Christmas in Austin, Texas is full of festivities. From stunning light displays to specialty markets and unique events, there is no shortage of fun ways to spend the holidays. Join the locals in some special traditions and bring a sense of adventure to experience the joy of an Austin Christmas.
Here are our recommendations for some of the most fun things to do at the holidays.
Wander through the trees on Highway 360
No one is really sure how the tradition started or when, but for about 20 years, local groups of friends and families have transformed the juniper trees along Highway 360 with decorations beginning in late November. From beautiful to intentionally tacky to adornments that defy description, the trees are fully decorated for the season, spreading Christmas cheer to everyone who drives by.
Be careful where you park and walk (it’s a busy road), but taking a walk through the Christmas trees is always a fun thing to do in Austin during the holidays. If you’re feeling particularly festive, decorate your own tree. Just make sure the decorations won’t blow away and plan to come back to clean up in early January.
Shop at local bazaars and markets
There are lots of unique markets around the city during the holiday season.
The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, which is always popular, is a week-long market featuring all types of art and one-of-a-kind gifts. With live music and a full bar, shopping here feels like a party. Both online and in-person this year, the Blue Genie Art Bazaar is an annual showcase of great local and regional artists featuring everything from candles to yard art. A portion of the proceeds go to Make-A-Wish.
Clothing, gifts, decorations, and specialty items are available from the 200+ merchants who participate in A Christmas Affair. This fun holiday market helps raise money for the programs of the Junior League of Austin.
Hang out at Lala’s Little Nugget
A fun, local bar, Lala’s Little Nugget is a place to be festive year-round, but everything is stepped up a notch at Christmas. With lights, reindeer, Santa, and music blasting from a vintage jukebox, it’s not hard to see why Lala’s has been an Austin favorite for over 50 years. Christmas-themed cocktails like the Snowball and Grandma’s Boozy Eggnog, make it the ideal place to get into the holiday spirit.
Enjoy a holiday performance
The winter season is filled with more performances than we can count, but two of the most popular are long-running traditions.
For over 60 years, Ballet Austin has impressed audiences with its performance of The Nutcracker. Presented at the Long Center, the ballet includes hundreds of dancers and live accompaniment by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.
At the ZACH Theater, the performance of A Christmas Carol is somewhat less traditional. The captivating adaptation combines the classic story of Scrooge with modern music for a creative spin.
See the lights at Mozart’s Coffee Roaster
Mozart’s Coffee Roasters is one of our favorite coffee shops, and we always add it to our list of what to do in Austin when we visit. Their house-roasted coffee and homemade pastries are fantastic, and the view of Lake Austin makes it a peaceful place to enjoy a break.
At the holidays, Mozart’s food and drink are available at their one-of a-kind Christmas light show. The light display is choreographed to live music. But simply calling it a “light show” doesn’t do justice to the spectacle, which includes over one million LED lights. Visitors will see everything from sleighs and reindeer to guitars and cowboy boots in colorful illumination.
Catch a Christmas movie
Alamo Drafthouse is an institution in Texas. It’s known for inventive festivals and for showing first-run and classic movies as well as blockbuster and art house films. There’s always something new and different.
During December, Alamo Drafthouse shows lots of holiday movies. Check out lovable Will Farrell in Elf, our personal favorite Love Actually, It’s a Wonderful Life, and more.
Visit the Trail of Lights
One of the top Austin Christmas traditions is the Trail of Lights. This family-friendly festival fills Zilker Park with more than 2 million Christmas lights.
Along the trail, there are 70 displays and lighted tunnels plus nearly 100 trees lit up in the colors of the season. The event is not to be missed, and, if you opt for a zip or a platinum pass, you even get access to a lounge with complimentary cookies, hot chocolate, and more.
Visit the Four Seasons Gingerbread Village
Every year, chefs at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin use hundreds of pounds of gingerbread and powdered sugar to bring a stunning gingerbread village to life. In one of the city’s longest-running traditions, chefs pick a theme each year and sculpt the village in painstaking detail. Past themes have included Austin’s sister cities around the world, what a “White Christmas” would look like in town, and Austin as a Monopoly game. The gorgeous creations are free to visit.
See the lights in Cedar Park
Just a half-hour drive north of Austin, the city of Cedar Park offers some of the best Christmas light displays in the metro area. Neighbors around the city work together to pull off some incredible shows that draw visitors from around Central Texas. Many of the displays accept cash donations for charity, canned goods, or toys for different causes, so check before you go, if you’re inclined to contribute.
Two of our favorites are on Butch Gap Cove and Chinati Court. Butch Gap Cove has an amazing 12 houses that participate in decorating with over 300,000 lights set to a half-hour musical loop. On every night from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Day from 5:30-10pm (11pm on Friday and Saturday), it’s easy to drive through. We love walking around and enjoying all the figures in detail.
The cul-de-sac at Chinati Court uses the theme of “The Night Before Christmas” to guide visitors through its multi-house display. You may even encounter Santa himself on Saturday nights. Keep a look out for the giant Frosty and all his friends.
Get festive in the Hill Country
Just about an hour’s drive west from Austin, there are several fun holiday experiences in the Hill Country.
The small town of Johnson City has one of the biggest lights displays around. With over a million lights in the town center, it’s reported that the glow can be seen from space. The Blanco County Courthouse is decorated in thousands of lights, and businesses throughout town stay open late for shopping and dining to welcome the visitors.
Nearby at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, every inch of the trees seems covered. Carriage rides and food vendors add to the atmosphere. Plus, it’s possible to visit the boyhood home of President Lyndon B. Johnson and other sites related to his life.
Down the road in Fredericksburg, visitors can do everything from participate in a holiday wine tasting to ice skate in Marktplatz. There are also special performances and nightly light displays around town. Don’t miss the giant Christmas pyramid that is a highlight of Christmas in Fredericksburg.
Laura Longwell is an award-winning travel blogger and photographer. Since founding Travel Addicts in 2008, she has written hundreds of articles that help over 3 million people a year get the most out of their travel. In that time, she has visited nearly 60 countries on 5 continents, often returning to favorite destinations over and over again. She has a deep love of history, uncovering unexpected attractions, and trying all the good food a place has to offer.
In addition to Travel Addicts, Laura runs a site about her hometown of Philadelphia—Guide to Philly—which chronicles unique things to do and places to see around southeastern Pennsylvania. Her travel tips and advice appear across the web.