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7 holiday activities in Alabama for the whole family

Alabama goes all out for the holidays, including Cullman's annual celebration that kicks off with a parade and tree-lighting ceremony. Photo courtesy Cullman Parks; Recreation & Sports Tourism

When it comes to celebrating winter holidays, Alabama has been at it a long time. It was, after all, the first U.S. state to declare Christmas a public holiday, back in 1836. Maybe that’s why its towns, parks, museums, and venues are so creative when it comes to making December days merry and bright. 

From Christmas villages imported straight from Europe to North Pole train rides to New Year’s beach ball drops along the coast, these 7 family-friendly holiday attractions in Alabama offer unique takes on the most wonderful time of the year.  

1. Skating in Huntsville’s winter wonderland

Skaters making the rounds at the Orion Amphitheater ice-skating rink.

Throughout December, the Orion Amphitheater in Hunstsville transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with an ice-skating rink and rink-side dining. Photo by Maxbelchenko/

At one of Huntsville’s newest holiday extravaganzas, the skating rink is just the tip of the iceberg. Winter Park at the Orion Amphitheater runs all December long, inviting families to glide, wander, sip, and sing their way through the open-air venue and beyond.

“The ice rink is the crown jewel of the event, but we really lean into the idea that we’re surrounded by a city park,” says Ryan Murphy, the venue’s managing director. “We activate it with a lot of winter wonderland activities.” 

A few spins around the bowl of the Orion give skaters panoramic views of the venue bedecked in lights and festive finery.

Head over to the adjacent Apollo Park, where local choral groups and a musician perform holiday favorites; firepits beckon kiddos to toast s’mores; and visitors can book cozy, curated spaces with après-ski vibes. 

If the outside twinkle lights and decorated trees aren’t enough to inspire the holiday spirit, head indoors to the venue’s new Jeff & Blues building. The soaring wood-framed barn is decorated like a ski chalet during Winter Park. (It’s also a great spot for the grown-ups to grab a hot beverage as the evening progresses.)

Also new this year on select dates: rink-side dining on the stage above the skaters, à la Rockefeller Center. “We’re working with some really great regional chefs,” Murphy says. 

Plan a visit for Thursday through Sunday. Entrance to Winter Park is free. Fees apply for skating, food, and beverage options throughout the event, and other add-ons.

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2. A German Christmas market in Cullman

Pastries, sausages, and other festive food displayed at a German Christmas market.

Get a taste of European holiday celebrations in Cullman, a city that was founded by German immigrants in the late 1800s. Photo by Kristian/

Shoppers sip warm, mulled glühwein. Tidy wooden stalls sell handmade ornaments, crafts, and sweet treats. An illuminated 30-foot-high wooden Christmas pyramid—the nation’s tallest Weihnachtspyramide when it was erected in 2019—twirls prettily in the distance. Kids toast marshmallows, and vendors roast traditional sausages and other savories over an open flame.

It’s not a quaint German village; it’s Christkindlmrkt in Cullman, a city that was founded by German immigrants in the late 1800s.  

In a town that takes its reputation for Hallmark-worthy holidays seriously, the 5-weekend Christkindlmarkt (November 24–26, November 30–December 3, December 7–10, December 14–17, and December 21–24) may be the ideal time for a visit. Not only do dozens of vendors tempt guests with unique, German-inspired gifts, but family-friendly activities abound: Make Christmas ornaments, visit Santa, or pop into wooden toymaking demonstrations. 

Traditional German music, dance performances, living Nativities, and a walk-in snow globe round out the offerings. Admission to Christkindlmarkt is free.

Woman and young children wave from inside a snow globe parade float.

A "living" snow globe wows at Cullman's annual parade. Photo courtesy Cullman Parks; Recreation & Sports Tourism

On December 1, a parade winds through Cullman and ends at Depot Park with the lighting of a 72-foot tree, pictures with Santa, music, crafts, and food. Make a weekend of it by adding a stop at Sportsman Lake Park on the north side of town for horse-and-carriage rides, snow machine flurries, and more than a million twinkling lights. Sportsman Lake Park Christmas Lights admission is $10 cash per vehicle.

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3. Shop the chocolate trail in Mobile

A tray of hot cocoa and toppings including whipped cream and sprinkles.

The Cocoa Crawl through Mobile’s historic downtown is a festive scavenger hunt for the whole family, with restaurants offering free chocolately treats. Photo courtesy Downtown Mobile Alliance

Celebrate the season with all things chocolate—and get that last-minute shopping done, too. 

In its second year, the Cocoa Crawl through Mobile’s historic downtown brings families and friends to more than a dozen boutiques, shops, and restaurants serving free goodies from fudge to peppermint hot cocoa. This year, shoppers can track their progress via an app and can compete to win a prize for visiting every stop.

“It’s kind of a scavenger hunt,” says Maggie Shreve, marketing coordinator for the Downtown Mobile Alliance. “It was a huge hit last year, and we’re looking forward to doing it again.” 

The trail is laid out along Dauphin and St. Louis streets, and previous retail participants have included Do Goods Mercantile Co., which curates products that support charities and social initiatives. “We have our holiday lights up and decorate the lampposts,” Shreve says. “It’s festive and fun.” 

Participation is free. Check for decals on the sidewalk in front of participating stores and find more details online.

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4. Climb aboard for Christmas in Calera

The North Pole Express at Calera’s Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum whisks families through a forest filled with twinkle lights. Inside each festively decorated and historic railcar, kiddos listen to Christmas stories, sing along to carols, and enjoy chocolatey snacks. Vibes are cozy and jammies are highly encouraged.

Of course, the pinnacle of the 90-minute ride comes as the train arrives at Santa’s house. St. Nick, Mrs. Claus, and a slate of elves board the train for photos, dance parties, and a chance to whisper a last-minute Christmas wish in the Big Guy’s ear. 

The museum schedules 3 departures each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through December 17. Tickets, always in high demand, must be purchased in advance and start at $30.

Those who miss the evening rides can opt for new daytime options on Saturdays. The 30-minute journeys include recorded carols, a jaunt down Candy Cane Lane, and Santa visits at the museum itself. Daytime tickets start at $20.

5. A hands-on holiday in Decatur

Cook Museum of Natural Science employee reading a book to a group of children.

The Cook Museum of Natural Science, North Alabama’s newest kid-focused museum, makes the holidays a hands-on experience. Photo courtesy Cook Museum of Natural Science

Leave it to North Alabama’s newest kid-focused museum to make the holidays a hands-on experience. The 62,000-square-foot Cook Museum of Natural Science boasts live animals, climb-through exhibits, and—during December—holiday-themed activities for the 12-and-under set. 

“We really pack the calendar with activities during local schools’ Christmas breaks,” says marketing coordinator Joy Harris. 

The Cook, which opened in 2019, won a USA Today’s reader’s choice poll for best new museum. Last year’s Colors of Christmas scavenger hunt sent kiddos scouring exhibits for natural occurrences of red and green. This year promises a fresh batch of holiday crafts, presentations, and themed games to engage little ones with science and the natural world. 

Adults, $20; children ages 3–14, $15. Check the calendar for upcoming activities. 

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6. An old-timey yuletide in Huntsville

What do figgy pudding and chestnuts roasting on an open fire actually taste like? Find out at one of Huntsville’s most cherished Christmas traditions. 

On December 1 and 2, Candlelight Christmas at Burritt on the Mountain truly celebrates the classics. Kids string garlands of popcorn and cranberries or craft paper-punch ornaments for their trees. Fiddlers, dulcimer players, and other traditional musicians set up in some of the mountaintop compound’s restored 19th-century log cabins. 

“The music just wafts through the air and guides you along,” says Stephanie Timberlake, chief operating officer and curator. “You’ve got the smell from the fireplaces in the historic cabins. Everybody loves it.” 

Of course, some of the folk school/museum/historic village’s favorites are on hand, like fluffy barnyard animals and period-dressed craftspeople demonstrating their trades. Throughout the grounds, more than 600 candles light the way. Don’t miss the overlook, which offers panoramic views of Huntsville. 

“You get to see the view of the city at night. Not many people get to experience that,” Timberlake says. 

Car passes are $70 for the general public and grant up to 6 people access.

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7. Watch the beach ball(s) drop in Gulf Shores

Beach balls hovering over the waiting crowd at LuLu's New Year's Eve celebration.

Those who'd rather celebrate New Year's Eve during daylight hours can head to LuLu's in Gulf Shores, where beach balls rain down when the clock strikes noon. Photo by LuLu’s Gabrielle Barnett

Keeping the littles up until midnight on New Year’s Eve might be too much to ask. But everybody can make it lto noon. 

Families gather on the sandy patio at LuLu’s in Gulf Shores for the annual Noon Year’s Eve celebration. When the clock strikes noon, hundreds of colorful beach balls rain down. That’s when the “kid-friendly” fireworks come out. 

“We get the really big bubble wrap and lay it all down,” says Gabrielle Barnett, LuLu’s marketing director. “When you have 600 people jumping on bubble wrap—it’s just something you have to experience.” 

The Caribbean-colored hot spot already caters to families with on-site ropes courses and an arcade, but this event adds to the fun with bands playing beachy classics, a sandcastle-building contest, clowns, face painting, and more. “It’s just a really fun day for kids and grown-ups,” Barnett says. “And they keep coming back.” 

LuLu’s free party runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on December 31. Fees for food, drink, ropes course, and arcade apply.

Travel pro and guide author Jessica Fender once met Santa Claus and nearly pulled a Ralphie. Follow her adventures from the Deep South to the North Pole at

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