Signs of the season are all around during the holidays in Leavenworth: Bells jingle from collars of Clydesdales pulling sleighs of visitors down Front Street, the smell of barbecued bratwurst and spiced wine fills the air, and carolers sing sweetly under the canopy of Waterfront Park.
Beginning around Thanksgiving and stretching into the new year, the town is abuzz with festivities. If you’re thinking about spending Christmas in Leavenworth, plan on plenty of holiday cheer with these five family-friendly activities.
Note: This article was written before the onset of COVID-19, so events and activities may not be open or have the same schedules as in previous years. We encourage you to check the websites of local attractions before you visit.
The marquee event of the town’s holiday season is undoubtedly its annual Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival, which sets the town aglow with over a million lights every weekend in December leading up to Christmas. Gather in Front Street Park on Saturday and Sunday evenings at dusk for live musical entertainment, an address by Mr. and Mrs. Claus and the mayor of the town, and the spectacular lighting.
Unlike traditional Christmas tree lightings, the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival doesn’t center around just one Christmas tree, but the whole park full of trees and the storefronts on Front Street!
Kids will love all the costumed characters that come to life around town, including Santa and Mrs. Claus. On Sundays during the Christmas Lighting Festival, those 12 and under can even share a cookie or two with their favorite Christmas characters during the annual Cookie Crawl. Each year, about a dozen businesses around town offer one free cookie to any child that asks for one.
Before the festival, any adults in the group should make sure to also include a stop by Front Street Park to sample the delicious flavors of gluhwein, while the kids try the spiced cider. Then, catch an uplifting live performance by the Army National Guard Dixie Band and pick up a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts.
If you can’t make it to the Christmas Lighting Festival itself, don’t worry—though the festival is only on Saturday and Sunday evenings, the lights run from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
The Christmas spirit is on display with tours from May 1 through October 31 of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, George and Arlene Wagner’s private collection that was made public in 1995. Browse wide aisles and shelves crowded with over 6,000 handmade pieces from around the world and ranging in age from recently built to 1,800 years old.
On your way out, pause for a picture with Karl, the life-size beer drinking nutcracker, then start your own collection with a purchase in the Nussknacker Haus, the museum’s downstairs retail store.
Head to Front Street Park as festivities get underway for Christkindlmarkt, or “Christmas Market,” an open-air marketplace popularized in Germany. Listen to the sweet sounds of the Leavenworth Village Voices choir serenading the coming of the “Christkind” along with Mr. and Mrs. Claus at the park’s gazebo, signaling the beginning to the market. Pick up a hot cup of gluhwein, a traditional German spiced wine, from a streetside vendor and continue shopping for handcrafted Bavarian goods.
Meander through the maze of dozens of outdoor vendors selling everything from leather lederhosen to cuckoo clocks, hand-carved nutcrackers, and glass-blown ornaments, then suit up in snow gear and grab a sled for some fun with your kids on the park’s snowy hill. For even more challenging terrain, you could head just outside of town to Ski Hill’s 100-foot slope.
Take a break from outdoor festivities to catch a spirited performance indoors at Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, a beautiful barn-shaped concert hall on the south side of town. Every Christmas season, the center comes alive with live performances, plays, and films guaranteed to deliver a healthy dose of holiday cheer for all ages.
From the mesmerizing dance orchestration of Bolshoi Ballet’s take on The Nutcracker to the Snowy Owl Family Christmas live radio show, the holiday ballad singalong at the Cool Yule, and the exquisite arrangements of the Magical Strings Celtic Yuletide, it’s the hottest ticket in town!
No Christmastime visit to Leavenworth would be truly complete without a sleigh ride, and you’ll find options both in town and on local farms. Hail a ride from any of the horse-drawn sleighs and carriages operating along Front Street, or opt for a longer ride in open fields at Eagle Creek Ranch or Red Tail Canyon Farm, both just outside of town.
For quick and easy sleigh ride planning, you could also call Icicle Outfitters & Guides, who will schedule a trip complete with hot chocolate, spiced cider, and coffee to warm up before heading out on a 30-minute ride along Icicle River with majestic views of the Stuart Mountain Range.