‘Tis the season — of lights! Whether they be strung along the city streets or adding a warm glow  to window shops, Chicago sure knows how to light up the town. Celebrate this bright and colorful time of year with the city's best holiday lights displays.


Luminous Events & Decorative Holiday Traditions


Christkindlmarket Chicago

Christkindlmarket | November 18 - December 24, 2016
Chicago's downtown square, Daley Plaza, becomes a bustling mini village filled with red-and-white huts covered in twinkling lights and garlands. This tradition — which celebrates 21 years in 2016 — 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.   

Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights - Museum of Science and Industry | Opens November 17, 2016
As is tradition, the museum's 45-foot Grand Tree takes center stage in the Rotunda decked out in 30,000 lights. It takes on a different theme each year so expect giant gears to be part of the decor to match the special MSI exhibit, ToyMaker 3000: An Adventure in Automation. Surrounding it will be 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. 

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival | November 18 & 19, 2016
The king of all lights festivals has added another day of fun this holiday season. The fun will start on Friday at 5 p.m. with a special 25th Anniversary Lights Spectacular. Saturday wil be filled with family-friendly activties before the annual parade that turns the stretch of Michigan Avenue between Wacker Drive and Oak Street into Chicago's brightest shopping district. The "Mag Mile" hotels and shops light up in glorious fashion as more than one million lights adorn the boulevard's 250 trees. The accompanying procession is a show-stopper led by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse from Walt Disney World Resort, who are followed by festive floats and a cast of characters. A fireworks show over the majestic Chicago River keep the festivities going into the night.

City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony | November 18, 2016
The City of Chicago is proud to present the 103nd Anniversary of the Christmas Tree Lighting at a brand new location, Millennium Park! This highly-anticipated debut will draw people of all ages to see the 50+ foot tall evergreen aglow in the reflection of "The Bean" across the way. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m., with the tree lighting at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street officially happening at 6 p.m.

ZooLights Chicago

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo | November 25, 2016 - January 1, 2017 
This spectacular holiday celebration transforms the free lakefront zoo into a winter wonderland. A free event every year, the 22nd edition will illuminate the grounds with more than two million lights, including larger-than-life lighted 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 brand new Lionel Train Adventure through the snowy birch forest and craggy canyon. Or go ice skaing past ponies and glide next to goats at the rink at Farm-in-the-Zoo.

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier | December 2, 2016 - January 8, 2017 
The 16th annual festival is Chicago's coolest, biggest and best INDOOR playground. There is an ice skating rink, Ferris wheel, carousel and huge inflatable slides spread across 170,000 square feet — and the decor is just as spectacular. 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.

Holiday Magic Brookfield Zoo 

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo | Select dates December 3 - 31, 2016 
Chicagoland's largest lights festival features more than one million LED 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, plus a a model train display.

St. Lucia Festival of Lights | December 13, 2016 
The North Side neighborhood of Andersonville (drawing on its Swedish roots) carries out this traditional event along Clark Street. The candle light procession kicks 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. Afterwards, celebrate at the museum with family-friendly entertainment.

CTA Holiday Train | November - December 2016 
There is nothing more thrilling than catching the brightly lit 'L' Holiday Train whizzing down the tracks! On select weekdays and all 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 an updated schedule soon.

 Macy's State Street Windows

Macy's Holiday Window Exhibits | November 2016 - January 2017
The epicenter of magic on Chicago's "Great Street"! Macy's on State Street is a quintessential holiday shopping destination with nine floors to explore. 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. 

Lightscape: A Multisensory Experience on State Street| November - December 2016 
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.


Festive Holiday Tours

Chicago Trolley & Double Decker

Don't limit yourself to exploring just one of Chicago's top holiday decorations — climb aboard the Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour for a journey too see them all! The 2.5 hour ride will bring you to the dazzling lights and holiday sights of ZooLights, The Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park, State Street and Macy's holiday windows.

Two other options have you covered if you're feeling a little more adventurous. Absolutely Chicago Segway and Segway Experience of Chicago both offer holiday lights tours that will have you gliding across the city. Easy to ride and fun to learn, these two-wheeled rides are great for older kids and teens as well (minimum age 12). Bundle up — both offer snow suits for an extra layer — and get ready for great views of the city draped in holiday finery.


For more holiday ideas across the city, visit or browse the Events Calendar to find out what's happening during the dates of your stay. 


Related Listings

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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Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 595-5300

Brookfield Zoo/Chicago Zoological Society
31st St. and First Ave.
Brookfield, IL 60513
(708) 688-8000

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co.
Water Tower Pumping Station
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(773) 648-5000

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