The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival kicks off the holiday season in Chicago on Friday, November 18, and Saturday, November 19. When grand marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead the capstone holiday parade of more than 40 floats, helium-filled balloons and marching bands and light up over one million lights on 200 trees along the Magnificent Mile with their magic wands, the most wonderful time of the year in Chicago has officially begun.
This year's 2-day event marks the 25th anniversary of this spectacular festival, which promises to encourage good cheer in even the coldest hearts. The festivities end with a bang on Saturday night with a grand fireworks display over the Chicago River.
Here's our top 10 tips for making the most of your time at the 25th Anniversary Celebration:
10. USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Take public transportation and you'll breeze in and out without a hitch. Keep in mind that the DuSable Bridge (formerly Michigan Avenue Bridge) closes to pedestrian traffic at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday; North Michigan Avenue closes to vehicular traffic between Oak Street and Wacker Drive at 4 p.m.
INSIDER TIP: If you're coming from the Metra station, take a Chicago Water Taxi—you'll enjoy a fun ride along the river that will drop you right off at North Michigan Avenue.
9. IF YOU CAN'T MAKE THE PARADE, WATCH IT LIVE ON TV
ABC7 will be broadcasting the parade live on tv, so if you can't make this awesome holiday parade, tune in at home!
8. KEEP WARM
Bundle up and bring extra blankets. And if you need a break from the cold, step into The Loyola University Museum of Art (820 N. Michigan Avenue) to warm up with (free!) hot chocolate. Admission is free to LUMA’s annual holiday exhibition Art and Faith of the Crèche: The Collection of James and Emilia Govan, which features over 100 beautiful nativities from around the world.
7. PLAN DINNER IN ADVANCE
Be sure to book a dinner reservation or plan on a casual, quick dinner if you're eating before the parade. Our family-friendly picks are Wow Bao for steamed dumplings (also great for taking to-go), Frankie's Scaloppine for Napoli-style pizzas, M Burger for burgers and shakes and foodlife in Water Tower Place where 14 different kitchens mean that there is something for everyone in the family.
6. MAKE A WEEKEND OF IT
With the festivities beginning on Friday evening, you have an extra reason to make a weekend of the festival. Many area hotels offer special rates and packages this special weekend.
5. BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR STARS
Expect plenty of stars both in the sky and strolling along North Michigan Avenue at this year's anniversary event. Teen sensations Forever in Your Mind will be performing on the parade route, as will the Blue Man Group. Drew Lachey and contemporary Christian musician MARi Burelle will be hosting the live broadcast of the parade. Chicago-based artists The Remedy will be onstage at Lights Festival Lane. More celebrities are set to appear so check for updates before you go so you can be sure to catch your favorite stars.
4. SNAG THE BEST VIEWING SPOTS
Arrive at least an hour early to the parade route to snag the best viewing spots. Rumor has it that the least crowded area is on the east side of Michigan Avenue at the north end of the parade route, but keep that between us. To catch the fireworks, head toward the Chicago River and stand along Wacker Drive or in Pioneer Court well before Mickey Mouse arrives—they'll set off at 6:57 p.m.
3. GET YOUR HANDS ON FESTIVAL DEALS AND COUPONS
Many area restaurants, stores and attractions offer special offers, discounts and gifts with purchase the day of the Lights Festival: Mention the Lights Festival at Bloomingdale's (900 N. Michigan Ave.) and present your out-of-state identification or passport to receive a 10% savings certificate. Candyality (Water Tower Place) will gift you a pound of rainbow Gummi Bears with any $25 purchase. Charming Charlie (WaterTower Place) is offering $10 off your $50 purchase in store when you present this scanner code.
INSIDER TIP: Head over to the Water Tower Place Concierge Desk located in the Michigan Avenue Lobby and receive your complimentary Water Tower Place Premier Passport, featuring exclusive offers and incentives, plus a signature gift with minimum purchase.
2. BRING REFRESHMENTS
Bring a thermos of hot cocoa and get it refilled at one of the many Michigan Avenue tea or coffee shops. Howells & Hood (435 N. Michigan Avenue) will be offering a fine selection of delicious hot beverages to keep you warm. For extra warmth, spike your drink with one of the liquor options.
1. PLAN FOR A FULL WEEKEND OF LIGHTS FESTIVAL FUN
View a complete schedule of events of the 25th anniversary of The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, and squeeze in some holiday shopping over the weekend with this Michigan Avenue shopping map & guide.