Christmas in Chattanooga – 12 Things to Do in December (2023)

Christmas tree

You probably already know that Chattanooga is full of outdoor adventure and fun things to do during the warmer months. But, did you know that Chattanooga is one of the best places to visit during the Christmas season too?

Chattanooga, Tennessee is a great place to get into the holiday spirit with so many fun activities for the whole family. Many of the popular attractions feature special events during the winter months, including Christmas light displays, Santa meet and greets, and holiday meals.

If you’re looking for things to do in Chattanooga in December, we’ve compiled a list of the best seasonal activities in the Chattanooga area. So, check out our top picks for fun winter activities to enjoy during your Chattanooga Christmas!

Things to Do in Chattanooga in December (and beyond)

If you’re looking for something to do in Chattanooga this December, we’ve got you covered! From festive events and activities to unique shopping and dining experiences, check out our list of can’t-miss happenings in the Scenic City during the winter months.

1. Holiday Train Rides

If you’re a fan of The Polar Express, you’ll love the holiday themed train rides available in Chattanooga at Christmas time. This activity sits at the top of my Chattanooga winter activities list because it is one of my family’s favorites!

bridge with Christmas Lights and riverboat

If you have not yet traveled on one of the Tennessee Valley Railroad’s special holiday train rides, you are really missing out! Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum does an amazing job of organizing the whole experience from beginning to end.

Guests can really tell that a lot of thought and consideration have gone into every detail of these special train rides. You can read about the different Christmas train ride options below:

North Pole Limited

The North Pole Limited ride is a really unique experience that is enjoyable for both kids and adults. If you are looking for a Polar Express type of experience, this is it! During your journey to and your time at the North Pole, your family will enjoy holiday stories, songs, crafts, and visits from Santa himself.

train in chattanooga

This round trip Christmas experience is about an hour long, which is a perfect length of time even for toddlers and little kids. The Christmas train ride runs from November 17 through December 23 this year. You can visit the website for Tennessee Valley Railroad to find schedules for the North Pole Limited Christmas ride.

Christmas Dinner Train

The Christmas Dinner Train is a 2 hour train ride that’s available during the months of November and December. This holiday themed ride includes a four-course meal during the leisurely train ride.

Holiday Christmas Lights Train

The Holiday Christmas Lights Train ride takes visitors on a ride through multiple Christmas light displays. This roughly one-hour ride is available December 26-31.

Santa’s Hiwassee Train Ride

This special train ride includes a gingerbread cookie, chocolate milk, and Santa meet and greet. The Santa’s Hiwassee Train Ride is available on Saturdays and Sundays during the month of December until the 23rd.

2. Asian Lantern Festival

The Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park is always a fun place to take kids. It’s small enough to tour even with the littlest of kids. It’s also really affordable! From November 16, 2023 through January 14, 2024, the zoo goes all-out with the Asian Lantern Festival. When you spend time at the zoo during the Asian Lantern Festival, you will be able to enjoy interactive displays, lanterns, and lots of fun.

3. Ice on the Landing at the Chattanooga Choo Choo

Ice on the Landing is back again this year at the First Horizon Pavilion, which is the home of the Chattanooga Market. This super fun annual activity runs from November 24, 2023 through January 28, 2024.

Skates and skate buddies (for those who aren’t experienced skaters) are available for rent at the rink as well. Ice on the Landing is in a really great location because guests can also check out the nearby dining options in downtown Chattanooga.

toddler ice skating
My daughter (with her skate buddy) loves practicing her ice skating skills at Ice on the Landing each year!

If you work up an appetite while ice skating, there are lots of great Chattanooga restaurants near the ice skating rink. One of our favorites includes Southside Social, which offers a diverse menu and lots of indoor and outdoor activities.

4. Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights

This year, Rock City on Lookout Mountain is hosting its Enchanted Garden of Lights event beginning November 17 and running through January 6. During this holiday event, you can enjoy Christmas decorations, live music, and festive activities. Guests can also meet and get their picture taken with Santa in Rock City’s North Pole area.

Christmas tree at rock city

The Enchanted Garden of Lights event takes place most evenings (except Christmas Eve) from 4:30-9:00 (10:00 on select nights) so that visitors can enjoy the expansive Christmas lights set up throughout the property. You can visit the official Rock City website for more information and to purchase tickets.

5. Holidays Under the Peaks

The Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga is a really popular tourist destination and is loads of fun for kids of all ages. Typically beginning in late November and running through December (except for Christmas Day), the aquarium provides some special holiday surprises for its visitors.

Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga

Holidays Under the Peaks is the Tennessee Aquarium’s Christmas experience which features Santa Clause scuba diving with the animals. You can visit the Tennessee Aquarium website to find more information on this event including details about the IMAX Theater’s holiday showing of The Polar Express.

6. Holiday Market

During the first three weekends in December, the Chattanooga Market moves indoors for their special Chattanooga Holiday Market. This family friendly event takes place on Saturdays and Sundays at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Local vendors set up tables throughout the convention center, and visitors can find all sorts of holiday items from food to jewelry.

My kids especially love finding sweet treats at the Chattanooga Market. They also love browsing through the handmade toys and costumes that are available from some of the vendors. You can even enjoy hot chocolate and a visit with Santa during certain times of the Holiday Market.

7. PJs with Santa at the Creative Discovery Museum

The Creative Discovery Museum in downtown Chattanooga hosts an annual Christmas event each December. Families can visit the museum to meet Santa and enjoy special activities like cookie decorating and holiday crafts. Visitors can also browse the Holiday Shoppe during the event. PJs with Santa takes typically takes place over a weekend in early December.

8. Walnut Street Bridge Lights

During the holiday season, the city of Chattanooga decorates the historic Walnut Street Bridge with twinkling snowflakes. Visitors can walk across Walnut Street Bridge, which connects downtown Chattanooga to Chattanooga’s North Shore neighborhood and Coolidge Park. This is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the United States.

9. New Years at Noon

In the past, the Creative Discovery Museum has hosted New Years at Noon. Families can participate in activities like seasonal crafts and parades. Visitors are then treated to an apple juice toast at noon. This event is great for kids who want to ring in the new year without staying up until midnight. (We will update the information for 2023 as soon as it becomes available.)

10. Holiday Lights in the Bluff View Art District

When you visit the Hunter Museum of American Art or the Bluff View Art District during the holiday season, you’ll be able to experience the beautiful Christmas lights in the area. Stop into Rembrandt’s Coffee Shop for some hot chocolate and dessert items to enjoy as you stroll through the quaint streets of the art district.

11. Christmas Cruises on the Southern Belle Riverboat

The Southern Belle Riverboat in downtown Chattanooga features several holiday inspired cruises during the month of December.

  • Christmas Carol Cruise – The Christmas Carol Cruise features a full buffet, live music, and an appearance from Santa Claus.
  • Holiday Dinner Cruise – The Holiday Dinner Cruise offers a full buffet and live music for visitors.
  • Winter on the River – The Winter on the River Cruise provides lunch and a fully narrated tour of the Tennessee River in the winter.
  • Breakfast with Santa – The Cruise with Santa features a full breakfast buffet, magic show, and Santa meet and greet.

12. Drive Through Christmas Lights

New to Chattanooga during the last Christmas season, Magic of Lights offered a drive-through Christmas lights experience. This event took place at Summit Softball Complex in mid November and ran through the beginning of January. We will update with this year’s information as soon as it’s available.

Where to Stay in Chattanooga at Christmas

Families looking for kid-friendly hotels in Chattanooga will be pleased to know that the Scenic City offers plenty of comfortable accommodations. Our top picks for the best Chattanooga hotels in and around the downtown area are:

If you are interested in renting more spacious accommodations for your winter trip in Chattanooga, consider booking a vacation home through VRBO. VRBO allows you to narrow down your search results to condos and homes with a specific number of bedrooms and bathrooms. These typically also include full kitchens and available laundry rooms. Additionally, you can often find kid-friendly amenities like an indoor pool, game room, or a hot tub at some of the properties on VRBO.

Final Thoughts on Christmas in Chattanooga

Chattanooga is a great city to visit all year long, but it is especially fun during the holidays. The kid friendly attractions in the Scenic City really go all out at Christmas time. Whether you choose to board a Christmas train ride or sail on a riverboat cruise, you and your family are sure to make some special memories on your Tennessee family vacation.

gingerbread house with text overlay Best Winter Activities in Chattanooga

Since many of the holiday events begin in November and run through December and into January, it’s easy to find a convenient time to enjoy a Chattanooga vacation during this special time of year. We hope you have a magical time enjoying the Scenic City during the holidays!

So, what do you think? What are the best things to do in Chattanooga in December? Comment below to share!

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