Cost Effective (or Evasive) Ways to Experience Cincinnati: Winter Break 2020

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

As unbelievable as it may seem, the fall semester is already coming to an end. This fall has been unlike any other for all of us, and winter break will also look a bit different this year. While festive events such as the annual SantaCon and Mount Adams Reindog Parade have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic, there are still opportunities to safely get a little holiday cheer on. Here’s a few options if you’re sticking around Cincinnati for break. 

Drive-Through Light Shows

An abstract photo of holiday lights.

Drive-through light shows have largely replaced many of the traditional holiday events this season, and there are some great options on either side of the river. Coney Island’s annual drive-through light show will allow you to enjoy a 2.5-mile-long journey of over one million dazzling lights and displays, all from the comfort of a heated vehicle. Coney Island’s light show is always a big event, but this year it should be even more of a draw, as it’s one of the best ways to safely celebrate the season. Be sure to tune in on your car radio to synchronize the light show with music! Tickets are $7 per person and various local charities, such as Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army, and others will benefit from ticket sales.

If you’re on the Kentucky side of the river, the Boone County Fairgrounds will be offering a similar event to Coney Island’s: Light Up the Fair. The 1.5-mile-long trek through the fair will be decked out in half a million lights that are also choreographed with music on the radio. Tickets are $6 per person.

One last light show to check out is Journey Borealis, which is located in Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum. This is a distinctly Cincinnati affair, as the creators of the show partnered with the Cincinnati Boychoir and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra to make the soundtrack, setting this show apart as a completely local production. The sculpture park alone is worth seeing, but witnessing it all lit up for the season makes this a great festivity to check out. The cost of admission is $20 per car and if you’re a Hamilton resident, it’s free on Tuesdays. 

Winter Market at Washington Park

Throughout the month of December, the Winter Market will be set up in Washington Park on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The market will feature local artisans and craftspeople, who will be selling clothing, artworks, food, and more. Vendors will be different each day, so this will be a great way to pick up seasonal gifts for friends and family (or yourself), while also supporting small, locally owned businesses. This year has been particularly difficult on small business, so when you can, be sure to shop local this season!

Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights

Each year, the Cincinnati Zoo decks their halls for the Festival of Lights. This event has become a staple in Cincinnati, growing bigger and better each year with a massive Christmas tree, synchronized light shows, and delicious cups of hot chocolate. This is not your everyday zoogoing experience, as the lights garner just as many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as the animals they surround. In order to limit the amount of people in the park, the zoo will be limiting the number of tickets sold for any given day. Ticket prices vary between $12 to $22 depending on which day you go and how far ahead of time you purchase, so reserve your spot early for a deal!

Winter Nights, River Lights at the Purple People Bridge

Cincinnati’s iconic pedestrian bridge, the Purple People Bridge, is decked out with an impressive light show that is free to the public. The entire bridge is decorated with thousands of vibrant lights and projections that have the bridge shining bright against the backdrop of the city. Start your journey at Sawyer Point and walk across to Newport on the Levee, which is also decorated for the holidays.