From light shows to ice skating and Christmas concerts, Boston has laid on the festive fun to carry you through the month in style, culminating in a spectacular New Year’s Eve festival

Common wisdom claims that winter in Boston can be unpleasant, but the secret is that nothing can be further from the truth. Sure, it’s cold outside, but locals and savvy travellers know that December can be one of the most magical times of year to visit the city – a time when holiday celebrations are in full swing, tourist crowds are at a minimum, and fun indoor diversions are plentiful.

Ice skating on Frog Pond, Boston Common

Ice skating on Frog Pond, Boston Common

No winter visit to Boston is complete without a few hours of ice skating on Frog Pond. Nestled right on Boston Common, the pond offers the quintessential Boston experience of skating against the backdrop of the much-loved park and city skyline – mingling with gleeful locals as well as tourists. Skate rentals are available on site, and newbies can sign up for private or shared skating lessons with The Skating Club of Boston.

The Frost Ice Bar at Faneuil Hall may not offer a respite from the cold, but it certainly creates a memorable night out. New England’s only permanent ice bar maintains a brisk temperature of 21 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.1 Celsius), and is a whole-body sensory experience. Blocks of ice make up the bar, the decor, the seating and the glasses; patrons receive insulated capes and gloves with the entry ticket. (On-site boot rentals are available, although visitors to Boston in winter probably wouldn’t be wearing open-toed shoes!) Note that all entry to the Ice Bar is by timed ticket; it’s recommended that guests show up 15 minutes in advance of their ticketed entry time, although walk-ups are typically accommodated.

An ice sculpture for Boston's New Year's Eve festival, First Night

An ice sculpture for Boston's New Year's Eve festival, First Night

At Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the popular Blink! light and sound spectacular is returning for its third annual showing and will be on display all month-long. More than 350,000 LED lights – synchronised to holiday music – ‘dance’ in a seven-minute show, on a continuous loop every evening, across Faneuil Hall and its Christmas tree.

If the winter chill gets too much, you can always escape to the courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where the solarium-style atrium offers a lush garden retreat even on the coldest of days. Come for the blooms and greenery, stay for the priceless works of art and gorgeous setting, and take in the latest exhibition, Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptors’ Drawings from Renaissance Italy, featuring works from these important artists, on until 19 January 2015.

The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Bostonians are spoiled with great live music year-round, but in December there’s an embarrassment of riches. Only have time to see one show? Go for the holiday concerts from the Boston Pops, under the direction of famed conductor Keith Lockhart. The Pops kick off their holiday-season shows at Symphony Hall on 3 December, with performances running until 24 December. Shorter kids’ matinées are scheduled throughout the month, too.

New Year's Eve in the city becomes a celebration of the arts with the annual First Night Boston. Held at various venues around town, First Night features an afternoon family festival, followed by a grand parade, ice sculpture displays, live music performances, and fireworks that take you into the New Year. In the past, more than 1,000 artists have taken part in the festivities at 200-plus venues across Boston.

Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental, Boston

Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental, Boston

Finally, if all this exploring makes you hungry, stop for an unforgettable meal at Bar Boulud, in its newest location at Mandarin Oriental, Boston. Chef Daniel Boulud's French bistro features an extensive wine list, one of the more robust pâté and charcuterie menus in Boston, and a variety of seafood dishes that showcase the best of French cooking and local New England bounty.

Sarah Pascarella is a Boston-based writer and editor. Follow her on Twitter @PascarellaSarah

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