Winter Break Guide: 16 ways for families to stay busy

Winter break has started for some kids. It’s about to start for many more.

And, let’s face it, once those Hatchimals are hatched, the cookies are eaten and the four walls of your house start getting very small, there will be a point when it’s time to get out of the house.

If you’re looking for ways to entertain the kids – out-of-town guests – here are 16 ideas to keep everybody busy.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in Raleigh through Saturday, Dec. 24. Tickets start at $20. This show is incredibly faithful to the TV classic and is perfect for young children – grade schoolers and under.

Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker also runs through Saturday, Dec. 24, at the Duke Energy Center. This is a beautiful production that includes illusions designed by a world renowned magician in the first act. Mesmerizing. Tickets start around $20. And we have a ticket deal for select performances!

Carolina Ballet, The Nutcracker

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is at the Durham Performing Arts Center from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1. Tickets start at $35. This lush production features an incredible orchestra, jaw-dropping transformations and all the moments you love, according to the show’s description. (Shhh … my kids will be getting tickets to this for Christmas courtesy of their grandpa! Can’t wait!).


Rolling Sculpture, an exhibit of Art Deco cars at the N.C. Museum of Art, makes for a perfect outing for a car enthusiast of any age in your family. It runs through Jan. 15. Tickets are $19 for adults; $16 for seniors, military and college students with current ID; and $13 for kids ages 7 to 18. Kids 6 and under are free.

1936 Stout Scarab

Secret World Inside You is the special exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh. The exhibit tells the story of microbes – from the battles they wage in our bodies to the new research that’s helping us understand how critical they are to our lives. There are lots of interactives here, but I would recommend it for grade schoolers and up. Tickets are $10 and $7 for kids ages 3 to 12.

The Secret World Inside You opens Oct. 22 at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences

Discover Your Governors is a quick and free exhibit in the lobby of the N.C. Museum of History in downtown Raleigh. Designed for kids, it explores the history of our state’s governors.

Discover Your Governors exhibit at N.C. Museum of History

Ice skate on downtown Raleigh’s outdoor rink, which is in City Plaza along Fayetteville Street. It’s open throughout winter break, including Christmas day. Admission, including skate rental, is $10 per person. For kids ages four and under, it’s $5.

First Night Raleigh, Dec. 31, 2013

SnickerDoodles, the new space that offers free play for little ones in north Raleigh, has been hopping with all kinds of activities since it opened this fall. This spot is fantastic for preschoolers and under. Play is free, but there also are snacks, art projects and books for purchase.


When those four walls of your house are getting a little small, the best way to expend all of that energy is to get the kids outside and run. Take the time off, weather permitting, to explore some new playgrounds in the area including Raleigh’s massive Sassafras All Children’s Playground or other great ones that are worth a drive.

Sassafras All Children's Playground opens

The Chinese Lantern Festival at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary is open through Jan. 15 and is a beautiful and unique holiday activity. Tickets are $10 for kids ages 3 to 17; $15 for ages 18 and up; and free for kids 2 and under. Parking is free.

Chinese Lantern Festival

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill has its extended winter hours throughout winter break with weekday shows and more. They include the popular Magic Tree House Space Mission and Carolina Skies, along with the seasonally appropriate, The Longest Night: A Winter’s Tale. Morehead also is planning its Night Lights: A Family New Year’s Eve event on Dec. 31.

The Longest Night: A Winter's Tale

Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh, the Museum of Life and Science in Durham and Kidzu Children’s Museum all are fun to explore and worth a drive if you haven’t visited any of these before. Remember, admission to Marbles is just $2 on Thursdays after 3 p.m. It stays open until 7 p.m. Marbles and Kidzu both are closed Dec. 24 and Dec. 25. The Museum of Life and Science is closed starting at 3 p.m., Dec. 24, and all day, Dec. 25.

Scaling the rock wall at Kidzu Children's Museum

Christmas lights are sparkling across the region. Some major displays remain open through New Year’s Eve. And, it’s always fun to drive around neighborhoods looking for great light displays.

Hill Ridge Farms' Festival of Lights

First Day hikes at parks across the state offer a chance to start 2017 in a more healthful way then perhaps we ended 2016.

Winter at N.C. State Parks

First Night Raleigh takes over downtown Raleigh on Dec. 31 with activities, starting with a DIY Festival at 2 p.m. and wrapping up with fireworks at midnight (and 7 p.m. for us early birds). There are lots of activities for kids, including a Ferris wheel. Tickets purchased in advance are $10.

First Night Raleigh: 2016

And, if you’ve filled your house with Christmas presents and goodies, maybe it’s time to clean things out to donate to those who need the things you’re not using anymore. We list five places for families to give back now and into 2017.

Have a wonderful winter break!

A special thank you to our friends at WRAL for helping out with this post.