped grounds and formal gardens. So when they put on a holiday event, as you might imagine, the place truly comes alive with the holiday spirit. Running Dec. 1, 8 and 15, Deck the Hall glitters with more than 800,000 sparkling lights and includes the outdoor Ginger Bread Land for kids, elaborately decorated rooms and holiday treats.
Holiday Lantern Tours at Hale Farm and Village
Travel back in time on the Holiday Lantern Tours through Hale Farm and Village. Just 35 minutes south of Downtown, you'll be able to experience how the holidays were celebrated in the 19th century as you venture through the decorated historic village and indulge in holiday treats. Located at 2686 Oak Hill Rd. in Bath, the events take place Dec. 2-3, 8-9, 15-17 and 19-23 from 5:30–9 p.m.
Kid’s Brunch with Santa at Merwin’s Wharf
Enjoy a delicious brunch overlooking the beautiful Cuyahoga River this holiday season at Merwin’s Wharf. Children will have a blast at this family-friendly event that features activities including a balloon artist, magic show, face painting and a visit from Santa. The events take place Dec. 3, 10 and 17, with seatings at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Heads up: Reservations are highly recommended.
Tremont Holiday BrewHaHa
Tis the season filled with beer and cheer at Tremont’s Holiday BrewHaHa. You won’t want to miss this three-day extravaganza that starts with Lolly the Trolley touring guests all around Tremont to experience the BrewHop and Holiday ArtWalk. Return for day two filled with local eats, shopping and the Santa Shuffle run. The fun continues on Sunday with live music at The Treehouse, and warm up your vocals to sing your favorite holiday karaoke tunes at The Flying Monkey Pub. The event takes place at various locations in Cleveland’s Tremont Neighborhood on Friday, Dec. 8, from 5–11 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 9, from 1:30–8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 10, 6–9 p.m.
The Cleveland Flea Holiday Showcase
Multiple choice question: Would you like to (A) spend hours upon hours running around town fighting traffic to desperately search for holiday gifts, or (B) spend an afternoon perusing one-of-a-kind gifts made with the skilled craftsmanship of an independent artist in Northeast Ohio? Hmm... unless you're some kind of holiday traffic enthusiast, we think the answer is pretty simple. Thankfully, the Cleveland Flea Holiday Showcase offers multiple days to come down and get everything you need for perfect gifts. This year's remaining events takes place Dec. 8-10 and 15-17.
Cleveland Orchestra special holiday events
Children will enjoy kid-friendly tunes as the Christmas Brass Quintet presents their annual holiday concert. Cleveland Orchestra musicians and a special guest will perform short selections to celebrate the music of the holiday season on Dec. 8-9.
Later in December (Dec. 15–23 to be exact), the Cleveland Orchestra Christmas Concert is back to spread holiday cheer. You'll experience sing-along-songs and guest choruses that will have you caroling along to your favorites.
On Dec. 19, the holiday season is all about ghosts, goblins and ghouls at Severance Hall when the Cleveland Orchestra presents Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas. Revel in the music of the spooky tale of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, kidnapping “Sandy Claws” and taking over Christmas.
Art enthusiasts will love Wintertide, an art-infused holiday experience. The festivities kick off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, with a showing of A Christmas Story at Capitol Theater. The celebration continues at 1 p.m. when Gordon Square is filled with pop-up music, theater performances, holiday treats and fire pits to warm up around and roast s'mores. Keep on partying until the event ends at 5 p.m.
The Santa Hustle Cedar Point 5k and Half Marathon
You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout because thousands of Santa Clauses are coming to town to run the Santa Hustle 5k and Half Marathon at Cedar Point on Sunday, Dec. 10. If participants don’t have Santa costumes of their own, no need to worry. Everyone receives a free Santa hat, beard, shirt and candy cane socks to get in the holiday spirit. Be ready to run at 9 a.m. for the half marathon, or at 9:30 a.m. for the 5k.
Holiday Tea at The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland
The holiday festiviTEAs continue at Downtown's opulent Ritz-Carlton with their annual Teddy Bear Tea and Holiday Afternoon Tea. With a kid-friendly menu and holiday storytelling from Mrs. Claus, Teddy Bear Tea is perfect to celebrate with children. Later in the day, the Ritz offers Holiday Afternoon Tea with a variety of teas, sandwiches and sweets that guests of all ages will enjoy. Sip it up on Dec. 10, 11 and 17–23. Reservations are required.
Friends of the Maltz Museum Hanukkah Candle Lighting
The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage invites children of all ages and backgrounds to celebrate the Jewish festival of lights. Just a 25-minute drive from Downtown Cleveland, you'll celebrate with music, playing the dreidel game and learning about the story of Hanukkah. The Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage is located at 2929 Richmond Rd. in Beachwood, and the event takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 5–6 p.m.
A Christmas Story The Musical Live! Watch Party
Ralphie’s holiday dream came true when he unwrapped his official Red Ryder, now it’s time for Clevelanders' dreams to come true when A Christmas Story: LIVE hits the big screen. Tremont's W. 11th street (where A Christmas Story House and Museum is located) will be shut down for the ultimate holiday block party. The party begins with a showing of the classic movie projected on two giant inflatable screens. Afterward, you'll experience the live premiere of the musical right in front of the famous house. There will be plenty of movie treats provided by Rowley Inn, Jack Frost donuts and more. Don't miss the fun on Sunday, Dec. 17, from 1–10 p.m.
Give What You Can, Pay What You Can at Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage
Choose to donate a canned good, or pay what you can to explore the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. You'll hear inspiring stories at the Beyond Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit, immigrant experiences from An American Story and learn about Jewish art and artifacts at The Temple-Tifereth Israel Gallery. You're also encouraged to stop by the theater to enjoy Superman cartoons from the 1940s and decorate New Year’s cards. Come feel the good vibes on Monday, Dec. 25, from 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Celebrate the season by experiencing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Ghosts of Christmas Eve tour at Quicken Loans Arena. This iconic rock opera will have two memorable performances that will knock your cozy socks off on Friday, Dec. 29, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Holiday Theater & Musical Productions
We wish you a Cleveland Christmas! Start your holiday off right by watching live performances of the famous A Christmas Story, the Singing Angels 2017 Holiday Spectacular, or listening to the beloved Cleveland Orchestra Christmas Concerts. Cleveland has so many incredible holiday theater and musical productions that we needed to create an entirely separate article covering these on-stage Cleveland traditions. Okay, okay. Enough with the #humblebrag. Read more here.
Ring in the New Year
After all the holiday madness, there's one more party to have--and Cleveland's the place to do it. As the clock counts down to a new year, choose from one of the many parties, balloon drops and family friendly events and celebrate in style.
Keep up the good cheer with the following ongoing events:
* Festival of Trees at Playhouse Square (through Dec. 23)
* Scuba Claus & Seas’n of Play at Greater Cleveland Aquarium (through Dec. 24)
* Tobogganing at Cleveland Metroparks (through March 4)
* Ma and Pa’s Horse Drawn Sleigh Rides (various times and dates)
* Gifts from the Heart of Nature at Holden Arboretum (through Jan. 3)
* Castle Noel (year round)
DON’T FORGET: Destination Cleveland’s Concierge Team is also available to help you and your visiting family and friends explore the region. Contact our team through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, live chat at thisiscleveland.com or stop in the Cleveland Visitors Center (334 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 44114) Mon.–Sat., 9 a.m.–6 p.m. to plan your adventure.