**Update: As of November 2013, we’ve published a brand-new best holiday lights in Philadelphia guide, which you can check out right here.
From downtown Philadelphia buildings and homes to the region’s expansive orchards and farms just beyond the city’s edge, Philadelphia notoriously decks the halls and does not cut corners.
Take a stroll, a drive, a bike ride, a hayride or even a horse and carriage trip in and around some of the brightest spots in the city to experience some of the best light displays the east coast has to offer.
Check out these prime locations for holiday lights in Philadelphia:
• Macy’s Christmas Light Show: An annual Philadelphia tradition since 1956, the Macy’s Christmas Light Show bedazzles visitors daily, on the hour every hour, until New Year’s Eve Day. With more than 100,000 LED lights and the sounds of the legendary Wanamaker organ, the Grand Court atrium becomes adorned with floating snowflakes and flying reindeer. Don’t forget to check out the Dickens Village on the third floor.
• Comcast Holiday Spectacular: Through January 1, experience high-definition visions of sugarplums during the fifth year of the Comcast Holiday Spectacular. Shown on the world’s largest 4-mm LED Comcast Experience Video Wall at the Comcast Center, the Holiday Spectacular features scenes from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet, a magical sleigh ride through the snow-covered Pennsylvania countryside into Center City Philadelphia and performances by some of Broadway’s best-known dancers. Shows are 15 minutes long and run every hour on the hour from 10 a.m.–8 p.m. (no shows at 5 p.m. during the week).
• Holiday Season at Franklin Square: All December long, Franklin Square will be lit with thousands of festive holiday lights and decorations. Get into the holiday spirit by visiting with Santa every Saturday and Sunday from 2-5 p.m. through December 24. A kick-off celebration is set for tonight, Tuesday, November 27.
• Rittenhouse Square Christmas Tree: Rittenhouse Square transforms into a holiday wonderland with the flip of a switch, as the park and Philadelphia’s largest Christmas tree (more than 30 feet tall!) become illuminated with 5,000 brilliant, multi-colored globes and lights. The ceremony is on Wednesday, November 28 at 5 p.m. After enjoying the beautiful glow of the park, sneak in some holiday shopping at the boutiques of Rittenhouse Row or a bite and a drink from one of the many acclaimed restaurants in the neighborhood.
• Christmas Village at Love Park: For its fifth year, the Christmas Village will once again be at Love Park complete with more than 50 decorated wooden booths packed with European food, sweets and drinks, international seasonal gifts, traditional German Christmas ornaments and high-quality arts and crafts. As you shop and explore, enjoy live musical performances, hot mulled wine, bratwursts, a Christmas carousel and City Hall’s brightly lit holiday tree. It’s open through December 24.
• Boathouse Row: One of Philadelphia’s most memorable nighttime vistas is that of Boathouse Row, made up of a dozen sculling clubs that line the Schuylkill River behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 2009, new full-color, energy-efficient LED light nodes were hung to showcase the intricate architectural details of the clubs. Now a drive or stroll along the river results in an eye-popping lighting marvel that normally glows white but can change to celebrate a holiday or civic celebration, a charity appeal or a significant professional sporting win.
Lots more holiday lights information, below.
• Longwood Gardens Christmas: No holiday is complete without a visit to Longwood Gardens, where more than 400,000 twinkling lights and spectacular fountain shows compose a brilliant wonderland your family is sure to love. Starting at 3:30 p.m. every day through January 6, gaze upon the large, starry snowflakes and icicles that sparkle throughout the gardens before warming up in heated conservatory with twenty “rooms” featuring festive displays of floral garlands, sparkling trees and more. Timed advance tickets are required and sell out quickly, so get yours here ASAP.
• Christmas in Peddler’s Village: Peddler’s Village will light up your holiday season with a fantastic display of nearly one million holiday lights. While you’re in a festive mood, explore more than 70 specialty shops — perfect for your holiday shopping — and eight restaurants. While you’re there, check out the spectacular Gingerbread House Competition and Display.
• Holiday Garden Railway at Morris Arboretum: A miniature winter wonderland amid the evergreens awaits visitors to Morris Arboretum. The Holiday Garden Railway display is a quarter mile of model train track featuring seven loops and tunnels with 15 different rail lines, two cable cars, nine bridges and trains that cruise past scaled replicas of historic monuments and Philadelphia-area landmarks made from all-natural materials.
• Seaport Parade of Lights: The Independence Seaport Museum will be parading boats doused in illuminated color just outside its doors on the Delaware River on Saturday, December 15. For the price of museum admission, guests will get a look at the magical holiday display and even get to hear some carolers sing, meet and greet with Santa and enjoy some light refreshments at this all-inclusive seaport spectacle. Bring a gift card from the store of your choice and make a donation to Liberty USO’s Liberty Claus. Learn more here.
• Smedley Street Christmas Light Spectacular: Venture into South Philly, specifically the 2700 Block of Smedley Street between 16th and 17th Streets and Moyamensing and Oregon Avenues, for a peak at a hidden holiday gem. You’ll see trees covered from head to toe in glowing color-shifting lights, gigantic blow-up Santas and all of the neighborly holiday cheer one could ask for this time of year.
• “Miracle on South 13th Street” in South Philly: Another must-see holiday lights destination in South Philly is the 1600 block of S. 13th Street, known colloquially in Philadelphia as the “Miracle on South 13th Street.” The elaborate illuminations of the neighborhood homes along this stretch of street, which started 13 years ago, make for a perfect holiday evening outing. Be sure to bring a camera — posing with the digitally animated Santa is always popular.
• Holiday Light Show at Shady Brook Farm: Millions of lights sparkle at Shady Brook Farm during the incredible Holiday Light Show. Experience the magical drive in your own car or hop on a moonlit hayride or horse and buggy. Monday through Thursday is when the real tractor hayrides will happen, but then Thursdays through Sundays, you’ll ride around the display in a horse-drawn carriage. Also, don’t forget to stop and get your picture taken with Santa at Santa’s Village. Reservations are recommended.
• Christmas Around the Farm at Linvilla Orchards: For the holidays, Linvilla Orchards transforms into the North Pole — farm style. Get into the holiday spirit by taking a look at the animals in their winter coats and doing a little shopping at the market that’s stocked with tasty holiday treats like hot mulled cider. Santa makes a guest appearance every Saturday and Sunday in December, and on select afternoons, visitors can sing along during Caroling Hayrides, complete with live music and apple cider.
• Herr’s Snack Factory Tour 12 Days of Christmas: Responsible for one of the region’s most celebrated snack foods, the Herr’s Factory is fully decked out for the holidays. They’ll be hosting all manner of Christmas-themed events centered around the light display which is now in its 23rd year. On December 12, bring out the family for hayrides through the Christmas lights. The annual light display features more than 400,000 lights arranged throughout the complex. Also, be sure you don’t miss “Big Red,” a 60-foot-tall Norway Spruce decorated with more than 1,500 red lights.
Bonus round: Here are two particularly fun ways to browse the gorgeous holiday lights in Philadelphia this season.
• Bike Tour of South Philly’s Lights: Deck your bike out and experience the holiday lights around South Philly via two-wheel tour offered by the Bicycle Coalition and the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia on Friday, December 14. The ride begins at Performance Bicycles on 1300 S. Columbus Boulevard and ends at La Lupe Restaurant at 1201 S. 9th Street. R.S.V.P. here to stay updated on further information.
• South Philly Striders and Fishtown Beer Runners Holiday Light Run: Run for a good cause on Thursday, December 13, as you jog through the decorated streets of South Philly for a unique and active holiday experience. Don’t forget to bring as many non-perishable items as your can schlep — Philadundance will be at the starting location collecting donations. The run finishes up at American Sardine Bar’s backyard where food, a raging fire pit and an over-the-top light display will be waiting. Dress holiday-themed if you’d like and enjoy PBC draft specials and DJ’s all night after the run. Find out more and confirm your attendance on Facebook.
As an added bonus, check out our gorgeous holiday lights video, below: