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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!

Ballet dancers performing The Nutcracker on stage in a Joffrey Ballet performance

Joffrey Ballet

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.

People ice skating on a track

Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon

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 and enjoy the Holiday Cocktail Fest at 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.

People looking at the light displays at lincoln park zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo's ZooLights

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 17–January 7, select days).

Shops along side each other


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 ChicagoWrigleyville, or Aurora, you don't want to miss the authentic German-style Christkindlmarket experience.

Trees lit up with colorful lights

The Morton Arboretum

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 18 – January 6).

People walking through a tunnel covered in lights

Chicago Botanic Gardens’ Lightscape

There’s an equally dazzling display in north suburban Glencoe at the Chicago Botanic Gardens’ Lightscape. Huge light tunnels amid colorful light displays offer a one-of-a-kind experience the whole family can enjoy (November 10–January 7).

East Peoria’s Festival of Lights

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 24 – January 1). 

Christmas wonderland alton

Alton’s Christmas Wonderland

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 24 – December 27).

Families spend the whole day out at Rockford’s annual Stroll on State. A parade and family stroll start the day. After that, you can meander around the area, take horse-and-wagon rides, enjoy music and food, and visit 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 25).

Hardy's Reindeer Ranch

Make sure you plan a visit to 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 17-December 31).

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