Jingle bells, ho ho ho, and all that jazz … it’s time to get your holiday spirit on! We might not be at the North Pole, but if you’re in the Kansas City area, there are plenty of festivities to revel in the most wonderful time of year (no matter what winter holiday, if any, you celebrate). From shopping to lights to decor galore, check out these must-see holiday gems to make the season bright (and perhaps enjoy a holiday drink while you’re at it).
Ordering gifts at the click of a button may be fast and easy, but nothing beats the magic of an outdoor holiday market. While I may not be able to jet off to Germany or Switzerland to check off my holiday bucket list item at a true Christkindlmarkt, the Merry Market promises to be equally festive (minus the Alps, unfortunately). Over 90 local artisans and makers from the beloved Strawberry Swing indie craft fair are setting up shop in River Market’s City Market area every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas in an open-air European-style market. Whatever craft suits your fancy, you’re likely to find it here—ceramics, printing, painting, photography, candles, sweet treats, jewelry, clothing, and more. To set the festive mood as you peruse, there will also be musical performances by Culture House and the Kansas City Women’s Chorus, plus drinks to sip and street food to munch. Amazon who?
Union Station’s Holiday Reflections
Kansas City’s elegant 1914 train station manages to be atmospheric in pretty much any situation, and that’s especially true around the holidays. In addition to wreaths, lights, and baubles galore, the station also sets up a display in its Grand Plaza, a walk-through extravaganza of decorated trees, giant ornaments, and beloved holiday characters. The Holiday Reflections display also includes Rudy’s Wonderland, complete with a mini train for kids to ride. My favorite part, however, is the model train village. Even if you’re not a train nerd, it’s undeniably enchanting watching little model trains rumble through charming old-time villages and snowy mountains, past tiny ice skating rinks and iconic KC landmarks (and even around a few incongruous gems like a giant Hello Kitty). The display is open every day, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and it’s well worth the $5 ticket ($8 on weekends).
Not to brag, but Kansas City’s Crown Center has a taller Christmas tree than the Rockefeller Center (as far as I know, however, we do not have a hitchhiking owl). This year’s Mayor’s Christmas Tree is 100 feet tall and, of course, covered in glittering lights and ornaments. Once you’ve gotten your fill of the tree, warm up inside Crown Center, listen to live holiday choirs, and take a look at the equally festive decor inside the shopping center (including the EBT Laughing Santa, a nostalgic and vaguely creepy mechanical Santa that graced the window of the Emery, Bird, Thayer department store in the early 1900s and now counts down the days until Christmas).
The Ice Terrace
Ice skating on a quaint pond amidst glittering snow always seemed like a magical experience to me—though if you’ve ever skated on an actual pond, you know it’s not as smooth as movies would have you believe. Call me wimpy, but I’ll take a Zamboni-perfected rink any day. Luckily, Crown Center’s Ice Terrace is just as magical. With a view of the sparkling Mayor’s Christmas tree and Crown Center decorations and holiday tunes playing in the background, this outdoor rink offers a perfect dose of seasonal festivity. Tickets are $8, plus $4 for skate rental, and you can even grab a cup of hot cocoa to sip in between skating sessions.
Let There Be Light(s)!
What’s the holiday season without magical displays of twinkling holiday lights? While there are beautiful displays all around the KC area, here are a few of my favorite to get into the holiday spirit.
Plaza lights — The thousands of lights bedecking the Country Club Plaza are practically a Kansas City institution by now—and well worth the hype. While the Plaza can get a bit crazy around the holidays, it’s also undeniably festive, and the lights lining every building in the Spanish-style district are beautiful. (Hint: If you want a stellar view, take a ride on the InterContinental Hotel’s glass elevator.)
68th–70th Street & Ward Parkway — The historic gingerbread-esque houses off Ward Parkway look even more charming decked out in holiday lights. The houses along 68th, 69th, and 70th Streets in particular get into the spirit with coordinated displays of draped string lights and wrapped tree trunks. (68th–70th Street & Ward Parkway, Kansas City, MO)
97th and Lee Boulevard — Though this display is only two houses, it’s still worth a drive past. The two homes on opposite sides of Lee Boulevard boast impressive (and slightly dizzying) coordinated light shows that play in sync with a local radio station. (97th Street & Lee Boulevard, Leawood, KS)
Christmas Place — In case it isn’t obvious, the residents of this close-knit neighborhood are big on the holidays. Since 1994, all twenty-three houses have banded together to festoon the area in holiday decorations. (131st Place & Antioch Road, Overland Park, KS)
Candy Cane Lane — Since 1958, the residents of this cul-de-sac off 79th Street have thrown themselves into the holiday season with gusto. Now dubbed Candy Cane Lane, the street features houses decked out in lights and decorations, complete with a candy cane (or several) in front of each house. (7900 Outlook Lane, Prairie Village, KS)
Sar-Ko Aglow — Strings of jewel-toned lights turn the trees and pond of the fifty-acre Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa into a winter wonderland. Take a walk through the park’s many trails to enjoy a bit of peaceful holiday ambience. (Lackman Road & W. 87th Street Parkway, Lenexa, KS)
Festival of Lights – Bundle up and take in a winter wonderland of botanically inspired light displays as you wander the paths of Powell Gardens. The gardens are beautiful in any case, and the illumination of the Festival of Lights only adds to the magic. You can even sip on a spiked (or nonalcoholic) hot chocolate or cider as you meander. Tickets are $13.
Winter Magic – If you’re looking for a truly over-the-top explosion of holiday lights, take a drive through Swope Park’s Winter Magic display. With lighted tunnels, animated displays, and a candy blacklight area (don’t ask me what that is), it’s a trippy holiday extravaganza. Tickets are $21–27 per car.