Looking for frugal and festive family fun but don’t want to venture out into the suburbs? Never fear! There are plenty of free seasonal events happening right within Austin city limits!
Thanks to our friends at Austin Emergency Center for partnering with us on this list of local holiday happenings! Austin Emergency Center is kid-friendly and always open.
2016 Holiday Happenings in Austin
Holiday Capitol Tours – Daily through December 23. Discover the architecture that has inspired the annual Capitol Ornament and holiday traditions of the diverse ethnic cultures in Texas. Weekdays at 10:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Sundays at 1:00 p.m. FREE! Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress Ave, Austin.
Blue Genie Art Bazaar – Daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. until December 24. This annual 4-week holiday shopping event features handmade artwork, jewelry and gifts from more than 200 regional artists. In addition to shopping, there will be special events and activities throughout the show. Celebrating 16 years in Austin, BGAB is a family-friendly experience where shoppers can browse in a hassle-free environment with centralized checkout. Refreshments and bar available. Parking and admission are FREE! Blue Genie Art Bazaar, 6100 Airport Blvd, Austin.
Once Upon a Gingerbread Village at Four Seasons Austin – Daily through December 25. Locals and visitors interested in seeing the 2016 Gingerbread Village will be able to view the festive display in the lobby 24 hours per day. FREE!
Mozart’s Annual Light Show – Daily through January 1 from 6 p.m. to close. See a Christmas lights show set to music! This festive show runs at the top of each hour, starting at 6 p.m. Arrive early as parking is tricky. FREE! Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, 3825 Lake Austin Blvd., Austin.
S’mores Roasting at Amy’s Ice Creams – Friday, December 9 – Sunday, December 11. Various times and locations. Join the Annual FREE S’mores Roasting Party at Amy’s Ice Creams! This party is fun for all ages! Bring your family and friends to enjoy a freshly roasted, ooey-gooey s’more from Amy’s own Big Kid S’mores Kit!
Live Nativity and Blessing of the Animals – Friday, December 9 and Saturday, December 10 from 6-8 p.m. Experience the Christmas story portrayed by Bethany families and live animals. Families are encouraged to bring blankets to sit on in the grass to witness the Christmas Story first hand. There will be a petting zoo for children to pet, hold, and feed the animals. Families are also invited to bring pets (leashed or in carrier) to receive a blessing. FREE but please bring a non-perishable food or toiletry item for Hill Country Community Ministries. Bethany United Methodist Church, 10010 Anderson Mill Rd, Austin.
Eastside Holiday Market – Friday, December 9 from 6-9 p.m. Stop by REVELRY for some holiday cheer. They’re snagging some great local talent (from makers to music to grub) to give you one stellar shopping experience. Here’s a few things to look forward to – DJ Cassie spinning, bar with seasonal sips, card readings by Sound Sight Tarot, sweets bar, live music, and food trucks. FREE to attend, but don’t forget to support the vendors and buy a little somethin’ somethin’. With 30 vendors, this is one a market that you don’t want to miss. REVELRY, 2511 E 6th Street, Unit E, Austin.
Trail of Life – Friday, December 9, Saturday, December 10 and Sunday, December 11 from 7-9 p.m. Take a hayride through a beautifully lit, live reenactment of several important scenes from the life of Christ, starting in Bethlehem. Hayrides begin every 20-30 minutes. All ages, denominations, and nationalities welcome. FREE! Texas Oaks Baptist Church, 9910 Bilbrook Pl, Austin.
Santa Visits Frost Bank – Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Frost invites families to come to the Austin-area Frost financial centers for a little holiday cheer and photos with a special guest: Santa Claus. Guests can enjoy holiday cookies and drinks in a festive holiday setting while kids get a chance to visit with Santa. Kids will also get a candy cane and can pose for pictures with St. Nick. Families are encouraged to bring their cameras to capture this special holiday moment. Tarrytown Financial Center, 2425 Exposition Boulevard, Austin.
Family Gingerbread Workshop – Saturday, December 10 from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Decorate gingerbread men, Christmas ornaments, wrapping paper and more. All for FREE! South Austin Recreation Center, 1100 Cumberland Rd., Austin.
Cherrywood Art Fair – Saturday, December 10 and Sunday, December 11 from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Fun for the entire family, Cherrywood Art Fair returns for its 15th year. Featuring more than 85 local artists and makers with perfect gifts for everyone on your holiday shopping list. The event benefits local nonprofit Chula League and the Little Artist Big Artist Program. The event will also feature food vendors, children’s activities, and live music. Admission is FREE! Maplewood Elementary, 3808 Maplewood Ave, Austin.
Santa Lounge at 3ten – Saturday, December 10 from 12-5 p.m. Head to the 2ND Street District for an afternoon of family fun with Santa photos by Zappy Springs, a Toy Joy Kid Zone, hot cocoa from Cafe Ruckus, treats from Bribery Bakery, makeup touch-ups from Rae Cosmetics and 3ten drink specials all day! FREE! 3ten, 310 W Willie Nelson Blvd, Austin.
Literature Live! Presents The Nutcracker – December 10-15. Times and locations vary. This classic, charming tale of holiday adventure follows a little girl’s journey through a fantasy world of fairies, princes, and an army of mice. Enhanced by Tchaikovsky’s much-loved score, Literature Live! brings the story to life with puppets. Recommended for ages 5 and up. FREE! Austin Public Library branches.
Movies on The Lawn: The Polar Express – Saturday, December 10 from 4-8 p.m. Enjoy hot cocoa, s’mores, and a reading of the book before the movie screening begins at 5:30 p.m. Bring your folding camp chairs or blankets to get the best seat. FREE but donations of new and gently used books for BookSpring are encouraged. The Arboretum at Great Hills, 10000 Research Blvd, Austin.
The Triangle Annual Holiday Tree Lighting – Saturday, December 10 from 4-6 p.m. Enjoy photos with Santa, train rides, a snow slide, and hot chocolate station. Snacks provided by Maudies Tex-Mex, ornament decorating with Wildflower Boutique, cookie decorating with Galaxy Cafe, and Yoga with CorePower. Holiday performances by the Austin Carolers and TarryTown Dance. All are welcome. FREE! The Triangle, 4600 Guadalupe St, Austin.
Community First! Village of Lights – Saturday, December 10 from 5-9 p.m. With more than 170,000 lights choreographed to holiday music, the Community First! Village of Lights will be one of the biggest Christmas light displays in Central Texas. Purchase unique, handcrafted gifts at the Advent Market and help homeless and formerly homeless craftsmen and artisans earn a dignified income. Bring your camera to take photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. A screening of Elf will begin at 7:00 p.m. Food and drinks will be available for purchase (cash only). Please also help decorate by bringing a shatter-proof ornament to hang on the 20 foot Christmas tree. FREE! Community First! Village, 9301 Hog Eye Rd, Austin.
Austin Trail of Lights – December 10-23 daily from 7-10 p.m. What has more than two millions light bulbs, takes 15,000 man hours to assemble, and was visited by approximately 400,000 people last year? It’s the Trail of Lights–a community wide celebration of the holiday season that’s been delighting Austinites for 52 years. The Trail is FREE nightly through Friday, December 16. (From December 17-23 the Trail is $3 per person age 12 and up.) Please view parking and shuttle information before heading out. You can also read our guide to Navigating the Austin Trail of Lights. Zilker Park, Barton Springs Rd, Austin.
Mexic-Arte Museum Family Day – Sunday, December 11 from 1-4 p.m. In conjunction with Mexic-Arte’s holiday Nacimientos exhibit in the annex gallery, the Education Department will host a holiday-themed Family Day. Projects are inspired by holiday folk art traditions in Mexico and the U.S., and will include hand-printing wrapping paper, screen printing holiday cards, and folding decorative paper ornaments. All ages welcome. FREE! Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave, Austin.
Austin Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas in the Community – December 12-23. Various times and locations. The Austin Symphony is once again bringing FREE music to all Austinites this holiday season. “Christmas in the Community” is a series of ten concerts held throughout the city of Austin featuring different ensembles of the orchestra playing familiar holiday music.
12 Days of Christmas at Hotel Van Zandt – December 13-23. Enjoy a variety of FREE events happening in The Living Room of the hotel, right by a roaring fire and with the resident Director of Music spinning holiday vibes on vinyl. There will even be a Hot Toddy bar every night and light snacks for purchase in The Living Room. Known for its local spirit, musical prowess and location right near Rainey Street, the one-year-old hotel is celebrating with everyone this year. Throughout the 12 days, families, friends, couples, pets (even reindeer) and elves are invited to events each evening. Hotel Van Zandt, 605 Davis St, Austin.
Driskill Holiday Music – Wednesday, December 14 and Thursday, December 15 from 5-7 p.m. Enjoy seasonal music from a live string trio in the hotel lobby. FREE! Driskill, 604 Brazos Street, Austin.
Caroling at Noon – Thursday, December 15 and Thursday, December 22 at noon. A refreshing pause from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, this popular series of FREE concerts includes audience singing of favorite carols. The concerts take place each Thursday in December and are followed by lunch at 12:30 p.m. at St. David’s Café Divine ($9). Complimentary parking is available in the St. David’s garage on Trinity St. between 7th and 8th Streets.
Holiday Big Sing! – Thursday, December 15 at 5:30 p.m. Raise your voice with hundreds at the popular holiday Big Sing at the Blanton. Craig Hella Johnson leads each Big Sing gathering in vocal warm-ups and short, melodic songs that can be easily learned. As musical hosts, Conspirare Symphonic Choir members are among the audience to sing along and provide musical support and encouragement. Song sheets are provided. FREE! Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Austin.
8th Annual Posada – Thursday, December 15 from 6-8 p.m. Enjoy an evening performance of Ballet Folkloríco, Teatro, Mariachi. Festivities include arts and crafts, piñata, hot chocolate, and a visit from Santa. Procession through the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood. Children will sing at the doors of neighborhood homes. FREE! Southwest Key Centro de Familia, 6002 Jain Ln., Austin.
Movie Night at the Trail – Friday, December 16 at 7:30 p.m. Join Austin Parks Foundation at the Austin Trail of Lights for Movie Night at the Trail! Enjoy TWO versions of the Grinch on the very last FREE night at Austin Trail of Lights. Zilker Park, Barton Springs Rd, Austin.
A Charlie Brown Christmas – Friday, December 16 and Saturday, December 17 at 7:30 p.m. Enjoy a night of fun for the whole family! Potter’s House, 13461 Pond Springs Rd, Austin.
Pastries with Santa – Saturday, December 17 from 9-11 a.m. Enjoy pictures with Santa, hot chocolate, craft and giveaways. FREE! Oswaldo A.B. Cantu / Pan American Recreation Center, 2100 East 3rd St., Austin.
Elf and the Child’s Gift – Saturday, December 17 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, December 18 at 11 a.m. Elf and the Child’s Gift is a family-friendly, Christmas-themed musical comedy about the power of self-giving love. Elf and the Child’s Gift is presented by Austin’s own Life in the City church in a FREE community-wide event. The comedy weaves story-telling with upbeat pop songs and toe-tapping arrangements of classic Christmas tunes. Bring your kids and kin! Life in the City United Methodist Church, 205 Monroe St E, Austin.
TubaChristmas – Friday, December 23 at noon. Austin families are invited to hear memorable Christmas music played by many different forms of tubas and euphoniums on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol. This event is FREE and open to spectators. It will be fun for all ages. Texas State Capitol South Steps, 1100 Congress Ave., Austin.
Austin’s New Year – Saturday, December 31 from 3-10 p.m. Bring in the New Year with a FREE, fun and family-friendly celebration. Austin’s New Year will transform Vic Mathias Shores into a wonderland of music, art, special performances and of course, Austin’s legendary food favorites. The 2016 event will include three stages, 15 local and regional bands, food trucks, kid’s activities, and multiple art installations. The Lake Stage will showcase: Shinyribs, an American country-soul; swamp funk band, singer-songwriter Ray Wyllie Hubbard; and the young talented blues men, The Peterson Brothers. Get ready to jump up and down with a CAPYAC dance party headlining at the Oak stage; Harvest Thieves bringing Americana and Folk-Rock; and Roxy Roca, an Austin-based, six-piece, southern soul band driven by a horn section and powerful vocals. Capping off the festive evening, the traditional fireworks finale will start at 10 p.m. Vic Mathias Shores, 900 W Riverside Dr, Austin.
Bonus Holiday Fun that is Free For Kids
Holiday Family Day at the Blanton – Saturday, December 10 from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Celebrate the holidays at the Blanton! Have fun exploring the exhibition Warhol By the Book while playing ANDY bingo in the galleries and collecting our seasonal Blanton Pin as your prize. For a hands-on experience, come to the WorkLAB Studio and create festive cards and ornaments inspired by some signature style Warhol art making techniques like blotted line drawing, screen printing, and instant photography. All ages welcome. Free museum admissions for children ages 12 and under; program included with admission. The Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin.
Armadillo Christmas Bazaar – December 14-24 from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar is a fine art Christmas shopping destination featuring national and local award-winning artists with live music and two full bars in a festive, lively atmosphere. $8 for a single day pass; kids 12 and under are free. Tickets here. Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Rd, Austin.