Even more daunting than preparing for the holiday season this year is the fact that my kids will be out of school and, for the most part, on winter break from their regularly-scheduled extracurricular activities for a 16-day stretch. While a chunk of it will be spent on family gatherings and some of it reserved for free time, that kind of vacation calls for a plan. We’ve drummed up 16+ ideas for family fun — some around town, a few at home, and all free or budget-friendly — to help you make the most of your winter break. Close out the year and keep the kids busy with our annual list of 16 things to do over Winter Break in the Twin Cities!
Screening classic holiday films White Christmas, Elf, It’s a Wonderful Life & A Christmas Story. $4/pp or $2 with non-perishable food donation. Don’t miss the excellent and reasonably-priced popcorn! And remember, Tuesday’s the day of the deal when it comes to Twin Cities movie theaters. Check our list of discounts at Twin Cities Cheap Flicks.
Kids at the Castle | American Swedish Institute
Let littles roam free in a real-life castle after an hour or so of structured activity time with stories, songs and games aimed at ages 2-5. 9-10am, $8/family.
Holidazzle Weekend | Minneapolis
New this year are the Holidazzle Yeti, amusement rides (carousel, Ferris Wheel, giant slide), fire pits and fireworks at 7pm Dec 17 & 18. Plus, you’ll still be able to shop and nosh. We’ll miss the outdoor ice skating rink – maybe next year? FREE ADMISSION.
Cathedral Festival of Lights | Cathedral of St Paul
The Christmas Story will be presented with large-scale light murals and projected on the front of the Cathedral of Saint Paul. The show is about 12 minutes long. Walk-up 6-10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15 through Friday, Dec. 17, and 7-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday Dec. 18 & 19. And check our 2021 Drive-Thru Christmas list for more holiday light shows!
Tune in to Landmark Center’s Sundays at Landmark webpage and social media pages to hear an original Christmas story that is charming and engaging for all ages.
BE THE LIGHT WINTER SOLSTICE WALK | Westwood Hills Nature Center, St Louis Park
Celebrate the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year) with an illuminated walk towards spring. Make sure to register in advance to receive a start time. Learn more about what Westwood Hills has to offer and get excited to visit for your visit. 6:30-8pm, FREE.
Before Santa’s gone…bring your Christmas list and visit him at Cabela’s in Woodbury. Please make your (free!) advance reservation to safely meet Santa and get a free 4X6 photo! Thru Dec 24 during store hours. Find our master list of where you can meet Santa in the Twin Cities!
Order some art to-go: Decorating for the holidays sparked a lot of cheer in our house. Consider ordering one of ArtStart’s Holiday Creativity Kits and spend the day crafting some keepsakes. You can feel good buying local, too; ArtStart is a non-profit based out of St Paul, Minnesota.
Bake that last batch of cookies: Do your kids like to help in the kitchen as much as mine? Need a last-minute idea for the holiday cookie exchange? We’ve got some sweet and blessedly simple recipes to whip up sugar cookies and gingerbread cut-outs.
Merry Christmas if you celebrate! Got some down time after you’ve cleared away all the wrapping paper and gift boxes? Make it a craft day and stay cozy at home making these homemade ornaments for next year’s tree.
Take a holiday lights tour – and bring along this list of Minnesota Christmas Lights & Music Shows to find one near you. If you’re in the car destined to or from the relatives, maybe you’ll find a new display en route.
Lace up a pair of ice skates: Bring your skates to the Central Park Ice Skating Loop in Maple Grove or the canals of Centennial Lakes Park in Edina. Skating is free and the backdrops are lovely – skate rental and the warming houses may be available this year, so please call before heading out. Searching for ice closer to home? Use our Skate the Twin Cities list to find your nearest free outdoor ice rink.
Kids climbing the walls at home yet? Get them out and over to the highly kid-friendly History Center for special programming and art activities Dec 26, 2021-Jan 2, 2022.
Make it a cozy pajamas-and-Christmas movies kind of day. You might well have been doing this since Thanksgiving (we’ve already checked it off the list), but in case you need a few more classic suggestions…Gianna has laid out 32 Christmas movies to enjoy at home.
Celebrate the closing of 2021
Whip out our list of New Year’s Eve Family Events. Choose from kids dance parties, outdoor adventures, obstacles courses, ice skating, crafting and more.
Go sledding or snow tubing for New Years Day!
But where to find the best hills? Our Twin Cities Sledding Hills Guide contains a long list of the best – in all shapes and sizes. Gianna’s Winter Break Survival Guide also has a great list of St. Paul & Minneapolis-area sledding hills along with spots to go snow tubing in the Twin Cities. Pictured below are a few of my absolute favorite kids on the giant hill Town & Country Club golf course in St Paul – free for all to sled on.
Winter break into January
More winter break ideas
We are in love with Snapology’s brand new location in Minneapolis. Drop-in playtime in their Discovery Center is guaranteed to entertain with opportunities to build with LEGO bricks, K’nex and other materials. And – get this – you can drop the kids off (ages 5+) for only $6 per hour while you do any post-holiday shopping. Or, if you wish, stay and enjoy unlimited play for $8 per child. 10am-3pm Find other hours at the link.
Trade in the snow and cold outdoors for some green and warmth inside the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Make a day of it exploring the Tropical Encounters exhibit, the cozy conservatory and the cheerful Holiday Flower Show. All activities are FREE.
Beat break boredom and burn off energy
Open Gym & Play sessions across the Metro are budget-friendly – FREE or under $5 per child to attend – and come with a practically-guaranteed nap following. If you’ve got older kids, our Twin Cities Indoor Playground Guide might come in handy.
Find hundreds more things to do in Minneapolis & St Paul with kids!