Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Each year, local venues and residents in Illinois get into the holiday spirit and go all out with Christmas lights, fun festivals, and themed events to make you feel like a kid again. There are lots of ways to enjoy the season to the fullest this year around Chicago and in other communities throughout the state. Here are some of the best winter holiday light displays and festive attractions to check out in Illinois.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
The Chicago Botanic Garden has partnered up with Sony Music to create some new magic for the holidays this year between November 22nd and January 5th. Lightscape is an enchanting, after-dark illuminated trail that was created just for the botanical garden, and it’s making its debut this November. It’s an immersive experience with installations from international artists along a mile-long path. Let your imagination run wild with everything from singing trees to waterfalls of light. Highlights of this much-anticipated attraction include a light tunnel, immersive ribbons of lights, and toasting marshmallows over an open fire.
There are plenty of amazing light displays outside of Chicago too, including the East Peoria Festival of Lights, which has been an annual tradition for 35 years. Things kick off with the Parade of Lights and continue throughout December with a drive-through display to enjoy magical holiday lights from the comfort of your car. This event runs from November 22nd to December and is about a 3.5-hour drive from Chicago.
The Magnificent Mile is the place to be for holiday shopping in Chicago, and there’s a beloved lights festival that travels right down this famous street to kick off the season. Mickey and Minnie Mouse usher in a million lights on Michigan Avenue at this event that’s the largest holiday parade in Chicago. Stick around for the family-friendly fireworks display afterwards. The parade begins at 4pm on Friday, November 22nd and at 11am on Saturday, November 23rd.
Meanwhile, the Morton Arboretum is only about an hour from Chicago and has an Illumination attraction that runs along a mile-long paved path with interactive lighting effects. You’ll be stunned at how beautiful the trees here are in winter when they’re decorated. Highlights include seasonal music, s’mores by the fire, cozy drinks, and new HYBYCOZO art this year. Don’t miss the treelike sculptures that spread intricate designs of light, watch lights dance to music, and hug a tree to see what happens! Illumination runs from November 23rd to January 5th.
One of Chicago’s best free holiday events each year is ZooLights, which is held at the Lincoln Park Zoo that is always free to enjoy. As you walk through the zoo between November 29th and January 1st, you can see the colorful lights on the trees and memorable musical light shows. Other festivities to look forward to are the train, carousel rides, live ice sculpting, and light maze. ZooLights is not open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve. There are also paid, ticketed events that you can check out on open days though, including the Holiday Market, BrewLights, Adults Night Out: Holidaze!, and he Chris White Jazz Trio Tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Rockford is also a fun place to be during the holiday season, especially on November 30th. Rockford about a two-hour drive from Chicago and hosting a Stroll on State on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It’s a free community event in the downtown area. Things to look forward to are the tree lighting, parade, horse and wagon rides, Santa visits, and fireworks.
On December 7th between 6 and 7pm, make a point to be in Galena, Illinois for the Holiday Fire in the Sky event. The evening sky comes alive with fireworks to welcome the holiday season in the downtown area. There will be live carolers singing, hot cocoa to sip, and the beauty of the river to enjoy while you’re here. Galena is about a three-hour drive from Chicago.
Commuters take the CTA every day without giving it a second thought. But during the winter holiday season, this train gets extra festive. Each year, the Chicago Transit Authority decorates one of its trains with lights and decorations – both inside and out. It’s always exciting to see the holiday train pull up into the station, with Santa saving to all the passengers as they board from his sleigh. The sleigh rides on an open-air flatcar, and there are even elves to serenade you on your ride between stops. This year, an Elves Workshop Train will serve as a second holiday train in operation that follows the classic holiday train on Saturdays. This is a very popular one-of-a-kind tradition, especially on Saturdays, and you won’t want to miss it!
Another great evening to be in Galena, Illinois is December 14th, which is when Night of the Luminaria will be taking place from 4 to 9pm. Take a walk down Galena’s historic Main Street and look into the over 30 windows that are filled with holiday-themed animation and lights. The whole street glows down to the hills that overlook Grant Park. While you’re here, why not do a little shopping with the local businesses’ extended hours and get dinner at a charming restaurant?