This has been a tough year. But just because you’re on a tight budget, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on holiday fun. Here are a some phenomenal light shows that are free, showing you don’t have to spend a lot to create happy holiday memories.

Franklin Square

The highlight of the holiday celebration at Franklin Square, one of the five original squares included in William Penn’s brilliant design of Philadelphia, is the Electric Spectacle Holiday Light Show. This free, nightly show features more than 100,000 lights (the most ever) seemingly dancing to holiday music, some recorded by the Philadelphia POPS ®. There will be two alternating shows every half hour starting at 5 p.m. daily and running until 9 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends. With seven acres, there’s lots of run to social distance.

Adding to the festivities are two playgrounds, a snowy square stroll for little ones, individual fire pits and old fashioned carousel (not free).

New this year is Chilly Philly Mini Golf. The miniature golf course that features mini Philadelphia icons (think the Liberty Bell, Love Statue and Elfreth’s Alley) as obstacles are decorated for the holidays with lights, inflatables and holiday music. It is a uniquely-Philadelphia holiday experience (not free).

South Philadelphia: South Smedley Street & Miracle on 13th Street

Start your evening on South Smedley Street, a looped street connecting Moyamensing and Oregon, between 16th & 17th. The neighbors have been decorating the houses on the outer edge of the loop and the grassy area in the middle for more than 55 years and the display has become especially elaborate in the last 20 years with lights, inflatables and a creche. This year they’ve added a ferris wheel (for decoration, not riding). It’s so over-the-top that you’ll likely be tempted to go around the circle twice just to take it all in - once looking at the houses on the outer ring and then again taking in the display in the middle.

Next, head to Miracle on 13th Street. The houses on South 13th Street between Tasker and Morris have been going all out for the holidays for 20 years. It’s like Christmas on steroids and every year it gets bigger and better. The block is lit from 5 pm until midnight.

If you drive, be patient, if you decide to park near each block and walk, the residents request that you social distance and wear a mask.

Rittenhouse: Rittenhouse Square & Addison Street

Rittenhouse Square has a different, more romantic vibe, especially during the holidays, when it’s filled with 5,000 lights and white globes hanging from the trees. It’s nearly impossible not to smile. Even if no one can see your smile under your mask they’ll see it in your eyes. After you take in the Square, head south to the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Addison Street, between Pine and Lombard. The trees arching over the little street are draped in white lights year-round. But, it’s so charming that it’s still a don’t-miss whenever you’re nearby in the evening and especially when you’re out appreciating the holiday lights. Addison is one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.

City Hall: Dilworth Park

In just a couple of years, Winter at Dilworth Park has become a beloved holiday tradition. This outdoor activity returns in 2020 with some new social distancing protocols in place. Masks are required.

The Deck the Halls Holiday Light Show has been redesigned so it doesn't draw crowds. The remarkable illumination of the west side of City Hall will be continuous throughout the evening. Watch as City Hall is transformed into a giant pinball machine, Christmas sweater, gingerbread house and more. It runs on Fridays & Saturdays from 5 - 11 pm and until 9 pm on other days.

And don’t miss the massive Christmas tree, topped with a Liberty Bell, or the Wintergarden, an open air garden with whimsical reindeer topiaries, festive twinkling lights and a new rustic arbor and the fire pits. There's also an ice skating rink and carousel (not free).

Then head across the street to Love Park to take in Christmas Village. This charming holiday activity, which is modeled after traditional Christmas villages in Germany, is back this year with a new safety protocol.

Boathouse Row

Philadelphia’s iconic Boathouse Row will be lit in Chanukah colors thorough December 17, Christmas colors from December 19 through 25 and Kwanzaa colors from December 26 through January 1. The best place to take in the lights and snap a few pictures is from the Fairmount fish ladder off the Schuylkill River Trail just off MLK Jr. Drive.

West Chester: Griswolds Christmas

The city doesn’t have a lock on amazing Christmas displays. This display is the Plummer family’s nod to the National Lampoon movie. They say you can see the display, with lights controlled by computer, from outer space. The family has been decorating different houses for Christmas for 20 years and has been in the current location for 4 years. One highlight is the mailbox for letters to Santa.

Peddler’s Village

It’s Holiday in the Village time at this Bucks County shopping and entertainment village with one million lights and Victorian-style decorations. There’s a gingerbread competition with more than 70 gingerbread creations, re-imagined for social distancing and one-way viewing, periodic visits from Santa (socially distant), and a new outdoor walking adventure with Mrs. Claus leading a search for Shelfie the Elf (not free).

Enjoy these safe, outdoor activities that prove you don't have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the holiday lights.

Irene Levy Baker is author of the newly-published second edition of 100 Things To Do In Philadelphia and Unique Eats & Eateries of Philadelphia. For more information about the books visit Planning a staycation? Need gifts? Get signed copies of books on the website. Readers of this newspaper can use promo code NEWSPAPER for a discount.

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