FREE Twin Cities holiday activities


Money is tight this holiday season. Whether simply cutting back on gifts or thinking about shaping your dreidel out of those leftover Thanksgiving potatoes, most Twin Cities residents are scoping out ways to save. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities about town that will get you in the spirit of the season without landing you in debt.

Ice Skating at Rice Park (plus free music at the Landmark Center)
One of the Twin Cities’ best free ice rinks is The Wells Fargo Winter Skate in Rice Park, where skaters glide around under a colossal tree worthy of Rockefeller Plaza. Proximity to the beautiful Landmark Center makes taking in a free concert after your skate a great way to stretch your day of free holiday fun. The Schubert Club offers free noon concerts, including shows on January 8 and January 15. On Jan. 4 the Minnesota Boys Choir will perform for free at the Landmark.

Rice Park Open Skate hours: Monday – Wednesday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Thursday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

2008 Flower Show at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory
If the grey slush and white powder have you craving a splash of color, this one’s for you. Step into the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory where the vibrant display of holiday poinsettias will warm your spirit faster than the steamy temperatures in his hothouse will thaw your feet. The conservatory is attached to the Como Zoo and like the zoo, admission is free. The poinsettia show runs every day until Jan.19. On Jan. 24 the Winter Carnival Orchid show opens at the McNeely.

Rent a holiday movie from your local library
You may already frequent your local library instead of buying new books. This year rent a holiday DVD for a free evening in. The thought of seeing “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time may make you want to throw yourself off the Ford Bridge, but fear not – nowadays the library stocks much more than stuffy old classics. A catalog search for holiday movies turns up the contemporary (2005’s “The Family Stone,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker), the classic (“Holiday Inn,” 1942, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire), and the offbeat (Tim Burton’s animated “Nightmare Before Christmas,” 1993). Just make sure you pre-order online so you get your movies in time. Check out either the Ramsey County Library or the Hennepin County Library.

New Year’s Eve at Como Zoo
For those who can’t afford an expensive night on the town this New Year’s, try a more kid-friendly approach to the holiday. The Como Zoo is holding a free family-friendly New Year’s Eve, starting at 10 a.m. on Dec. 31. It includes free crafts, music and a countdown to noon.

Go sledding or tubing at a “real” sledding hill
This is a holiday activity that kids are all over, but adults often overlook. If you feel silly trotting out the snow pants and barreling down the three-foot hill in the backyard while your neighbors peek over the fence, try one of Minneapolis’s super sledding hills. The Columbia Golf Course hill is billed as one of the “steepest in Northeast” and is the city’s only official sledding hill. Over at Theodore Wirth Park, “Sunset Hill” is a classic spot for sledders and tubers. If you don’t have a sled, finding one for free is a snap. A flattened cardboard box lined with plastic or a beach inner tube will do the trick.

Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival
The Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival is a breathtaking way to experience the frozen beauty of the lake without shelling out a buck. Bring a thermos of hot cocoa and enjoy the sights as professionals from the Minnesota Kite Society pilot their crafts high above the lake on Jan.10. There will be demonstrations for non-professionals as well as wagon rides and a marshmallow roast.

Jamie Thomas ( is a freelance journalist living in South Minneapolis.