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The Nice List – A Holiday Itinerary

We know holiday to-do lists can be stressful, so we’re giving you the gift of The Nice List. A list of all the fun holiday things in Greater Des Moines that you’ll actually want to do. From holiday markets and events to Christmas pop-up bars and Santa sightings, this is the holly, jolliest list around!

Markets and Holiday Events

Christkindlmarket Des Moines
Learn about European culture in the most fun possible way…by noshing on bratwurst and candied nuts while you shop artisanal, old-world products, and stay warm with traditional mulled wine. Besides, who doesn’t love an ornate beer stein for a Christmas gift? 

Where: Principal Park, 1 Line Drive, Des Moines
When: December 2, 5 – 9 p.m., December 3 and 4, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., December 5, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.  

Winter Farmers’ Market
Just like your favorite Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market, only a few degrees cooler. Peruse old favorites and new seasonal vendors with produce, cheese, eggs, jams, and salsas, along with diverse prepared foods that are much better than that old fruitcake in the cupboard.  

Where: Historic Court Avenue District
When: November 20 and December 4, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.  

Holly & Ivy
For 25 years now, the Salisbury House has transformed into a beautiful holiday palace in December. Each room of the grand 1920s estate is adorned in creative, festive holiday décor and features two private homes decked out in their holiday best.  

Where: Salisbury House, 4025 Tonawanda Drive, Des Moines
When: December 3 and 4, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and a virtual tour December 5, 8:30 – 11:45 a.m.  

Jingle in the Junction
Few places are better to get you in the holiday mood and knock out your holiday shopping than Historic Valley Junction, particularly during their annual Jingle in the Junction jubilee. On four Thursday evenings in November and December, take a step back in time with horse-drawn trolley rides, Christmas carolers, ice carvings, and of course, Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Shops stay open late with holiday sales and mini-events.   

Where: Fifth Street in Valley Junction, West Des Moines
When: November 18, December 2, 9, and 16, 5 – 9 p.m.   

East Village Holiday Promenade
Arguably the most popular holiday gathering in the metro, the Holiday Promenade takes over the East Village for five Fridays in November and December. Kicking off on November 19 with the tree lighting at Brenton Skating Plaza and (deep breath) Santa (!!), each week has a different theme and activities, so multiple trips may be in store. From horse-drawn trolleys and wreath displays to scavenger hunts and hide and seek ornaments, this is the most epic and Des Moines way to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy some retail therapy. It’s even got its own Spotify playlist!  

Where: Historic East Village
When: Friday, November 19 – December 17, 5 – 9 p.m.  

Santa Express
This real life Polar Express in Boone was named one of the 30 Best Holiday and Christmas Trains in the U.S., and for good reason. Wear your best (or gaudiest) Christmas pajamas and take an hour-long round trip to the quaint but festive “North Pole,” singing Christmas Carols and enjoying hot chocolate and cookies along the way.  

Where: 225 10th Street, Boone
When: Santa Express trains operate on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through December 19. Tickets are $22 - $46 per person.

Holiday Shows 

New Year’s Eve Pops: The Music of Elton John
Ring in the New Year at the Des Moines Civic Center with the Des Moines Symphony and the Greatest Hits of Elton John. Sing along to “Rocket Man” and “Tiny Dancer” in what should amount to a rollicking good warmup to his appearance at Wells Fargo Arena in March.  

Where: 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA
When: December 31, 8 p.m.  

The Nutcracker
The first of two Nutcracker options, this one at Hoyt Sherman is put on by Ballet Des Moines and introduces a new cast of characters into this annual holiday tradition.  

Where: 1501 Woodland Avenue, Des Moines
When: December 10, 7 p.m., December 11, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., December 12, 2 p.m.  

The Nutcracker
Your other option for the Nutcracker is at the Des Moines Civic Center, with this one being put on by Iowa Dance Theater. It’s been a holiday staple at the Civic Center since 1997, so break out your fancy duds and prepare to be delighted by the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara, and some mischievous mice.   

Where: 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA
When: December 11, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., December 12, 2 p.m.

It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play
A new twist on an old classic, this favorite comes to life as a 1940s radio broadcast at the Stoner Theater. Five actors and a good amount of sound effects bring dozens of your favorite characters to life. Merry Christmas, Stoner Theater!  

Where: 221 Walnut Street, Des Moines
When: December 16 – 23, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.  

Disney on Ice
In what has become the annual kick-off to the holiday season, Disney on Ice returns to Wells Fargo Arena and brings all your favorites from Moana, Coco, Aladdin, Toy Story, and Frozen along for the ride. Family fun has never been this cool.  

Where: 233 Center Street, Des Moines
When: November 24 – 28 

Let There Be Lights   

Jolly Holiday Lights
This essential holiday tradition and largest light show in Iowa includes a 2.5-mile stretch featuring more than 100 different light displays. Admission starts at $20 per car if you purchase tickets online.  

Where: Adventureland, 3300 Adventureland Drive, Altoona
When: 5:30 – 10 p.m.; November 26 – January 2. Closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve.  

Santa’s Rock N Lights
Visitors to this Living History Farms light show will travel through the mystical dinosaur world and over 700 feet of tunnels, including the techno rainbow tunnel. Tune your car radio to the station synced to the show lights for an immersive, full-sensory experience!  

Where: Living History Farms, 11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale
When: Open daily (hours vary) now through January 2. Tickets start at $19.99 per vehicle and must be purchased in advance online.

Reiman Gardens Winter Wonderscape
Want to see some lights and get your steps in at the same time? Head up to Ames, where Reiman Gardens unveils “Winter Wonderscape” – a walk-through light show featuring 17 acres of immersive light displays. Walk through brightly lit tunnels, meander through fantasy lights falling like stars, view massive disco balls twirling to laser lights, enjoy a 20’ wide fountain, and a wide array of other sparkling wonders.   

Where: 1407 University Boulevard Ames, IA 50011
When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, December 2 - January 1, 5 p.m. to last ticket sold at 8 p.m. Tickets must be purchased online in advance and start at $5. 

Festival of Trees & Lights
This public event serves as a fundraiser for Blank Children’s Hospital and features beautifully decorated trees, food and entertainment, children’s activities, and more. Admission is $5 and free for children 2 and under.  

Where: Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center at IEC - 833 5th Avenue, Des Moines
When: November 26 – 28 

For a list of all the best holiday lights in Greater Des Moines, including neighborhoods, click here.

Christmas Pop Up Bars and Restaurants  

SnowGlobe DSM
Exile Brewing turns into a winter wonderland with a SnowGlobe concept, first popularized in Lawrence, Kansas. The restaurant and bar areas get a Clark Griswold makeover, with more than a mile of Christmas lights, a semi-truck full of décor, and a Instagrammable “Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animals” neon sign in the basement. Reservations recommended.  

Where: Exile Brewing, 1514 Walnut Street, Des Moines
When:  November 23 to December 31, regular hours with additional Saturday and Sunday brunch hours from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 

Miracle on Ingersoll
Head over to Dugan’s Hideaway, the hidden gem dive bar attached to The Station on Ingersoll to get your fix of holiday cheer and spirits. The TVs show a continuous loop of Christmas Vacation, and the vibe is very much “grandma’s basement, if grandma was a Christmas hoarder.” Holiday drinks are served in fun glassware (dinosaur with a Santa hat, anyone?) that will be available for purchase when they close up shop on December 26.  

Where: 3124 Ingersoll Avenue, Des Moines
Dates: November 23 to December 26, Wednesday to Friday from 5 p.m. to Midnight; Saturday to Sunday from 2 p.m. to Midnight; Christmas week hours are Monday to Friday 5 p.m. to Midnight and 2 p.m. to Midnight on Christmas Day. 

The Naughty List
The coolest new bar in town, Good News, Darling, gets decked out in its Christmas mass best. Expect classy/kitschy décor paired with some of their famous experimental cocktails that also receive a holiday makeover. Fancy cocktails infused with Cinnamon Toast Crunch? Holiday nostalgia at its most delicious. Reservations recommended on weekends.  

Where: 717 Locust Street, Des Moines (check in at Hello, Marjorie host stand)
Dates: November 17 to December 23, Wednesday to Saturday from 6 p.m. to “late.” 

Ice Ice Baby  

Brenton Skating Plaza
If you’re having trouble harnessing the holiday spirit, let us suggest an evening skate under the stars with a skyline (and giant Christmas) as the backdrop. You’ll be dreaming of a white Christmas in no time. This Des Moines bucket list activity runs from November – March and is fun for the whole family, no matter your skill (or lack thereof) level.  

Where: 520 Robert D. Ray Drive, Des Moines
When: Check site here for holiday hours and to reserve a spot. $8 for adults and $5 for children and seniors (under 5 are free). 

Johnston Town Center Ice Rink
New to the list is the brand-new Johnston Town Center Ice Rink, which is fresh enough that it hasn’t even required a Zamboni yet. The rink uses synthetic ice and is the first of its kind in the metro. And if you have your own skates, you skate for free!  

Where: Merle Hay and NW 62nd Avenue
When: Friday, 5 – 8 p.m., Saturday, 1 – 8 p.m., Sunday, 1 – 5 p.m.  

Christmas on the Big Screen  

Sure, you can quote Elf and Christmas Vacation front to back, but have you ever seen them on the big screen with a giant bucket of buttered popcorn? That’s next level.  

Flix Brewhouse – Elf, The Grinch, Gremlins, Christmas Vacation, Polar Express, It’s a Wonderful Life (various days and times)
The Palms in Waukee – Polar Express, Elf (various days and times)
Copper Creek in Pleasant Hill – Polar Express, Elf (various days and times) 

Santa Claus is Coming to Town  

Bass Pro Shops Santa Wonderland
One of the most popular FREE places to get a photo with Santa, with beautiful backdrops, this one fills up fast. They release spots a week ahead at 12:01 a.m. each night, so set that alarm to reserve a spot.  

Where: 1000 Bass Pro Drive Norhtwest, Altoona
When: November 6 – December 24

Valley West Mall
Another good free option, this one includes a fun little train for the littles as well.   

Where: 1551 Valley West Drive, West Des Moines
When: November 20 – December 24  

Blank Park Zoo
Mr. and Mrs. Claus, known animal lovers, will be at the zoo on December 11 and 18. Santa at the Zoo is free with the price of regular Zoo admission and is located inside the Holmes Foster Event Center.  

Where: 7401 SW 9th Street, Des Moines
When: December 11 and 18, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  

Jordan Creek Mall
Iowa’s largest mall has one of the most popular Santas. So popular in fact, that reservations are highly encouraged. Book a photo experience starting at $19.99.  

Where: 101 Jordan Creek Parkway, West Des Moines
When: Mall hours through December 21