The holiday season in Chicago is always an exciting time. With countless events across multiple neighborhoods, there are so many ways to celebrate. One of the biggest holiday events of the year is The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. It’s a packed day of free, family-friendly activities leading up to the famous tree-lighting parade on Michigan Avenue. Many Chicagoans, my family included, consider this event the official kick-off to the holidays.

Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about this classic Chicago celebration.

What is The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival?

The annual winter celebration, a local tradition for more than 30 years, marks the beginning of the holiday season in Chicago.

The festivities kick off with the outdoor Lights Festival Lane where families can explore an interactive wonderland of holiday-themed activities. The free-admission fest is held during the day on Saturday. It includes photos with Santa Claus, complimentary treats from Eli’s Cheesecake, prizes and giveaways, a Racing Simulator from NASCAR, and more.

The festival is followed by the grand tree-lighting parade on Saturday evening that leads up to the illumination of over one million lights on Michigan Avenue’s more than 200 trees. The procession includes iconic Disney characters, floats, musical performances, giant balloons, and more.

The evening finishes with a stunning riverfront fireworks display.

Explore more: Discover even more family-friendly holiday fun in Chicago.

When is The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival?

The Wintrust Magnificent Miles Lights Festival will be held on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

The festival kicks off with Lights Festival Lane from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The evening tree-lighting parade steps off at 5:30 p.m., followed by a spectacular fireworks display at 7 p.m.

Here’s a quick overview of The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival 2023 schedule:

  • Lights Festival Lane from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Parade at 5:30 p.m.
  • Fireworks at 7 p.m.

Where is The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival?

Lights Festival Lane is located in Pioneer Court at 401 N. Michigan Ave.

The parade travels south on North Michigan Avenue, starting at Oak Street and ending at Wacker Drive just after the DuSable Bridge.

Can’t see it in person? The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival airs on ABC 7 Chicago on Sunday, November 19, with additional broadcasts throughout the holiday season. The show is also streamed on the ABC7 Chicago News app and available on

What’s at the parade?

During the parade, over one million lights will illuminate more than 200 trees lining North Michigan Avenue (also known as The Magnificent Mile, one of Chicago’s most famous streets). The parade also includes:

  • Grand Marshals Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse leading the procession
  • Marching bands
  • Glittering floats
  • Giant helium balloons
  • Celebrity performances from Sister Sledge, The Funky Bunch, The Sugarhill Gang, and Colin Stough
  • Santa Claus himself on the grand finale float to welcome the holiday season

What restaurants are close to the parade route?

Looking to grab a bite to eat before or after The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival? Here are a few family-friendly favorites near the parade route:

How can I get to and from the festival?

You can take a car or ride share, but keep in mind that there may be traffic and limited parking. If you’re driving to the festival, note that North Michigan Avenue closes to traffic between Oak Street and Wacker Drive as early as 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

You can also take the CTA Red Line train to the festivities. The Grand and Lake stops are both close to the festival and the parade route, and the Chicago stop is just a few blocks from the parade. There are also several CTA bus lines that can get you close to the action. Keep in mind that buses routes are also affected by road closures.