Things to do on a budget this winter in Phoenix & Scottsdale


Separated by around 10 miles, the Arizona cities of Phoenix and its smaller neighbour Scottsdale are a hive of activity throughout the year – with no let-up once winter rolls around.

The Parada del Sol Parade in full flow (Photo: Alan Levine via Flickr / CC0 1.0 DEED)

Any preference between Phoenix’s big city feel versus Scottsdale’s small town charm is all in the eye of the beholder, but both cities do share one common characteristic: they are bustling with great things to see and do all year round. Come winter time, and the inevitable drop in temperatures, focus turns to indoor activities and events and the impending holiday period, but venturing outdoors and discovering the region’s raw natural beauty and boundless festive spirit remains a viable option providing you wrap up warm. We’ve picked out 12 affordable ways to spend your time in the two cities over the coming months.

Parada del Sol 

For almost seven decades, the  annual Parada del Sol Historic Parade has been a major highlight on Scottsdale’s annual cultural calendar. Created to celebrate the city’s vibrant heritage and culture, the event sees more than 100 floats, bands and horse-drawn carriages parade through Old Town Scottsdale in front of packed crowds of revellers. Immediately following the parade, the Trail’s End Festival transforms the district into a giant (and completely free) Western-style block party featuring live stage entertainment, rides, food trucks, arts and crafts booths, and more.

Old Town Scottsdale / 4 February 2024

Phoenix Art Museum

An exhibition space at the Phoenix Art Museum (Photo: bobistraveling via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

The largest art museum in the southwestern United States, the Phoenix Art Museum makes for an ideal indoor attraction for when one of the city’s winter cold snaps hits. Opened in 1959, the museum is home to a vast collection of more than 20,000 exhibits of international art, photography, and fashion design hailing from the distant past to the current day. The museum’s permanent collections are free to explore, although entry to some special exhibitions requires a paid ticket.

1625 North Central Avenue, Phoenix / Thurs-Sun 10am-5pm Weds 10am-9pm Closed Mon-Tues

CitySkate Ice Rink

Urban outdoor ice rinks are a time-honoured winter tradition in cities across the world. Located at Patriot’s Park in the centre of the bustling CityScape mixed-use development, the aptly named CityScate ice rink returns once again this year with a four-week run – or should that be slide. Open to beginners and seasoned skaters alike, the rink will be bedecked in twinkling holiday lights and festive décor for visitors to enjoy as they glide elegantly (or not so elegantly) around the freshly-laid ice. Admission is $18 for adults and $13 for children aged 8 and under.

1 East Washington St #300, Phoenix / 28 November 2023 – 1 January 2024

Celebration of Fine Art

Visitors browse artworks at the Celebration of Fine Art (Photo: Celebration of Fine Art)

Arizona’s longest-running art show will once again see more than 100 acclaimed and emerging artists from around the country showcase their work for 10 weeks in the New Year. Recognisable by its signature white tents, the event takes place at the eponymous Scottsdale gallery where art ranging from realist to impressionistic, Western realism, and abstract to contemporary across all mediums from stone to metal, wood to glass, and canvas will be on display. Visitors can also catch artist demonstrations, explore the outdoor sculpture garden, and attend the ever-popular Art Discovery Series, a live and interactive event in which artists discuss the adventures, stories and processes that shape their art. Tickets are $10 for adults and children under 12 go free.

Celebration of Fine Art, Scottsdale / 14 January-24 March 2024 

South Mountain Park

While too hot to visit during summer, South Mountain Park remains popular through the rest of the year – including winter. Spanning over 16,000 acres, it is one of the world’s largest urban parks, with huge numbers of hikers, bikers and  horseback riders flocking here on Sundays to enjoy the engine-free roadways which are reserved entirely for non-motorised activities. Many visitors also head to Dobbins Lookout, the park’s highest accessible point at 2,330 feet. At the top, there’s a stone ramada with shaded seating and an observation platform offering panoramic views of downtown Phoenix and the surrounding mountains.

10919 South Central Avenue, Phoenix

 Arizona Capitol Museum

(Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Another free-to-enter cultural venue that offers respite from those biting winter days, the Arizona Capitol Museum is jam-packed full of fascinating exhibits that tell the story of the state’s long and colourful history. Housed within a unique architectural building featuring an eye-catching copper dome, the museum contains items and displays spanning everything from Arizona’s state symbols, historical figures and natural history to relics from the sunken battleship the USS Arizona.

1700 West Washington Street, Phoenix / Mon-Fri 9am-4pm

Scottsdazzle Holiday Extravaganza

Let the over-indulgence begin in earnest at this month-long holiday extravaganza featuring the best in dining and shopping that Scottsdale has to offer, together with a wide range of activities and events. Proceedings kick off with the signature sing-along and tree-lighting ceremony, paving the way for a whole host of immersive entertainment including live nativity plays, puzzle rides, a farmer’s market, charcuterie classes, an art walk, painting parties, scavenger hunts, Christmas cocktails, and more.

Venues across Scottsdale / 25 November-31 December 2023

Enjoy holiday lights at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park

A dazzling light display at the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park (Photo: McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park)

Situated in the heart of Scottsdale, the McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is a truly unique attraction at any time of year, but really comes into its own during winter time. As the festive season approaches, the 30-acre park sets up thousands of lights that line the venue’s railroad tracks and serve up a captivating mobile light show. Meanwhile, an influx of faux snow gives locals a rare chance of experiencing a white Christmas and the miniature Paradise Pacific Railroad provides kids with a fun-packed tour of a recreated version of the North Pole. General admission is $15 per person, including train and carousel rides.

7301 E Indian Bend Road, Scottsdale / 24 November 2023 – 7 January 2024

Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

If getting in shape is one of your New Year resolutions then what better motivation than the challenge of competing in a full-length marathon? The Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon has been a keenly-contested annual fixture for more than 20 years, with the scenic tri-city course taking runners through Tempe, Scottsdale, and Phoenix. Along the way, a roster of live bands, DJs and other entertainment provide all the encouragement you need to reach the hallowed finish line at Tempe Beach Park.

Route passes through Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix. / 13-14 January 2024

Nutcracker Ballet by Ballet Arizona

A headline show at the theatre isn’t usually the cheapest activity, but with tickets starting at $39 we feel justified in including the Nutcracker Ballet in our list of affordable events to enjoy in Phoenix this winter. Staged by the acclaimed Ballet Arizona and running for over two full weeks this December, the show will see the famous Sugar Plum Fairies dance into viewers’ dreams with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. The legendary Christmastime ballet is accompanied by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall.

Ballet Arizona, Phoenix / 8-24 December 2023