Safe & festive Holiday Activities in Pittsburgh

2 min read

It’s finally December and Christmas is in the air! The holiday season in Pittsburgh can only be described as magical. From ice skating around the towering, twinkling Christmas tree at the Rink at PPG Place to listening to the live music at the Peoples Gas Holiday Market, the holiday spirit in Pittsburgh is incredible. However, the COVID-19 pandemic left the future of many Pittsburgh holiday events uncertain. Many beloved holiday traditions such as Light up Night and the Lumaze were already cancelled. Nevertheless, many events have been adapted to align with safety measures such as social distancing and mask wearing. Here are some activities in Pittsburgh that will guarantee a safe, fun, and festive holiday season:

The Rink at PPG

A beloved Pittsburgh tradition is back! The Rink at PPG is open until February 28th with special hours for weekends and holidays. Because of the pandemic, the rink is operating at a lower capacity. Thus, tickets must be pre-purchased and pre-paid online at PPG Place’s website before arrival. New this year, while buying tickets, one must choose a 75-minute time slot in order to keep the rink at a safe capacity. There are several safety protocols put in place at the Rink this year. Skaters must maintain six feet of distance while standing in line and wear masks at all times. Guests will also undergo temperature checks before they are allowed on the Rink. Also, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, frequently touched surfaces will be sanitized.

Phipps Conservatory

 Phipps Conservatory’s “Home for the Holidays” display will be active until January 3rd. In order to protect the health of guests, Phipps Conservatory has limited capacity and closed the outdoor Winter Lights Garden for the season. However, Phipps is still showcasing festive poinsettia displays, unique winter plants, and its famous indoor carousel. Timed tickets are on sale now online at the Phipps Conservatory website . To keep visitors as safe as possible, Phipps Conservatory has put several safety measures in place. All guests older than two years of age must wear a mask at all times; double-layered masks that cover the nose and mouth are required which means neck gaiters, bandanas, face shields, and other face masks with holes or valves are prohibited. Guests are also encouraged to maintain six feet of distance throughout their visit and refrain from touching surfaces.

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium Zoo Lights

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium Zoo Lights event offers a unique holiday experience in which guests drive through the zoo, looking at animal themed light displays. The tours are enhanced by an audio recording, which can be found on the Zoo’s website. In order to properly see the animals in their habitats, guests are encouraged to bring binoculars. Tickets are available until January 3rd and must be purchased online at the Zoo’s website. In order to keep everyone safe, guests must stay in their vehicles with their trunks and doors closed at all times.

Neighborhood Drive

One of the most enjoyable, festive, and inexpensive holiday events occurs right in our own neighborhood. Grab a couple family members or friends (or even alone, especially in this environment) and go for a drive through local neighborhoods. It is always interesting, and sometimes comical, to see your neighbors’ light displays twinkling in the darkness of a winter night. Playing Christmas music in the car makes the drive so much more festive!

Downtown Walk

Taking a social-distanced, COVID-friendly walk in Downtown Pittsburgh is one of the most festive holiday activities because of the various Christmas displays. Many Pittsburgh businesses are participating in a competition where window displays are designed by local, independent artists, each representing a different charity. Pittsburghers are encouraged to vote on the most beautiful display with the winning business’s charity being awarded $2000. Also, larger-than-life projections of snowflakes and candy canes are on display near Heinz Hall until December 23rd. In the courtyard of the US Steel Building, Pittsburgh’s traditional crèche is located. Lastly, the 16 life-size Santa Claus figures that make up the Spirit of Giving Around the World Exhibit are located in Market Square.


The usual scary sights located at Hundred Acres Manor are transformed into a festive, drive-through Christmas experience. The attractions located at ELFburgh include seeing uniquely decorated trees in the “Elf Forest” and safely meeting Santa Claus at “Santa’s Castle”. Children can hand Santa Claus a premade wish list and receive a giftbag from the jolly man himself. Tickets are for sale on ELFburgh’s website until December 23rd. In order to keep them safe, guests are not allowed to exit their vehicle at any time and even have the option of having their ticket scanned through their window, as opposed to rolling their window down.

People’s Gas Holiday Market

With gifts from both Pittsburgh-based small businesses and international businesses, there is no better place to shop for family and friends than the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square. The Holiday Market has a few special vendors only available for a limited time. Live holiday music plays daily at 11:30 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The Holiday Market is open until December 23rd. In order to maintain the safety of guests, vendors and guests must wear face masks at all times. Shoppers are encouraged to maintain social distancing and not crowd around a vendor. They are also encouraged to frequently sanitize their hands using the hand sanitizing stations set up around the market.

Zoom Call with Santa

A visit with Santa Claus at the mall is one of the most beloved holiday traditions for parents and children alike. Though an in-person visit with Santa may not be the safest option this year, Santa is still available for visits over Zoom. In downtown Pittsburgh, children and their families can meet Santa over Zoom until December 23rd. Along with some of Santa’s elves, the child can experience a once-in-a-lifetime, one-on-one conversation with Santa Claus.

Gingerbread House Competition

Visiting PPG Place to see the creatively decorated gingerbread houses is always a highlight of the Christmas season. This year, the event has gone virtual on the City of Pittsburgh’s website. Voting is open until January 8th

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

One my fondest holiday memories is going to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Holiday Pops. Though this event has been cancelled for 2020, the PSO is hosting a virtual (and free) holiday event. Tapestry of Light: A Holiday Celebration is on December 18th at 7:30 p.m. This event combines old orchestra tunes with new surprises that are sure to create a sense of comfort in this uncertain time.

Carnegie Science Center

Carnegie Science Center is open at 10% capacity to offer a holiday experience like no other. The Laser Holiday Magic show in the Buhl Planetarium showcases holiday-themed, bright laser displays accompanied by holiday music. This holiday season, guests can visit Mummies of the World: The Exhibition exhibit before its departure on January 18th. The Carnegie Science Center also offers unique gifts for everyone on your Christmas list at the XPLOR store. Guests are required to wear masks at all times, maintain social distancing, and are encouraged to frequently sanitize their hands. Guests are encouraged to buy their tickets online at the Carnegie Science Center’s website or at the building with a credit card. It is also important to note that the air circulation system at the Carnegie Science Center exceeds national standards.

The scariness of the pandemic seems to take away from the cheer of the Christmas and holiday season. However, it is delightful to see how traditional Christmas events have been shaped with the public’s safety in mind. I hope these activities help bring a bit of spirit into your holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Consumer $ense!

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