Get Cheery and Bright at These Holiday Festivities in Austin

All might not be calm, but all is surely bright at holiday light displays, festivals, and more.

Courtesy Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
Courtesy Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
Courtesy Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

While the Texas winter weather may not send shivers down your spine, the words, “holiday season,” certainly might. The triple-whammy of financial, familial, and travel stress is enough to send anyone into a Santa spiral. However, the perfect, cheerful antidote to the December blues is all the wonderful, festive activities going down in Austin. So, grab some spiked eggnog, don your ugliest Christmas sweater, and dive into the holiday spirit. From stage performances of your favorite holiday characters like Buddy and Charlie Brown to hitting the ice skating rink, there’s plenty to do that will help get you cheer and bright. And don’t forget the true reason for the season: good times with those you love. (Okay, and some festive cocktails don’t hurt.)

Holiday Markets in Austin

Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

December 15–23
Palmer Events Center, $12
We know you start with good intentions when it comes to holiday shopping. However, its understandable if all the Black Friday craziness ends up yielding nothing besides a headache. For those last-minute present purchases, there’s no better place to hit up than the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Long-time Austinites have probably already hit up this holiday tradition in years past, and, in 2023, they’re returning to the Palmer with over 200 vendors. While there, not only can you shop through booths-upon-booth of great art from local and national vendors, but also enjoy live music sets, from artists such as Ruthie Foster and THEBROSFRESH.

Ice Skating Rinks in Austin

Various locations
While, in Austin, we may not have the type of weather that allows us to glide on frozen ponds Disney movie-style, there are still options available for those who want to lace up their skates. North Austin’s Chaparral Ice is open daily for public skating so you can go and get your Michelle Kwan on. If you’re willing to drive a little further to get your frost fix in, there’s also the two full-sized ice rinks at Ice & Field at The Crossover in Cedar Park. Finally, there’s the rooftop rink at the flagship Whole Foods on North Lamar, which is often open daily starting in December.

Courtesy of The Paramount Theatre
Courtesy of The Paramount Theatre
Courtesy of The Paramount Theatre

Holiday Performances and Shows in Austin

A Christmas Carol

November 17–December 21
ZACH Theatre
For those who desire a bit more dialogue in their Navidad narrative, the ZACH’s musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, is the perfect option. In this production, the renowned story is paired with new musical numbers, which add up to an evening that will strike the holiday humbug out of any Scrooge.

The Nutcracker

December 2–23
The Long Center for the Performing Arts
Get your festive spirit on point by sashaying to the Long Center to watch Ballet Austin take on the classic, Tchaikovsky-scored ballet, The Nutcracker. The sugar plum event is made even sweeter by the fact that the dancers are accompanied by live versions of the tunes, performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

December 2
The Paramount Theatre, $29
The classic comic strip characters meld with classical music for three performances where the Austin Music Chamber Center will be playing the tunes from Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, a.k.a. the music you watched Linus and your other favorites bob their little cartoon bodies around joyously. Alongside the immensely talented pianist Michelle Schumann, bassist Utah Hamrick, and drummer Scott Laningham, there will be a special appearance by Snoopy himself.


December 4
The Paramount Theatre, $36
Spread Christmas cheer for all to hear (and see) by taking part in the Paramount’s annual Elf Pub Run. Don your best Buddy-inspired athletic gear, and get ready to run, jog, or walk .7 miles from the landmark theatre to a Candy Cane Forest pop-up. Once there, the holiday movie magic continues with caroling, a snowball fight, and a costume contest. And, you’d be a cotton-headed ninny muggins to think the day would end without a celebratory beer at a screening of the iconic Will Ferrell film. If cardio makes you an angry elf, you can forgo the trek altogether by hopping on a VIP party bus between locations.

Keep Austin Cheer’d

December 7–9
The Continental Club, $15–$20
There’s certainly no more Austin way to celebrate the holidays than catching some local live music at a legendary venue. And that is exactly what is going down at The Continental Club for their multi-night music event, Keep Austin Cheer’d. Taking the stage amongst the retro-inspired, vintage holiday decor are hometown favorites like TC Superstar, THEBROSFRESH, The Past Lives, and Lady Dan. Bringing some Christmas care to the mix is the fact that the whole event is a benefit for Austin non-profit, Casa Marianella, which works to provide services and housing to displaced migrants within our community.

Courtesy of Trail of Lights
Courtesy of Trail of Lights
Courtesy of Trail of Lights

Holiday Lights in Austin

Trail of Lights

December 8–23
Zilker Park, $25
Nothing says “it’s December again” like some over-the-top displays of all-out festive lights. And, lucky for you, the Austin Trail of Lights – celebrating its 59th anniversary this winter – is here to deliver all the illuminated holiday spirit you can handle. Nominated as one of USA Today’s “10 Best Public Displays of Holiday Lights” in the whole freaking country, this set-up of over 2-million bulbs has got it all: large-scale tunnels, ridiculously big Santa Clauses, and tributes to the city, like Longhorn-themed guitars, that will appeal to the “Texas forever” in all of us.

Peppermint Parkway

November 24–December 30
Circuit of the Americas, $40
Score bonus points with your sister and brother-in-law by taking the toddlers off their hands for a night by bringing the little ones to Circuit of the Americas’ Peppermint Parkway. Not only can you get the essential holiday picture with Santa, both you and the kiddos will be enchanted by various festive “lands” to explore, such as the Twinkle Tunnel, a display of bright, dancing lights that will have you really feeling the Mariah Carey on the ride home. There’s also an opportunity to parade your vehicle down their world-famous 3.41 mile FIA-grade track, all but guaranteeing that coveted favorite aunt or uncle status.

Christmas Light Spectacular

November 9–January 6
Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, $40
Jump start your December with a straight shot of holiday cheer by checking out the legendary Christmas Light Show at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. There is no better way to kick the jingle-bell spirit into overdrive than grabbing a hot chocolate and cookie at this full-out, long-standing city tradition that features a musically-coordinated display. You can even pre-book a table near the spectacular, so you can take in the show at its most Santa-supreme level.

Courtesy of Miracle
Courtesy of Miracle
Courtesy of Miracle

Holiday Food and Drink Events in Austin

5th Street Pop-Up

November 16–December 27
The Eleanor, $15 and up
Before you take out the holiday string lights and fake plastic wreaths for a day of decorating, why not pre-game for St. Nick with a drink? There’s no better place to celebrate unwrapping your ornaments from their protective bubble-wrap than the Miracle on 5th Street Pop-Up cocktail bar at The Eleanor. Expect multi-rooms and multi-levels of over-the-top Christmas decorations and enough green and red lights to rival the Griswolds. Not to mention delicious libations, including the whiskey-based Snowball Old Fashioned, that will make you feel the warm-and fuzzy spirit of the holidays

The Lodge

December 1–30
Hotel Van Zandt
There’s no better way to get in the holiday spirit than getting into some holiday-inspired spirits, and The Lodge at Hotel Van Zandt is here to deliver the cheer. Take their elevator up the fourth floor to be instantly transported to Aspen-inspired ski digs, featuring a rooftop deck with outdoor igloos perfect for some seasonal cuddles with your sweetheart. The hotel’s restaurant, Geraldine’s, will be providing specialty cocktails and grub to get you further into the theme, and the holiday music and movies playing in the backyard will only further the Yuletide vibes.

It’s Always Christmas Here

Lala’s Little Nugget
The tagline “It’s Christmas all year round” isn’t an exaggeration at Lala’s Little Nugget, a quaint Noel-loving bar in North Austin. This place has got it all: a snow room, stockings hanging from the ceiling, the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, a Christmas Elvis painting, and Santa memorabilia up the wazoo. ‘Tis the season to be jolly (or melancholy), so be sure to sip on the Love Child with strawberry-infused Dripping Springs gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and champagne. Or keep it traditional with Grandma’s Boozy Eggnog. Bottom line is, you’ll want to get lost at this North Pole in Central Texas.

Disney/Jim Henson Studios
Disney/Jim Henson Studios
Disney/Jim Henson Studios

Holiday Movies in Austin

Holiday Film Screenings

December 10–14
The Paramount Theatre, $11
Up the usual dinner-and-a-movie stereotypical night-out by taking your crush or your crew to a Christmas movie on the big screen at the Paramount Theatre. The Paramount is iconic: from its landmark, lit marquee to velvet curtains to neoclassical balconies, you’ll for sure get points for a scenic pick. The movies the theater is highlighting this year are just as classic as its settings: two musical favorites, White Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol, and two modern-day seasonal offshoots, Home Alone and Die Hard.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.

Molly Moltzen is a writer living in Austin, TX. You can find her on Instagram at @molsquared.


Get Lucky at These Irish Bars in Austin

Drink a green pint on St Patrick's Day at these Irish bars in Austin.

Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

In the midst of all the SXSW chaos, it helps to remember that there’s a rainbow at the festival’s end-that is, the hangover-blessing we’ve been granted of having St. Patrick’s Day 2023 fall on a Friday. Whether you attribute this small win to the Gregorian calendar or the luck of the Irish, it’s sure to amp up the already liver-damaging activities associated with this cultural celebration. However, Éire is more than just leprechauns and Colin Farrell-it’s a breathtaking land full of warm, welcoming, and good-hearted people. Fortunately, there’s a way you can get a taste of the Republic’s spirit, and a dark stout, at the same time by hitting up one of Austin’s various Irish pubs. From cozy, intimate spaces decked out like small taverns in Cobh, to modern dives with all the party energy of Temple Bar, our list has the best spots in the city to “erin go bragh” all out on March 17.

Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys

B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub at Mueller

With a giant model of a beer tap literally decorating their front door, you can’t miss B.D Riley’s, nor doubt that this East Austin hang is a spot to down some serious brewskis. And its name, and perfect pours of Guinness, aren’t the only aspects they draw from the Emerald Isle-the entire pub itself was actually designed and built in Dundalk, Ireland, and shipped over for assembly in Bat City. Such authentic decor calls for equally authentic sounds, therefore, on St. Patrick’s Day, B.D. Riley’s will feature an all-day, four-artist bill of live, trad-inspired music. So, while you may not start the day knowing all the words to “The Galway Girl,” you are bound to sing along by last call.

Kelly’s Irish Pub

Bouldin Creek
Having only opened this past December, Kelly’s is the new kid with a brogue on the block. Occupying the space which formerly housed tapas restaurant Winebelly, this pub had big shoes to fill for South Austin barflies, but quickly won them over with an impressive whiskey selection and friendly atmosphere. A big reason behind the real deal Éire vibes can, most likely, be chalked up to the fact that one of Kelly’s owners was actually born and bred in Ireland-and the dedication to delivering a true-to-life experience is evident in everything from the shepherd’s pie to the witty bartenders. For St. Patrick’s Day, they are getting the party started early with live music and an opening time of 8 am.

Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger's
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s

Jack & Ginger’s

The Domain
While The Domain may boast more bars than you can shake a shamrock at, there’s only one spot in the North Austin entertainment behemoth that can be properly called an Irish pub: Jack & Ginger’s. Start off the night with selecting a tasting flight from their over 82 beers on tap, then, move onto shots poured straight from their Irish Whiskey Tours-after loosening up with a round or two, you might just find yourself with the gift of gab. And, before snapping a selfie over Jack & Ginger’s see-through glass floor, balance out that buzz with food offerings like a giant soft pretzel or a round of fried pickles.

Photo courtesy of Foxy's Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub

Foxy’s Proper Pub

Here’s a spot that visibly radiates with Irish pride-at Foxy’s, the glow of green beams out from the bar’s lighted panels, and across their chandelier made of Jameson bottles. When it comes to cups and chow, their commitment to the theme continues-the use of the word,”proper,” in the pub’s name alone indicates you’re in for a heavy pour of the standards. Consequently, the taps are abundant with essential Irish sips, including Guinness, Magners, and Smithwick’s. With Lone Star on draft, there’s also a nod to Texas tradition as well. But don’t fear if you’re bored of beer-Foxy’s variety of whiskey-based cocktails will let you switch it up (and still keep it Celtic). March 17 will find them celebrating with live music, whiskey tastings, and swag giveaways.

Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

Cork & Barrel Craft Kitchen + Microbrewery

Round Rock
Compared to a flight to Dublin, the 30-minute drive to Round Rock’s Cork & Barrel is much more convenient-not to mention, won’t require waiting in a TSA line. A mix between a modern Austin beer garden and a historical Irish pub, this spot’s spacious interior and expansive outdoor patio guarantees there will be enough room for the whole crew to cheer “sláinte.” And, their microbrewery’s signature beers are the ideal drinks to do such a toast with. The menu of specially crafted drafts includes a blueberry wheat, an Irish red ale, and a vanilla stout. This St. Patrick’s Day also marks Cork & Barrel’s two-year anniversary, and they are throwing down for the double-celebration with live music, yard games, Irish food specials, and plentiful amounts of green beer and Irish Car Bombs.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.


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