Where to Enjoy Holiday Lights for FREE

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Photo courtesy of Franklin Square. Photo by Jeff Fusco.

This has been a tough year. But just because you’re on a tight budget, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on holiday fun. Here are some phenomenal light shows that are FREE. Plus, each place is paired with a nearby restaurant where you can get a hot drink, if saving a lot (on admissions) inspires you to spend a little (on hot chocolate). It’s a great way to top off the evening and create happy holiday memories.

Franklin Square

The highlight of the holiday celebration at Franklin Square, one of the five original squares included in William Penn’s brilliant design of Philadelphia, is the Electric Spectacle Holiday Light Show. This free, nightly show features more than 100,000 lights (the most ever) seemingly dancing to holiday music, some recorded by the Philadelphia POPS ®. There will be two alternating shows every half hour starting at 5 p.m. daily and running until 9 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends. With seven acres, there’s lots of run to social distance.

Adding to the festivities are two playgrounds, a snowy square stroll for little ones, individual fire pits and old fashioned carousel (not free).

New this year is Chilly Philly Mini Golf. The miniature golf course that features mini Philadelphia icons (think the Liberty Bell, Love Statue and Elfreth’s Alley) as obstacles are decorated for the holidays with lights, inflatables and holiday music. It is a uniquely-Philadelphia holiday experience (not free).

Pair with: Before hitting Franklin Square, stop for Hot Chocolate at Ray's Cafe & Tea House in nearby Chinatown. Dress it up by adding a flavor like peppermint or salted caramel and whipped cream.

South Philadelphia: South Smedley Street & Miracle on 13th Street

Start your evening on South Smedley Street, a looped street connecting Moyamensing and Oregon, between 16th & 17th. The neighbors have been decorating the houses on the outer edge of the loop and the grassy area in the middle for more than 55 years and the display has become especially elaborate in the last 20 years with lights, inflatables and a creche. This year they’ve added a ferris wheel (for decoration, not riding). It’s so over-the-top that you’ll likely be tempted to go around the circle twice just to take it all in - once looking at the houses on the outer ring and then again taking in the display in the middle.

Next, head to Miracle on 13th Street. The houses on South 13th Street between Tasker and Morris have been going all out for the holidays for 20 years. It’s like Christmas on steroids and every year it gets bigger and better. The block is lit from 5 pm until midnight.

If you drive, be patient, if you decide to park near each block and walk, the residents request that you social distance and wear a mask.

Pair with: A Chocolate Volcano, thick rich, hot chocolate drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce at Rim Cafe. Sit by the space heaters at this French coffee shop in the Italian Market. Or try a Créme Brûlée Volcano and watch them roast the marshmallows with a tiny blow torch. Or Rim's new Hot Chocolate Bomb.

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