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Chicago Holiday Lights

Chicago in November means three things: cooler nights, darker days — and brighter lights. Holiday lights that is. The Windy City might get a little chillier this time of year, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still get out and have a blast. These 10 winter wonderland activities are so entertaining that they’ll make you completely forget the mercury is dropping.



This Bavarian-inspired market pays homage to Chicago’s German immigrant heritage. It’s based on the famous winter market in Nuremberg, Germany, and has been operating since 1996.

Held in Daley Plaza from mid-November to Christmas Eve, this event is totally free to the public.

The main attraction is the pop-up vendors, gifts and ornament booths. Of course, you can’t go to a holiday market without partaking in a little German liquid warmth. Vendors sell Bavarian sausages, Austrian strudel, beer, wine, cheese and hot chocolate.

Live entertainment includes the Alpine Brass Band, Christkind, the Phenix Trio and the Neighborhood Elves — a high school Christmas Carol group.

Note: this market is where our Holiday Lights Tour concludes!


Museum of Science and Industry

Even the MoSaI gets in on the holiday fun in Chicago with their annual exhibit, Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light.

Starting with a single tree lighting, the exhibit features 50 additional trees that are decorated with ornaments representing traditions from all over the world. Live music and entertainment will also be featured at this event. The museum has been hosting this exhibit since 1942!

The exhibit will be open mid-November until the end of December.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park hosts one of the largest Christmas trees in Chicago and — dare we say — the U.S.? Hundreds of locals head to Wrigley Square on Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street each November to see the tree lighting and special musical guests — in 2018, the ceremony will be hosted by Miguel Cervantes of Hamilton Chicago.

If you can’t make the festivities, you should still head down to the park to get a glimpse of the tree. It will be lit through the first week of January.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Sometimes convincing kids to get excited about holiday markets can be a challenge. If this reminds you of your family, the Lincoln Park Zoo holiday market might be more your speed.

2.5 million bulbs light up the park. Whimsical monkey statues hang from the trees. Vendors representing some of the most popular crafters and food vendors in Chicago will set up shop here. The best part is that most of the zoo grounds remain open during the event, so kids will have plenty of activities to keep their attention while the adults shop.

Chicago’s Finest Tours is happy to announce that our Holiday Lights Tour will make a stop at this market this year!

Magnificent Mile

Possibly one of the most spectacular events on this list for little ones, the BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a two-day event that takes place in mid-November.

The event kicks off Friday afternoon with a parade, featuring Mickey and Minnie. The fun continues with live music and a meet-and-greet with Santa. There’s even a fireworks display after dark.

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, the event continues, featuring a Kid’s Zone, Santa and even more activities.

If you can’t get out to the festival, don’t worry: the parade is televised each year, so you can watch it all from the warmth of your own home or hotel room. Or, enjoy the splendor from the warmth of a luxury motor coach bus.

Navy Pier Winter WonderFest

The fun isn’t over yet! Each year, Navy Pier hosts an indoor event, featuring rides, slides, ice skating and family fun. It all kicks off with Cheer at the Pier, the opening night celebration that takes place at the end of November.

Some of the amenities guests can look forward to include appetizers and an open bar included in the price of the ticket. Of course, all guests will have access to the winter wonderland rides, games and activities.

St. Lucia Festival

Each year, the neighborhood of Andersonville hosts the St. Lucia Festival of Lights to pay homage to the Swedish American culture in Chicago.

The event includes a candle lighting, caroling and Lucia girls handing out coffee and Lucia buns (as is tradition in Swedish heritage). After the candle lighting, guests are encouraged to stick around for even more musical performances, food and events.

Holiday Train Ride

No one complains about the L during the holidays. Each year, the CTA runs an annual holiday train that’s decorated in hundreds of whimsical lights. Two six-car trains, the Elves’ Workshop Train and the Holiday Train, speed through Chicago. At every stop, riders are greeted by Santa and his elves.

It’s free to ride the CTA holiday train; however, guests are encouraged to donate to the CTA’s annual food charity.

The CTA is also adding two holiday buses to the fleet.

If you have a little more cash to burn, the Polar Express Train is making its way into Union Station this year. Based on the famous book and movie of the same name, the train recreates the experience — complete with hot cocoa and golden tickets.

Holiday Windows

Some of the most impressive holiday displays take place right where you’re probably going to be during the major gift-giving season anyway: the stores.

Macy’s on State Street assembles some of the most impressive window displays in the city. If you have time, swing by the fifth floor to meet up with Santa. Or, have dinner at the historic Walnut Room to enjoy a festive environment, replete with an elaborately decorated tree.

Botanic Garden Train

Trains and the holidays just seem to go together, don’t they? The Wonderland Express is making local stops in the Chicago Botanic Garden again this year.

The miniature train weaves its way through famous Chicago sites while you wander through a grove of ice carvings and listen to the ethereal music of carolers. The garden also hosts free holiday movie nights on weekends in December, featuring classics such as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Jack Frost.”

There are so many holiday activities in Chicago each year that you won’t know which ones to head to first. Of course, if you want to enjoy the city while staying toasty warm, you can always take our Holiday Lights Tour to see some of these sites – and more!

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