Lights, Camera Phone, Selfie! Best Holiday Light Displays

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If there’s just one thing that makes the bitter cold of a Chicago winter just a smidgen better, it’s just how gorgeous she is all decked out for the holidays. We’ve scoured the city to find the best holiday light displays in Chicago to lift your holiday spirits, and fill the Insta feeds with gorgeous Christmas and Hannukah photos. Leave your grinch-y feelings at home and get out there and explore these memory-making gems with the littles.

For the Animal Lovers: Walk the Zoos!

Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic

With over 1 million twinkling LED lights, Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic is Chicagoland's largest lights festival. In addition, it's most likely the only place you'll encounter a 41-foot talking tree. Besides the chatty evergreen, you'll find a 20-foot-lit orb you can stand inside and snap a memorable holiday photo. New this year, guests of all ages can play the Game of Gnome, a fun-filled scavenger hunt with 24 whimsical and enchanting themed gnomes located throughout the park.

Select dates Nov. 26-Dec. 31; 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield; More info

Lincoln Park Zoo

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

The most wonderful time of the year deserves the most wonderful event of the year. For that, join Lincoln Park Zoo for their annual celebration of ZooLights. This one-of-a-kind, festive holiday experience offers a free, merry, family-oriented celebration of joy right in the heart of the city. 

ZooLights features hundreds of luminous displays and incredible seasonal activities, all under the glow of 2.5 million lights. 

Nov. 19-Jan. 2; 2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; More info

Stroll the Gardens

Morton Arboretum

Illumination at the Morton Arboretum

Returning for the 9th year is the crowd-pleasing dazzler Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum. Illumination will dazzle visitors with its unparalleled spectacle of color, light, and synced musical soundtrack they won’t experience anywhere else.

Nov. 20-Jan. 2; 4100 IL-Rte 53, Lisle; More info

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

Wander into a festive world of wonder and light at Chicago Botanic Garden's Lightscape. Along a 1.25-mile, one-way path, the night comes alive with color, imagination, and sound, from a playful choir of singing trees to a spectacular waterfall of light. At times, you’ll find yourself in the center of it all—stepping inside a cathedral of golden light, walking down an avenue of luminous linden trees, moving through colorful ribbons of light.

Nov. 12-Jan. 2; 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe; More details

Stay Cozy Indoors (Or in Your Car)

Navy Pier

Navy Pier's Light Up the Lake

Check out Chicago's newest holiday adventure, Navy Pier's Light Up the Lake. This indoor, temperature-controlled experience features a sprawling light garden of large-scale sculptures comprised of more than 600,000 twinkling lights, a massive Alpine ice rink, authentic beer garden, kiddie train rides, Santa's Merry Main Street and gift market, and other family friendly and date-night activities.

Nov. 26-Jan. 2.; Navy Pier, 500 E. Grand Ave., Streeterville. More details

Magical Christmas at Santa's Village

Santa's helpers have been busy transforming Santa's Village into a festive winter wonderland. This new drive-thru experience features over 2 million lights synchronized to holiday music, dazzling displays, live animals, and Santa himself. At the end of your experience, you can purchase funnel cakes and hot chocolate while taking in the breathtaking view of the park. 

Nov. 26-Dec. 19; Santa's Village, 601 Dundee Ave., East Dundee; More details

Let the Museums Light Your World

Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light at MSI

What began in 1942 as a single tree, is now an international winter wonderland at Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light. The family is going to be enchanted by the trees and displays that are decorated to represent the rich multicultural heritage of Chicago. The crown jewel will be the floor-to-dome Grand Tree with 30,000 twinkling lights, sparkly ornaments and all of the trimmings. This year, MSI is celebrating the golden age of travel with themed decor and a spotlight on the Pioneer Zephyr train and Take Flight's 727, which have been newly reimagined. 

Nov. 17-Jan. 3; 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park; More info

Kohl Children's Museum

Kohl Children's Museum Holiday Lightacular

Kids take charge in Kohl Children's Museum's holiday light display. Using glow stick learning wands, they can control and change the lights, so it’s a different lightacular experience every time. Your kids won’t even realize they’re learning while they play with light and color to create new hues and patterns.

Nov. 26-28, Dec. 3-5, 10-12, 17-23 & 26-31; Kohl Children's Museum, 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview. More details

So Much More Than Lights!

Gallagher Way

Winterland at Gallagher Way

The Rink at Gallagher Way is an 8,000-square-foot outdoor rink next door to Wrigley Field and the focal point of the Winterland programming. It will be lit with dazzling lights and will be open for skating, curling and, new this year, bumper car riding, for the duration of the Winterland season.

Nov. 19-Feb. 22; 3635 N. Clark St., Wrigleyville; More details

Amaze Light Festival in Rosemont

Impact Field is transforming into the ultimate holiday destination with the debut of The Amaze Light Festival. Visitors will be treated to outdoor holiday activities amongst an immersive display of more than one million holiday lights. In addition to timed light shows and seven theme-based illuminated worlds, Amaze guests can take advantage of tubing on Polar Peak, a holiday market, festive food and beverages, a candy shop and more. Children can visit Santa's workshop, make holiday crafts and take a festive train ride on the Arctic Express. 

Nov. 19-Jan. 2; Impact Field, 9859 Balmoral Ave., Rosemont; More details

Support a Local Suburb!

Vintage Holiday in Long Grove

Historic Downtown Long Grove invites holiday revelers to take a break from online shopping and rediscover the magic of the holiday season. The annual Long Grove Vintage Holidays campaign is what the classic holiday experience is all about. . . lots of bright festive lights, quaint shops, old-world charms, and family memories. Organized by the Historic Downtown Long Grove Business Association (HDLGBA), Vintage Holidays 2021 features light displays, merchant open houses, holiday music, horse-drawn sleigh rides and more! 

Weekends, Nov. 19-Dec. 19; Downtown Long Grove; More details

Naper Lights

Located on Naperville's beautiful riverwalk, you'll find the 8th Annual Naper Lights display. Lights on Water Street tress and the Foyo plaza will be synced to music with an enhanced sound system that will project music across the DuPage River. 

Thanksgiving through New Year's; 120 Water St., Naperville; More info

Watch a Long-Time Favorite Ballet in a New Way

Art on theMART

The Nutcracker on Art on theMART

An animated digital display of The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker will be shown as part of Chicago's Art on theMART, the largest digital art projection in the world. The Nutcracker presentation for Art on theMART, set to the music of Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, runs nightly. 

Nov. 26-Dec. 30; 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, River North; More info

Be Dazzled by the City of Chicago

The BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

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 Nov. 19 & 20, 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 our story 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.

City of Chicago

Ice Skating at Millennium Park

Take a spin on the ice in view of our beautifully lit city at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Reservations are required for 90-minute skate sessions. Once again this year, the rink will offer free ice skating lessons, Sat. & Sun., 8 a.m.-9 a.m. 

Nov. 19-Mar. 6; 201 E. Randolph, Millennium Park; More info

Ice Skating at Maggie Daley

Because of its stellar city and lake views, the Maggie Daley Park ice skating ribbon is one of the best spots in the city to skate a figure eight. The railing that lines the loop is the perfect pick-me-up for wobbly skaters. Reservations are required for the 2021-22 skating season. 

Nov. 19-Mar. 13; Maggie Daley Park, 337 E. Randolph St., Loop; More info

See Chicago’s Hotels Decked Out for the Season

Hilton Chicago Holiday Tree & Gingerbread Display

Visit Hilton Chicago's lobby to take a photo by their beautifully lit 24-foot Christmas tree and take a peek at their annual gingerbread display that pays homage to the city of Chicago.  This year the display is the Chicago Gingerbread City, including a replica of Hilton Chicago. 

Beginning Nov. 19, Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., Grant Park; More details

Fairmont Chicago Lodge

Fairmont Chicago is debuting a new winter experience, a transformation of their lounge to become Fairmont Chicago Lodge with cozy decor, fire pits, festive programming, holiday moving screenings, overnight packages and more. Nestled between Millennium Park and the Mag Mile, the lodge offers a warm and unexpected holiday haven for families. 

Nov. 20-Feb. 2022; Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus Dr., Loop. More details

Swissôtel

Swissôtel

Santa Claus is ready to show off his swanky Chicago pad! Swissôtel Chicago Presidential Suite is Santa’s home-away-from-the-Pole for the holiday season. The suite offers sweeping views of the city, where Santa can closely monitor the weather patterns before his busy Christmas Eve and provides a cozy retreat for finalizing his naughty and nice list. Santa is taking a more intimate approach with his planned festivities by offering deluxe accommodations and private experiences. Click here to find out more!

Beginning Nov. 20; Swissôtel, 323 E. Wacker, Loop; More details

— Maria Chambers

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