Holidays | Outings + Activities | Family fun

Ho-ho-holiday Fun on the Cheap: Best Budget-friendly Holiday Attractions in Greater Seattle

From Sheraton Seattle's out-of-this-world 'Star Wars' gingerbread village to ice skating, Christmas and holiday attractions kids love

Feeling flush this year? Neither are we. But don't worry — a tight budget doesn't mean you have to consign yourself to a dull holiday season. We’ve compiled a list of events that won't tax your wallet. Another bonus, many of these events can be unscheduled; drop by whenever the mood strikes you. (Note: Is there a favorite cheap holiday thrill you'd like to share with readers? Email

1. Live reindeer at Swansons, North Seattle

Visit Swansons Nursery in North Seattle to take a look at a pair of real live reindeer (and a camel) is a low-key outing that you can take anytime. Enjoy Swansons' displays of gorgeous — and pricey — greenery, ornaments and bulbs at your own risk. There's also an amazing holiday train set-up (this year's theme is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), a fish pond and more. Oh, and a cafe with live music on the weekends. On weekends, Santa is in in the house; you can schedule your photo visit online.

Details: Starting with a festive  two day opening event on Nov. 14 and 15, the Christmas critters will be on display daily through Dec. 24 during open hours. 9701 15th Ave. N.W., Seattle.


2. Snow flurries at Pacific Place, downtown Seattle

Gather in Pacific Place's atrium (Sixth and Pine, downtown Seattle) every evening at 6 p.m. through Dec. 31 for a flurry of white stuff that's almost as good as the real thing. Sound gimmicky? It’s actually pretty magical; see the amazement on kids’ faces as the first flakes begin to fall. Buy a snowflake wand for a $2 minimum suggested donation. There are also free concerts on select weekends.

Details: Snow falls for ten minutes starting at 6 p.m. from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24 at 600 Pine St, Seattle

3. Westlake Park carousel

After (or before) Pacific Place, walk a few blocks to Westlake Park and take a spin on the Holiday Carousel benefiting Treehouse. It's a $3 suggested donation and proceeds benefit Treehouse, an organization dedicated to helping foster kids, as well as the Downtown Services Association.

Details: The carousel is open from Nov. 27 through Jan. 1. 401 Pine Street, Seattle.

4. Star Wars Gingerbread Village, downtown Seattle

Stop by the amazing architectural creations displayed in the Seattle Sheraton's lobby every year as part of its annual Gingerbread Village display in the Sheraton Seattle lobby. This year's theme is guaranteed to be very popular: "May the Holidays Be With You" featuring scenes from the Star Wars movies. 

Details:  Free, though it is a fundraiser for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and donations are encouraged. Open Nov. 24–Jan. 3, 24 hours a day. 1400 Sixth Ave., Seattle.

Sheraton Seattle's Gingerbread Village, scene from 'Attack of the Clones'

5. Christmas Ship

The classic Puget sound Christmas adventure. Bundle up, stash a flashlight in your pocket and head to a Puget Sound or Lake Washington beaches for live choral music from the best groups around, broadcast by brightly lit boats. You can pay to ride the ships, but it’s free (and more fun, in this cheapskate’s opinion) to watch from shore. The Christmas Ship departs nightly from Nov. 27 through Dec. 23, starting with Lake Union Park on Nov. 27–28. Other stops to mark on your calendar inlude Seward Park on Dec. 2, where you can also take a nocturnal hayride (ship at 8:25 p.m.); Gene Coulon Park in Renton on Dec. 4, when Ivar’s Clam Lights also opens (8 p.m.); Tacoma on Dec. 13 at the Museum of Glass; or the grand finale on Dec. 23, featuring Seattle Girls’ Choir’s most advanced voices, Prime Voci. You can also book a ride, of course (check for value-priced nights).

Details: From Nov. 27–Dec. 23 at beaches around the Sound. Check the schedule to plan your outing. 

Christmas Ship. Courtesy Argosy

6. Winterfest, Seattle Center

Starting on Friday, Nov. 27, Seattle Center’s winter celebration is a cash-strapped family's best friend. Opening weekend is particularly fun, with the unveiling of the elaborate model train village on display in the Armory, ice sculpting, and numerous free performances in the Armory all weeekend, from the Dickens Carolers to SANCA students. You'll also find an ice rink (in Fisher Plaza), and more free performances throughout the season, including Global Heat (Dec. 5), the Klez Kids (Dec. 13), and Bailadores de Bronce (Dec. 26). Also new: Mehndi Madness will do glitter tattoos every weekend, Friday–Sunday, in November, and every day of Winterfest in December in the Armory

Details: Winterfest runs from Nov. 27–Dec. 31; all activities are free except ice skating. 305 Harrison St., Seattle

Winterfest ice rink

7. Molbak’s Nursery, Woodinville

The Woodinville nursery is decked out for the holidays with poinsettias of every size and color — from pale green to deep burgundy — plus greenery, lights and decorated trees, including a 14-foot poinsettia tree. If professional Santa pics are off the menu this year, bring a camera and stop by on weekends starting on Nov. 30 to take a picture with Santa -- a “real” Santa who sports his own facial hair. (Or take a pic in front of the poinsettia tree anytime.) There’s also live music on weekends starting on Nov. 30 and free Danish kringle and coffee.

Details: Molbak's is open daily through Jan. 2. 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville


8. Garden d’Lights, Bellevue

The always-stunning Bellevue Botanical Garden dresses up for the holidays in hundreds of thousands of colored lights twisted into fanciful flower and garden shapes. Kids will espeically love the smoking dragon. The garden can get crowded as Christmas approaches; if avoiding the crush is your priority, visit early in the evening or the season. 

Details: It's open nightly Nov. 28–Jan. 3; cost is only $5, ages 10 and under free; reserve tickets online to avoid long lines. Free-admission nights are Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10. 12001 Main St., Bellevue. There is new visitors center as well. 

9. Clam Lights, Renton

You can’t get any more old-Seattle than this. Gene Coulon Memorial Park is decorated with holiday lights — and yes, there are clams. Opening night festivities include live music performances, a Christmas Ship stop and a community sing-a-long.

Details: The display is lit nightly from Dec. 6 to Jan. 1. 1201 Lake Washington Blvd., Renton 

10. Fairmont Olympic Hotel's Festival of Trees and Teddy Bear Suite, downtown Seattle

You don’t have to book a room to get in on the hotel’s holiday good cheer, and its grand public spaces make a trip here all the more festive. Running from Nov. 22 to Dec.2, the Festival of Trees is a magical collection of various-themed (Seahawks, chocolate), stunning Christmas trees in the Fairmont's lobby. They are auctioned off to benefit Seattle Children's; kids will also love the wonderful scene of Saint Nick's own living room, where he's checking off his list next to his own fireplace while in his PJs, Also at the Fairmont, stop by the beloved Teddy Bear Suite. a decorated suite stuffed with teddy bears of every type. While you're there, you might enjoy high tea at the Fairmont, not budget-friendly, but splendid.

Details: Festival of Trees opens for viewing on Nov. 22 but the official opening is Nov. 22 through Dec. 2. Teddy Bear Suite, opens Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving) and is open for viewing through Dec. 24. 411 University St. Seattle

11. Snowflake Lane, Bellevue

The lavish music and light show — complete with live toy soldiers — is back at the Bellevue Collection (on the sidewalks between Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square) for another run. Part of Bellevue's Magic Season events, the nightly shows happen at 7 p.m. from Nov. 27 through Dec. 24. On Dec. 26, the show becomes "Celebration Lane," with new costumes and performances (through Dec. 31). Prior to the show, enjoy other Bellevue holiday festivities, such as ice skating at the covered Magic Season rink in Downtown Park.

Details: Free. Bellevue Collection, Bellevue Square.

12. Country Village, Bothell

Funky animated light displays, a train ride for a nominal fee, visits from Santa (he flies in on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.) and much more. Kids can see live reindeer (10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), check out Santa's workshop; and attend special events such as Cookies with Mrs. Claus and Fun with Frosty. (See the schedule.)

Details: Open daily; holiday events run from Nov. 28 through Dec. 24. 23719 Bothell-Everett Highway

13. Redmond Town Center

Redmond Town Center's synthetic outdoor skating rink is already open, but starting on Nov. 27, the rest of the holiday fun begins, including the Eastside's only holiday carousel, a holiday express "train" that takes tots around the center, lights and more. Other special events include the Redmond Lights Fest at City Hall and Town Center on the evening of Dec. 5, including a luminary walk between the two locations.

Details: Skating rink and carousel open daily from Nov. 27. Holiday train runs on weekends. Santa is also in his hut, next to the carousel. Redmond Town Center


14. More Christmas lights

You may have your own favorite community light display – some Seattleites swear by Candy Cane Lane in Ravenna or Olympic Manor in Ballard – but if you’re looking for something different or closer to home, visit the nifty Pool’s Parade of Lights website. You’ll find addresses and pictures of tricked-out houses located in every corner of Puget Sound.

This article was originally published in the November 2008 issue of ParentMap, and has been updated every year, most recently in November 2015.

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