There's something a little bit magical about the winter and holidays - wearing wool mittens in the brisk air, baking sweets in the kitchen, making snow angels in the yard - and the Iowa City area welcomes all of the excitement of the season. Whether you're looking for things to do with your young family, good friends, or a special someone, you'll find options and activities left and right.
Downtown Iowa City decks the halls for the holiday season with many free activities. Horse Drawn Carriage Rides return on Saturdays in December (Dec 5, 12, 19) from 11:30am - 2:30pm starting from the downtown Hills Bank & Trust Company location. The Downtown Hunt for the Elves is a “Where’s Waldo?” kind of activity that kids love - plus families will have a chance to win a grand prize gift basket if they find 15 of the 35+ elves hidden in local businesses. Santa visits and a gift-wrapping station are also part of the festivities. Oh what fun!
Downtown is also hosting a free Holiday Market on Saturday, December 12 from 10am-5:30pm. Under a warm, decorated tent set up in the pedestrian mall, the market will serve up holiday drinks at a cash bar throughout the day alongside 16 vendors showcasing their best gift items for the holiday season. Then, later that evening will be downtown’s first Gingerbread House Competition from 7-11:30pm. Participants in groups of up to four people can purchase tickets here – the rest of us can stand back and enjoy the building of the holiday creations!
The Amana Colonies’ Tannenbaum Forest is a magical sight – this free event is one of those must-do activities! Through December 20 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, folks can browse through the community’s shops offering holiday specials and music, then see the majestic trees in the Festhalle Barn. The Amana Heritage Museum also has a special exhibit which transforms the museum auditorium into an old fashioned Christmas room, portraying Christmas in communal Amana as it would have been celebrated 100 years ago.
Coralville Aisle of Lights has been an annual tradition since 1980. Residents and businesses light luminarias along the sidewalks to create a magical scene on a winter night. This year it will be held on December 13 from 5-9pm following other activities throughout Coralville, including an open house at the Iowa River Landing. You can even hop on a bus for a tour of the lights!
Cross country ski or snowshoe along one of the area's groomed trails at Brown Deer Golf Club, University of Iowa Ashton Cross Country Field (located off Hawkeye Park Rd) and MacBride Nature Center. Ski rental is available at Fin & Feather, Scheels and through University of Iowa Recreation Services. Plus, stay up to date on Iowa ski trail conditions and locations. Too cold to stay outside? Head to Coral Ridge Mall's ice rink to skate indoors while you finish up your holiday shopping.
For more festive ideas, visit the Convention & Visitors Bureau’s winter page. May your holidays be merry and bright!