Best Ways to Enjoy Christmas in the Northwest

The Northwest offers pretty much everything, other than a tropical climate, to enjoy at Christmas, from snow sports like skiing, boarding and tubing to holiday parades, craft fairs, festivals and more.

If you really want to get into the spirit, here are some great ways to do that right here at home, or nearby.

Christmas Ship Festival, Seattle

Whether you watch or join in, the Argosy Christmas Ship festival is one of the top holiday celebrations in the Northwest, an annual tradition now for more than six decades. From late November through Christmas, the Argosy Christmas Ship sails to various Puget Sound waterfront communities and choirs onboard give singing performances to each one, broadcast via a speaker system. On land, thousands come to gather around bonfires, waiting for the ship to arrive. You can board the Christmas ship, or one of the parade ships that follow.

Watch ‘A Christmas Carol’ at Seattle’s ACT Theatre

Attending a local production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the ACT Theatre is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. The 90-minute production offered through December, has been performing annually in the city for over 40 years.

Christmas Lighting Festival, Leavenworth

We’ve mentioned the Christmas Lighting Festival before, but it’s worth mentioning again as one of the top destinations for enjoying holiday delights. Leavenworth, just over the east side of the Cascades, is truly one of the most magical Christmas towns, and the festival transforms it into a virtual snow globe of holiday magic over the first three weekends in December. The Christmas tree lighting takes place at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, plus there are concerts, horse drawn sleighs, shops selling Bavarian goods, and of course, lots of German cuisine and beer.

Take Your Picture With Santa – Under the Water, Seattle Aquarium

Tired of those boring mall Santa photo-ops? How about something a little different. The Seattle Aquarium offers pictures with Santa in his diving gear, completely submerged. Or, you can put on your best Santa suit and attend an event with lots of others dressed up as Mr. or Mrs. Claus and capture an unforgettable selfie.


Christmas Ship Parades

You can enjoy the unique light displays as owners deck out their boats for all to enjoy in parades held in Portland, OR, Newport, OR, Clover Island in Tri-Cities, WA, on Lake Union in Seattle, and on the Columbia in Kalama, WA.  It’s fun to watch, with boat owners proudly cruising and providing holiday cheer to onlookers, but even more fun to participate if you have your own boat. Not only will you learn some new maneuvers, like the candy cane swirl, you can entertain family and friends with a unique holiday tradition.


Christmas lights at the Grotto in Portland Oregon

Festival of Lights at the Grotto, Portland

This is a must-visit for anyone in or near Portland during the holidays. Walk through a forest of trees decorated in beautiful colored lights.  Seeing the illuminated grotto at night is especially moving. It includes 150 indoor music concerts along with living history enactments and dazzling holiday light displays with a beautiful outdoor garden setting, lighted Christmas trees, carolers and a life-sized nativity scene. There are Christmas themed shows and a petting zoo too.   The Grotto Christmas Festival of Lights


portland winter wonderland light festivalWinter Wonderland at Portland International Raceway

Self-proclaimed as the largest holiday light exhibit west of the Mississippi, this drive-through exhibit is massive, and comes complete with sparkling animated reindeer, elves, and even dinosaurs. More than 250 colorful light sets and fully animated scenes can be enjoyed through Dec. 27th. As you drive through you can listen to a radio station that’s specially set up for the event featuring Christmas tunes. As it this event is so popular it can get very busy, so try to attend on a week night to avoid the biggest crowds.  Portland International Raceway



Ride a Christmas Train

Several area railroads offer special Christmas train excursions including heading up towards Mount Hood, Mount Rainier, and along the Oregon Coast. Find the right holiday themed train ride for you – whether you want to sip hot chocolate and munch on cookies, or try a Christmas-themed trains like the Polar Express, or perhaps a Holiday Brunch Trains.  Each offer a unique holiday experience to remember!

Candy Cane Express – Santiam Excursion Train

Train to Christmastown – Mt. Hood Railway

The Polar Express – Chehalis-Centralia Railroad

The Polar Express – Mt. Rainier Railroad

Santa Train – NW Railway Museum

The Holiday Express – Oregon Rail Heritage Center

The Candy Cane Express – Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

holiday light show cover d'alene

Holiday Lights Show at The Coeur d’Alene Resort, Coeur d’Alene

The Couer d’Alene Resort offers all sorts of fun for the holidays, including dazzling lights, fireworks, and lake cruises throughout the season.

Bellevue Garden of d'Lights

Visit a Botanical Winter Garden

The Idaho Botanical Garden decorates its property with some quarter-million twinkling lights to celebrate the season and it’s truly a spectacle to behold.   The Oregon Garden  in Silverton sets aside an entire area it turns in to a Christmas Wonderland.  East of Seattle you’ll find a Garden of d’Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Garden