holiday lights at the florida botanical gardens

Your Guide to Holiday Happenings in Tampa Bay

In the mood for some holiday fun this season? Tampa Bay has you covered. From parades to Christmas markets to lighting displays and more, you’ll find an activity or event to suit everyone – including your four-legged family members! Listed below are just some of the many exciting events offered throughout the area, sorted by date so you can plan your calendar. Be sure to click on the name of each event for more information about times and fees, as details can change. Some events are free, but others charge admission. And remember—many cities and towns throughout Tampa Bay have a community tree lighting, breakfast with Santa, or parade, so check your local listings to find other events happening near you.

Now through December 24

  • River of Lights Holiday Cruise (Tampa): Tampa’s Pirate Water Taxi will take you on a holiday tour along the river. With close-up views of downtown Tampa’s holiday decorations and lights, floating holiday displays, sing-a-longs with a Dickens caroler, holiday treats, and a snowy finale, this cruise is sure to be a favorite for the family. Children will be invited to write a letter to Santa and mail it in Tampa’s only floating mail buoy to the North Pole. Offered only on select dates, so be sure to check the website for details.

Now through December 30

Holiday Planning
Christmas in the Wild
  • Christmas in the Wild (Tampa): Experience Christmas at the zoo with one of Tampa Bay’s largest light displays, yummy holiday treats, and the zoo’s amazing wildlife residents. ZooTampa has new holiday adventures and entertainment planned for your family this year. Occurs only on select nights, so be sure to check the website for details.
  • Jolley Trolley Holiday Light Tours (Clearwater): Cruise around town in style and enjoy the area’s best light displays. Bring your own seasonal snacks and beverages to enjoy. Private tours are available for corporate or family events. Each tour lasts 90 minutes. Be sure to check the online calendar for availability; tickets can be purchased online in advance.

Now through January 1

Holiday Lights at the Florida Botanical Gardens
Holiday Lights in the Garden
  • Holiday Lights in the Gardens (Largo): Florida Botanical Gardens glow with a million twinkling LED lights, laser lights, and lighted figures. A children’s area with family-focused activities is new this year.
  • Holiday Lights & Rides in Largo Central Park: A family event with light displays, a carousel, and a seven-story Ferris wheel with a view of Largo Central Park. Additional festivities on December 3 include the tree lighting, a holiday market, entertaining performers, and free photos with Santa­.
  • “Enchant,” The World’s Largest Christmas Light Spectacular (St. Petersburg): Enjoy an all-new interactive adventure, “Santa’s Magic Timepiece” created with over four million sparkling lights. Featuring a 100-foot-tall holiday tree, an ice-skating trail, live entertainment, Santa visits, and a village market with crafts, gifts, culinary treats, and cocktails at the Tipsy Tree Lounge. The Hallmark Channel will offer additional goodies like photo opportunities and a chance to win a visit to a Hallmark Channel movie set.
  • Tampa Bay’s Festival of Lights & Santa’s Village (Brandon): A fun family event at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds, the festival features more than one million lights, Florida-themed displays, and a drive-through animated light tunnel. Experience the Arctic Plunge Inflatable Snow Tube, holiday-themed rides, Santa’s Barnyard, camel rides, holiday movies, and more.
Tampa Riverwalk Past Holiday Boat Parade
Riverwalk Boat Parade

Now through January 2

  • Riverwalk Holiday Spectacular (Tampa): Stroll along Tampa’s Riverwalk and enjoy the dazzling displays, which include a 35-foot tall LED lighted tree that floats on the water, grand oaks glowing with thousands of twinkling lights, a floating gingerbread lighted display, floating toy train lighted displays, a 22-foot lighted pirate ship, and many other delights.
Henry Plant Museum Holiday Stroll By Chris Barlow

December 1 – 23

  • Victorian Christmas Stroll (Tampa): Located in the Henry B. Plant Museum, the Victorian stroll features delightful holiday themes and displays in each exhibit room, including antique Christmas ornaments and tiny antique trees.

December 2

  • There’s Snow Place Like Tarpon Springs: Featuring arts & crafts vendors, street performers, dancers, live music, snow slides, Santa Claus, train rides, and more, this popular event is free and coincides with the tree lighting and the popular annual boat parade.

December 2 – 18

  • A Christmas Carol at Carrollwood Players Theatre (Tampa): The Carrollwood Players bring the Dickens classic to life this season with the beloved tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. A delightful way to kick off the holiday season.
Visit with Santa in many areas throughout the Bay!

December 3

  • Pioneer Christmas & Vintage Market (Dade City): Visit the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village for a unique holiday experience. Antiques, live entertainment, blacksmith demonstrations, pony rides, petting zoo, and more, including a Gnome Scavenger Hunt and special surprises.
  • DMTB Howliday Market (St. Petersburg): Here’s one for the four-legged family members. DMTB (Dog Moms of Tampa Bay) are presenting this dog-friendly event with more than 50 local vendors who will offer gifts for the canines in your life, including handmade dog apparel and accessories, home decor, dog photographs, pup ice cream, handmade treats, and more.
  • Holiday Boat Parade & Tree Lighting (Dunedin): This annual waterfront celebration is a local favorite. Enjoy holiday music, seafood treats, and roasted marshmallow s’mores while waiting for the lighted boat parade and the arrival of Santa Claus. The evening concludes with a tree lighting.
  • Breakfast with Santa (Tampa): Breakfast with Santa, just like the old days. Each ticket includes a photo with Santa, breakfast with Mrs. Claus, crafts, and a goody bag. Adult tickets include a mimosa. Presented by GFWC Tampa Women’s Club, the event benefits child literacy.
  • Tampa’s Santa Fest & Tree Lighting (Tampa): Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park comes alive with a Christmas parade, Santa Fest, and tree lighting. Features include performances, crafts, reindeer games for children, free photos with Santa, and more. Tampa’s own mayor will lead the countdown for the tree lighting. Afterward, families can stay for a holiday movie in the park. The event is free.

December 3 – 18 (first three weekends in December)

  • Christmas at the Farm (Largo): What could be more fun than Christmas on a farm? Featuring a holiday market, decorations, and photo opportunities, Christmas at DK Farms also offers a petting zoo, Florida “snow,” campfires with s’mores, mini-golf, pony rides, bounce houses, and more.

December 4

Miracle on Cleveland
  • Tampa’s Holiday Market: Do a little holiday shopping while you support small businesses, crafters, and artisans. There is plenty for the kids to do, too—visits with Santa, cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus, holiday entertainment, photo opportunities, and crafts. Childcare is available on site while you’re shopping, too.
  • Miracle on Cleveland Street (Clearwater): This free family-friendly festival returns to downtown Clearwater with falling “snow,” live music, strolling carolers, and some unique offerings like the popular “Tel-An-Elf,” where children can call the North Pole to video chat with Santa’s elves, an Xtreme Board Snowboard Simulator, and an ice-skating rink. The Ruth Eckerd Hall Chorus and the Salvation Army Music and Arts Ensembles will close out the evening with a free holiday concert in the Bilheimer Capitol Theatre.

December 4 – 23

  • Winter Wonderland Holiday Event (Clearwater): Benefitting the children of Pinellas County, Winter Wonderland is a Christmas village with an entertainment stage, decorated trees, photos with Santa, cookie decorating with Mrs. Claus, holiday train rides, and a hot chocolate shop. Admission is free, but visitors are asked to bring a non-perishable food item and/or an unwrapped toy to be donated to a local charity.

December 9 – 11

Michael Francis the conductor of the Florida Orchestra for the Tampa Bay Mastermind Series
Michael Francis and the Florida Orchestra
  • Holiday Pops with the Florida Orchestra (Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater): The Florida Orchestra performs all your holiday favorites in their most popular concert of the year. Five performances with two matinees.

December 9, 10 and 16, 17

  • Harbor Holiday Nights & Trolley Light Tour (Safety Harbor): Visit Folly Farm to enjoy the holiday lights, a campfire, children’s activities, and live music. Afterward, take The Trolley Tour to cap off your evening with a view of Safety Harbor’s holiday lights.

December 10

  • Old Fashioned Christmas & Holiday Parade (Dunedin): Nothing beats an old-fashioned Christmas parade! But the fun doesn’t end there – festivities will continue in downtown Dunedin, including carriage rides, train rides, a snow slide, children’s crafts and games, storytelling, face painting, street performers, “snow” flurries, live music, and visits with Santa Claus.
  • Christmas In The Country (Tampa): Experience a rural Florida Christmas and celebrate like the pioneers did. Learn about the holiday traditions of the 19th century with historical interpretations, carols, decorations, and more. You’re sure to find unique holiday gifts at the General Store, which features nostalgic and historical toys and other items.

December 10 – 11

Victorian Christmas at the Safford House
  • Victorian Christmas at the Safford House (Tarpon Springs): Actors portray Safford family members and friends at the historic 1883 Safford House Museum. Each two-hour session includes a house tour, musical performances, refreshments, and a photo with the Safford actors. Advance tickets are required.
  • Petersburg Holiday of the Arts Festival (St. Petersburg): Now in its eighth year, the festival features work by more than a hundred artists from throughout Florida and across the country. You’ll enjoy original paintings, photography, ceramics, sculpture, digital art, jewelry, glass, woodworking, mixed media, fiber art, metalwork, and more. Sure to provide a unique holiday shopping experience for art lovers.­

December 17

  • Tampa Holiday Lighted Boat Parade: Tampa’s largest lighted boat parade takes place along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. The event is free to watch, and all registered boats will receive prizes.

Home for the Holidays Paws on Parade: Another one for the furry set. Bring your pup and pose for family Christmas photos, participate in the pet parade, and find the perfect gift for your pet or favorite dog lover at the pet vendor market.

Holiday Guide written exclusively for Destination Tampa Bay™ by Dianne Graveman. Feature image of the Holiday Light at the Florida botanical Gardens. All photos are of events in caption for editorail purposes only–all rights reserved.

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