Tree Lighting Holiday decor at The Westin Hotel Cincinnati
Holiday decor at The Westin Hotel Cincinnati

The best part of downtown Cincinnati at the holidays is how much there is to do without spending a ton of money. My first stop this time of year is always a tour of the hotels and their beautiful Christmas trees and holiday decor, like at the Westin Cincinnati and Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza.

Insider tip: On days too blustery to do much outdoor walking, use the city's remaining skywalks to get between the buildings.

On weekends during the holidays, you can enjoy a free horse-drawn trolley carriage ride through the heart of the city to enjoy the festive lights and sights. Carriages board at the corner of Fifth and Race Streets and run Noon to 5 p.m. (November 24-26, December 2-3 and December 9-10, 2017).

Ice skating on Fountain Square Ice Rink
Ice skating on Fountain Square

Once you’ve taken a trip around the city, there’s plenty to do on Fountain Square, including the ice skating rink, open for most of the day and with special themed days and nights. Admission is $6, and if you need to rent skates, they’re available for $4. There’s even a nice warming tent beside the rink!

If you’re all worn out from skating and need a break, grab some hot cocoa from any of the coffee shops around the square. (I recommend the Booksellers at Fountain Square, a locally-owned shop.)

Insider tip: The Booksellers also features “A Cincinnati Night Before Christmas,” by Nadine Huffman ($19.99) a great Cincinnati keepsake for visitors and residents alike!

Macy's Downtown Dazzle
Macy's Downtown Dazzle

My personal favorite part of the holidays is watching Santa and friends rappel down the Huntington Bank Center during Macy's Downtown Dazzle (November 25, December 2 and 9, 2017), which is a free family-friendly event.

Santa at Macy's Fountain Place
Santa at Macy's Fountain Place

That’s not your only chance to see Santa downtown! He’s also at Macy’s Fountain Place November 24-December 24, starting at noon on select weekends and week days. Kids can also enjoy story time with Mrs. Claus after the fireworks during Downtown Dazzle.

Insider tip: While you’re visiting Santa, write your letter and mail it - every letter mailed supports the Make-A-Wish foundation!

Santa letters at Macy's Fountain Place
Santa letters at Macy's Fountain Place

Downtown at the holidays is really about the little things: railings draped in garlands, little Christmas trees, and taste-testing all the hot chocolate you can handle. Best of all, there’s no need to spend a lot - all you need is a little imagination!

Click here for a list of even more free holiday events.

Written by Hannah Regan.