An Insider’s Guide to Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

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Chicago lights up around the holidays—literally. The Christmas season officially begins in the Windy City with The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, with Mickey and Minnie Mouse leading the charge as Grand Marshals. It is the Midwest, so dress in warm layers and take your family for an evening of festive city fun. Read on to learn more about this popular Chicago Christmas parade, including where families should line up for the best views, as well as where to stay and what to eat while downtown.

Schedule

The weekend's free festivities begin with a Lights Festival preview night on Fri., Nov. 19, 4 p.m. featuring a tree-lighting ceremony in The Wrigley Building Centennial Plaza (410 N. Michigan Ave.). Musical entertainment will be provided by Grammy-nominated singer, actress and Broadway star Deborah Cox and the Chicago Carolers. 

On Sat., Nov. 20, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Lights Festival Lane (Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Ave.) hosts a variety of family-friendly activities including Subaru's Share the Love pet adoption event in partnership with PAWS Chicago, a photo opp with Eli's Cheesecake Company's 30th anniversary Lights Festival cake and cheesecake, and live DJ entertainment. Families can capture a photo with Santa and get free, temporary holiday tattoos in the BMO Kid Zone.  At 5:30 p.m., Grand Marshals Mickey and Minnie step off in their new 50th-anniversary attire, leading a magical tree-lighting parade between Oak St. and Wacker Dr. along The Magnificent Mile. 

Highlights

Watch for new floats designed by CPS students in partnership with BMO Harris Bank and T-Mobile. This new partnership was created to bring a real-world, work-based STEAM design challenge to students.

Also new this year is the balloon debut of Bumble, the Abominable Snowman (from 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer), plus four high school marching bands from Ohio, and The Pack - Official Chicago Sky Drum Line.

Returning fan-favorites include Rudolph, the Petosky Steel Drum Band, The Cirque Experience/Wheel Jam, and more.

Celebrity appearances along the parade route include one of the most renowned groups of all time, Kool & The Gang who will perform Celebration, a fitting song for the occasion. The diverse entertainment lineup also includes the American hip hop/pop rap duo from Atlanta, Tag Team, plus Broadway artist Deborah Cox, and American Idol finalist and Illinois native, Grace Kinstler.

Additional performers appearing during the television broadcast-only will include the cast from Broadway in Chicago's upcoming production of Frozen, Chicago Theatre, Cirque: Twas the Night Before, Chicagoland dance teams and Teatro ZinZanni.

Santa Claus will soar down the route to officially signal the start of the holiday season before the grand conclusion featuring a spectacular fireworks show shining over the Chicago River.

Best Spots for Viewing

Birds-Eye View of The Magnificent Mile
For crazy-cool aerial views, visit 360 CHICAGO Observatory and see The Mag Mile from 1,000 feet up!

Tree-Light Parade Viewing
Remember that Michigan Ave. is typically less crowded on the east side of the street, especially at the north end of the procession route.

Fireworks Spectacular Viewing
A stunning fireworks show is displayed over the Chicago River at the DuSable Bridge, so standing along Wacker Dr. or in Pioneer Court (401 N. Michigan Ave.) are prime viewing spots. Just remember, the DuSable Bridge closes as early as 3:30 p.m., so be sure to make your way across the bridge before that time.

How to View at Home

The parade will air on ABC 7 Chicago on Sun., Nov. 21 and Sat., Dec. 11, 6 p.m., and on Christmas Day at 8 a.m.

The nationally televised event will be hosted by ABC 7 Eyewitness News Anchors Alan Krashesky and Cheryl Burton on Sun. Nov. 21, 6 p.m.-7 p.m., on ABC 7 Chicago. Anchors Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini will capture the magic from the street.

Additionally, The Lights Festival can also be streamed on abc7chicago.com and will be available on-demand and on the ABC 7 Chicago app.

photo: Swissotel Chicago

Where to Stay

Many hotels near The Magnificent Mile offer discounts and special perks the weekend of the parade, and throughout the holiday and winter season. However, rooms tend to book quickly so make your plans well in advance. You’ll have more than 70 hotels to choose from on or near the Magnificent Mile, from luxury to affordable accommodations and from boutique to large-scale in size.

Hilton Hotels of Chicago, Kimpton Hotels, ACME Hotel, Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, The Peninsula Chicago, Best Western River North, Loews Hotel and Swissotel Chicago are all family-friendly, offering great deals or special perks and experiences. 

photo: Gino's East

Where to Eat

Of course, there will be a variety of drinks and noshes at Lights Festival Lane in Pioneer Court, including Eli's Cheesecake Company to satisfy the sweet tooths. Follow your nose to Garrett Popcorn Shops for some of their famous popcorn, Gino's East River North for classic deep dish pizza, Shanghai Terrace for an elevated Cantonese experience, Rosebud on Rush for Italian favorites, and Frontera Grill and Tanta for Latin cuisine. 

For other dining ideas, check The Magnificant Mile's official list of restaurants.

Where to Park

We recommend taking public transportation, but if you're driving, book parking in advance through SpotHero. To reserve your spot, visit the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival SpotHero Parking Page and book a spot with rates up to 50% off drive-up.

Millennium Park Garage & Grant Park North Garage are closest to the south end of the Lights Festival parade route on Michigan Avenue. Pre-purchase parking for your lowest rate.

If you are looking for downtown parking near Pioneer Court for the Lights Festival parade, InterPark is a great option. Easy out after the end-of-night fireworks show.

Public Restrooms

  • Lights Festival Lane, Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Avenue
  • 900 North Michigan Shops, 900 N. Michigan Avenue
  • Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Avenue
  • The Shops at North Bridge, 520 N. Michigan Avenue
  • Information Tent

    The Magnificant Mile Information Tent (401 N. Michigan Ave.) is available for questions and information about the Festival and will have complimentary hand warmers. Download the local Discovery Guide, with app partner GettinLocal, to receive real-time events updates concerning the parade. 

    COVID Protocols

    Any guest attending any of the Lights Festival events will be asked to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, throughout the Lights Festival footprint. 

    — Maria Chambers & Wendy Altschuler

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