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CNB Travel News: Philadelphia’s Historic District Celebrates The Holiday Season


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This December, the Philadelphia Historic District transforms into holiday central. The original city neighborhoods of Old City, Society Hill and the Delaware River Waterfront join forces for Philadelphia’s Historic District HoliDays & Nights, a celebration of the season. From November 30 through December 31, the merrymaking spans museums, restaurants and shops between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine and Lombard Streets.

As part of the festivities, the Snowflake Shuttle powered by PHLASH will offer free rides throughout the District Thursday through Saturday evenings, 6-9 p.m. The best way to experience Historic District’s wintertime fun is with the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package, offering guests of participating hotels free parking and more perks, bookable at visitphilly.com.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the Historic District this holiday season:

Holiday Hubs:

  • Franklin Square – The annual Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show makes the park twinkle with free light shows atop its fountain every 30 minutes between 4 and 8 p.m. on weeknights and 4 and 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Among the 50,000 bulbs set to music is a giant, illuminated kite. Other festivities include #FranklinSquareFridays; Saturdays with Santa; Seasonal Sounds on Sundays; rides on the holiday train and carousel; comfort foods, local brews and hot beverages in a warm, tented beer garden; and mini-golf. The grand finale comes during the Kids’ New Year’s Eve Countdown and Dance Party, a family-friendly celebration at 6 p.m.—with a view of the first fireworks show (see below). November 9-December 31. 6th & Race Streets, (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
  • Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest – The Delaware River Waterfront’s popular, seven-day-a-week (holidays included) seasonal attraction returns for its 24th year. On tap: fire pits, a Kids Lodge arcade, a chalet-style Lodge Restaurant and Bar serving food from Garces Group and Chickie’s and Pete’s, story time every Saturday (beginning December 2), 12 days of Christmas movies (December 14-25), a Franklin Fountain Confectionery Cabin (for hot chocolate, hot fudge sundaes, s’mores kits and more) and a spectacular live tree (tree lighting, followed by fireworks on December 1)—centered around a regulation-size skating rink with a spectacular view of the Ben Franklin Bridge. On weekend afternoons in December, the Blue Cross RiverRink welcomes Saint Nick onto the ice for Skate With Santa (December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17). The holidays culminate with The SugarHouse  New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront, two pyrotechnics shows—one at 6 p.m. and another at midnight. Winterfest ups the celebration with NYE Parties on Ice, featuring entertainment, favors, outdoor seating and great views of the fireworks. November 24-March 4. Columbus Boulevard at Market Street, (215) 925-7465, riverrink.com
  • Independence Visitor Center – ’Tis the season for the District’s information station to extend its hours until 7 p.m. and bring in colonial re-enactors to mingle with guests. November 24-25 and December 26-30. Also for a limited time: winter storytelling and colonial carolers. November 24-25, December 21-23 and 28-30. 6th & Market Streets, (800) 537-7676, phlvisitorcenter.com
  • Elfreth’s Alley – The nation’s oldest continuously inhabited street tells the story of Christmas in America with Making Christmas, an exhibit retelling how 18th-century German immigrants brought over the folk traditions and customs (Santa Claus, toys, cookies and that tannebaum) that transformed December 25 into the holiday that it is today (November 25-26, December 3, 9-10, 16-17, 23-24, 30; evenings: November 30 & December 7, 14, 21). On December 2, Alley residents welcome the public to tour their 18th- and 19th-century homes during the popular ticketed event Deck the Alley. The festive afternoon includes carolers, refreshments, appearances by a 19th-century Santa Claus and Benjamin Franklin—not to mention rare access to most of the private homes. Elfreth’s Alley (exhibit entrance: No. 126), (215) 574-0560, elfrethsalley.org
  • Old City – Five festive Thursday evenings become Historic Holiday Nights, when all of Old City will stay up late. Shops sell their wares until 8 p.m.; restaurants offer holiday specials, and the courtyard of the historic Betsy Ross House Courtyard will offer live entertainment, snacks and more (5-8 p.m.), beginning with a tree lighting November 30. November 30, December 7, 14, 21, 28. Betsy Ross House, 239 Arch Street, (215) 686-1252, historicphiladelphia.org; Old City District, (215) 592-7929, oldcitydistrict.org

Museum Merriment:

  • Museum of the American Revolution – The District’s newest addition inaugurates its first holiday season with Illuminating Liberty. Colorful illuminations based on those by eminent Revolutionary-era Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale will fill the Museum’s sidewalk-level windows. On November 30, the Museum will officially kick off holiday season in the Museum’s Cross Keys Café by offering seasonal treats such as Shane’s Hot Cocoa and hot cocktails. In addition, the gift shop will remain open for holiday shopping, and visitors will be able to try on Revolutionary-inspired clothing and design their own decorative window illuminations. November 23-January 1. 101 S. 3rd Street, (215) 253-6731, amrevmuseum.org
  • Independence Seaport Museum – Penn’s Landing’s maritime museum puts on a Saturday of nautical holiday fun—sailboat ornament-making, gingerbread boat-building, snow lessons and Santa—followed by the Parade of Lights, an early-evening parade of illuminated working vessels (tugboats included) along the Delaware River. December 9. 211 S. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 413-8655, phillyseaport.org
  • Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent – This city-centric museum hosts the Golden Age of Retail, a cocktail party and pop-up exhibition of artifacts from classic department stores John Wanamaker, Gimbels and Strawbridge & Clothier, along with vintage ornaments and 19th-century cards. December 9. During winter break, the museum offers the gift of pay-what-you-wish admission.December 26-January 2. 15 S. 7th Street, (215) 685-4830, philadelphiahistory.org
  • National Museum of American Jewish History – Each year on Christmas, the museum opens its doors and galleries to families of all backgrounds for Being __________at Christmas, a day of games, dancing, crafts, storytelling and live music with Emmy Award-winning Alex & the Kaleidoscope. Tickets required. December 25. 101 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 923-3811, nmajh.org
  • National Constitution Center – Winter break means loads of student programming at the world’s only museum dedicated to U.S. Constitution. Visitors can enjoy special family-friendly programs and activities, including arts and crafts, games and interactive shows. Featured activities include colonial dress-up and photo opportunities, military muster demonstrations and the Growing Up, American Style show. December 26-30. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6700, constitutioncenter.org
  • African American Museum in Philadelphia – The museum’s Kwanzaa Celebration includes four family-friendly days of celebrating the First Fruits of the Harvest. Workshops, discussions, film screenings and performances demonstrate the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa, and each day’s craft activity is dedicated to a single principle: self-determination (Day 1), working together (Day 2) and supporting each other (Day 3). On the final day, a candle-lighting ceremony demonstrates the principle of purpose—and acclaimed magician Ran’D Shine puts on a show. December 27-30. 701 Arch Street, (215) 574-0380, aampmuseum.org

Holiday Touring:

  • Yuletide Cheers & Beers – A little history, a little beer and a lot of fun are served up when a Redcoat soldier recalls life in British-occupied Philadelphia in 1777 while guiding the over-21 crowd through four cozy pubs in two hours. Winter brews, festive libations and delicious snacks are included in the holiday-time-only ticket. Thursdays, November 16-December 28. Tours begin at the Betsy Ross House. 239 Arch Street, (215) 686-1252, historicphiladelphia.org
  • Snowflake Shuttle, Serviced by PHLASH – Getting around the District is even easier Thursdays through Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m., when a dedicated, decked-out PHLASH bus loops the neighborhood, picking up and dropping off riders free of charge. The six-stop, 17-minute route includes Franklin Square, the Museum of the American Revolution, Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, 3rd and Market Streets, Elfreth’s Alley and the Betsy Ross House. November 30-December 30. ridephillyphlash.com

VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.

On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.