20+ FREE Holiday Events in Downtown Austin

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 1.21.09 PMAdmit it. You always mean to go downtown, but…it just doesn’t happen. I know, it’s the traffic. The parking. That special inertia that sets in, just in time for the holidays.

In truth, all it takes is a little advance planning. Just like any outing with kids, pack some snacks and water and do a little advance research on parking (don’t forget, metered parking is free on Sundays!) or, take the MetroRail down for an added dose of adventure. Add in a little extra time if you aren’t used to navigating downtown, and you’re set!

We’ve got plenty of ways to enjoy our beautiful city during this festive time of year!

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Austin Trail of Lights kicks off on December 8!

Austin Trail of Lights
December 8-22 from 7-10 p.m. |  Zilker Park, Austin
Guests of all ages will be enchanted by the 1.25-mile walking trail with 2 million+ light bulbs illuminating more than 50 unique holiday light displays, 100 lighted trees, and three light tunnels. Visit Santa’s House in the North Pole, pick up a free book from the H-E-B Read 3 Book Train, and stop in Santa’s Workshop for a photo and a variety of interactive experiences! Entry to the Trail of Lights is FREE from December 8-15! From December 16-22, general admission is $3 for guests age 12 and up, online or at H-E-B stores. Children age 11 and under are FREE every night! Parking passes and shuttle tickets are also available online.

Holiday Tours at the Capitol
December 1-23   |    Texas Capitol, 1100 Congress Ave., Austin

The Capitol is offering a special Holiday Tour the first three weeks of December. Holiday tours are offered weekdays at 10:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m., Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. During the Holiday Tours, guides will discuss the different ethnic groups which settled in Texas, the traditions they brought to our state and the architecture of the building which inspired this year’s Capitol Ornament. FREE!

Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s Gingerbread Village
December 1-31 | Four Seasons, 98 San Jacinto Blvd, Austin
Explore the delicious details of the “Wild, Wild West” themed gingerbread village in the lobby. It’s a small display, but fun to see if you’re in the area. FREE!

Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird”
Daily, hours vary   |    Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, 300 West 21st St, Austin

This isn’t a holiday event, but I’m sneaking it in because, Frida Kahlo! If you’re downtown anyway, you should swing by and see her self-portrait. The painting is on display in the Ransom Center’s lobby through December 31, 2017. Admission is FREE! Please note, the Ransom Center is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Holiday Music at The Driskill
December 2-3, 9-10, and 16-17 from 5-7 p.m. |  The Driskill, 604 Brazos Street, Austin
Enjoy seasonal music from a string quartet in The Driskill Lobby, select evenings in December.  FREE!  (You may also want to indulge your sweet tooth in the hotel’s 1886 Café & Bakery – not free, but worth it!)

Holiday Sing-Along led by Sara Hickman
December 3 from 12:05-12:45 p.m.  | Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E 8 St, Austin
Join the amazing Sara Hickman for the annual holiday sing-along, with a heavenly chorus by One Ounce Opera and accompanied by the talented Nathan Quiring. This is a really fun event, and a great way to start your holiday season. Song books will be provided – just lend your voices! FREE and family friendly. Don’t be late – the event is only half an hour! Parking is usually easiest on Trinity between 7th & 11th Street at meters, or in Capitol Parking Garage at 12th & Trinity.

Caroling at Noon Concert Series
December 3, 10, and 17 at noon   |    St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 E 8th St, Austin
A refreshing pause from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, this popular series of FREE concerts includes audience singing of favorite carols.

Santa in the Garden
December 5 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.   |    Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Rd, Austin
Join the Austin Area Garden Center as they present Santa In The Garden 2015. Skip the long lines at the mall and bring the entire family to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. There will be plenty of goodies to eat, fun crafts to make, and Christmas Story telling, all within the beautiful setting of Zilker Botanical Garden. Mom and Dad can do some shopping in the Chrysalis Gift Shop and enjoy 20% off the entire store. FREE with Garden admission, which is $1-3 (for ages 3+).

Free Family Day Piñata Workshop
December 6 from 1-4 p.m.   |   Mexic-Arte Museum, 419 Congress Ave, Austin
This workshop features artist Monica Lejarazu. Participants will learn how to make paper piñatas without using paper–mache. The event also includes craft projects for smaller children. The workshop is completely FREE and includes admission to Mexic–Arte’s Mix ‘n’ Mash and Nacimiento exhibitions. There is no need to pre-register; the only requirement is that participants sign in when they arrive at the museum.

Deck the District
December 5 from 1-6 p.m. |  2nd Street District, Austin
2ND Street District encourages all of Austin to take a stroll and visit the art installations, as they will be featured in more than 11 storefront windows until December 6, at Etcetera, etc., Estilo, Rae Cosmetics, Luxe Apothetique, Hacienda, Area, Hemline, Teddies for Bettys, Silicon Labs, Flor, and Mercury. On Saturday, December 5, the winning design will be announced during the Deck the District event from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., where window walkers can stroll the 2ND Street District and enjoy a special appearance by the one and only Santa Claus, while taking advantage of the in-store specials at 2ND Street District shops. Deck the District will be FREE and fun for all ages.

Holiday Stroll
December 5 from 6-9 p.m. |   Capitol & Congress Ave., Austin
The annual Holiday Sing-Along & Downtown Stroll is a FREE, family-friendly event that celebrates the arrival of the holiday season and the joy it brings. The evening starts at 6 p.m. when crowds gather on the south steps of the Capitol to sing the songs of the season during KUTX 98.9 “Eklektikos” host John Aielli’s Holiday Sing-Along. As the clock strikes 7 p.m., the countdown to the lighting of the Capitol tree begins, featuring a programmed light show at the top and bottom of every hour, set to holiday songs of local Austin musicians. From 7 to 9 p.m., Congress Avenue will be abuzz with holiday cheer during the Downtown Stroll. Shops, restaurants, galleries and museums will be open late and will feature special activities and offers. Additional Stroll activities include classic holiday cartoons, photos with Santa, live music, a special holiday Farmers’ Market with Sustainable Food Center, and much more. Support fellow members of the community by bringing non-perishable food or cash donations to the Capitol Christmas tree for the Capital Area Food Bank. The Holiday Sing-Along & Downtown Stroll attracts more than 20,000 attendees each year, so guests are encouraged to bike or use public transportation. FREE!

Free First Sunday: deSTEMber Fest
December 6 from 12-3 p.m.  |  Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 Congress Avenue, Austin
Enjoy FREE exhibit admission all day during Free First Sundays, held the first Sunday of every month. Families can explore the Story of Texas through three floors of exhibits that showcase artifacts from around the state. Special family programs from 12-3 p.m. combine art creation, presentations by partner organizations, and gallery activities. At December’s Free First Sunday, families with kids ages five and up will discover the mysteries behind this magical time of year with snowflake chemistry, train construction, fluffy snow and more hands-on fun! Families with kids six and under can attend a winter-themed story time at 2 p.m. FREE!

Family Day at UMLAUF Sculpture Garden
December 6 from 12-4 p.m.   |     605 Robert E. Lee Road, Austin
Sing holiday songs with Armstrong Community Music School and make clay creations and sock snowmen! FREE!

Central Concerts: Holiday Classical Guitar
December 6, 13, and 20 at 1 p.m.   |    Faulk Central Library, 800 Guadalupe St., Austin
Enjoy FREE programs ranging from guitar classics to Christmas favorites.

Austin Carriage’s Annual Blue Santa Toy Drive
Wednesday, December 9, 6:30–10 p.m.   |     Central Downtown Fire Station, 5th and Trinity, Austin
Please join Austin Carriage for the annual Blue Santa Toy Drive. You can exchange a new unwrapped gift ($10 value or more, please) for each passenger to receive a FREE carriage ride. The rides are about 15 to 20 minutes long depending on demand. Seating capacity is up to 6 adult passengers. Children under 4 may sit on a lap and are not counted as a seated passenger. Please come and help provide a merry Christmas to a deserving child.

Free Noon Concert with Austin Handbell Ensemble
Thursday, December 10, noon    |     Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E 8th St., Austin
Take a 30-minute lunchtime break to listen to the Austin Handbell Ensemble. Family-friendly and FREE! 

Austin’s Cultural Campus Holiday Shopping Crawl
December 12   |    5 Downtown Museum Gift Shops
’Tis the season to shop local! Join Austin’s Cultural Campus for a holiday shopping crawl featuring artful treasures from the Blanton Museum, Bullock Museum, Harry Ransom Center, LBJ Library and Museum, and Texas Memorial Museum. Mention Austin’s Cultural Campus for a 20% discount at each institution. Please note that admission to each institution is not included.

Downtown Posada
December 12 at 6 p.m.   |    St. David’s Episcopal Church, 301 East 8th St., Austin
St. David’s Episcopal Church will host the 5th Annual Downtown Posada. The Posada commemorates Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem in search of shelter prior to the birth of Jesus. The Posada will include a procession led by children, followed by adults, and a Mariachi band. The procession will make its way through St. David’s Church, ending at Eden Center. Everyone is welcomed to then feast on food and refreshment, sing Christmas carols and join in traditional activities such as the breaking of the piñata for treats. This event is FREE with FREE parking in the St. David’s garage.

Capitol Christmas Concert and Community Sing-Along
December 12 at 12 p.m. |   Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress Ave, Austin
Ring in the Christmas holiday season with A Cappella Texas at the State Capitol Rotunda. Gather your family and friends, and especially the children, for an afternoon of great singing and Christmas cheer. Join A Cappella Texas, Austin’s premier men’s chorus, for a delightful FREE all-ages concert and community sing-along in beautiful four part Barbershop Harmony.

The Big Sing: Winter Holidays
December 17 from 6:30-7:30 p.m.   |   Blanton Museum of Art, 200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin
Join the Symphonic Choir from Conspirare in a community singing event. The Conspirare conductor leads visitors through a series of classical and popular choral works connected to imagery of winter holidays as depicted in the Blanton’s collection. Third Thursdays are FREE at the Blanton!

TubaChristmas
December 21 at 12 p.m.  |   Texas State Capitol Building, South Steps, 1100 Congress Ave, Austin
2015 is the 42nd anniversary for TUBACHRISTMAS concerts, which are presented throughout the world. TUBACHRISTMAS was conceived in 1974 by Harvey Phillips as a tribute to his teacher and mentor William J. Bell, born on Christmas Day, 1902. Through the legendary William J. Bell we reflect on our heritage and honor all great artists/teachers whose legacy has given us high performance standards, well structured pedagogy, professional integrity, personal values and a camaraderie envied by all other instrumentalists. FREE outdoor concert!

Winter Solstice Lantern Parade
December 21 from 5-8 p.m. |   Central Austin
Kid-friendly! Minor Mishap Marching Band invites you under the dark Solstice sky in a PARADE OF LIGHT! Gather together on the shortest day of the year to celebrate light, darkness, music, community, nature and other things of general awesomeness. Party down and shake your booties! It’s (finally) getting (slightly) cold around here: time to shake that thang and warm up. Please make a lantern to carry in the parade! The beauty of this event is created by YOU! FREE!

Austin Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas in the Community
December 22 at noon |  Texas Capitol, 1100 Congress Ave., Austin
The Austin Symphony is excited to continue its new program this holiday season that will bring FREE music to all Austinites. Christmas in the Community is a series of ten concerts held throughout the city of Austin featuring different ensembles of the orchestra playing familiar holiday music. On December 22, the Strings ensemble will perform at the Capitol. FREE!

Austin Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas in the Community
December 23 at 6 p.m.  |  Symphony Square, 1101 Red River St, Austin
Christmas in the Community concludes with the Stardust Orchestra Big Band and the Austin Symphony string quartet at Symphony Square! FREE!

Austin’s New Year
December 31 from 4-10 p.m.   |   Auditorium Shores, South 1st Street and Riverside Drive
Austin residents may want to stay in town for New Year’s Eve this year. The Austin’s New Year line-up includes Grupo Fantasma, Golden Dawn Arkestra, and Carolyn Wonderland. Austin’s New Year (ANY) is an annual alcohol-free celebration that showcases a variety of art, food trucks, and live music on three stages. Other confirmed performers include The Statesboro Revue, Big Cat, Vallejo, KP and the Boom Boom, Shawn Nelson, and Kalu James. The FREE event begins at 4 p.m., with a fireworks finale at 10 p.m.

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