Bright Christmas lights illuminate the night as days grow shorter in Chicago.
Here at Secret Chicago, we love this time of year when Christmas lights start to go up around the city. The dazzling lights are so beautiful against Chicago snow. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Here are 12 of our favorite spots to see Christmas lights in Chicago.
1. Zoolights at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Visit Lincoln Park Zoo at night for a stunning array of light displays. With 2.5 million lights, festive activities, and wonderful animal encounters, this makes a great holiday tradition. This is the 25th anniversary for Zoolights, so expect Lincoln Park to go all out this year. More information.
If you’d rather add some booze into the equation, you can also see Zoolights as part of this Ugly Christmas Holiday Lights Crawl. See two million lights then head on a bar crawl and vote who among you has the ugliest Christmas sweater. The lucky winner gets a Starbucks gift card and will be personally chauffeured via the Polar Express! Buy tickets here.
3. Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
One more zoo event and then we swear we’ll stop. Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic event also has some incredible lights worth the trip. Now in their 38th year, Brookfield Zoo is the longest-running lights festival in Chicagoland with over a million dazzling lights, a 41-foot tree that talks, a skating rink, and more! Check it out here.
There’s tons of glittering holiday lights to dazzle you at the Christkindlmarket as well as incredible vendors, food, and events! Take in the sights and browse handcrafted gifts (ornaments, cuckoo clocks, Krampus novelty gifts, etc.) at this incredible German-American market. Don’t forget to pick up a seasonal mug of hot chocolate and eat delicious German food, too! Check out our guide to the free-admission market here.
5. Millennium Park Christmas Tree Lighting
Every year, the City of Chicago puts up a huge Christmas tree in Millenium Park. With thousands of twinkling lights and ornaments, it’s a beautiful spectacle. Be sure to head to Millenium Park Nov 22 to watch the lighting of Chicago’s largest Christmas tree. More on their website.
6. Winter Wonderfest
If you’re looking for thrills without the chills this holiday season, the Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest promises exactly that, with a forest of 500 trees decorated with 25,000 Christmas ornaments to enjoy. Winter Wonderland is your best bet for a big lights display. There’ll also be over 20 rides and attractions to experience. Check out our guide here.
For those of you looking for a quieter Christmas stroll, the festival also has a sensory-friendly day where things are turned down a bit. More information here.
7. The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
This two-day lights festival is one of the most popular Christmas lights events in the city. The festival starts at Lights Festival Lane at 4 p.m. on Fri, Nov 22 and continues until late Sat evening. Watch the Tree-Lighting Parade marshalled by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, listen to incredible music at the BMO Harris Bank Stage, and explore an interactive wonderland of activities at Lights Festival Lane. The festival ends with a stunning fireworks display at 6:55 p.m. over the Chicago River at North Michigan Ave. Find out more here.
8. Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry
What began with one single tree, has exploded into a four-story celebration of holiday lights. The Grand tree in the center is surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees decorated with glittering lights and ornaments. Displays representing holiday traditions from cultures around the world are decorated by volunteers every year, and on the weekend visitors can enjoy live performances. Go international with your Christmas lights viewing at the Museum of Science and Industry. More information.
9. St. Lucia Festival of Lights in Andersonville
For those of you who are more inclined to celebrate the winter solstice than Christmas, the St. Lucia Festival of Lights in Andersonville is a great, illuminated event. While the Lucia festival is a relatively modern tradition in Sweden, it’s incredibly popular and with a large Swedish community in the city, it’s no wonder Chicago celebrates. The event begins with a torch-lit procession lead by specially chosen “Lucia girls” in long white robes. Afterward, participants are invited to a celebration at the Chicago Waldorf School. More information.
10. CTA Holiday Train & Bus
Possibly the most Chicago of Christmas lights events, the CTA Holiday Train & Bus brings the spirit of the holidays to thousands of riders every year. With two festively decorate trains and a bus, CTA holiday transit serves two very important purposes: to get Chicagoans hyped up for the season and also to deliver food to various charities throughout the city. Santa waves boarding riders onto the train from his sleigh (open-air flatcar) carrying his reindeer and holiday trees. Find the full holiday transit schedule and more information here.
11. Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden
With a mile-long path of immersive light experiences, Lightscape is an incredible multisensory experience at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Explore all your senses with bold color, yummy holiday smells, and whimsical sounds. The Cathedral of Light is a huge cathedral-like arch of 100,000 lights that spans 110 feet. Singing Trees perform holiday music in harmony with more than half a mile of LED lights. There’s tons of festive activities to enjoy at the Chicago Botanic Garden. More information.
12. Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Experience a whole different view of nature at the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination event. The public garden and outdoor museum is lit up in enchanting color light displays that make it feel like you’re wandering through a Christmas fantasy. Although the temperatures can get a little cold, we highly recommend checking the Tree Lights out. More information.