The Big Chicago 10: Where To Find The Best Christmas Lights & Displays

When it comes to major holiday celebrations, Chicago is always over the top. All summer the city goes all out with major fireworks displays, while during the winter it's illuminated with lights, signifying the joyous holiday season. But where do you go so as not to miss out on any action?

From the magnificent official city Christmas tree in Millennium Park to the Museum of Science and Industry's "Christmas Around the World" display, here are some holiday highlights guaranteed to bring cheer to all.

--edited by Audarshia Townsend

  • 01 of 10

    CTA Holiday Buses & Trains

    ••• Photo courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority

    Commuting through Chicago? The spectacular six-car train is an amazing sight with the outside adorned with holiday seasonal images, and interiors decked out with thousands of multi-colored lights, red bows, garland, and red and green overhead lighting. And, as the train pulls into each station, Santa waves to boarding passengers from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and decorated holiday trees. Also, a 60-foot bus bejeweled inside and out with hundreds of lights and holiday decoration travels through the city.

    The Sprint CTA Holiday Train will travel all 'L' lines in November and December as part of regular rail service. The Sprint CTA Holiday Bus will travel nine CTA bus routes in December as part of regular service. Normal CTA fares apply.

  • 02 of 10
    ••• Photo courtesy of Christkindlmarket Chicago

    Christkindlmarket Chicago started in 1996, and has grown tremendously in popularity with more than half a million people attending each year. It's the largest German market of its kind in the country, and it aims to stay true to its German roots. More than 70 percent of the market's vendors speak German as well as English. What sets Christkindlmarket apart from other shopping opportunities in the downtown area is that it offers a unique experience. Many of the items are handcrafted and incredibly unique. Wares range from hand-blown glass ornaments, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, jewelry, toys, clothing and more. Many of the vendors also offer demonstrations of the making of their items. One of the most anticipated attractions of Christkindlmarket is the official Christkind, a young woman from Nuremberg, Germany dressed in traditional holiday attire and commissioned to serve as ambassador for the event. She will be present throughout the duration of Christkindlmarket and is part of...MORE the grand opening festivities. That's when she'll recite a prologue translated from the original German version, to welcome visitors to the Christkindlmarket Chicago.  Christkindlmarket takes place Nov. 18-Dec. 24.

    Location: Daley Plaza at Washington and Dearborn streets

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: There are beverages and food at Christkindlmarket, plus 312 Chicago, Atwood, Berghoff Restaurant, The Dearborn, Frontera Fresco, Italian Village Restaurants, Latinicity, Petterino's

  • 03 of 10

    Official Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting at Millennium Park

    ••• Photo courtesy of the City of Chicago

    Head to Millennium Park (It was previously held at Daley Plaza) to witness the lighting of a 69-foot Norway Spruce, which was donated by an area resident and decked out in thousands of lights. The official tree lighting ceremony occurs at 6 p.m. Nov. 18 with performances by cast members of "STOMP" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer the Musical." Also on hand is Santa's Workshop at the base of the tree. Santa is available every day through Christmas Eve to listen to children's gift requests and for a great photo opportunity. There is also ice skating in the park during the season. The tree remains lit throughout the season.

    Location: Near Michigan Avenue and Washington Streets at 201 E. Randolph St.

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: Acanto, Chicago Athletic Association Hotel (Cherry Circle Room, Cindy's, Milk Bar, Shake Shack), Chuck's: A Kerry Simon Kitchen, Columbus Tap, The Gage, Giordano's, Mr. Brown's Lounge, Park Grill, Pastoral Artisan Cheese,...MORE Bread & WineRemington's Restaurant, Seven LionsTavern at the Park, Tesori

  • 04 of 10
    Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
    ••• Photo courtesy of Brookfield Zoo

    Chicagoland's second zoo hosts the Largest and Longest Running Lights Festival in the area. Get into the holiday season with decorations of almost one million lights, a laser light show, carolers, storytellers and more. Many of the indoor exhibits will be open for viewing animals, plus there will be "singing to the animals" and special "zoo chats." New exhibitions include a 41-foot talking tree and Polar Lights show. In addition, the zoo's restaurants and food stands will be open with full menus and holiday treats, and gift shops will have hundreds of unique items. The exhibition is included in the admission price to the zoo. It runs 4-9 p.m. Dec. 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, and Dec. 26-31

    Location: 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield, Ill.; 708-688-8000

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: On premises

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  • 05 of 10
    ••• Photo courtesy of Carol Fox and Associates Public Relations

    What: This customized, two-and-a-half hour trolley tour of Chicago is a great way to see all the sights in holiday splendor. Hosted by Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co., the annual event happens throughout the season and takes passengers to various locations, including the Magnificent Mile, historic State Street (home to Block Thirty Seven and the famed holiday windows at Macy's on State), the Loop, Christkindlmarket Chicago and Lincoln Park Zoo's ZooLights. Adding to the festive cheer, the Holiday Lights Tour has added a new stop at 50 E. Walton St., visiting Sprinkles Cupcakes’ only Midwest retail location. Sprinkles’ handcrafted, delicious confections will be brought on every holiday trolley and served at no additional charge to each passenger.

    Location: Tours begin and end at the John Hancock Plaza Tree (875 N. Michigan Ave.)

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars:  A complete guide to eating and drinking on the Magnificent Mile

  • 06 of 10

    Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights

    ••• Photo courtesy of Museum of Science and Industry

    Through the first weekend of January, the annual exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry takes a look at how various cultures celebrate the winter holiday across the globe, with performances from multiple dance and chorus groups, as well as more than 50 trees decorated by various ethnic groups throughout Chicago. The 45-foot tree in the museum's main hall is decorated with ornaments representing many of their classic exhibits.

    Location: 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., 773-684-1414

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: A10Cemitas Puebla, Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, Ja' Grill, Lake Shore Cafe, La Petite Folie, Promontory, Snail Thai Cuisine, Valois Diner

  • 07 of 10
    ••• Photo courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

    Every year from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, Lincoln Park Zoo decorates the zoo with strings of lights and bright displays, and extends their hours into the evening in celebration of the holiday season. But it's not just about the lights. The zoo provides other Christmas attractions as well such as Santa's Safari, ice carving demonstrations and a holiday express train. It takes place 4:30-9 p.m. Nov. 25-27, Dec. 2-4, 9-23, 26-31; Jan. 1.

    Location: 2200 N. Cannon Dr.

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: The Blanchard, Hotel Lincoln (Beermiscuous, J. Parker, Perennial Virant), Intro Restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi, Naoki, North Pond, R.J. Grunts)

  • 08 of 10

    Macy's on State Street Holiday Windows

    ••• Photo courtesy of Macy's on State

    Marshall Field’s flagship store opened The Walnut Room, the first-ever department store restaurant in the late 1890s. Macy’s on State continues the tradition, which includes the famed chicken pot pies and elaborate holiday window displays. In addition, there's Santaland on the fifth floor and the Great Tree in The Walnut Room. Visitors may get into the holiday spirit here early November through early January.

    Location: 111 N. State St., 312-781-3125 

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: 312 Chicago, Atwood, Berghoff Restaurant, The Dearborn, Frontera Fresco, Italian Village Restaurants, Latinicity, Lockwood Restaurant, Petterino's, Potters, Raised, State And Lake Chicago Tavern, Staytion Market & Bar

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade

    ••• Photo courtesy of The Magnificent Mile Association

    Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Santa and others kick off the holiday season on Nov. 18-19 during the annual parade and festival on the famed Magnificent Mile shopping district. More than one million lights on 200 trees will be lit during the event that will also include live performances. As part of Lights Festival Lane on the Plaza (401 N. Michigan Ave.), there will be a number of additional performances that are family friendly. The festival culminates in a fireworks show over the Chicago River at 6:55 p.m. The holiday lights will be on display throughout the season.

    Location: Lights Festival Lane: Pioneer Court, 401 N. Michigan Ave.,
    Lighting Procession: North Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Wacker Drive; Fireworks Display: North Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars: A complete guide to eating and drinking on the Magnificent Mile

  • 10 of 10

    Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier

    ••• Photo courtesy of Navy Pier

    Held at Navy Pier, the WinterWonderfest is in its 16th year and is considered the city's biggest indoor winter playground, featuring 170,000 square feet of rides, giant slides and the Chicago Blackhawks indoor ice skating rink. Visitors may purchase two different types of tickets: the general admission ticket, which is $10 at the door and includes the Jingle Jym Jr., Kringle Carousel and Reindeer Express Train Ride; or the activity ticket, which is $25 at the door and includes access to more than 25 rides such as the Blackhawks indoor skating rink with skate rental. It runs Dec. 2-Jan. 8.

    Location: 600 E. Grand Ave., 312-595-7437

    Nearby Restaurants & Bars:  Where to eat and drink on Navy Pier