Guide to Christmas in Tampa Bay: Festivals, Events, Things to Do

It might not snow in the Tampa Bay area on Christmas, but that doesn't put a damper on the holiday spirit around town. The month of December is packed with lighted boat parades, Christmas markets, and holiday fun. Here's a list of some of the best annual holiday events to mark the holiday season in the Tampa Bay area in 2019.

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Tampa Riverwalk Lighted Boat Parade

Parade of Lighted Boats
Google Images

The Hillsborough River lights up every year with hundreds of holiday boats during Tampa's Lighted Boat Parade. View the brightly lit spectacle from venues along the Riverwalk as boats small and large in holiday dress sail by. It's a sparkling celebration that combines Christmas with the Tampa Bay lifestyle.

Be sure to look out for Tampa Bay's 35 foot LED-lit Christmas tree that floats along the harbor. The Christmas tree will float out in the harbor throughout December. The Christmas tree can be viewed in the harbor in front of the Tampa Convention Center, The Sail, Jackson’s, American Social, and The Westin Hotel. Businesses along the Riverwalk also have lighted displays making the Tampa Riverwalk a magical place during the holiday season.

The boat parade takes place on December 21, 2019, from 6–8 p.m. 

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Holiday Lights in the Gardens

Florida Botanical Gardens
Walter/Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Botanical Gardens are lit to perfection for the annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens display. Walk along the illuminated paths that highlight all types unique flowers and plants. Over 1 million LED lights are used to set the gardens aglow. Live nightly entertainment and a visit from Santa make this the perfect family-friendly event. Refreshments and holiday-themed gifts are available at the Gardens' gift shop. 

The display is on from November 29, 2019, to January 4, 2020, every night from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. 

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Christmas in the Wild at Lowry Park Zoo

Lowry Park Zoo
TampAGS/Wikimedia Commons

Santa’s reindeer fly in for Christmas in the Wild at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and guests can see the reindeer along with more than a million twinkling lights, glimmering holiday displays, an animated Christmas tree, and of course, get photos with the big guy himself, Santa, in Santa's village. As a bonus, you'll get to see some of the zoo animals at night.

Visit Christmas in the Wild Fridays and Saturdays November 29, 30, 2019, December 6–7, 2019, December 13–15, 2019 and December 20–23, 2019.

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Let It Snow: A Walk Through Largo's Central Park

Largo Central Park
Courtesy of TampaBay.com

Largo Central Park is a beautiful, 70-acre park located in the heart of Largo, about a half hour's drive from Tampa. Its rolling grounds and fountains have set it apart as one of the finest parks in the county. During the month of December, more than one million LED lights hang above the walkways creating an atmosphere perfect for a stroll with family, friends, and loved ones to get you in the holiday spirit.

At the kick-off event on December 7, 2019, you'll enjoy carolers and other entertainers on stage. The Tree lighting will take place at 6 p.m. There will be food and beverage vendors and a Strolling Market.

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SantaFest: The Downtown Tampa Christmas Parade

 Bring your friends and family to the 36th Annual Downtown Tampa Parade. Every year, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is transformed into a holiday wonderland. Enjoy holiday activities at the park like Christmas crafts, free photos with Santa, and live entertainment. Then, watch the parade as it marches down Morgan Street and down Madison Street. 

The holiday festival will take place on Saturday, December 7, 2019, from noon to 4 p.m. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. and starts on Morgan Street. 

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Victorian Christmas Stroll

Henry B. Plant Museum
 Wikimedia Commons

Every year the Henry B. Plant Museum takes you back in time for the annual Christmas Stroll. The building is completely transformed from a museum dedicated to the life and work of Henry Bradley Plant to an exhibit of what a Victorian Christmas in 1891 would look like. Fourteen rooms are decorated authentically with greenery, Christmas trees, antique toys, and ornaments. You can nosh on spiced cider and cookies on the veranda, and carolers will serenade in the evening starting at 6 p.m.

The event runs every day from December 1, 2019 through December 23, 2019, from 10 a.m.–8 p.m. daily (the last ticket is sold at 7:30 pm).

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Ybor City Tree Lighting Ceremony

Ybor city, Tampa Tree lighting.

 Wiki Commons/Richard Mc Neil

Get into the holiday spirit early at the Ybor City Treen lighting at Centro Ybor. This free event is open to the public and takes place on November 20, 2019.

City officials will be kicking off the holidays in Ybor. The evening starts at 5 p.m. with a holiday shopping market in Centro Ybor. The festivities prior to the lighting start at 6 p.m. with entertainment and caroling. Just before 7 p.m., Mayor Castor will throw the switch to light the tree. Hot Chocolate and cookies will be served and the market will continue till 9 p.m.

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Christmas Town at Busch Gardens of Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens Christmas Town
Courtesy of Busch Gardens

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is a holiday extravaganza. One million lights, shopping, shows, Santa, and characters from the TV special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," are brought to life during this festive event. It's great holiday fun for kids of all ages.

Christmas Town takes place every night from November 16, 2019, through January 6, 2020.

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Winter's Wonderland at the Aquarium

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can dive into Winter's Wonderland. There will be lights and decorations throughout the aquarium. Holiday-themed habitats and a Kids' Fun Zone will create holiday magic. In the 3rd-floor classrooms, kids can learn about penguins and polar bears. Watch Santa and his elves dive in Mavis's Rescue Hideaway. Winter's Wonderland takes place on November 16, 2019, through January 6, 2020.

The aquarium hosts Sea of Lights boat cruises beginning Nov. 16, 2019. You will cruise around the local finger islands. Along the way, you'll enjoy holiday views, listen to holiday songs, and participate in holiday-themed trivia.

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Tarpon Springs Boat Parade

In Tarpon Springs, 45 minutes, from the Tampa area, you can watch lighted boats sailing down the Anclote River and into the bayous where Santa will give out treats. To view the holiday-decorated vessels, find a place along Craig Park/Spring Bayou. The event is free and boats are expected to enter Spring Bayou around 8 p.m. on December 6, 2019.

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Snowfest in St. Petersburg

Head to downtown St. Pete for a little snow play on Saturday, December 7, 2019. They're trucking in 65 tons of "snow" to North Straub Park at the annual holiday Snowfest celebration. Revel in the fake snow fun from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. There will be toboggan sliding, an art tent, karaoke, moonwalks, a giant slide, "glice" ice skating, and a little kids' area with activities just for pre-schoolers.

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St. Petersburg Holiday Art Show

Artists set up in Williams Park on December 14, 2019, and December 15, 2019, creating an outdoor gallery of original and handmade art. You can shop for paintings, sculptures, jewelry, glass, ceramics, fiber and wearable art, photography, digital art, mixed-media, metalwork, woodworking and more. This outdoor art show is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Consider hand-made art items for those on your Christmas list this year.

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