Austin is a magical city at any time of year, but this creative oasis really knows how to celebrate the holidays. From family-friendly festivities to quirky date-night activities, there are plenty of themed winter events to choose from. Read through this list of top holiday events in Austin and start planning your visit to the Live Music Capital of the World.
Annual Turkey Trot
A longtime tradition for Austinites and visitors hoping to head off their Thanksgiving tryptophan crash with an early workout on turkey day, Thundercloud Subs’ Turkey Trot offers three ways to start the morning off right. The event includes a 5K race, a one-mile fun walk, and a kid-friendly route for little ones. Turkey costumes are optional (and encouraged).
Trail of Lights
Another beloved year-end ritual in Austin is the Trail of Lights, which delights more than 300,000 visitors each year with its walkable wonderland of holiday lights and seasonal scenes. Running December 10–23 in Zilker Park, the family-friendly event features hot chocolate and kettle corn vendors nightly, plus a roster of special live performances and seasonal movie screenings to top off the fun. At the end of the trail stands the Zilker Tree, where local tradition dictates that visitors stand underneath, look up, and spin in circles as they make a holiday wish.
One of the most anticipated art events held each year in Austin is Creek Show, which illuminates a downtown portion of Waller Creek with fluorescent art installations and visual delights. One of the most Instagrammable holiday happenings around town, Creek Show promotes awareness of the creek’s importance to the Texas ecosystem while providing endless eye candy on a cool evening stroll. The free event, held November 9–17, is free but accepts donations to benefit the Waller Creek Conservancy.
North Pole Flyer
Take a pre-holiday train ride complete with unlimited hot cocoa, a holiday cookie, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus as a diesel locomotive pulls you through Texas Hill Country on the “North Pole Flyer.” Hosted by Austin Steam Train, this in-demand event sells out quickly, so be sure to book early.
There’s no cozier way to cap off the year than by taking a leisurely walk past the storefronts of downtown Austin in the shadow of the Capitol as local schoolchildren sing carols and light the city tree, covered in handmade ornaments. A singalong, small petting zoo, live ice sculpting and mural painting, and interactive arts and crafts round out the Holiday Stroll experience, which is free for everyone and takes place on December 1.
Alamo Drafthouse Special Events
Nobody knows how to have a good time like the Alamo Drafthouse programming team, and the holidays are never boring at the Austin-based movie theater chain. Each year brings a new batch of holiday movie screenings (complete with audience props), themed dance parties, and other special events. Check the Alamo’s listings for each night’s happenings and book those seats before they sell out.
Mozart’s Coffee Roasters
Picture it: Digging into a gooey chocolate dessert and sipping a hot coffee concoction, lakeside, as the sun sets and a series of quaint holiday lights cast a warm glow over everything around you. That’s the scene each December at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, a lakefront cafe with abundant outdoor seating and a charming annual light show. It’s a low-key way to enjoy a seasonal event without braving the crowds, and scrumptious cakes, cookies, and coffee make the visit that much sweeter.
The Santaland Diaries
Lots of theatergoers get a seasonal kick out of the stage adaptation of The Santaland Diaries, which graces the ZACH Theater stage this year from December 5–30. Sardonic wit weaves itself through the harrowing holiday tales of a department store elf named Crumpet. As Broadway World puts it, “This isn’t your kids’ or your grandma’s holiday show,” and as far as David Sedaris fans are concerned, that’s a good thing.
Just as the holidays wind to a close and the new year rolls in, music lovers get one last cornucopia of treats via Free Week, which hosts hundreds of free live music shows at the city’s best venues, all presented with no cover charge. This deconstructed music festival is a highly anticipated event among locals and visitors alike, offering all sorts of opportunities to see up-and-coming bands and musicians in their element. If that isn’t a perfect reason to bundle up and head out into the early January cold, nothing is.
Headed to Austin during the holiday season? Click here to book your stay at a Hilton and enjoy your destination guide!