‘Tis the season to be merry and bright! Celebrate this magical time of year with Chicago’s most luminous Christmas light displays and traditions. Here are a few of our all-time holiday favorites around Chicagoland, from an immersive lights experience at a botanic garden to a towering Christmas tree to a museum exhibit that celebrates holidays from around the world. And check out our holiday guide to Chicago for even more things to do.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
This spectacular holiday lights display transforms Chicago’s historic Lincoln Park Zoo into a breathtaking winter wonderland. During ZooLights, more than two million twinkling lights illuminate the sprawling grounds, including larger-than-life animal designs and light shows set to holiday music.
The festivities include photos with Santa, gift shopping, warm spiced wine and craft beer, seasonal snacks, and animals in their outdoor exhibits. There will be optional ticketed experiences, like the Enchanted Forest, the Light Maze, festive pop-up bar Snowy’s Spirits & S’more, and more.
This year’s ZooLights will be open on select dates from Nov. 19, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022. Admission is $5 and tickets must be purchased in advance. There are also several free days that require advanced reservations.
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
See one of Chicago’s most famous streets light up for the holidays during the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. The weekend kicks off with a tree-lighting ceremony at the Wrigley building on Friday, Nov. 19.
The procession is led by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, followed by festive floats and Santa himself. During the parade, the surrounding Mag Mile lights up in a glorious display of more than one million lights, adorning the street’s 250 trees.
City of Chicago Christmas Tree
This year marks the City of Chicago’s 108th Christmas Tree, which will light up in the heart of Millennium Park this winter. The beloved annual tradition kicks off on Friday, Nov. 19 with a exuberant tree-lighting ceremony. The tree will shine brightly near the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street until Jan. 2, 2022. If you come see the tree, don’t miss the chance to go ice skating in Millennium Park.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden is bringing back their experiential Lightscape experience for another year. The awe-inspiring display is set along a mile-long path where visitors can admire multi-sensory light installations by artists from around the world. Experiences include a 110-foot Cathedral of Light, fire-filled sculptures, singing trees, and more.
Lightscape is open on select dates from Nov. 12, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022. Make sure to purchase your timed tickets in advance, last year’s event sold out.
Menorah lighting in Daley Plaza
Celebrate Hanukkah with the annual Menorah lighting in the Loop’s Daley Plaza. The giant menorah will be raised on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The official lighting ceremony will take place on Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. with live music and holiday donuts for spectators. The display is adjacent to the beloved Christkindlmarket, a festive German holiday market where you can shop for gifts and treats.
Macy’s State Street holiday windows and the Great Tree
Macy’s on State Street is an essential holiday destination. It’s home to the historic Walnut Room, the first ever restaurant to open inside a department store. The stately space is bedecked with antique chandeliers and plenty of elegant holiday decor, with the towering Great Tree as its centerpiece starting Nov. 6, 2021.
Outside, you’ll find even more holiday magic. The Macy’s Holiday Windows have been a tradition for 54 years, each year featuring a different theme. The storefront windows are intricately and elaborately decorated to tell a whimsical holiday story as you move from one display to the next.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
Navy Pier, Chicago’s famous lakefront attraction, will be hosting a new indoor holiday experience this year. Light Up the Lake will feature sprawling light-sculpture displays made with more than 600,000 twinkling lights, a massive ice rink, a holiday beer garden, train rides for kids, Santa’s Village, and a gift market. A ride on the iconic (and climate controlled!) Centennial Wheel is included with your ticket. The event runs from Nov. 26, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Illumination: Tree Lights is a popular, immersive holiday event at the Morton Arboretum in nearby Lisle. Marvel at the stark beauty of trees in winter as they’re illuminated by interactive lighting effects, including a tunnel of light, a magical woodland, and a landscape filled with thousands of lights dancing to music.
Walk the one-mile path through the Tree Lights and enjoy the colorful show show. Then warm up by the crackling fire, make s’mores, and visit the concessions tent. The event will run from Nov. 20, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022. Get your timed tickets in advance.
Menorah lightings around the city
Celebrate the start of Hanukkah with menorah lighting ceremonies across the city. The largest will be downtown at Menorah Lighting in Daley Plaza in late December. There are also plenty of neighborhood gatherings hosted by local groups, like the Annual Menorah Lighting in Mary Bartelme Park.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Chicagoland’s largest and longest-running lights festival, the 40th annual Holiday Magic features more than one million twinkling lights throughout the sprawling, 216-acre suburban Brookfield Zoo. Walk through a 600-foot-long light tunnel set to music, see the 41-foot tall tree, see the larger-than-life LED animal sculptures, and enjoy festive food and beverages.
The event runs on select dates from Nov. 26 through Dec. 31, 2021. Advanced tickets are required.
Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light
Each year, the Museum of Science and Industrycelebrates the most magical time of the year with their Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light celebration. This year’s exhibits will run from Nov. 17, 2021 to Jan. 3, 2022.
The centerpiece of the Christmas Around the World exhibit is the four-story Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 40 trees decorated to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. Plus, glittering lights and the occasional snow shower adds to the festive feel.
In Holiday of Lights, the museum honors the traditions of Chinese New Year, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Visakha Puja Day, and St. Lucia Day. Buy your tickets online.
CTA Holiday Train
There’s no better way to get around the city than the CTA Holiday Train. The ‘L’ train is elaborately decorated with lights, bows, and candy-cane stripes, complete with Santa and his elves handing out candy to passengers. You catch a ride from late November through December on various ‘L’ lines. Check the CTA schedule for details.