'Tis the Season

Come enjoy downtown Iowa City this winter season and experience that nostalgic, warm feeling of what the holidays should be! Downtown Iowa City knows how to celebrate the festivities and no matter what level of merriment you seek, we’ve got you covered. Downtown will celebrate the holidays all month long, designed to showcase downtown Iowa City attractions, retailers, entertainment venues, and traditional holiday activities. Please read through each activity below for information on COVID-19 precautions.

This month-long celebration provides something for everyone—from the Holiday Pop-Up Market in Black Hawk Mini Park to FREE tractor wagon rides from Bass Farms sponsored by Hills Bank & Trust Company, holiday productions outdoors in Downtown, an at-home gingerbread house competition, and FREE photo-ops with Santa!  All of Downtown’s holiday activities have been changed to accommodate social distancing and limited capacities. Santa has been moved outdoors, the gingerbread house competition can be done from the comfort of your home, and the trolley rides at Hills Bank will be in an open-air tractor wagon with distanced seating and online reservations.

Tractor Wagon Rides Sponsored by Hills Bank and Trust

Saturdays Nov. 28th and Dec. 5th, 12th, & 19th.
10:00am – 4:00pm

There is no better way to take in the sights and sounds of the holiday season than a Tractor Wagon Ride around downtown. Enjoy a FREE whimsical ride in an antique tractor provided by Bass Farms.

For the safety of attendees, the wagon ride will be in an open-air carriage with limited and spaced seating (15 spots per ride). For COVID-19 precautions, we ask families to sit together and that all riders wear a mask (except 2 & under). Hand sanitizer will also be available to use. Riders should come 15 minutes prior to their time but no earlier. All waiting will be done outside.

Available times will be on a first-come-first-serve basis and are 100% free. Times can be reserved in advance. 15 riders will be allowed on each ride.  Rides will be every 15 minutes until 4:00pm. Come to the corner of Washington St & Clinton St. to check-in, wait in line, and schedule a time to ride. This way no one waits in a long line…instead you will get a ticket with the ride time.

All parties must sit together
Please practice physical distancing
Masks are required

Small Business Saturday

Saturday, November 28th

Small Business Saturday is an event that began in 2010 as a way to encourage people to shop at small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Small Business Saturday has become a national holiday campaign, and Downtown Iowa City as a regional center of locally owned businesses once again will celebrate in the importance behind shopping local.

Thanks to the City of Iowa City, all parking ramps downtown will be FREE on Saturday, November 28th.

Downtown Hunt for the Elves

November 28th – January 1st

Join us for the Downtown Hunt for the Elves, a FREE kid-friendly scavenger hunt in downtown Iowa City! Starting Saturday, November 28th, there will be elves hiding in different downtown businesses waiting to be found! Make sure to check the sign on the shop’s door to see if their elf is hiding in the front window or inside the store. Please remember to wear a mask and keep a safe distance while doing the hunt. Shops who are hiding the elf inside will have capacity limits while the shops who have the elf hidden in the front window will allow you to search from outside.

Once you have found the elves in each participating store, get a stamp on your card or write in the name of the elf on the card to show proof you found it. Most elves hiding inside will have a stamp with their name for you to use and the elves hiding in the window will have a nametag next to them so you can write their name in the blank as proof you found them. Turn in your completed cards after finding 10 of the elves to Iowa Book to receive a small prize and to be entered to win a grand prize gift basket.

See the list of participating businesses and print your card here!
Iowa Book Hours: 8 S Clinton St, Iowa City, IA 52240
Monday-Friday – 9:30-5:30
Saturday – 10:00-5:00
Sunday – 11:00-4:00

Downtown Holiday Pop-Up Market

November 16th – December 24th

There is no other place like Downtown for the holidays–
Come experience the holiday season in Downtown Iowa City and explore the Downtown Holiday Pop-Up Market, back again in the heart of the city!

Beginning November 16th, the beautiful pop-up market, sponsored by GreenState Credit Union will transform Black Hawk Mini Park into a festive holiday destination. Each week new pop-up shops will fill the spaces. For COVID-19 precautions, there will be limited capacity for each shop. Customers are required to wear a face-covering while shopping and hand sanitizer will be provided for each shop.

Here is the full calendar of shops that will be joining us for the 2020 Holiday Pop-Up Market:

*Nov. 16-19 – Om Gifts for Body & Soul
*Nov. 20-22 – Revival, Om Gifts for Body & Soul, and Volition Skate Co.
*Nov. 23-25 – Revival, Om Gifts for Body & Soul, and Volition Skate Co.
*Nov. 27-29 – Luxe Interiors, Om Gifts for Body & Soul, and Volition Skate Co.
*Nov. 30-Dec 3 – Om Gifts for Body & Soul, Black Liberation Spaces, and Gingerbread House Kits and Gift Sets from the online Downtown Iowa City Holiday Market
*Dec 4-6 – Om Gifts for Body & Soul, Black Liberation Spaces, and The Knit Hole
*Dec 7-10 – Om Gifts for Body & Soul, Black Liberation Spaces, and Riverside Theatre
*Dec 11-13 – MADE Community, Riverside Theatre, and Volition Skate Co.
*Dec 14-17 – Josh Meier Photography, Sweets & Treats, and MADE Community
*Dec 18-20 – Revival, Sweets & Treats, and MADE Community

Santa Saturdays Outside on the Ped Mall

Saturdays Nov. 28th and Dec. 5th, 12th, & 19th.
11:00am – 3:00pm

Santa is making four special trips to Downtown Iowa City to meet the area’s good girls and boys. Kids and families are invited to visit Santa in his sleigh and drop off their letters and wish lists in his mailbox from the North Pole. Santa will be outside in the Pedestrian Mall at the Weatherdance Fountain Stage from 11:00am – 3:00pm (210 S. Dubuque St.).

For the safety of visitors, Santa’s visits have been moved outdoors with a socially distanced line and photo area, so bundle up and dress warm. Additional COVID-19 precautions will require visitors and families to take their own pictures using their own cameras.

Santa’s helpers will help direct groups as they take their photo and ask everyone to please keep a safe distance and wear a face-covering. Santa will be in his sleigh with a mask and groups can stand in the photo area marked 6 feet away.

At-Home Gingerbread House Competition

November 28th – December 22nd

Join us this Holiday Season for the Annual Downtown Gingerbread House Competition! For the safety of attendees, this year’s competition will be held in the comfort of your own home. Those interested in competing will need to purchase their kit online and assemble their creative masterpiece at home. Once finished, upload photos of your gingerbread house to the online form. A link will be sent to your email address and you can select the category you’re competing in. Entries will be accepted through December 22nd, 2020 and winners will be announced after judges review the submitted houses. Winners will receive an Iowa City Downtown District Gift Card. The competition will be ticketed; tickets will be $40/gingerbread house.

How the competition works: 

  • Purchase ticket
  • Select your pick-up date or delivery *(kits are available starting November 19th)
  • Make your gingerbread house creation at home
  • Take photos and submit via a form that will be emailed to all ticket buyers
  • Winners announced on December 22nd

The rules of the competition are simple: 

  1. Only ticket buyers can submit entries
  2. All entries must be submitted before December 22nd at 3 pm via the online form
  3. Competition entries must include at least 2 photos
  4. You may use ingredients from home but everything must be 100% edible
  5. Entries will be judged in two categories: 12 & under, All-Ages based on the following: Overall appearance, difficulty, technique & skill, attention to detail, and creativity and originality. 
  6. Winners will be announced via email & social media 

Each kit includes: 

  • All the pieces to build a traditional gingerbread house from Molly’s Cupcakes & a few extras (just in case). Wall pieces are 5.25×4 inches, the front/back gable measure 4×6 inches, and roof pieces measure 4×6 inches 
  • Frosting from Molly’s Cupcakes
  • Candy from Sweets and Treats
  • Cookie Sheet base

Those interested in competing will need to purchase their kit online and assemble their creative masterpiece at home. Once finished, ticket buyers will submit their designs digitally for a chance to be named 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in their selected category.

Downtown Gingerbread House kits can be picked up or are available for free local delivery from Downtown Delivers to Iowa City, Coralville, Solon, North Liberty, and West Branch. 

Holiday Retail Open House

Saturday, December 5th
10:00am – 5:00pm

Join our downtown shops for a Holiday Retail Open House! Each participating retailer will be hosting a holiday party at their store that includes snacks, drinks, or a small gift for you at each stop. Make sure to check each individual shop to see if they are hosting the event in-person, online, or by curbside pick-up. Click here to see the invite and list of businesses participating.

Participating  Retailers:

In-Person: Active Endeavors, AKAR, Beno’s Flowers & Gifts, Catherine’s, Discerning Eye, Dulcinea, Ewers Men’s Store, Herteen & Stocker Jewelers, Luxe Interiors, Prairie Kitchen Store, Tailgate, Ten Thousand Villages, Velvet Coat, Textiles, Domby, Om Gifts for Body & Soul, Glassando, and Basic Goods

Online Only: Revival

Curbside Only: r.s.v.p. and Sweets and Treats