Metro-East News

Ready for winter break? Here’s a list of 50 free, fun things to do with your family

Enjoying the snow day in Belleville

Sledding and snowman building was the main attraction at East End park in Belleville Thursday, after 3-5 inches of snow fell in Southern Illinois.
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Sledding and snowman building was the main attraction at East End park in Belleville Thursday, after 3-5 inches of snow fell in Southern Illinois.

Looking for a frugal way to cure your family’s cabin fever? Start here and let the holiday fun begin.

From holiday free movies and winter festivals to parks with great sledding hills, check out this list of free things to do in the metro-east and St. Louis.

Free holiday light displays

Way of Lights. The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, 442 S. Demazenod Drive, Belleville,, 618-397-6700. Features a free drive-through light display. The outdoor light display remains open through Jan. 1, but other activities are closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Free; donations accepted.

Lebanon’s Winter Wonderland. Horner Park, 11109 Widicus Road, Lebanon, Features a drive-through light display set to music broadcast on 90.5 FM. The display is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 31.

Brewery Lights. Anheuser Busch-Brewery, 1200 Lynch St, St. Louis,, 314-577-2626. Open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m daily through Dec. 30. Walking tours are not available on Christmas Eve, Christmas or New Year’s Eve.

Tail lights streak through one of the first displays at the The Way of Lights. The display opens Friday and continues nightly from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. through Jan. 1. The 1.5-mile drive through scriptural Journey to Bethlehem features over one million lights, electro-art displays, and life-size biblical statues. Derik Holtmann

Indoor tours, museums and more

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company Tour. 5025 Pattison Ave., St. Louis,, 314-338-3501. Free tours are offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every half hour Monday through Friday. Tours are also available 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Pro tip: Call ahead for reservations. The best part of this tour? Free samples!

Excel Bottling Plant Tour, 488 S. Broadway, Breese,, 618-526-7159. The soda plant offers free tours to the public. Call ahead if you plan to go. The soda factory offers tours by appointment on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. The plant is open every day from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except for Wednesdays and Sundays.

Old Courthouse. 11 N. 4th St., St. Louis,, 314-655-1600. The courthouse is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily during the winter season. Check out a holiday performance from noon to 1 p.m. Dec 12: Mehlville High School Choir Select Ensemble.

Missouri History Museum. 5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis,, 314-746-4599. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and open late every Tuesday night until 8 p.m.

Magic House. 516 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis,, 314-822-8900. This attraction is free from 5:30-9 p.m. every third Friday of the month.

Cahokia Mounds. 30 Ramey St. Collinsville,, 618-346-5160. Interpretive Center open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check out the Winter Solstice Sunrise Observance at 7 a.m. Dec. 23.

Gateway Arch National Park Museum. or call 877-982-1410. Check out the new interactive museum this winter from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Dr, St. Louis,, 314-721-0072. Check out the museum’s winter celebration Dec. 8 and 9. The museum is closed on Mondays. The museum is open from 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p. m. Friday.

St. Louis Science Center. 5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis,, (314)-289-4400. The science center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Visit your local library on a cold day. Libraries across the region offer fun activities for children and adults throughout the winter season. Check out a book, then cozy up next to your fire at home after a day of reading, games and holiday fun.

Monk’s Mound is the largest mound at the Cahokia Native American site and is the largest man-made earthen mound in the North American continent. The mound stands about a 100 feet tall and has a base measure of 955 feet at its widest. Julian Lim For the News-Democrat

Parks with sledding hills

Art Hill. Forest Park. 35-43 Fine Arts Dr., St. Louis., 314 367-7275.

East End City Park. 501 Forest Ave., Bellleville,, 618-233-1416.

Pleasant Ridge. 401 Pleasant Ridge Rd., O’Fallon,, 618-489-2040.

Miner Park. 192 S Main St., Glen Carbon,, 618-288-1200.

Thoman Park. 1021 Nancy Dr., O’Fallon,, 618-624-0139.

Suson Park. 6073 Wells Rd., St. Louis,, 314-615-5000.

Sioux Park. 17930 Old Jamestown Rd., St. Louis,, 314-615-4386.

Deer Creek Park. 3200 N. Laclede Station Rd., Webster Groves,, 314 645-3600.

The only month-long holiday market in the St. Louis region, the Christkindlmarkt, will open at 10 a.m. Friday and will operate daily until Dec. 23. The German market is expected to draw a record crowd to downtown Belleville.

Belleville’s Christkindlmarkt

This winter market features plenty of free holiday fun and it’s the largest of its kind in the St. Louis region. The authentic German-style, open-air Christmas market features international vendors, local artists, German food and drinks. It runs daily through Dec. 23.

Free carriage/trolley rides. Take a vintage ride down Main Street on a horse-drawn carriage from 5 p.m. on 9 p.m. on Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. through Dec. 23.

Free holiday movies. Starting at dusk grab a blanket and check out a free holiday movie outside of Santa’s house in Downtown Belleville through Dec. 23.

Check out the live reindeer exhibit for free: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 10 1 p.m. Dec. 16 and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 21.

Don’t forget to check out the gingerbread houses on display in storefront windows along Main Street in Belleville. Gingerbread cookie day set for Dec. 8 in downtown Belleville.

For more information about The Belleville Christkindlmarkt, send an email to

112715DH santa wave
Santa waves to workers and shoppers at the Christkindlmarkt on Belleville’s Public Square. Derik Holtmann

Free December events

Free photos with Santa daily at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s in St. Louis. Daily through Dec. 24. Bass Pro Shops – St. Charles 1365 S. 5th St., St. Charles and Cabela’s – Hazelwood 5555 St. Louis Mills Blvd. Suite 167, Hazelwood. Weekdays: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Santa), 5 – 7 p.m. (Free Crafts) Saturdays: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. (Santa), 12 – 5 p.m. (Free Crafts) Sundays: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Santa), 12 – 5 p.m. (Free Crafts).

Breakfast with Santa — 7 to 11 a.m. Dec. 8. O’Fallon Masonic Lodge, 122 E. State St., O’Fallon. Children and adults alike will receive free pictures with Santa.

Metro East Model Railroad Club Open House — 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 8. Old Glen Carbon Fire House/Village Hall, 180 Summit St., Glen Carbon. Watch the trains running on the club’s 18- by 27-foot HO scale model railroad. Free admission. Tinsel

Gateway Garden Railroad Club Display — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Ded 8. Oliver C. Joseph, 3795 IL-15, Belleville. Featuring the world’s smallest train layouts: Fright Fest, Wild West, Logging Railroad. Actual steam engine running on display.

Yanda Log Cabin — 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 9, 148 Main St., Glen Carbon. See Santa and Mrs. Claus for the Cabin Christmas Celebration. Music and refreshments, photos. Please bring a non-perishable food item for the Glen-Ed Food Pantry.

Bethalto Spirit Concert & Christmas Walk — 4 to 7 p.m. Dec. 9. Village of Bethalto, 213 N. Prairie St., Bethalto. Enjoy a return to a quieter time at the Bethalto Spirit Choir & Orchestra Concert immediately followed by the Victorian Christmas Walk. Stroll through the downtown area, view the storefront decorations, children’s craft areas, snacks, costumed characters, Father Christmas and more. Free admission. 618-377-8051.

Belleville Historic Luminary Walk — 5-9 p.m. Dec. 8, During this holiday event, the streets of downtown Belleville are lined with candle-filled luminaries. Enjoy a festive walk around Abend and Garfield streets while you tour the Koerner House, Garfield Street Saloon and Emma Kunz House museums. For more information, call 618-234-0600.

Carols by Candlelight. —7 p.m. Dec. 8, Union United Methodist Church, 721 E. Main St., Belleville. Join the SWIC choirs and their conductor, Andy Jensen for an evening of historic and modern carols performed in a candlelit setting. For more information, call 618- 233-6375.

Music Ministry Christmas Concert — 7 p.m. Dec. 15, 115 West B St., Belleville.Take a break from holiday stress and enjoy an afternoon of lovely Christmas music. Free will offering. Call 618-233-3303 for more information.

Central West End Window Walk. — 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Central West End Dec. 8, 15 and 22. Central West End’s annual Window Walk, a month-long celebration highlighting holiday happenings in the Central West End. Visitors are invited to stroll through the district and admire the elegantly decorated windows of the area’s shops and restaurants. For more information visit

121115DH garfield st
A crowd walks Garfield Street in Historic Belleville. The Old Belleville Historical Luminary Walk welcomed the public to Abend and Garfield Streets in historic Belleville in December 2015. Visitors enjoyed house tours, refreshments and entertainment at the Garfield Saloon, strolling carolers, and over 1000 luminaries. Derik Holtmann

Worth the Drive

Annual Snowflake Festival — 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7. Robert E. Glazebrook Community Park, 1401 Stamper Lane, Godfrey. Visit the park, lit up with twinkling lights to celebrate the holiday season. Includes carolers, hot cocoa and pictures with Santa. Free and open to the public. 618-466-1483.

18th Century Regency Dance Program presented by Dance Discovery — 1:30 p.m. Dec. 8. Monroe County History Museum, 724 Elaine Drive, Waterloo. Program includes demonstrations of several historic dances of the Regency period by dancers in period dress. 618-939-5008 or

A Carlinville Christmas —Dec. 7 -8, Carlinville Downtown Square,, 217-854-2141. Holiday fun for the whole family can be found on the historic Carlinville Downtown Square. Families will enjoy the festivities, including: arts and crafts for kids, ice sculptures, free sleigh rides, free fire engine rides, street performers, carolers, a free movie on Saturday night, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and thousands of lights lining the buildings and rooftops.

Save the date

Ringing of the Bells —Noon Jan. 1, Downtown Belleville’s Public Square. This Belleville tradition began in 1914 and was revived in 2014. Everyone is invited to the Belleville Public Square to ring in the new year. Bring your dinner bells, cow bells and jingle bells.

Ice Carnival —Jan. 19-20, Delmar Loop, This carnival features cool things to do for the entire family. Check out the ice carvings, games and activities at the carnival.

Bell ringing file
People gathered on the northeast quadrant of Public Square at noon on New Year’s Day to ring in 2015 using a variety of bells of all sizes and sounds. Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert (center) lead the bell-ringers for two minutes of ringing. BND file photo

Looking for a free holiday snacks and meals for the kids?

Why pay for a tiny bowl of mac ‘n cheese if you don’t have to? Here’s a few places where kids eat free. Tuesday is the best night.

Syberg’s, 1310 Central Park Drive, O’Fallon, 618-622-0801. Children eat free from 5-8 p.m. on Tuesdays. The restaurant brings in a balloon artist on family fun night.

Olive Street Cafe, 12710 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, 314-485-8710. Open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast, brunch and lunch, this restaurant is a 15-minute drive from the Magic House. Kids eat free every day.

Pizza World, 1535 Johnson Road, Granite City, 618-451-1111. Children eat free at the buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays.

Schnucks, all locations. One free cookie for children 10 and younger. That’s a sweet deal.

O’Charley’s, 1313 Central Park Drive, O’Fallon, 618-622-0405. Kids younger than 10 eat free with purchase of an adult entree.

Farmer’s Market, 500 N. Illinois St, Belleville, 618-235-2445. Play the “spin the banana” game to win a free piece of fruit. A purchase from the market is required to play the game.

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, 6569 N. Illinois St., Fairview Heights, 618-230-7000. Kids can pick up a free item at the fruit stand for children in the market. The market also has carts for little shoppers as well.

Firehouse Subs, 5909 N. Illinois St., Fairview Heights, 618-234-3400. Kids eat free all day with the purchase of a sub. Dine-in only. This deal is only available on Tuesday nights.

Ikea St. Louis, 1 Ikea Way, St. Louis, 888-888-4532. Get up to two kid’s meals for children younger than 12 with purchase of one adult entree. This deal is only available on Tuesday nights.

Denny’s, all area locations. Children eat free from 4 to 10 p.m. Call ahead to make sure the Denny’s location in your neighborhood offers this deal. This deal is only available on Tuesday nights.

Applebee’s, participating locations. Children eat free after 3 p.m. Call ahead before you go to make sure your neighborhood bar and grill offers this deal. This deal is only available on Tuesday nights.

Chili’s, 6311 N. Illinois St, Fairview Heights, 618-398-9805. From open to close, kids eat free with purchase of adult entree. This deal is only available on Tuesday nights.

Ruby Tuesday, 6565 N. Illinois St, Fairview Heights, 618-394-3561. Kids younger than 10 eat free after 5 p.m. with purchase of adult entree. This deal is only available on Tuesday nights.

Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Fairview Heights News-Democrat

BND staff writer Mary Cooley contributed to this report.
Cara Anthony covers restaurants and retail for the Belleville News-Democrat, where she works to answer readers’ questions about restaurant openings, business closures and the best new dishes in the metro-east. She attended Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville and grew up in East St. Louis.
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