If you are looking for things to do during Christmas in Pittsburgh, you have many great spots to choose from. However, one of my favorites is the Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh near the University of Pittsburgh (their holiday decorations at the Cathedral of Learning are also worth seeing). The show is officially known as Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show and Light Garden and has a different theme each year.
Phipps Conservatory was first opened in 1893 and was a gift to the city by Carnegie Steel co-founder Henry Phipps, Jr. Since that time, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been wowing visitors with some of the world’s most interesting and unique plants and flower shows.
Having previously been to Phipps during the summer months, I was excited to be invited back to explore it during the holiday season for the first time in December 2019.
I had a chance to visit on a weekday morning, which was a perfect time to enjoy the show without a crowd. The downside of visiting during the day, of course, was that I didn’t get to fully experience the lights, but more on that later.
Each room inside Phipps Conservatory is decorated during the Winter Flower Show. However, some definitely have more decorations than others, especially when the lights aren’t as visible during the day.
The first room you see on any visit to Phipps is the Palm Court. This room introduces the theme for each show (for the 2019 Winter Flower Show it was the Festival of Trees) with some unique displays that surround the permanent plantings within the garden. This first view of the gardens is always a popular spot for photos.
From there, tours head into the side rooms of the conservatory. While the route you are directed to follow can vary year to year and season to season, I headed to the left upon entering which took me into the Sunken Garden next.
Here, the highlight had to be the “trees” made of poinsettias that towered about 10 feet into the air. These really created a striking scene throughout this garden, and I loved the many unique colors of poinsettias that they used.
The next three rooms in the conservatory were my personal favorites during the Christmas show at Phipps.
Inside the Victoria Room, Christmas trees were set up in the middle of the small pond and created some amazing reflections that were really quite striking to view.
Just off of that room, there are two rooms that you can only view from a platform at the front of the room. This allows these rooms to have more intricate displays that can be viewed from a central spot.
One of these, the Broderie Room, was probably my favorite at Phipps during the Winter Flower Show. Here, poinsettias filled the whimsical space and really were quite beautiful.
Another highlight of Phipps at Christmas is their Garden Railroad. While the railroad actually stays up for several months outside of the holiday season, it’s still a highlight for many this time of year. This large display features multiple trains running through two different displays and is sure to delight train lovers of all ages.
The Gallary Room adjacent to the Garden Railroad is where you can meet Santa Claus, and there is a great set up here for those wanting to spend some time with Kris Kringle. However, it’s worth noting that he is only present on select days and times. However, if you are able to visit when he’s there, visits with Santa are included in the price of your ticket to Phipps.
When to Visit Phipps for the Winter Flower Show
Visiting during the daytime is very nice, but there’s no question that nighttime visits are the most popular. While I visited the interior of the conservatory during the day, I swung by the evening before to get a glimpse from the outside of what it looked like.
Inside there conservatory, there are 65,000 LED lights and over 150 candles that shine throughout the space and really create a different feel to the gardens than you’ll get during the day.
Having seen photos of the displays in the evening, they are no doubt magical. However, even with timed tickets being sold, there are still a lot of people and you will have to enjoy the display with many others.
In addition to the interior spaces, the exterior of Phipps Conservatory is also lit up during the Winter Light Show.
Known as the Winter Light Garden, this space is closed during the day and features tens of thousands of lights over a 60,000-square-foot area. Walking paths take visitors past many fantastic displays that are sure to put you in a festive mood.
So when should you visit?
Daytime visits to Phipps offer the chance to enjoy the gardens and displays in a more peaceful setting and is perfect for those that don’t like crowds or really want to soak in the experience.
On the other hand, evening visits give you the full majesty of the Christmas lights at Phipps and allow you to be able to explore the entire space.
Ideally, try to visit on a weekday and get timed tickets for around 4pm. This will allow you to walk through the conservatory without quite as large a crowd, and then head into the outdoor gardens right when they open at 5pm. Then, you can circle back through the interior spaces after dark to see them in a totally different way.
Ultimately, no matter when you visit, the Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory is a fantastic place to enjoy the holiday season in Pittsburgh. Whether you’ve been to Phipps in the past or this is your first visit, the gardens are well-worth seeing during the wintertime.
In 2019, the Winter Light Show at Phipps is open from 9:30am to 11pm from November 29 through January 12, 2020. The Winter Light Garden opens at 5pm each day. Note that Phipps closes at 5pm on Christmas Eve and is closed on Christmas day.
More information and ticket information can be found on Phipps’ website.
Note: My visit to the Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Looking for more holiday attractions to visit nearby? Check out Kraynak’s Christmas display and Daffin’s Chocolate Kingdom. You can also drive across the state to see the holiday lights at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia.