Find Your Joy in Illinois This Holiday Season


Now that the holiday season is upon us, ‘tis the season for travelers to enjoy the jolliest of what Illinois has to offer, from its cheerful small towns to the iconic city of Chicago,

Not sure where to start? Illinois is home to plenty of holiday activities and festive events that will fill your heart with cheer. Read on to learn more!


One exciting holiday tradition is seeing “The Nutcracker,” performed at several theaters around the area. The most celebrated version is put on by the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet. Enjoy an incredible performance by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra and see graceful ballet dancers tell the story of a young girl’s Christmas dream.

If you want to put a smile on the kids' faces, rent ice skates and cruise around Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon.  The winding path next to Millennium Park offers the majestic skyline as a backdrop, and the rink is even open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (opens November 18; Millennium Park).

Tired of the cold? Get cozy in a heated igloo at Winter Wonderland an the Godfrey Hotel’s rooftop bar, I|O. Take in gorgeous views of lit-up skyscrapers surrounding you as you enjoy cocktails and delicious food. The youngsters even have access to outdoor fire pits to make their own s'mores—the DIY supplies are on the menu.

Animal-themed light displays set to music (and real animals) are highlights at Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights. Admission is free to see more than two million lights on display, plus ice sculptures being carved and carolers strolling the grounds (November 19–January 1, select days).

There's nothing quite like immersing yourself in the sights and smells of your nearest Christkindlmarket. Roasted nuts, fresh pretzels, bratwurst, hot spiced wine, the sound of music, and the glimmer of sparkling Christmas ornaments—all in a cozy atmosphere. Whether it's in downtown Chicago, Wrigleyville, or Aurora, you don't want to miss the authentic German-style Christkindlmarket experience.

Head to the 'Burbs

Trees are the stars of the light show at the unique Illumination at The Morton Arboretum in west suburban Lisle. Visitors walk along a one-mile path past colorful and creative art installations within the trees. Entertainment, hot chocolate and bonfires dot the path (November 19 – January 7).

There’s an equally dazzling display in north suburban Glencoe at the Chicago Botanic Gardens’ Lightscape. With huge light tunnels amid colorful light displays offer a one-of-a-kind experience the whole family can enjoy (November 11–January 8).

Road Trip!

Stay in your car for the drive-through light display in East Peoria’s Festival of Lights, a 35-year tradition with giant animated displays, including a 160-foot-long steam engine train. If you’re lucky, you might see Santa, who occasionally drops by (November 19 – January 02). 

Alton’s Christmas Wonderland light show fills Rock Spring Park with more than four million lights, including a cascading waterfall. Afterward, head to the neighboring town of Bethalto, where their Christmas Village features a live nativity scene, plus holiday craft and food vendors (November 25 – December 27).

Families spend the whole day out at Rockford’s annual Stroll on State. A parade and family stroll starts the day. After that, you can meander around the area, taking horse-and-wagon rides, enjoying music and food, and visiting the elf houses. The evening tree-lighting celebration is capped off with fireworks and a synchronized light show along the banks of the Rock River (November 26).

Make sure you plan a visit Hardy's Reindeer Ranch—the North Pole has moved to Central Illinois! Check out the Grand Prix style race track, pick a Christmas tree, stop by the fascinating gift shop and, of course, see the reindeer.

Combine festive cheer with Illinois history at the annual Old Capitol Holiday Walks in Springfield, which includes a variety of special events each weekend. Enjoy an ice rink, performances on the Old State Capitol Plaza and a meet n' greet with Santa Claus. Events occur Wednesdays and Saturdays from November 26 - December 21.

Spirited and spectacular, the Way of Lights display, which spans more than a mile in Belleville, offers a unique way to experience the Christmas story. Beyond the lights, you'll find a variety of displays and activities, including choir performances, a Christmas tree, a Lego® Block Display, camel rides and a petting zoo (November 18-December 31).

The 23rd Annual Du Quoin Holiday Lights Fair features over three miles of lighted displays, plus craft vendors and free entertainment. Plus, the kids will have a blast exploring the model race track, taking free train rides and visiting with Santa (November 26-December 30).