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

Lights, Lights, Lights, and Even Some Snow

It might not snow in the Tampa Bay area on Christmas (it's blue like water instead of white like snow), 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 shows. Here's a list of some of the best annual holiday events to mark the holiday season in the Tampa Bay area in 2018.

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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 tree will be on display from December 3rd - January 2nd. 

The boat parade takes place December 22 from 6-8p.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  23 through Dec. 30 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 have flown 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 the zoo's animals at night.

Visit Christmas in the Wild Friday and Saturdays November 24-25, December 1-2, 8-10, 15-17, 21-23 and 26-30.

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

Largo Central Park
Courtesy of

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. On December 16, you can even play in the snow (yes, really!) and greet Santa from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Snow Zone. Make sure to bring a blanket or wear a sweatshirt, it gets cold! 

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05 of 11

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 and parade will take place on Saturday, December 1st from noon- 4 p.m. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. on Morgan Street. 

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Victorian Christmas Stroll

Henry B. Plant Museum
 Wikimedia Commons

Every year the Henry B. Plant Museum is transferred back in time for the 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 annual Christmas Stroll runs from December 1st - 23rd, from 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. The last tickets are sold at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ate $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $9 for kids.  

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Ybor City Tree Lighting Ceremony

Ybor city, Tampa Tree lighting.

 Wiki Commons/Richard Mc Neil

Get into the holiday spirit as soon as Thanksgiving ends and attend the Ybor City Treen lighting at Centro Ybor. This free event is open to the public and will surely get you in the holiday spirit. The Ybor City Chamber of Commerce along with city mayor Bob Buckhorn attend the event. 

The tree lighting will take place November 28th from 6p.m-9 p.m.

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Watch the Winter Wonderettes

Head over to the Stageworks Theater, Tampa's longest running theater company, for a seasonal celebration the whole family will enjoy. Everyone will enjoy this nostalgic holiday tale about the fictitious Wonderettes who must save Santa when he goes missing. You'll hear all the holiday classics like, "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells," "Run Rudolph, Run," and "Santa Clause is Coming to Town," sung with a 60's sound.  

Previews begin December 6th. The show runs weekends throughout December. Tickets are $15 each. 

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09 of 11

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 from November 17th- December 31st. 

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Cirque du Soleil's CRYSTAL Event

Cirque de Soleil CRYSTAL show

 Cirque de Soleil Website

The award winning Cirque du Soleil's CRYSTAL performance returns to Tampa Bay's Amalie Arena for a breathtaking holiday event. The CRYSTAL show features all the thrills and acrobatics that put Cirque du Soleil on the map, but with a holiday twist, and ice skating! The show is an incredible mix of circus performances, incredible acrobatics, all set on the holiday-themed stage. 

The show will run from December 19th- December 23rd. Book tickets in advance as this tends to sell out quickly. 

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Holiday Maker's Market

Looking for a unique holiday gift? Or perhaps something handmade?Head over to the Holiday Maker's Market at the Westshore Plaza and browse through the work of over fifty artists, craftsman, and makers. You are bound to find something for everyone in the family. All types of items are sold at the market, from jewelry to clothing, flavored oils to baked goods, handmade soaps to home decor. Support local businesses and feel good you're giving one unique gift. 

The market takes place from November 23rd - December 23rd. 

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