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Minnesota Holiday Events Guide

From bright lights, to shopping, to Santa’s jolly grin, these festive events throughout the state are sure to enhance your holiday spirit


Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth
Duluth's Bentleyville Tour of Lights. Photo by John Heino / Explore Minnesota.

From bright lights, to shopping, to Santa’s jolly grin, Minnesota is extra cheerful during the holiday season. Here are a few of the top events throughout the state to enhance your holiday spirit.

Twin Cities

Macy’s Santaland Display (Minneapolis)
Despite the end of a favorite Minneapolis celebration (RIP Holidazzle parade), Santa’s elves in Macy’s animated display have welcomed families to tour their eighth floor workshop since 2008, and the display has been a tradition for more than 50 years. Sadly, it’s another beloved event that’s about to end with the closing of the department store next year. Expect even longer lines, but it will be worth it for one more visit. (Macy’s, Nicollet Mall, 700 On The Mall, Minneapolis, macys.com)

Holidazzle Village (Loring Park, Minneapolis)
​We’ve seen different versions of the event in the last few years, but the Holidazzle is nonetheless a memorable holiday get together, with the most variety of activities in one spot including: fireworks, free ice skating (with free skate rental), carriage rides, stunning illuminated art installations made from recycled materials, a kids zone with obstacle course and crafts, live musical performances, outdoor movies, and of course, a visit from Santa. (Loring Park, Minneapolis, directions hereholidazzle.com)

Betty Danger’s Rooftop Winter Wonderland (Northeast Minneapolis)
Known for its country club aesthetic and quirky amenities (mini golf and a ferris wheel...at a restaurant!) Betty Danger’s gets in the spirit with a rooftop vintage light display, and “Sleigh Rides in the Sky.” The ferris wheel is still running throughout the winter months (Wednesdays-Sundays), made more comfortable with blankets and spiked hot chocolate or cider. (2501 Marshall St. NE, Minneapolis, bettydangers.com)

Hub for the Holidays at Union Depot (St. Paul)
As if St. Paul’s beautiful Union Depot rail station isn’t magical enough, during the holidays it transforms into a “Hub for the Holidays,” with events throughout the month. Dec. 8-11 shop the European Market in the style of open air Christkindlmarkts of Germany—carolers serenade shoppers as they browse crafts from local artisans, and the scent of cinnamon roasted nuts fill the icy air. Then, catch a ride on the North Pole Express, visit with Santa and his elves, grab a cookie at the bake sale, and more. Plus, exclusively on Dec. 9, the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train makes a stop for a musical performance. (40 E. Kellogg Blvd. #70, St Paul, uniondepot.org)

Holiday Lights in the Park (Phalen Park, St. Paul)
More than 60 light displays illuminate Phalen Park all month long to benefit the St. Paul Police Foundation, which helps protect and educate the St. Paul police. Watch all holiday themed sculptures and displays from the warmth of your car from 5-10 p.m. every night through January 1. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, or at the gate. (Phalen Park, 1615 Phalen Drive E., St. Paul, saintpaulpolicefoundation.com)

Western MN

Live Nativity (Arlington)
Held this year on Dec. 11, this drive-through Live Nativity allows you and your family to experience the joy of the Christmas story from the warmth of your own car. Costumed actors and live animals brave the cold as they show various scenes from the Nativity story. A cash or canned food item donation for the Sibley County Food Shelf is appreciated. Guests are asked to enter through the Chandler St. Gate and exit onto County Rd. 9. (5:30-7:30 p.m., Sibley County Fairgrounds, 801 W. Chandler St., arlingtonmnchamber.com)

Northern MN

Sertoma’s Winter Wonderland (Brainerd)
Sertoma presents their 10th annual Winter Wonderland drive-through light display at Northland Arboretum. The light display will be open Wednesday through Saturday nights until Dec. 17 and then every night from Dec. 21-31. (Northland Arboretum, 14250 Conservation Dr., sertomawinterwonderland.com)

Bentleyville Tour of Lights (Duluth)
Amazingly, the Bentleyville Tour of Lights got its start in a Cloquet resident’s yard, which received about 35,000 visitors in its first two years. Now in Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park right by Lake Superior and the iconic Aerial Lift Bridge, it’s considered America’s largest free walk through lighting display with more than 20 acres of holiday cheer, plus a 12-story Christmas tree—surely worth a trip from the Cities.  (700 Railroad St., Duluth, bentleyvilleusa.org)

Christmas City Express (Duluth)
The Christmas City Express Train begins with a train ride from Fitger’s Courtyard to the Duluth Depot and ends with a reading of the Christmas City Express story, caroling, and a visit from a special Christmas guest. This 90-minute experience will be taking place on the weekends of Dec. 9 and 16. Reservations are recommended and tickets are available for purchase online. (Fitger’s Courtyard, northshorescenicrailroad.org)

Southern MN

Winter Walk (Northfield, Dec. 8)
Bundle up and head to downtown Northfield for hot cocoa, horse-drawn carriages, and thousands of Christmas lights. Storefronts are decked out with holiday decor, carolers sing holiday classics, and you can also watch the Northfield Art Guild’s performance of the Nutcracker. The Winter Walk takes place on December 8 from 5-9 p.m. (Downtown Northfield, visitingnorthfield.com)

Jolly Trolley Holiday Lights Tours (Rochester)
See all of the over the top light displays that Rochester residents create when you board a heated and decorated trolley. Trolleys tour north and south Rochester, with both routes stopping by Santa’s workshop and featuring appearances by Santa himself. The Jolly Trolley runs nightly through December 31, and tickets can be purchased online. (Departs from 101 First Ave. S., Rochester, rochestermntours.com)

Winter Market & Holiday Exhibit (Owatonna)
Owatonna is celebrating Christmas all month long with its indoor holiday market every Saturday, featuring local items, handcrafted gifts, and baked goods. (Owatonna Eagles, 141 E Rose St, Owatonna) The Owatonna Arts Center is also running a month long exhibit centering on Christmas traditions and childhood holiday memories, with scenes of Santa and his reindeer, ballerinas, and ice skaters. (Owatonna Arts Center, 435 Garden View Ln, Owatonna, visitowatonna.org)

Kiwanis Lights (Mankato)
The fifth year of Mankato’s lights display features events every day, including visits from Santa and his reindeer, ice sculpting, and horse-drawn wagon rides. Drive, take the bus, or walk all 6300 feet of candy cane lane, and don’t forget to bring a nonperishable food donation. The display will run the whole month of December, open on weekdays from 5-9 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. on weekend nights. (Sibley Park, 900 Mound Ave., Mankato, http://kiwanisholidaylights.com/)

Victorian Christmas at Betsy and Tacy’s (Mankato)
On Dec. 10, the Betsy-Tacy Society invites you to step back in history and experience what Christmas would have been like in 1900. Betsy and Tacy’s old Victorian-style houses will be decorated for the holidays and costumed live actors will help bring the old-fashioned story to life. Children can have their picture taken with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib (the beloved characters from Maud Hart Lovelace’s children series) and buy a Christmas tree ornament for 10 cents, just like Betsy and Tacy did. Small gifts and old-fashioned candy will also be available for purchase. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for children aged 6-16, and free admission for children 6 and under. (1-4 p.m., 332 & 333 Center Street, Mankato, betsy-tacysociety.org)

Katie Ballalatak, Catherine Stolz, and Valerie Turgeon contributed to this article.

Read more:
Minnesota Towns to Visit this Holiday Season
2016 Holiday Train to Stop in 20 Minnesota Cities

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Whether you are a seasoned Twin Cities traveler or planning your first trip to Minnesota, this blog will introduce you to many new adventures to add to your itinerary. From day trips and scenic discoveries to luxurious girls weekends, travel tips, and insider scoops, our editors will give you all the information you need to enjoy your stay Up North.

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