Christmas ships on the rivers, animal-themed lights at the zoo, mansions dressed in holiday splendor, and a holiday train with Santa. Join me to see the most magical Christmas experiences in my backyard: Portland, Oregon.
Adding to the excitement are the annual Holiday Tree, carolers strolling the streets, tubas echoing in the crisp air, and the traditional Nutcracker presented by Oregon Ballet Theatre… and more!
Here are 14 magical Christmas experiences you can enjoy in the Rose City of Portland.
1. Christmas Festival Of Lights
Over 2 million lights decorate the 62-acre Grotto in northeast Portland, a place of reflection for all faiths. The Christmas Festival Of Lights — November 25 through December 30 (closed Christmas Day) in 2022 — is a walk-through event of about one-quarter mile.
Enjoy the voices of the choirs as they lift you with the delightful sounds of the season. Nightly concerts present local schools, churches, and civic choirs. The setting is a grotto at the base of a 10-story cliff. Here is the choir schedule.
Wander the lovely, manicured Upper Gardens for jaw-dropping views of Mt. St. Helens and the Cascades. An elevator is available.
2. Annual Tree Lighting
Pioneer Courthouse Square
Celebrating the start of the holiday season in Portland, the Annual Tree Lighting is when 20,000 lights on a beautiful 75-foot tree are turned on. This year, the tree arrives on November 9 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. The actual lighting event takes place Friday, November 25, at 6 p.m. at Pioneer Courthouse Square, lovingly referred to as “Portland’s Living Room.” You can personally visit the tree throughout the holiday season.
Pioneer Courthouse Square holds more than 300 yearly events. On December 10, look for the 31st Annual Tuba Christmas Concert, when over 200 tubas will echo throughout the afternoon. Afterward, explore the bricks, enjoy downtown all dressed in its Christmas splendor, and order delicious dishes from the many food trucks.
3. Christmas Ships Parade
An annual tradition over the last 68 years, the Christmas Ship Parade travels both the Columbia River and Willamette River. Thousands gather along the river banks to watch this spectacle. The vessels are privately owned and come from the Portland, Vancouver, McMinnville, Salem, and Hood River areas. Many owners have taken part for over 30 years. Be sure to consult the Columbia River and Willamette River schedules.
There are 15 nights of sailing from December 2–21. The ships sail for 2 to 3 hours per night. You might join one of the Meet & Greet Nights, where you can meet some of the skippers and enjoy a close encounter with the decorated ships.
The ships can be viewed not only from Portland but also from Scappoose, St. Helens, Lake Oswego, and Milwaukie in Oregon; and Vancouver, Camas, and Washougal in southwest Washington.
4. Winter Wonderland Of Lights
Claiming to be the largest light show in the Pacific Northwest, the Winter Wonderland Of Lights is a spectacle that you can enjoy from the comfort of your own vehicle. There are animated scenes and over 250 lighting sets. The Winter Wonderland of Lights takes place at the Portland Race Track from November 25 through December 31. Purchase tickets here.
Pro Tip: It is best to visit early in December and during the week, if possible, as weekends are often very busy.
5. ZooLights At Oregon Zoo
Over 1.5 million animal-themed lights will dazzle you at Oregon ZooLights.
There are both walk-through and drive-through opportunities, with the walk-through path extending just over 1 mile in length. Wheelchairs and electric scooters are available for rent. You will find maps available at the walk-through food carts and souvenir shops. You can also rent wheelchairs and electric scooters. You can also pre-order snacks for the drive-through, which lasts between 25 and 35 minutes.
ZooLights runs daily from November 25 through January 5, except for Christmas Day. Timed entry tickets must be reserved in advance. You purchase one ticket per vehicle for the drive-through. Note: No zoo animals are viewable during ZooLights.
6. Portland Holiday Train
Join Santa on the Holiday Express: Portland’s Holiday Train on the Oregon Pacific Railroad Line. From November 25 through December 18, trains depart from Oak Park for a 40-minute trip along the Willamette River. The trains are decked out in holiday decor and are heated, but passengers should still dress in outdoor clothing and wear closed shoes. Tickets are available here, with departure times ranging from mid-morning through early dusk. Restrooms and refreshments are available at the station. Check out the station gift shop for unique gifts for train lovers of all ages.
7. Pittock Mansion Christmas
Pittock Mansion’s Christmas theme this year is simple: “A Pittock Mansion Christmas.” Enjoy the special exhibit Music Makes the Season, a series of festive music–themed displays. The 16,000-square-foot mansion located high in Portland’s West Hills will be decked out in holiday splendor. Find ticket information here.
Afterward, take time to stroll the grounds and enjoy amazing views of the Willamette River, Portland, and the Cascade Mountains. The woods behind the mansion are part of the Forest Park Conservancy and are popular with hikers.
8. Peacock Lane
Peacock Lane, a four-block area in the southeast, is known as “Portland’s Christmas Street.” Since 1929, residents have elaborately decorated both their homes and yards. The area homes were built during the 1920s and 1930s, all in either English Cottage or Tudor Revival style. This year, lights will glimmer from December 15 through December 31, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Back are the popular Christmas Street’s Hot Cocoa Booth and Pedestrian Only Nights, December 15, 16, and 17. During the Pedestrian Only Nights, no vehicle traffic is allowed.
Pro Tip: Parking is very limited, so you might consider taking the Tri-Met #15 or #75 buses.
9. The Nutcracker
Oregon Ballet Theatre
For 32 years, Oregon’s largest professional ballet company, the Oregon Ballet Theatre has enchanted audiences with the performance of The Nutcracker. From December 10 to 24, you can follow the dancing snowflakes as they lead Marie and her Nutcracker Prince to a magic land — all to the endearing music of Tchaikovsky.
Check the Oregon Ballet Theatre site for information on the 15 performances, including some with a live orchestra. All tickets must be reserved online. And check out the online Nutcracker Holiday Gift Shop for themed gifts.
10. Holidays At The Belle
Join the festive holiday events at the Victorian Belle Mansion in North Portland. All four floors of the 1885 Victorian mansion are decked in holiday splendor, as is the home’s exterior and 25-acre estate. The event was formerly called The Miracle Of A Million Lights.
Planned events include The Belle Supper Club: A Dinner Cabaret, the Krampus Festival! with live musical performances and a visit from Krampus, and a 1930s radio–style performance of A Christmas Carol. Check the Belle’s website for the full schedule.
11. Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree
Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree is held at Sunset Presbyterian Church, with the opening performance Saturday, November 26. With 160 choir members, beautiful choreography, a cinematic nativity, plus Santa and his elves, it is an evening of pleasure. There are nine performances from November 26 to December 4. Find ticket information here.
12. Christmas At The Old Church
One of the most loved traditions in the Portland area is pianist Michael Allen-Harrison’s Christmas at the Old Church. Each Christmas season, he performs with singer Julianne Johnson, young artists, and area youth. Choose from 20 musical performances between December 11 to December 24.
The Old Church dates back to 1882 and is a great example of Carpenter Gothic Architecture. Located in downtown Portland, close to the Park Blocks and Portland State University, the Old Church is on the National Register of Historic Places.
13. Christmas Tree Farms
Two popular Christmas Tree Farms are Quail Creek Ranch and Hemphill Farms. Quail Creek Ranch is a 20-acre family-run ranch in northwest Portland. You can also enjoy a hike along Quail Creek, complimentary hot beverages, and an inviting fire in the warming hut. Also available are fresh wreaths, garlands, and mistletoe. Just south of Portland is Clackamas County, home to numerous Christmas Tree Farms. Hemphill Farms is one of the local favorites with a great selection and helpful staff. Visit the gift shop for complimentary hot cider and cocoa.
Holiday traditions abound in Portland, Oregon, and there is an event for everyone. Come and join us in the celebration!
The area is filled with attractions year round. Consider: