9 Portland Holiday Happenings That Are Totally Worth It

Portland Christmas events include A Nutcracker Tea by the Northwest Dance Theatre. Kids love this abridged show that's shorter and made for young audiences Blaine Truitt Covert/@northwestdancetheatre

With so many Portland Christmas events to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. That’s where we come in

The holidays can be a magical time for families in Portland. Between the many city holiday displays that light up the night to the festive ice rink skating rinks that add merriment to the season, there’s a reason it’s known as the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, it can also be a busy and expensive time. After tallying up all the various activities families can do in town, you might be wondering which ones are actually worth it. That’s why we’re breaking down the the ins and outs of Portland Christmas events that not only make the season bright, but are worth the time and money, too. So sit down and pour yourself a cup of hot cocoa, it’s time to get planning.


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You won’t be disappointed by these Christmas events, Portland families

a lighted purple hippo greets cars driving through ZooLights at a Portland Christmas events
courtesy Oregon Zoo

1. ZooLights: Drive-Thru

One of the quintessential Portland holiday events, ZooLights is always a hit with families. Don’t get us wrong, the walk-through version of ZooLights is really fun. But it can be very expensive for non-members. A family of four with kids over the age of two can expect to spend $86 on admission to ZooLights, before snacks and parking. However, one car for ZooLights Drive-Thru is $65. If you have a minivan or SUV, you can probably combine your family with your best friend’s and make this even more cost-effective and fun for everyone. Bring covered mugs of cocoa from home and play carols as you drive through this dazzling light display that tops our list of worthwhile Christmas activities in Portland.

Good to Know: Families must reserve tickets ahead of time, and dates are limited. 

Dates: Nov. 23, 2022-Jan. 5, 2023 (Closed Dec. 25)
Cost: $65 & up

Oregon Zoo
4001 S.W. Canyon Rd.
Portland
Online: oregonzoo.org

2. Tinseltown Trolley

Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation has put together an adorable holiday trolley, the Tinseltown Trolley to get people in the holiday spirit. If you’ve got a tot, this is one of the best Portland Christmas events around. The train takes kids on a 45-minute ride that includes games, sweets, and a very special guest (we think you can guess who). If your kid is a Daniel Tiger fan (and who doesn’t love Daniel and trolley?), or you don’t want to do the big steam trains in town, this is a more approachable option. There are quite a few departure times throughout the day, and tickets are required ahead of time, so grab yours now.

Dates: Dec 9-11, 2022
Cost: $20/adult; $17/kid

Willamette Shore Trolley
311 N. State St.
Lake Oswego, OR
Online: ci.oswego.or.us

Related: Electric Avenues: Holiday Light Displays That Really Shine

3. A Nutcracker Tea

When it comes to Portland holiday activities, a trip to the see The Nutcracker is usually top of mind for families. If your child is a bit too antsy for the full Nutcracker production, The Nutcracker Tea is a good choice. And the prices are part of what make it great for families. Northwest Dance Theatre puts on an abridged, family-friendly version of the Tchokovsky ballet that everyone wants to see during the holidays. This Portland tradition is also a local favorite and does usually sell out, so grab tickets sooner rather than later. 

Dates: Dec. 10, 11, 16-18, 2022
Cost: $18-$35/person

Portland Community College, Sylvania Campus
Performing Arts Center
1200 S.W. 49th Ave.
Portland
Online: nwdt.org

4. Peacock Lane

After a COVID-hiatus, the festive street light display is back this year. This Southeast Portland neighborhood, filled with adorable Tudor-style houses, decorates their homes with lights and decorations and invites the public to wander the sidewalks or drive (slowly) down the street to marvel at the displays. There is sometimes free cocoa and cider to keep you warm on those rainy nights. Lights are scheduled to be on from 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Donations are accepted.

Insider Tip: If you want to wander through the street without worry about cars, go on one of the car-free nights, December 15-17.

Dates: Dec. 15-31, 2022
Cost: Free

Online: peacocklane.org

Related: Electric Avenues: Holiday Light Displays That Really Shine

a group of people aboard the Portland Spirit wave on the front of the ship during the Cinnamon bear breakfast, a portland christmas event everyone loves
portlandspirit.com

5. Cinnamon Bear Breakfast

After pausing for the pandemic, this Portland Christmas event is back in full force. Take a two hour cruise on the Portland Spirit and enjoy a plated breakfast and a show which includes adventures in Maybeland with the Cinnamon Bear and his friends. This musical adventure is the most extravagant of the choices on this list, but it is also the most uniquely Portland holiday event around and that makes it special for families. It’s something you’ve got to experience at least once.

Dates: Nov. 26-27 & Dec. 4, 10-11, 17-18, 22-24 & 26-27, 2022
Cost: $64/adult; $48/kid

Salmon Springs Dock
1010 S.W. Naito Pkwy.
Portland
Online: portlandspirit.com

6. The Grotto Christmas Festival of Lights

Less expensive than some attractions in town, The Grotto, a Catholic outdoor shrine and sanctuary, is an impressive and beautiful property in Northeast Portland that puts on an expansive Christmas celebration each year. Visit with the kids to hear choir concerts and carolers, see puppet shows, and walk-through light displays that are truly inspiring. There are food vendors and warm beverages available for purchase at this Portland Christmas event. 

Insider Tip: Add even more value to the experience when you purchase tickets for online value night or at-the-door value night.

Dates: Nov. 25-Dec. 30, 2022 (Closed Dec. 25)
Cost: $14-$18/adult; $6-$8/kid, 3-11; Free, kids 2 & under

N.E. 85th & Sandy Blvd.
Portland
Online: thegrotto.org

7. The Holiday Express

If you have a train-obsessed kid, this is The One to take them to this holiday season. Ride in a real steam locomotive along the scenic Willamette River during your journey. Kids can enjoy cozy snacks, and a visit from Santa and his elves is what really puts this rail ride on the map. These 45-minute train rides offer a chance to see wildlife during the day or the train all lit up at dusk. Another added perk? While many holiday trains are out of town, this one is right out of our own Southeast Portland. Remember to get your tickets in advance (it’s required). The event usually sells out, so if this one tops your Little’s list, get on it soon. 

Dates: Nov. 25-Dec. 18, 2022
Cost: $92/family of four

Oregon Rail Heritage Center
2250 S.E. Water Ave.
Portland
Online: orhf.org

8. Portland Christmas Ships

This tradition is 68 years old this year and is a stunning and free attraction for your light-loving kids. Various ships adorn themselves with lights and parade down the Willamette to the delight of onlookers during the holiday season. Make a night of it—bundle up and bring cocoa to snuggle up with as you watch these impressive vessels. Or make a restaurant reservation along the route if you want to make the night extra special. Just know these spots fill up fast.

Dates: Dec. 2-21, 2022
Cost: Free

Online: christmasships.org

9. Winter Wonderland Portland

Otherwise known as the “PDX Raceway Drive Through Light Display,” this de-light-ful experience is the largest around. Featuring more than 250 different light set pieces it hits all the holiday notes your kids love.  Drive through the racetrack at the Portland International Raceway (slowly) and see a huge light display. Play your own festive music as you enjoy the fun lights from the comfort of your vehicle. Like ZooLights, you are only limited by the size of your car, so feel free to combine with friends if your vehicle can accommodate more than your crew. Don’t forget the hot cocoa.

Insider Tip: There are two nights in particular that offer extra fun for families. November 28 is Bike the Lights, a time to decorate your bikes and ride through the display without cars to worry about. The following night is Lights and Leashes where families can—you guessed it—bring their dogs to walk the lights with them. Festive dog outfits are highly encouraged.

Dates: Nov. 25-Dec. 31, 2022
Cost: $48/car

Portland International Raceway
1940 N. Victory Blvd.
Portland
Online: winterwonderlandportland.com

Related: Your Insider’s Guide to Portland’s Christmas Ships Is Here

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