Christmas Cheer in Cincinnati

Tracey Teo

Cincinnati, Ohio, nicknamed Queen City, is home to a host of entertainment and cultural attractions that draw thousands of visitors year-round, but they all shine a little brighter during the holiday season. These tours and city landmarks are sure to fill you with Christmas cheer.

Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

All is merry and bright at the 39th annual PNC Festival of Lights at the CinCincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens.

With more than four million glowing LED lights illuminating a magical world, it’s no wonder the event is widely-heralded as one of the top zoo lights exhibits in the country. Fiona’s Fairyland, named after the zoo’s beloved hippo, is a favorite stop.

Kids riding the North Polar Express are dazzled by a new rainbow-hued tunnel and life-size lanterns alongside the track that are shaped like giraffes, zebras and other zoo animals.

At Swan Lake, families are captivated by a synchronized sound and light show that would give any Fourth of July fireworks display a run for its money. Lights that “dance” to holiday music are reflected on the calm surface of the water for double the Christmas magic. Nov. 19, 2021 – Jan. 9, 2022. 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 

Duke Energy Holiday Trains at the Cincinnati Museum Center

The Duke Energy Holiday Trains have all the bells and whistles at Christmas, delighting crowds as they chug through Holiday Junction at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Union Terminal.

The vintage model trains that wind through a snow-blanketed, mid 19th-century city have only been at the museum since 2011, but the holiday tradition dates to 1946 when the enchanting exhibit debuted in the lobby of the Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company.

Today, more than 300 handmade rail cars and 60 engines roll smoothly along 1,000 feet of track. Good little girls and boys dream of finding their own toy train under the tree on Christmas morning.

Nov. 12, 2021-Jan. 3, 2022. 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio, www.

Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland at Newport Aquarium

Here’s a little-known fact about Santa – the big guy sometimes trades his snow boots for flippers so he can warm up in tropical waters.

See for yourself at Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland at Newport Aquarium. In the Shark Ray Bay Theater, Santa happily swims with rare shark rays as he listens to children’s Christmas wishes. Thanks to a little Christmas magic, kids can communicate with Santa while he’s underwater.

Mostly, they want the latest toys and games, but some have suddenly added a pet shark ray to their Christmas list. Too bad the 8-foot-long creature won’t fit in Santa’s sleigh, but a plush version from the gift shop isn’t out of the question.

Nov. 26-Dec. 24. 1 Aquarium Way, Newport, Kentucky.

Cincinnati Music Hall Tour

Nobody decks their halls like the Cincinnati Music Hall. A guided tour of the 1878 National Historic Landmark on Elm Street showcases High Victorian Gothic architecture festooned with garlands, wreaths and other festive holiday décor. Beautifully restored in 2017, the majestic performing arts hub is home to the Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Highlights include Springer Auditorium with its 1,500-pound Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier that seems like a prop right out of “Phantom of the Opera” and the Taft Suite (donor lounge) that displays art-carved panels from a 19th-century Hook and Hastings pipe organ once played at the music hall. Of course, you’ll want to return for a show. Tours available year-round. 1241 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cincinnati Streetcar Holiday Tour

Climb aboard the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar at Washington Park for a guided 2.5-hour downtown tour that highlights the city’s most cherished Christmas traditions. A 3.6-mile loop winds past an array of brilliant light displays, stopping at places sure to add a little joy to your world.

The historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, celebrated for its 19th-century architecture, is home to Findlay Market. Founded in 1852, it’s the oldest continuously operated public market in Ohio and has more than 50 vendors. Hop off for a sugary Christmas cookie.

Fountain Square in the heart of downtown captures the spirit of the season in a grand way. A 65-foot Christmas tree casts a colorful glow on ice skaters gliding below. Those who are too wobbly on skates but want to get in on the action crash around in bumper cars on the 7,000-square foot ice skating rink.

When your fingers start to feel like icicles, warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. Is that Spider Man climbing the 23-story Huntington Center? Nope, it’s a rappelling Santa!

Apparently, in Cincinnati, Santa doesn’t slip in silently while the little ones are asleep in their beds. No, he makes a grand entrance to kick off the holiday season. Tours available Dec. 8, 11, 15, 18 and 22. Begins and ends at the corner of 14th and Race Streets by the entrance to Washington Park.