13 Chicago Spots for Holiday Lights

‘Tis the season to be merry and bright! 

Celebrate this colorful time of year with the city's luminous events and decorative holiday traditions. Here are 13 of our all-time favorites. 

1. Christkindlmarket | Nov. 16 - Dec. 24, 2018

Christkindlmarket Shopping

Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago becomes a bustling mini village filled with red-and-white huts covered in twinkling lights and garlands. This tradition — which celebrates 23 years in 2018 — is inspired by the Nuremberg Christmas Market in Germany. Browse the stalls to shop for handcrafted holiday gifts (ornaments, knit caps, cuckoo clocks, and more), while enjoying spiced wine, strudel, sausage and other traditional treats.   

2. Christmas Around the World | Nov. 15, 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019

Christmas Around the World Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

As is tradition, the Museum of Science & Industry's 45-foot Grand Tree takes center stage in the Rotunda, decked out in 30,000 lights. Surrounding it are more than 50 smaller trees beautifully decorated by volunteers from Chicago communities to represent their various cultures and holiday traditions. The occasional falling of "snow" adds to the fun. 

3. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival | Nov. 16 - 17, 2018

Mickey and Minnie at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in Chicago

After a day filled with family-friendly activities, a nighttime parade turns the stretch of Michigan Avenue between Wacker Drive and Oak Street into Chicago's brightest shopping district. The Mag Mile's hotels and shops light up in a glorious display of more than one million lights, adorning the boulevard's 250 trees. The accompanying procession is a show-stopper led by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse from Walt Disney World Resort, followed by festive floats and a cast of characters. A fireworks display over the majestic Chicago River keeps the festivities going well into the evening.

Friday festivities kick off with Lights Festival Lane (4:00 to 8:00 pm), which features more than a dozen family-friendly activities and favorite local brands. On Saturday, Lights Festival Lane activities will run from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Free concerts begin at 11:30 am, the parade will march down North Michigan Avenue from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, and fireworks begin at 6:55 pm over the Chicago River at North Michigan Avenue.

4. City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony | Nov. 16, 2018

This year marks the City of Chicago's 105th anniversary of Christmas Tree Lighting, taking place at Millennium Park. This highly anticipated event draws people of all ages to see the 60-foot evergreen aglow in the reflection of "The Bean" across the way. Festivities begin at 6 p.m., with the tree lighting at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street officially happening at 6:30 p.m. This year, Miguel Cervantes, star of Hamilton Chicago Company at Broadway In Chicago’s CIBC Theatre, will serve as the emcee for the ceremony.

5. ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo | Nov. 23, 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019

Crowd at Lincoln Park Zoo's ZooLights in Chicago

This spectacular holiday celebration transforms Lincoln Park's free lakefront zoo into a winter wonderland. The 24th edition will illuminate the grounds with more than two million lights, including larger-than-life illuminated animal designs. Holiday crafts and activities, and, of course, sweet treats, round out the fun. Be sure to swing by the Helen Brach Primate House for a visit with Santa Claus. Take a ride on the Lionel Train Adventure through the snowy birch forest and craggy canyon. Or go ice skating past ponies and goats at the rink at Farm-in-the-Zoo.

6. Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier | Nov. 30 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019

Crowd at Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier in Chicago

The 17th annual festival is Chicago's coolest, biggest and best INDOOR playground. There's an ice skating rink, Ferris wheel, carousel and huge inflatable slides spread across 170,000 square feet — and the decor is just as spectacular as the views. Massive snowflakes and thousands of icicle lights dangle from the ceiling, over 400 evergreens in all their trimmings add more holiday glitz, and giant candy canes, gingerbread houses and snowmen border the rides. 

7. Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo | Select dates Dec. 1 - 31, 2018

Overview of the Holiday Magic Brookfield Zoo

Chicagoland's largest lights festival features more than one million twinkling lights throughout the sprawling 216-acre suburban zoo. Select animal exhibits will remain open into the evening, as will zoo restaurants and gift shops. Enjoy a full schedule of live entertainment: singing to the animals, professional ice-carving demonstrations, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, magic shows, a friendly 38-foot talking tree, costumed characters, and a model train display.

8. St. Lucia Festival of Lights | Dec. 13, 2018

Performers at St. Lucia Festival of Lights in Chicago

Drawing on its Swedish roots, the North Side neighborhood of Andersonville conducts a candlelight procession along Clark Street, kicking off at the Swedish American Museum. Look out for the specially chosen "Lucia Girls" leading the crowd. Dressed in long white robes and adorned with beautiful crowns of candles, they sing "The Lucia Song" and invite children and adults to join in their walk. Afterward, celebrate at the museum with family-friendly entertainment. The night kicks off at 4:45 p.m. at 5211 N. Clark St.  

9. Menorah Lighting | Dec. 2, 2018

Celebrate the start of Hanukkah with menorah lighting ceremonies across the city. The largest will be downtown at Daley Plaza on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 5:30 p.m. There are plenty of local neighborhood gatherings hosted by local Chabad groups, like the Annual Menorah Lighting in Mary Bartleme Park. Families can enjoy a craft hour, balloon artist, live music, cocoa and latkes and more.

10. CTA Holiday Train | Nov. - Dec. 2018

Interior of CTA Holiday Train in Chicago

There's nothing more thrilling than catching the brightly lit 'L' Holiday Train, whizzing down the tracks! On select weekdays and over the weekends before Christmas, Santa dashes through the city in his sleigh (atop a flatbed train car) pulled by decorated, peppermint-scented passenger coaches. At certain stops, jolly train conductors dressed in elf costumes take photos of kids with Santa and hand out candy canes. Holiday music plays throughout the six cars, which are tricked out with holiday-patterned upholstery and garland-wrapped poles. Check the CTA website for a current schedule.

11. Macy's Holiday Window Exhibits | Nov. 1 2018 - Jan. 5, 2019

Family at Macy's State Street Windows in Chicago

This is the epicenter of magic on Chicago's "Great Street." Macy's on State Street is an essential holiday shopping destination. Outside, however, is where the real magic happens. Peer into large windows exquisitely decorated by a dedicated team of painters, welders, costume-makers, engineers, visual artists and carpenters. Combining traditional old-school artistry with gorgeous visual elements, the windows are filled with imaginative scenes. 

12. Lightscape: A Multisensory Experience on State Street | Nov. - Dec. 2018

This one-of-a-kind light and sound installation creates vivid patterns of color, choreographed to music along the sidewalks of State Street. The displays are programmed to change with every season, offering visitors a new and festive experience with each trip to the Loop shopping district.

13. Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Garden | Nov. 23 2018 - Jan. 6, 2019

Kids viewing trains at CBG Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Garden

The Chicago Botanic Garden definitely knows how to put the "wonder" in "wonderland." Wonderland Express features toy trains that wind their way through plantings, onto overhead bridges, and past more than 80 miniature recreations of Chicago's most famous buildings and landmarks, from The Bean (Cloud Gate) to Wrigley Field. These unbelievably detailed replicas are handcrafted by "railroad garden guru" Paul Busse and his team at Applied Imagination, and are constructed using natural materials such as gourds, pine cones, bark, acorns, pods, seeds, grains, grasses — and other "bits of nature." Best of all? Indoor snow!

Absolutely Chicago Segway Tours
238 E. Monroe
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 552-5100

Museum of Science and Industry
57th Street and Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 684-1414

Lincoln Park Zoo
Cannon Dr. at Fullerton Parkway
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 742-2000

Macy's on State Street
111 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 781-1000

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