As I looked this year to find new holiday traditions to add to my family’s repertoire, I came across the idea of finding new holiday lights in Chicago for us to investigate! The holiday light festivals in Chicago begin in mid November and run through the first week of January. So there’s lots of time to fit a visit or two into your schedule! Come check out just a few of the cool options that Chicagoland has to offer!
Festival of Lights, Chicago IL
Kicking off the holiday season, the Festival of Lights in Chicago, IL is a beautiful holiday parade down the Magnificent Mile on Saturday, November 18, 2023. First, from 11-4 PM check out Light Festival Lane at 401 N. Michigan Ave. Then, the Parade starts up at 5:30 PM traveling south on N Michigan Ave and finishes just south of the DuSable bridge. Finally, the festivities conclude with fireworks along the waterfront at 7 PM. The parade features floats, balloons, live music and dance performances, and an appearance of Santa Claus himself. 🙂
Lincoln Park Zoo Lights
The Lincoln Park Zoo Lights are one of the most popular ways to see holiday lights in Chicago! Tickets are $7/person with $10/person with Fridays, Saturdays, Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve at $10/person. Additionally, there is free admission on select Mondays: November 20, and 27; December 4, 11, and 18; and January 1.
There’s a light maze, festive food, and loads of beautiful lights and backdrops for photos. Also, on select nights, carolers and Santa will drop by for visits. 🙂 There’s also a ferris wheel to see the lights from above, and live ice carvers making sculptures!
Additionally, there are some special events offered:
December 6: Sensory Friendly Night with most lights unblinking or with the blinking slowed down.
A jazz tribute night to a Charlie Brown Christmas on December 10.
December 14: Adult’s Night for the 21+ crowd, with alcohol available; tickets for this night are $15.
December 31: Early New Year’s. While the event closes at 10 PM, every hour they will host a special countdown. This means you and/or your children can partake in the New Year’s Eve countdown without having to stay up late!
Lincoln Park Zoo Christmas Lights run from November 17 through January 7, and their hours are 4:30-9 PM Sunday-Thursday, and 4:30-10 PM on Fridays, Saturdays, Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve.
Jack Frost Christmas Pop-Up
The Jack Frost Christmas Pop-Up is a holiday festival in the heart of Fulton Market. It offers skating, axe-throwing, hot chocolate, and loads of fun places to take photos! Located on the west side of N Green St between Lake St and W Randolph St, this pop-up is easily accessible. It’s just off of Highway 90. Also you can get there by taking the Green Line train to the Morgan station and walking 4 blocks east.
You can purchase Jack Frost tickets online. They range from $11 to $52 depending on what activities you would like included in your ticket. Additionally, their hours are from 4:30-10 PM on weekdays and 11-10 PM on weekends through December 31.
Christmas Lights in Sauganash
Another notable mention is the Chicago northwest districts of Sauganash and Lincolnwood. These neighborhoods are known for their colorful light displays on residential streets! So if you’re looking for beautifully decorated homes without venturing too far away from the city, the christmas lights in Sauganash, Chicago, might be the right choice for you. While there’s no official driving map of the lights in the region, a good place to start is on Longmeadow Dr! You can branch off to side streets when some Christmas lights catch your fancy. 🙂 Here’s a Sauganash Christmas lights map for walking (4.9 miles round trip!) that may be able to be adapted for a drive.
Chicago Holiday Train
The Chicago Holiday Train (and bus!) are a 32-year Chicago tradition! They’re a beautifully decorated lit-up train and bus that travel all through Chicago on the CTA’s El lines. Notably, you can meet Santa and take photos with him! This is a perfect holiday attraction for the train lovers in your life. You can find the CTA’s schedule for the holiday train here.
Light of Christmas Drive-Thru
A newcomer to the holiday light scene is Light of Christmas Drive-Thru on Chicago’s south side at Guaranteed Rate Field where the White Sox play. This pop-up is notable because it’s a drive-thru light show, making it more accessible to those with mobility issues, and keeping everyone warm! It’s a quick 8 minute, 4.5 mile drive from the loop. 🙂
Light of Christmas is open November 20 through January 3. Admission is $25 Monday through Wednesday, and $40 per car Thursday-Sunday and after December 21.
Christkindlmarket is an honorable mention because it’s not reallllly a holiday light spot, but it is a traditional winter festival in Chicago! It’s a beautiful German-style Christmas Market and is always packed each year!
Christkindlmarket has three locations, in downtown Chicago at Daley Plaza (this is the main one), in the northern Chicago district of Wrigleyville, and in the far west suburbs in Aurora, IL. These markets are always bustling with people and vendors, offering German street food, Christmas decor, fancy hot chocolate, presents, and an annual Christkindlmarket mug collector’s item. The market is open November 17-December 24 and 11-8 PM Sunday-Thursday and 11-9 PM on Friday and Saturday. There is no admission fee.
Brookfield Zoo Lights
The Brookfield Zoo Lights Festival, a 22 minute, 14 mile drive from downtown Chicago is one of the longest-running holiday festivals in Chicagoland! It opens for season November 24, and is open on weirdly specific days for 2023: November 24-26, and 30; and December 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, 21-23, and 26-31. The Brookfield Zoo Lights hours are 3-9 PM daily.
This year there are light displays of animals, jugglers, carolers, and ice carvers making sculptures. Festive food, a giant tree, and of course, loads of lights and photo opportunities! You can find a Brookfield Zoo Lights Map here to check out all the offerings!
Admissions are complex this year, and are dependent on if you have a zoo membership and/or which parking lot you would like to use. Please double-check the website here when you go to purchase!
The Morton Arboretum Illumination event is one of the most popular places to see holiday lights in Chicago! It runs November 18 through January 6 and offers a 1 mile paved walking path with lights and music. The event offers firepits to warm up, marshmallows to roast, meals at the Gingko Cafe, and gifts to find at the Arboretum shop.
There are two other additional offerings at the Morton Arboretum xmas lights. First, there’s IllumiBrew on November 16 and 17 which offers a first glimpse at the light show while you stroll and sip local beers. Second, there’s Electric Illumination, a dance party for adults which starts at 9:30 PM on Fridays in December.
For the Morton Arboretum light festival, tickets are online at their website. Prices go up the closer you get to the date you want for Morton Arboretum tickets. Therefore, the best time to purchase is right now. If you are an Arboretum member, you receive a 20% discount on your tickets which is the best price. If you are a nonmember you can use coupon code 2023COMEDLIGHTS to receive a $5 discount while supplies last. The Morton Arboretum is a 30 minute, 26 mile drive due west of downtown Chicago.
Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape
The Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape is 30 minutes, 25 miles from the loop, and run from November 10-January 7, 4:30 PM-11 PM. You can expect to see a stunning light display as you walk though the garden’s paths. This year, the Chicago Botanic Garden lights are on a 1.3 mile path and features a new display on Evening Island! Furthermore, the Botanic says that most guests stay for 45-75 minutes enjoying the lights. Restrooms and manual wheelchairs are available, and service animals are allowed. 🙂
Admission prices are complicated and as follows:
Adults: $30 member/$34 nonmember
Children (3-12): $17 member/$19 nonmember
Children (2 and under): free
Parking: members are free, nonmembers pay $15 if purchased online, or $25 if purchased on site.
Rosemont Sparkle Light Festival
Sparkle Light Festival in Rosemont, is a fun festival 25 minutes, 17 miles from the loop near O’Hare. It runs till the end of December 31, and hours are from 4:30 PM to 9 PM (5 PM to 9 PM after 12/25). At the Rosemont holiday lights you can expect skating, a giant slide, a “holly trolly” train ride, and loads of backdrops set up for photos! Also, Santa is around for visiting and photo opportunities, and there are lots of festive food options.
This Rosemont lights festival allows ADA and emotional support animals to attend. They have a special event called Paws and Claus where you can bring your dog to meet Santa on December 8. 🙂
Parking for the Rosemont Christmas lights is in the Impact Field attached parking garage for $5/car. Tickets are $24/adults (13+) and $18/kids.
Lilacia Park Lights
Go see the Lilacia Park lights in Lombard, IL! Lilacia Park (no playground), will be decorated with lights for you and your family to walk through and enjoy. A 32 minute, 23 mile drive from the Loop (or you can take the Metra), this park has a beautiful, free, light display starting at 4:30 and going through 10 PM every day from December 2 through January 1. Additionally, Santa visits the park for free visits each Friday-Sunday until December 17. This is a lovely low-stress, no-ticket, no-reservations required way to see holiday lights in Chicago.
Free parking can be found on Maple St, paid parking can be found along South Blvd, and the nearest bathroom is inside the medical clinic due east of the park.
Christmas at Cantigny
Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton, IL (34 miles west of downtown Chicago, 40 minutes), has started a new winter festival in 2023 to show off the recently renovated McCormick House. The festival runs through December 30, and the hours are 4 pm- 9 pm, closed on Mondays. Admission is $15/adult, $5/child (ages 3-15), although there are also extra fees for parking.
Christmas in Cantigny offers a meet and greet with Santa on Dec 2-3, ice skating ($7 admission, skate rental for $3), and a fun “cocoa” cabana to rent for you and up to 9 guests ($75+a food and beverage minimum) with a firepit, and server with food and beverage service. I think this cabana is particularly notable because it would be a nice way to outsource a holiday party, either for grownups or perhaps a kids’ birthday party.
Interested in your own holiday photos with the lights? I’d love to help out! Contact me here and let’s get planning!
Kristen Hazelton is an award-winning Oak Park, IL (West Chicagoland) and Livermore, CA (San Francisco East Bay Area) graduating senior, and family photographer. She occasionally photographs in San Diego, CA, Tucson, AZ, and Seattle, WA. You can inquire about your own photoshoot here!