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

Palm Holiday Lights in Tampa
Daniel Wright / Getty Images

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 events to mark the holiday season in the Tampa Bay area.

During the 2020 holiday season, many events have been scaled back or canceled. Be sure to confirm the most up-to-date details with event organizers before finalizing your plans.

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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, taking place on December 19, 2020.

Be sure to look out for Tampa Bay's 35-foot LED Christmas tree that floats along the harbor beginning with the lighting ceremony on November 26, 2020, and up until January 2, 2021. The Christmas tree can be viewed in the harbor in front of the Tampa Convention Center and in the area around South Harbour Island Boulevard. Businesses along the Riverwalk also have lighted displays making the Tampa Riverwalk a magical place during the holiday season.

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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, a walk-through illuminated kaleidoscope, an animated Christmas tree, and of course, get photos with the big guy himself in Santa's Village. As a bonus, you'll get to see some of the zoo animals at night.

Christmas in the Wild is open on select nights from November 27 to December 30, 2020. Advanced tickets are necessary to enter, and guests are assigned a time window of when they can arrive at the park.

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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 area, made all the more beautiful during the month of December by the more than one million LED lights that hang above the walkways. The massive display creates an atmosphere perfect for a stroll with family, friends, and loved ones to get you in the holiday spirit.

The event kicks off on November 28, 2020, and goes until January 1, 2021. It's free to enter the park and walk among the lights, and you can pay to go on the carnival rides as well.

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Holiday Events at the Aquarium

At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, you can dive into the holidays with all kinds of seasonal events on the calendar. Beginning November 20, 2020, the Festival of Trees brings a display of decorated pine trees into the aquarium for extra holiday cheer. On select weekends throughout December, Santa himself puts on his oxygen tank and jumps into the water, so kids can see St. Nick scuba diving with the marine life.

Other events on the calendar for December 2020 include a Sunset Cruise with Santa, a Winter Solstice Festival, and a special holiday market. Some activities are included with your aquarium admission, while others are separate ticketed events.

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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 Victorian 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.

The event runs every day from November 21 to December 31, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Advanced tickets for a reserved day are required in 2020 or, for the first time, you can purchase a virtual tour to experience the Victorian Christmas from home.

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Ybor City Tree Lighting Ceremony

Ybor city, Tampa Tree lighting.

Wiki Commons / Richard McNeil

Get into the holiday spirit early at the Ybor City Tree Lighting at Centro Ybor. This free event is open to the public and takes place on November 18, 2020. A holiday market is set up throughout the evening for Christmas shopping, with live entertainment and carolers to get everyone in the spirit (along with hot chocolate and cookies). At 7 p.m., the flip is switched to turn on the lights of the Ybor Christmas tree.

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Tarpon Springs Boat Parade

In Tarpon Springs, which is 45 minutes from the Tampa area, you can watch lighted boats sailing down the Anclote River and into the bayous where Santa gives out treats during the Boat Parade. To view the holiday-decorated vessels, find a place along Craig Park/Spring Bayou. The event is free and boats take off from Spring Bayou at 6:30 p.m. on December 4, 2020.

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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, providing great holiday fun for kids of all ages.

Some Christmas Town events have been modified or canceled in 2020, and the biggest change is that the entire event is now outdoors (thankfully in Florida, winter weather isn't a problem). Christmas Town takes place every night from November 20, 2020, through January 3, 2021. It's also necessary to buy tickets in advance with a time slot of when you can enter the park.

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St. Petersburg Holiday of the Arts Show

Holiday of the Arts in St. Petersburg is canceled in 2020 and returns December 11–12, 2021.

At Holiday of the Arts, artists set up in Williams Park to create 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. Consider hand-made art items for those on your Christmas list for a truly unique and special gift.

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SantaFest: The Downtown Tampa Christmas Parade

SantaFest in Tampa is canceled in 2020.

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

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Holiday Lights in the Gardens

Florida Botanical Gardens
Walter/Wikimedia Commons

While the Florida Botanical Gardens are open in December 2020, the Holiday Lights in the Gardens event is canceled.

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 of 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. 

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