Everything You Can Do in Atlanta This Holiday Season

Consider this our gift to you.

Atlanta Chinese Lantern Festival at Centennial Olympic Park
Atlanta Chinese Lantern Festival | Christopher V Jones/Shutterstock
Atlanta Chinese Lantern Festival | Christopher V Jones/Shutterstock

After a rollercoaster of a year, we’re finally in the last stretch of 2020. Luckily, these remaining weeks are also home to the holidays, meaning that at least we’ll have special events and holiday cheer to keep us going as we approach the finish line. Of course, things will be pretty different this year—considering the COVID-19 pandemic of it all—but that doesn’t mean that this holiday season has to be any less special. In place of holiday traditions like Snow Mountain and the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker performance, many safe and socially distanced events have popped up, so there are still plenty of memorable activities to experience this winter. Here’s your guide to all the fun and coronavirus-conscious ways to enjoy the holidays in Atlanta this year.

Start the holidays with a Christmas Tree Lighting

December 3
Vinings, Online
There’s just something about a grand tree lighting ceremony that makes for the perfect start to the winter holiday season, and Vinings Jubilee has held that tradition down for three decades. This year marks its 35th ceremony, and in typical 2020 fashion, this year’s Christmas tree lighting event will be held both in person and virtually. Masks are required for those attending, and there will be plenty of hand sanitizing stations on site while attendees listen to 1940s-themed carolers, grab on-the-go ornament decorating bags, and await the momentous tree lighting. Also, those who won’t be in attendance can still get in on the fun by tuning in to the livestream on Vinings Jubilee’s YouTube channel.
Cost: Free

Throw a virtual ugly sweater party

Select dates from December 19-27
Holiday parties are largely off the table this year, as none of us want to go down in history as an attendee of a super spreader event. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to go the entire holiday season without donning your most jarring ugly sweater because Unexpected Atlanta is offering virtual Ugly Sweater Party packages, which include treats from local small businesses, an ugly sweater-themed activity kit, and access to a 90-minute live hosted experience. All you’ve got to do to have a virtual Ugly Sweater Party of your own is register for a box by December 15.
Cost: $69.99+

Hang out at a rooftop winter wonderland 

Through January 10
Old Fourth Ward
The Roof at Ponce City Market has once again transformed into a winter wonderland that overlooks Atlanta’s skyline, and the ongoing Holidays on The Roof is perfect for family outings, date nights, and everything in between. Faux fur coat minigolf, cozy private igloos, carnival-style games, and bars stocked with holiday-themed drinks all await, so head to The Roof and thank us later.
Cost: $15+

Chill out at Margaritaville

Through February 21
If you’ve made it this far into 2020, you’ve undoubtedly earned your license to chill, so use it by escaping to Margaritaville’s winter happenings. Its License to Chill Snow Island boasts several chilly holiday activities, from snow tubing and ice skating to amusement rides and snowball fights. There’s also the Lakeside Lights Spectacular, which includes a walk-through lakeside light show, polar mini golf, and a Santa-themed tiki bar. Margaritaville is about an hour drive northeast of Atlanta, so it's probably best that you experience everything it has to offer while you’re there and make a day trip out of it.
Cost: $59.98

Eat, drink, and be merry at the Jingle Bar

Through December 31
Sandy Springs
To the loyal supporters of Three Sheets—get pumped because the lounge and rooftop bar is transforming, for the first time ever, into a winter wonderland known as the Jingle Bar. Christmas decor, holiday hits, comfort bites, and delicious themed cocktails—including Jingle Juice (red wine and apple brandy) and Minty Grinch (Remy VSOP, crème de menthe, crème cacao blanc, and cream)—are all a part of the experience.
Cost: Prices vary

Get lit with plants 

Through January 16
Garden Nights, Holiday Lights is the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s annual glow-up, and it’s making a triumphant return despite the pandemic. Of course, there will be limited capacity, social distancing regulations, face mask requirements, and timed ticketing to ensure everyone’s safety. But it will all be worth it when you’re watching Nature’s Wonders—the world’s largest choreographed curtain of light and sound—and gazing in amazement at the twinkling beauty of the botanical garden in the night.
Cost: $24.95+

Drift into the Holiwaves

Select dates from November to January
If puns and ocean creatures are two things you hold dear, the Georgia Aquarium’s Holiwave events were practically curated for you. Throughout November, December, and January, all Aquarium guests with general admission tickets will have the opportunity to experience holiday classics like The Polar Express (November 23 - December 31) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (December 4 - January 3) in 4D. Sips Under the Sea also returns for a lighter, more pandemic-conscious 21+ event on December 4, at a tacky sweater—and face mask—party, and the Aquarium’s Sounds of the Season event on December 17 is a locally sourced and socially distanced holiday jam session.
Cost: $35.95-54.95

Witness holiday theater magic 

Select dates throughout December and January
Lawrenceville, Online
From covering one's house with Christmas lights to surprising loved ones with amazing gifts, this is honestly one of the most dramatic times of the year, so get deeper into the holiday theatrics by checking out Aurora Theatre’s holiday programming. For a virtual experience, you can tune in to its streamed performance of This Wonderful Life (December 17 - January 1), and for an in-person theatrical experience, you can check out its outdoor holiday cabaret (December 4-6) or see a live performance of A Christmas Carol (December 16-23). With virtual and in-person entertainment options, Aurora Theatre is your reliable source of theatre magic this holiday season.
Cost: $25-60

See a drive-in performance of The Nutcracker

Through December 6
In the first year that the Atlanta Ballet was set to perform The Nutcracker at a venue different from the Fox, all hell broke loose, and the pandemic prevented the masses from piling into venues to witness grand-scale productions such as concerts, plays, and ballets. Regardless, seeing The Nutcracker is an Atlanta holiday tradition, so in addition to giving Atlantans the option to virtually watch the production on-demand, the Atlanta Ballet is offering a drive-in screening of its newest production of The Nutcracker at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
Cost: $100+

Skate the station once again

Through January 18
Atlantic Station
The holidays simply wouldn’t be the same without some fun on the ice, and fortunately, Atlantic Station’s ice skating rink is making a return this year. Even during a pandemic, the largest outdoor skating rink in metro-Atlanta is back, but this time around, changes have been made in order for it to be in accordance with public health and safety guidelines. Touchless ticketing, reduced capacity, and hospital-grade disinfectant are now all in place in order to keep visitors and staff safe.
Cost: $15

Go on a holiday scavenger a cemetery

Through January 3
For an alternative to the typical winter wonderland-themed holiday activity, Oakland Cemetery’s holiday scavenger hunt is your best bet. By purchasing a Holiday Hunt packet online, small groups can embark on a self-guided adventure through the cemetery, gathering cryptic clues in order to solve holiday-themed riddles. Three different difficulty levels—easy, medium, and deadly—are available, and each team that purchases a packet will automatically be entered to win prizes, from virtual tour tickets to museum store gift cards.
Cost: $25

Go on a Sip & Stroll 

Every Saturday through December 19
Gift shopping can be stressful, from finding the perfect gift for your loved ones to braving long checkout lines. Make it easier on yourself by attending one of Buckhead Village’s Saturday Sip & Strolls. Tickets include a drink token that can be redeemed at a participating restaurant, exclusive access and discounts to Buckhead Village retailers, and a raffle ticket for a Buckhead Village gift basket giveaway.
Cost: $25

Get a little geeky

Through January 8
Druid Hills
While getting geeked with loved ones may be your go-to holiday tradition, that’s not where we’re going with this one. Fernbank Museum—known for its informative exhibits about dinosaurs, world cultures, and everything in between—also has a slew of holiday festivities under its sleeve. Included with general admission to the museum, visitors can walk past giant snow globes, check out the Winter Wonderland exhibit, and experience the sock skating rink.
Cost: $18-20; members free

Experience the wonders of Stone Mountain Christmas

Select dates through Sunday, January 3
Stone Mountain
Although Snow Mountain was cancelled for 2020, the attraction is still getting into the holiday spirit with its ongoing Stone Mountain Christmas celebration. In typical Stone Mountain fashion, visitors can enjoy a wondrous laser show, and other magical holiday activities—from watching the Snow Angel Christmas Parade to exploring the Musical Frosted Forest—are included in this year’s festivities as well.
Cost: $31.95 adults (ages 12+); $29.99 children (ages 3-11)

Enjoy the festive sounds of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

December 17 and December 21
We may not have yet returned to music venues and concert halls, but the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra isn’t letting that stop them from spreading holiday cheer this winter. Throughout December, it’s offering two virtual holiday concerts—Joy to the World: A Holiday Brass Spectacular and Warm Wishes: A Holiday Celebration with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra—and for a small pay-per-view fee, you can enjoy the sounds of the season from the comfort and safety of your home.
Cost: $20 per concert

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Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor for Thrillist, wishing you peace this holiday season. Follow him on Instagram at @roshjobin.
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