7 Winter Activities in Philadelphia to Combat S.A.D.

Winter Activities in Philadelphia

Ever experienced that winter slump when the cozy vibes turn a bit too heavy, and your usual enthusiasm takes a nosedive? If you have, you’re likely familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Those mood swings, sleep disruptions, and the sudden urge to hibernate make things as simple as grocery shopping TOUGH (at least for me because I HATE the cold). 

But hey, we’re not here to dwell on the gloom; we’re here to shake things up. It turns out that pushing past the fear of the cold and going on some outdoor adventures works wonders for the symptoms of SAD. In this guide, we’re embarking on a mission to tackle SAD, Philly-style! So, get ready for a chat about why winter sometimes brings us down, how stepping outside can be a game-changer, and, most importantly, some fantastic winter activities in Philadelphia to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):

Common Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are a lot like a major depressive disorder but manifest with a distinctive seasonal rhythm. When SAD strikes, you might find yourself stuck in a slump, dealing with mood swings, messed-up sleep schedules, and appetite changes.

So what makes SAD different? Well, these symptoms hit hardest when fall and winter roll in, and interestingly, they tend to ease up as the days get longer in spring.  Recognizing these unique patterns is essential for distinguishing SAD from regular depression and figuring out the right game plan for tackling it. The most common symptoms of SAD are:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or low mood
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including oversleeping
  • Fluctuations in appetite and weight
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Fatigue and low energy levels
  • Difficulty concentrating

Common Causes and Risk Factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder

One of the biggest contributing factors to SAD is the reduced exposure to sunlight during fall and winter. As the days get shorter, our internal clock and neurotransmitter levels get thrown off balance, causing disruptions in our circadian rhythms.

Beyond this, certain factors elevate the risk of developing SAD. A family history of SAD or major depressive disorder increases susceptibility, emphasizing the role of genetics. Geographical location also plays a role, with higher latitudes experiencing more pronounced reductions in sunlight during the winter months. Some major causes of seasonal affective disorder are:

  • Reduced sunlight exposure during fall and winter
  • Disruptions in circadian rhythms and melatonin production
  • Genetic predisposition, with a family history of SAD or major depressive disorder
  • Living in regions with limited sunlight during the winter months

How Does Sunlight Impact Our Mental Health

Ever notice how a sunlit day seems to lift your spirits, casting a warm glow on everything it touches? Turns out, it’s not just a fleeting mood boost; sunlight has a profound impact on our mental well-being.

Unlocking Your Internal Clock

Syncing with Nature: Natural light acts as the conductor of our circadian rhythms, the internal clock governing our sleep-wake cycle.

A Consistent Tempo: By regulating these rhythms, sunlight helps establish a steady pattern, promoting better sleep and overall mental balance.

Melatonin and Serotonin Harmony

Setting the Sleep Stage: Sunlight plays a crucial role in melatonin production, promoting better sleep quality.

Sunshine Serenade: Elevated serotonin levels, our feel-good neurotransmitter, are a delightful side effect of exposure to sunlight.

7 Winter Activities in Philadelphia to Combat S.A.D.

Winter Activities in Philadelphia Philly

1. Winter Picnic at Fairmount Park

I know what you’re thinking, “A picnic in winter? No thanks….”. I totally get where you’re coming from but winter picnics are SUPER underrated. First things first, it’s way more private because most people are scared of the cold (fair). Trust me when I tell you, you’ll forget about the cold when you see how nice the park looks when it’s covered in snow.

Whether you’re hanging out by the Schuylkill River or finding a cozy nook under the trees, the park is like a canvas for a cool outdoor dining vibe. Pack your go-to comfort foods, fill up those thermoses with hot drinks, and grab some snug blankets to set up a super cozy picnic spot. My “go-to” here would be some chicken noodle soup with a side of hot chocolate!

2. Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest

The Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest is on my winter “to-do” list every year. It’s not just your typical ice-skating venture; it’s a full-blown winter wonderland experience. The outdoor NHL-size ice rink itself is a showstopper, offering breathtaking views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Philadelphia skyline – talk about skating with a view!

But that’s not all – step into the Winter Garden, adorned with a holiday tree, twinkling lights, and festive decorations that’ll get you in the spirit. Feeling a bit chilly? No worries! Cute, decorated cabins are scattered around, serving as cozy retreats to savor seasonal snacks, hot cocoa, and yes, even cocktails. And for some added charm, The Lodge, decked out in rustic vibes, hosts entertainment and live music, turning up the merriment level a notch. You can find out more here!

3. Sledding (Burholme Park or Art Museum)

Just because we’re older doesn’t mean we can’t do fun things like sledding. Sledding is fun. Go sledding.

Now that we got that out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about where you can do it in Philly. Burholme Park, located in Fox Chase (northeast Philly), is an awesome place to go sledding. There’s a couple different hills to choose from but just a heads up, it can get pretty crowded on days right after it snows. 

When it comes to sledding with a view, the Art Museum area obviously steals the show. The iconic Philadelphia skyline provides a breathtaking backdrop to your winter escapades. It’s not just about the rush; it’s about elevating your sledding experience against this stunning urban landscape.

4. Dilworth Park

Dilworth Park, nestled in the heart of Philadelphia, undergoes a magical transformation during the winter months, offering a bunch of activities. At the center of the seasonal spectacle is the Rothman Orthopaedics Ice Rink, inviting skaters to glide gracefully against the backdrop of City Hall. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced skater, the open-air rink caters to all skill levels. 

The Wintergarden at Dilworth Park also features a maze of manicured hedges and dazzling lights, creating a festive atmosphere for visitors to explore. The accompanying Wintergarden Cabin provides a cozy retreat, offering seasonal snacks, hot beverages, and a chance to warm up between exhilarating skating sessions.  Click here for more information!

5. Franklin Square

Franklin Square is another solid choice when it comes to winter wonderland type vibes. For starters, there’s the Electrical Spectacle Light Show which is cool and totally free. You can follow that up with some cocktails from Ben On The Rocks (heated tent so you can warm up). 

If you’re going for a more family friendly vibe, Franklin Square gives you some options. There’s a holiday-themed mini-golf course and plenty of space for a nice walk. You can even try your hand at becoming one of those olympic curlers (there’s a pretty awesome street curling section here). 


If you live in Philly and you’ve never been to an Eagles game…be warned. It can get VERY rowdy. But they are a TON of fun! The Eagles have been pretty great the past couple of years so we are SUPER into the games (Go Birds). 

Sometimes football stadiums are inside but lucky for us (when it comes to battling S.A.D.), Lincoln Financial Field is open to the sun. The atmosphere is incredible and the chilly winter air adds an extra layer of excitement.

Whether you’re tailgating beforehand or just going into the game, I would definitely add this to your winter “to-do” list. Bonus points if you go with a bunch of friends!

7. Wissahickon

Last but not least, ole’ reliable (everyone has heard this recommendation once or twice). But here’s the thing, there’s a reason everyone in Philly recommends Wissahickon to newcomers. 

The trails are well-maintained, creating a scenic backdrop for a chill hike or a relaxed winter stroll. And the snow-covered landscape adds this extra touch of tranquility.

Whether you’re vibing with the quiet snowy trails or chilling with other winter hikers, Wissahickon is like a therapeutic escape. It’s your chance to ditch the city chaos, reconnect with nature, and find some peace, especially for those dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.