‘Tis the season to be merry and bright! Celebrate this magical time of year with Chicago’s most luminous Christmas lights shows, including an immersive display at a botanic garden, a towering Christmas tree, and a museum exhibit that celebrates holidays from around the world. Here are a few of our all-time favorite holiday light shows around Chicago. And check out our holiday guide to Chicago for even more things to do throughout the season.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
This spectacular holiday lights display transforms Chicago’s historic Lincoln Park Zoo into a breathtaking winter wonderland. During ZooLights, more than two million twinkling lights illuminate the sprawling grounds, including larger-than-life animal designs and light shows set to holiday music.
The festivities include photos with Santa, gift shopping, and treats like warm spiced wine, craft beer, seasonal snacks. Zoo-goers can also visit the zoo’s many residents in their indoor and outdoor animal enclosures. There are also optional ticketed experiences like the Lionel Train Adventure, Light Maze, festive special events, and more. Reservations are required, so make sure to plan ahead.
The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
Watch one of Chicago’s most famous streets light up for the holidays during The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. The weekend kicks off with Lights Festival Lane, where you’ll find free family-friendly activities like photos with Santa and special live performances.
The main event is the spectacular tree-lighting parade — Grand Marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead the procession, followed by festive floats and Santa himself. It all leads up to the jaw-dropping moment when more than one million lights illuminate the street’s 200 trees. The evening ends with a festive fireworks display.
City of Chicago Christmas Tree
This year marks the City of Chicago’s 110th Christmas Tree, which will light up in the heart of Millennium Park this winter. The beloved annual tradition kicks off with an exuberant tree-lighting ceremony, complete with live music and fireworks. The tree will shine brightly along Michigan Avenue until January. If you come to see the tree, don’t miss the chance to go ice skating in Millennium Park.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
Just outside Chicago, the Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back its blockbuster Lightscape experience for its fifth year, featuring both brand new works and crowd favorites. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire multi-sensory light installations by artists from around the world. Immerse yourself in light, color, sound, and nature as you walk the garden’s sprawling grounds. Make sure to purchase your timed tickets in advance.
Menorah lighting in Daley Plaza
Celebrate the start of Hanukkah with the annual Menorah lighting ceremony in the Loop’s Daley Plaza. The official lighting event will include live music and traditional holiday snacks for spectators. The display is adjacent to the beloved Christkindlmarket, a festive German holiday market where you can shop for gifts, crafts, and treats.
Macy’s State Street holiday windows and the Great Tree
Macy’s on State Street is an essential holiday destination. It’s home to the historic Walnut Room, the first-ever restaurant to open inside a department store. The stately space is bedecked with antique chandeliers and plenty of elegant holiday decor, with the towering Great Tree as its centerpiece. Make a reservation for brunch or dinner for a memorable holiday meal.
Outside, you’ll find even more holiday magic. The Macy’s Holiday Windows have been a tradition for more than 50 years, each year featuring a different theme. The storefront windows are intricately and elaborately decorated to tell a whimsical holiday story as you move from one display to the next.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Illumination: Tree Lights is a popular, nature-inspired holiday event at the Morton Arboretum in nearby Lisle. Guests can marvel at the stark beauty of trees in winter illuminated by colorful lighting effects, including a tunnel of light, a magical woodland, and a landscape filled with thousands of lights dancing to music.
Walk the one-mile path and enjoy the dazzling show. Then warm up by the crackling fire pits, make s’mores, and visit the concessions tent for festive treats. Get your timed tickets in advance and check out special events like the craft-beer-focused IllumiBrew and late-night house music events.
Menorah lightings around the city
Celebrate the start of Hanukkah with menorah lighting ceremonies across the city. The largest will be downtown at the Menorah Lighting in Daley Plaza near Christkindlmarket, a charming holiday market filled with treats and gifts. Or check out one of many neighborhood gatherings hosted by local groups, such as the annual ceremony in Mary Bartelme Park in the West Loop.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Chicagoland’s largest and longest-running lights festival, Holiday Magic has been illuminating suburban Brookfield Zoo for more than 40 years. The family-friendly event features more than two million twinkling lights and interactive displays. Walk through a 600-foot-long light tunnel set to music, admire larger-than-life LED animal sculptures, and enjoy festive food and beverages.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
Light Up the Lakeis back to illuminate Chicago’s waterfront this winter. The enchanting winter celebration, held at iconic Navy Pier, will include outdoor light displays, a lakeside ice skating rink, cozy fire pits, live performances, artisan markets, art displays, craft workshops, axe throwing, and more. And don’t miss the weekly fireworks display on Saturday evenings.
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
The centerpiece of the Christmas Around the World exhibit is the four-story Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees decorated to represent holiday traditions from cultures across tthe globe. Plus, abundant glittering lights and the occasional faux snow shower add to the festive feel.
In Holidays of Light, the museum honors the traditions of Lunar New Year, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Hanukkah, Visakha Puja Day, and St. Lucia Day.
CTA Holiday Train
There’s no better way to get around the city than on the CTA Holiday Train and Bus. Each year, an ‘L’ train is elaborately decorated with lights, bows, and candy-cane stripes, complete with Santa and his elves handing out candy to passengers. The holiday bus traverses the city streets, bedecked in lights and holiday colors. You can catch a ride from late November through December on various CTA lines. Check the CTA schedule for details.