It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Iowa offers multiple ways to embrace the season with friends and family. Here are the five best ways to view brilliant light displays, shop for that perfect gift and discover exciting events that will thrill the whole family.
1. Gaze at Holiday Light Displays
Iowa’s communities love to light up their main streets, homes and local parks during the holiday season. While amazing displays can be found throughout the state, these are great locations to start the awe-inspiring family adventure.
As snow begins to fall, Atlantic transforms into the “city of lights. Their amazing town-wide display, known as Christmas in Atlantic, offers a breathtaking walk- or drive-through experience. (November/December)
Join locals as they flock to a farm in Le Mars that’s known for having one of the area’s best displays. Christmas Acres features over 200,000 lights, inflatables, sculptures and music. So grab a hot chocolate or coffee and take a stroll through the lights. (November/December)
For another great walk-through display, Reiman Gardens in Ames’ Winter Wonderscape Light Show steals the spotlight. Every year, the 17-acre site comes alive with brightly lit tunnels, fantasy lights falling like stars, massive swirling disco balls and lasers that light up the night. (December/January)
Experience a one-of-a-kind light show in Oskaloosa, whose Painting with Lights display takes over the town square. Enjoy a short yet scenic drive through the downtown and admire the lights that cover the beautiful brick buildings. (November/December/January)
Finally, help Waverly family support a good cause by checking out the Waverly Light Display. What started 25+ years ago as a humble yard display has since grown into a spectacular event featuring dancing lights and accompanying music. (November/December)
2. Enjoy a Cultural Christmas Event
In Manning, help the community embrace their German-American culture by celebrating Weihnachtsfest. Gaze at the light parade, join in the excitement of Santa’s arrival, indulge in delicious food and enjoy live music and family entertainment. (November 25)
Head to the Danish Villages of Elk Horn and Kimballton and immerse yourself in their Julefest celebration. This festival celebrates the arrival of the holiday season and includes a 5K race, live entertainment, craft fairs, holiday shopping and endless opportunities to learn about the area’s Danish heritage. (November 26-27)
The Amanas also know how to celebrate the holidays with German flair. The seven villages’ put on a Prelude to Christmas celebration that features the Tannenbaum Forest, a collection of 50+ uniquely decorated Christmas trees, alongside shopping and dining specials, a Holiday Bazaar and live music. (December 2-4)
Kick off the holiday season with Decorah’s Norwegian Christmas event. The outdoor festivities include traditional Scandinavian holiday activities such as singing around the Christmas tree, holiday crafts, s’mores around a fire, cultural treats and live music. Visitors also get free admission to the Vesterheim museum. (December 3)
Iowa boasts a double-does of Sinterklaas Day celebrations. Head to Orange City and welcome Santa and his dazzling white horse with a parade, Dutch games, puppet shows, family fun and holiday shopping. Or stop by Pella and enjoy their parade of Christmas characters and Santa’s arrival aboard a large wooden ship followed by an accompanying celebration at the historic Opera House. (December 3)
3. Visit a Holiday Market
Explore multiple buildings filled with local crafts at Dubuque’s Fall into the Holidays event. Held at the Dubuque County Fairgrounds, each building features makers, bakers, boutiques and vendors, ensuring you’ll find a perfectly unique gift for loved ones. Shoppers can enjoy the bar, food stand and holiday spirit. (November 13)
Help the community of Council Bluffs kick of the holidays with their Winterfest celebration. Starting with the Bayliss Park lighting ceremony, the festivities feature the pop-up holiday market known as Makers Village along with arts and crafts activities, food trucks and carolers. (November 18)
Start shopping early by visiting Mason City and exploring the North Iowa Holiday Craft and Vendor Shopping Event. Browse through two buildings packed with craft vendors selling a variety of gift and holiday décor items. (November 19-20)
Grab the family and head to Valley Junction in West Des Moines for the exciting Jingle in the Junction. As the area embraces the holiday season, business extend their hours on Thursday nights to allow for more time to find the perfect gift while surrounded by over 100,000 lights. (November/December)
Des Moines’ Christkindlmarket offers the opportunity to learn about European culture through this 700-year-old tradition. As visitors peruse through booths selling old-world, artisanal, handcrafted products representing various European cultures, they can also indulge in bratwursts, candied nuts and other authentic German foods along with live music and storytelling. (December 1-4)
Another European-inspired shopping experience can be found with Cedar Rapids’ Old World Christmas Market. This delightful event features local handcrafted items, delicious treats, entertainment and activities for all ages in an effort to celebrate culture, community and holiday cheer. (December 3-4)
4. Shop Iowa-Made Gifts
Discover one-a-kind, handcrafted kaleidoscopes, cribbage boards and other wooden toys at the Kaleidoscope Factory in Pocahontas. Experience the best tastes of Iowa at Clarion’s That Iowa Girl, which partners with a variety of local vendors to provide fresh meat and dairy products, produce, flour, pasta, sauces and dressings.
Head to Bozz Prints in West Des Moines’ Historic Valley Junction to discover beautiful Iowa art prints alongside amusing Iowa-pride apparel. Also be sure to visit nearby Heart of Iowa Marketplace to shop Iowa gift baskets, gourmet foods and souvenirs.
Located inside Greenfield’s historic opera house, Ed & Eva’s offers a wide variety of local crafts, including welded lawn ornaments, jewelry, home décor, apparel, soaps and candles. Meanwhile, The Market Place in Manning features a vast collection of gorgeous home décor.
Experience Iowans’ creativity with Barn Happy’s collection of crafts, lotions, candles, soaps and Iowa-produced food in Cedar Falls. If you’re specifically looking for satisfying scent, stop by the Milkhouse Candle Co. in Osage to find unique candles and fragrance melts.
For one-of-a-kind sculptures, head to Isabel Bloom in Davenport, where whimsical designs feature everything from children and families, animals, angels, home and garden creations. Or discover farmhouse goods at Clarence’s Onion Grove Mercantile, including vintage treasures, hand-painted signs and locally sourced goods.
Find even more Iowa-made gifts at Shop Iowa.
5. Take a Holiday Excursion
Embark on a winter adventure and discover the snow-covered beauty that surrounds Saylorville Lake with Jester Park’s Winter Holiday Rides. The Jester Park Equestrian Center takes visitors on scenic 30-45 minute rides through the forest on either a horse-drawn sleigh or wagon depending on the weather conditions. (December/January/February)
Hop aboard the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad’s Santa Express to enjoy a one-hour journey to the North Pole. The ride features the story of Santa’s Scenic Valley Ride, Christmas carols and hot chocolate and cookies. (November/December)
Park the car and experience Humboldt’s and Dakota City’s light displays aboard a sleigh. Every year, locally-owned Dream Carriage Rides takes riders past illuminated homes and through the brightly-lit Main Streets. (November/December)
In Iowa City, catch a ride on a decorated wagon pulled by an antique tractor. The tractor wagon rides are free and offer riders the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of the community’s holiday festivities. (November/December)