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Holiday Family Fun

Nov 13, 2019 Activities

People walking under a display of lights

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).

People ice skating on a track
Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon

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.

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).

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.

Father with son on shoulders looking at the Christmas lights
Zoo Lights, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

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 18 – January 6).

Trees lit up with colorful lights
Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum

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).

People walking through a tunnel covered in lights
Lightscape Cathedral

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 24 – January 1). 

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).

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.

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