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10 of Our Favorite Columbus Christmas Traditions

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These are 10 Holiday and Christmas events we make sure not to miss every year! If you’re looking to start some family-friendly Christmas traditions around Columbus, start here!

Every year I feel slightly overwhelmed by all of the Holiday events I really don’t want to miss. A few years ago, I sat down and wrote them out on a calendar. And THAT is pretty much where the idea for this blog began! 😉

Now we’ve come full circle and, though there are probably hundreds of holiday events going on around Columbus, today I am sharing 10 things my family loves doing at Christmastime in Columbus!

Here are 10 of our favorite family-friendly Christmas Events in Columbus!

1. Village Lights

Village Lights, German Village, Columbus, Ohio

Hands down, this is my favorite Columbus tradition of the entire year. Wow, did I really just say that? I did. I look forward to this probably more than anything else. I honestly don’t know how much my kids like it, but there are free cookies and hot chocolate, so I haven’t heard any complaints!

The streets of German Village are lit with luminaries and restaurants, shops, and even a few private homes along the route are open late with special deals, free goodies and live music! Designated parking areas and shuttles are available.

When: December 8, 2019, 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Where: throughout German Village

2. Wildlights

wild lights at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

You have to see Wildlights! The light shows are spectacular and the zoo becomes an (even more) magical place for about 6 weeks leading up to New Year’s Day! The first time we ever attempted to go to Wildlights, there was so much traffic that by the time we got there it was too late for my 1 yr old and we just drove right on by the entrance and back on home!

Weekends are very busy, so if you can, I suggest trying a week day evening and arriving before 5:00 PM! If you’re a member, you can also avoid the crowds by catching the Member Preview held in mid November.

When: November 16 , 2018 – January 6, 2019 (Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) (Wildlights begins at 5:00 PM)
Where: 4850 Powell Rd, Powell, OH 43065

Wildlights at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

3. Conservatory Aglow (Formerly Merry and Bright)

conservatory aglow at Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus, Ohio

Conservatory Aglow offers special holiday decorations, performances and evening hours at Franklin Park Conservatory. Throughout the season live music and special events are scheduled and the Conservatory is decorated beautifully (that goes without saying)!

There are lights throughout inside and outside and it’s breathtaking! During this season, Franklin Park Conservatory is open until 9:00 PM. There will be special family-friendly activities happening all through the season!

lights at Conservatory Aglow at Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus, Ohio

New in 2019, decorations will expand into the Grand Mallway. This year there will be a Special Engagement Admission Rate for this event and members will receive half off these rates. See the link for details.

When: November 16, 2019 – January 5, 2020: 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Where: 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43203

Rotating railroad at Franklin Park Conservatory

4. Bicentennial Park

christmas lights on the scioto mile, bicentennial park, columbus, Ohio

Throughout the holiday season, the Scioto Mile is awash in light – Christmas lights, that is! Taking place on Saturday, December 7, 2019, is WinterFest. it will include live performances and food trucks, as well as seasonal ales and cocktails. The park will be full of lights beginning November 21st!

When: November 21, 2019 through Early January 2020
Where: 233 S. Civic Center Dr., Columbus, OH 43215

Christmas lights at Bicentennial Park on the Scioto Mile

5. Columbus Commons and the Lazarus Windows

Christmas Lights at Columbus Commons

When you’re at Bicentennial Park, make plans to walk a few blocks to Columbus Commons where the park will be filled with holiday displays and lights! Just across the street (at the corner of High and Town) in the old Lazarus building, the windows will be filled with scenes from the 12 Days of Christmas! On December 7, 2019 there will be a free Santa’s Workshop at the Lazarus Building!

When: Late November through early January from dusk until to 11:00 PM
Where: 160 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215

6. Huntington Holiday Train

Huntington Train at Main Library, Columbus, Ohio

Main Library is home to the Huntington Holiday Train and every year this amazing display is set up during the holiday season! The library typically begins set up of the train in mid November and it is usually up through New Years!

When: Mid November, 2019 – Early January, 2020
Where: 96 S. Grant Ave. Columbus, OH 43215

Holiday Train at Main Library in Columbus, Ohio

7. Holiday Train at Ohio History Center

holiday train at Ohio History Center

If you happen to have kids that like trains, there is a also holiday train set up at the Ohio History Center. Granted, it’s not quite as elaborate as the Huntington Train, but since we’re members at Ohio History Center, this one is still a no-brainer for me and two boys who love trains! We don’t miss it! F

or two weekends in December, Ohio Village will host Dickens of a Christmas where you can celebrate Christmas in the 19th century with Victorian crafts, snacks, caroling and more!

When: Late November – Early January
Where: 800 E. 17th. Ave., Columbus OH 43211

Holiday Train at Ohio History Center

8. Think Outside the Brick

Think Outside the Brick at Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio

This exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art isn’t necessarily holiday themed, but it is definitely a holiday tradition in Columbus! If you have kids on Christmas break, this would be a great reason to take them to the Art Museum!

The LEGO replica of Columbus is awesome and we love to visit at this time! There are usually blocks for free building in the Big Idea Gallery, too!

Admission is free on Sundays and on Thursday nights you “pay what you want” from 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM!

When: November 23, 2019 – January 17, 2020
Where: 480 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215

Think Outside the Brick LEGO exhibit at Columbus Museum of Art

9. Easton

Christmas Tree at Easton Town Center

We always enjoy going to Easton at Christmastime – and not just to do our Christmas shopping! There is a life-sized nativity and a humongous Christmas tree (an all-new, 56 ft tree covered in 28, 680 RGB LED’s arrived in 2017!)!

There are carriage rides, live music performances and the lighting ceremony takes place on November 22, 2019 beginning at 6:30 PM and includes a parade, a fireworks show, a visit from Santa and more!

Nativity at Easton Town Center

When: beginning November 16, 2018
Where: 160 Easton Town Center, Columbus, OH 43219

10. State Auto Christmas Corner

State Auto Christmas Corner Nativity Display, Downtown Columbus, Ohio

Christmas Corner is something we love to do close to Christmas Eve! You can walk through a life-sized nativity following the Christmas story! The Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place on Tuesday, December 3, 2019 at 5:30 PM.

There are choirs scheduled on Friday and Saturday evenings through December 23rd and free hot chocolate (donations accepted!) will be available on those evenings!  There are ample parking lots designated for viewing this display!

wiseman at State Auto Christmas Corner in Downtown Columbus

When: Tuesday, December 3, 2019 through Christmas Day when baby Jesus is placed in the manger.
Where: 518 E Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215

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10 of Our Favorite Columbus Christmas Traditions

I hope that whatever you chose to do, you have a special season with your family!

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Top 10 Things to do with Kids in Columbus, Ohio

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Explore the Scioto Mile with Your Kids on the Smart Circuit

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Explore the Scioto Mile with your family by riding Smart Circuit, Ohio’s first self-driving shuttle! You can be a part of the start of a new era of mobility innovation in Central Ohio!

Thank you to Smart Columbus for sponsoring this post!

smart columbus experience center building

Spend a Day on the Scioto Mile with your Family By Riding the Smart Circuit:

Columbus is home to Ohio’s first self driving shuttle! Sound scary? I’ll admit I was a little bit nervous – especially just a few weeks after having been in a car accident – to take my 4 year old on a self-driving vehicle! But when I found out that all of the vehicles are manned by an attendant who can step in at any time, my fear subsided!

Turns out the majority of vehicle accidents are caused by user error! The hope is that one day, self driving vehicles, though they may sound scary to us now, will actually reduce accidents and save lives.

What is the Smart Circuit?

Columbus is home base to a project called Smart Circuit, a self-driving shuttle. It’s the first of its kind in Ohio and it’s short route is 1.5 miles, has 4 stops, and takes about 15 minutes to complete. The shuttle is free to ride and operates from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM every day.

riding the smart circuit columbus, ohio

campfire seating inside the smart circuit

Funded through October, the project has two major goals. One is to provide data and information to engineers, researchers and policymakers from Smart Columbus, DriveOhio and The Ohio State University as they decide how self-driving technology can be further used around Ohio. The second goal is to offer us, the general public, a hands-on experience with self-driving technology. Think of this as an educational project- for all of us!

How does the Smart Circuit work?

I’m not going to pretend to understand the technology that makes the Smart Circuit shuttle work. But I had lots of questions like  “how does it know where it’s going?” “How does it know when to stop?” and “How does it know when everyone has boarded the vehicle?” 

The shuttle uses sensors and intelligent software with a 360 degree view to help the vehicle know where it is, what direction to go and when to stop. If someone or something runs into the street, the shuttle can tell and knows to stop. And don’t worry, the attendant tells the shuttle when to pull away from each stop. It’s not going to start going before you’re safely in the vehicle! 

Is the Smart Circuit Safe for Kids?

You might also be wondering, as I did, about safety for children.

attendant in the smart circuit, columbus, ohio

The first thing that might set your mind at ease is that there is a vehicle attendant in each shuttle who can take control at any time. While I was riding, we encountered a truck parked in a space where the Smart Circuit was supposed to make a full u-turn but there wasn’t enough room. The attendant stepped in and made the turn. 

Secondly, the vehicle goes at a max speed of 25 miles per hour. There are 4 seats in the back that are in a “campfire” configuration.

mom and son riding the smart circuit

You will need to follow the same vehicle safety guidelines that you follow in your own car. Children under 4 are required to have a car seat on the Smart Circuit.  I would recommend doing this with children who need a booster seat or no seat at all for ease of transport!

Where can I get on the Smart Circuit?

smart circuit stop

The Smart Circuit has 4 stops: COSI, National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Bicentennial Park and Smart Columbus Experience Center. There is a sign at each stop letting you know where to wait for the shuttle. There are three shuttles on the route and your wait time in between shuttles is around 10 minutes. View the route here.

What is there to do on the Scioto Mile?

So now that we’ve got all of the technical questions out of the way, I’m hoping you’ve come to see the Smart Circuit Shuttle in the same way I did: as an experience. The Smart Circuit exists to help us learn about self-driving technology and to experience it ourselves. We are the first city in Ohio to have access to this kind of experience and it will certainly be a part of our children’s lives in the future!

Why not take this opportunity to be “a part of the start” and be one of the first people in our state to have this experience? I’m proposing you make a day of it!

boy running on the scioto mile

8 Family Friendly Things to do Around the Scioto Mile:

Here are 8 family-friendly things to do around the Scioto Mile that enable you to take your kids on the Smart Circuit as part of your transportation! Pick a few of these stops that make sense for your family and give it a try!

1. COSI

cosi

I recommend starting at COSI for your trip on the Smart Circuit! There is an underground parking garage where you can park and if you visit COSI you can have your parking validated. Parking is $5 for COSI members and $6 for the general public if you get your ticket stamped at the COSI box office. Otherwise parking is $6 for the first 3 hours and $2 for each additional hour up to $15. 

COSI (Center Of Science and Industry) offers fun and educational experiences for all ages! From the little kidspace for toddlers to all of the amazing regular science exhibits, rotating exhibits and the American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery there is truly something for everyone! 

2. Dorrian Green

dorrian green park outside cosi

Don’t have time for a full on visit to COSI? Check out the park and playground area just outside of COSI. There are several play structures and small fountains during the summer! Outside of COSI there are also a couple of dinosaur displays that can be seen without entering COSI.

3. Smart Columbus Experience Center

inside the smart columbus experience center

The Smart Columbus Experience Center is open for you to stop in and learn about the future of transportation! There are touch screens with games that can be played (also look for these around the Short North!) and vehicles to explore. If you are interested in purchasing an electric vehicle you can also come to The Smart Columbus Experience Center to test drive vehicles in a no-pressure situation! 

Smart Columbus Experience Center

4. Bicentennial Park

bicentennial park in Columbus Ohio with holiday lights

Bicentennial Park is a great hang out space for families! During the summer, kids can play in the fountains and during the holiday season, the park is decked out with lights! Taking the Smart Circuit around its route is a great way to see the holiday lights all throughout the Scioto Mile! 

5. Veterans Memorial and Museum

We have yet to visit the newly opened Veterans Memorial and Museum, but this would be a great stop for older kids and adult family members. I’ve got it on good report that you should allow a couple of hours to visit the museum (and maybe NOT tack it on to a visit to COSI!) 😉 

6. Cultural Arts Center

Cultural Arts Center in Columbus, Ohio

Stop by the Cultural Arts Center to visit one of the art galleries. Admission is free. Adults can take classes here or join in one of the Conversations and Coffee talks!

7. The Promenade

promenade on the scioto mile

The Scioto Mile encompasses 175 acres of parkland and includes bikeways, walking paths and 9 parks! The Promenade on the Scioto Mile is a walkway along the river that offers stunning views of downtown and swings and benches for relaxing.

swing on the Scioto Mile promenade

8. Columbus Commons 

Columbus Commons at night

Just a short walk from Bicentennial Park, Columbus Commons is another great spot to view holiday lights or to play in the summer! Columbus Commons is home to many free events during the spring through fall and is a large green space to let your kids run out all that energy no matter what time of year!


After visiting the Smart Columbus Experience Center and taking a ride on the shuttle, my interest is piqued! I’m curious to see how transportation will change in my kids’ life time. 

What about you? Will you take your kids on the Smart Circuit this year?

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scioto mile promenade

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2016 Columbus Holiday Scavenger Hunt: 25 Things to Find Before New Year’s Day!

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Welcome to What Should We Do Today’s Holiday Scavenger Hunt! If you’re out and about over the next two weeks, entertaining kids on winter break, doing last minute Christmas shopping or trying to squeeze in all Columbus has to offer during the holidays, here’s a list of 25 things to look for on your way! I’ve made a printable list so you can take it with you!

****CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD SCAVENGER HUNT PRINTABLE!****

Please, enjoy Columbus and have a Merry Christmas!

1. Glass Ornament Tree at Franklin Park Conservatory


2. Rotating Railroad at Franklin Park Conservatory


3. Polar Express Train at Ohio History Center


4. Book Tree at Grove City Library


5. Thomas Train at Main Library


6. Larger than Life Nutcrackers outside Grove City Library


7. Nutcracker display at Grove City City Hall


8. Christmas Tree in the Lazarus Building

 


9. Nativity Scene at Easton


10. The Three Wisemen at the State Auto Christmas Corner


11. Santa on the train at Easton


12. The Holiday Tree Farm at the Think Outside the Brick Exhibit


13. Santa’s Fire Truck at Columbus Commons


14. Large glowing balls at Bicentennial Park


15. Rudolph at Wildlights at Columbus Zoo


16. “Short North Pole” sign in Short North Arts District


17. Gingerbread Carousel at KDB Easton Town Center


18. Gingerbread North Market at Franklin Park Conservatory


19. Santa’s Gingerbread Camper at The Shops at Worthington Place


20. Life-sized Playmobil Knight at Learning Express Toys


21. Christmas Tree at Topiary Park


22. An underground world at Main Library


23. A painting snowman at Polaris Fashion Place


24. “Happy Holidays” on the Nationwide Building


 25. Large Hanging Wreaths at North Market


****CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD SCAVENGER HUNT PRINTABLE!****


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ICYMI: Columbus Museum of Art: Think Outside the Brick


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