The holiday season is right around the corner! Though Chicago is one of those cities that starts to freeze even before the winter officially begins, Chicago is also a city that knows how to do Christmas and pull people out of their comfy and warm homes, and out to the streets. As the holiday season is in full force, I want to share with you some of the things you can do in Chicago during the holidays whether you happen to find yourself here or would like to know what the Windy City has to offer during this cheerful season!
The holiday season in Chicago during the pandemic…
Though as a consequence of the current rise of cases in the state of Illinois, the state has enforced a lockdown specifically for the city of Chicago and surrounding municipalities inside Cook County as of November 16th, which you can read more about here if you’d like to learn more. From the information displayed as of now, and the updates from the different holiday attractions websites, it seems like most of them will and are running as usual (with safety precautions, that is).
That being said, It is as always encouraged that you make your own decision, and make your own best judgment on what to do. In this post, I will be suggesting places, attractions, and activities that you can still do this year according to county and state ordinances, from walking activities to drive-by experiences and light shows. There is something for everyone, and I hope you can grab inspiration to think of other ideas you may have not thought of before to enjoy this season!
So without further ado, let’s get cracking!
Drive through a Christmas light show
Starting off with something you can do from your car, consider driving through one or two of the many drive-through Christmas light shows! Grab a box of munchkins, a large hot chocolate, and visit places such as the Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum offering a 30-40 minute drive through the enchanted forest of color, music, and lights! Or you can also check out the Aurora Festival of Lights, offering as some would say, the “most stunning light show” displayed by the Rotary Club of Aurora, at Philips Park in Aurora. This drive-by lights festival will take you through lights depicting Santa’s factory, giant snowflakes, reindeers, and more. Admission to this drive-by light show is free, although donations would be appreciated which will be donated to local charities. Lastly, you can also check out Let It Shine Drive-Thru Lightshow, located in Northbrook, IL, which offers a magical new tradition in the North Shore of whimsical lights, music, and cheer for all to enjoy. It’s recommended that you buy tickets in advance, which you can do here! It’s considered to be the North Shore’s largest drive-through light show, it’s definitely worth a visit!
Tree Lights of Morton Arboretum address: 4100 Illinois Rte 53, Lisle, Illinois, click here for more information on the Tree Lights of Morton Arboretum // Aurora Festival of Lights address: Ray Moses Dr, Aurora, IL 60505, click here for more information on the Aurora Festival of Lights // Let It Shine Drive-Thru Lightshow address: 1515 Lake Cook Road, Northbrook, IL 60062, click here for more information on the Let It Shine Drive-Thru Lightshow.
Lights at the zoo
If you prefer to walk it, the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights are running their annual zoo lights celebrations like they do every year. The Lincoln Park Zoo Lights is an iconic Chicago holiday activity, as Lincoln Park Zoo is lit up with hundreds of Christmas lights, you’ll be able to see some animals, and you’ll overall feel the spirit of the holidays right in the heart of the city. The light show will be running every day between November 21st and January 3rd, from 4 pm-10 pm. The price to enter is $5 per person (tickets required for children and infants), but they are offering 5 nights with free entrance: November 24 and December 9, 17, 21, and 29. If you purchase the additional Holiday Experience tickets, you’ll have access to special holiday exhibits, experiences, such as the lit-up enchanted forest, and the light maze, and more!
According to their site, their advice regarding the pandemic is to maintain social distancing, washing your hands constantly, and of course, dress warmly as everything is outdoors.
Additionally, Chicago’s other major zoo, Brookfield Zoo, also holds their Holiday Magic holiday Christmas lights experience from Friday through Sunday, November 27-29, Wednesday through Sunday, December 2-6, 9-13, 16-20, Saturday through Thursday, December 26-31 between 3 pm-9 pm. . Here you also want to purchase your tickets in advance, and at a specific time, as a precaution of the times. Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic offers an enchanting walk through a 600-foot-long tunnel featuring thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music, a 20-foot-lit orb to get your selfie with, A 41-foot-tall tree, and a multitude of LED animal sculptures of a bison, bear, and giraffes! On top of that, games for kids and adults, food, and hot beverages!
The website doesn’t display any kind of extra safety precautions tips or updates concerning the pandemic, other than maintaining social distancing, washing your hands, and dressing warmly for the outdoor walks and fun.
Lincoln Park Zoo Lights address: 2400 N. Cannon Drive, click here for more information on the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights // Brookfield Zoo address: 8400 31st Street, Brookfield, IL 60513, click here for more information on Brookfield Zoo’s Magical Holidays
Small town and suburb holiday magic
It’s movies like Home Alone, and the pure quintessential qualities that are showcased in that movie of the holidays in the suburbs and small towns of Illinois, that offer such special magic when celebrating the holiday season in Chicago. Now, even though a movie like Home Alone wasn’t exactly filmed in the city of Chicago, it was filmed in the suburb of Winnetka, Wilmette, as well as Oak Park, a drive to these suburbs is a good way to experience that magic that you see when you watch a movie like Home Alone and Nothing Like The Holidays (filmed in Illinois).
If you stop by Winnetka for example, just as Home Alone shows, the town likes to celebrate the holidays with their own light show, so make sure to stop by Christmas on Evergreen, a light show of 90,000 lights and music. Their aim isn’t only to spread some holiday cheer, but also raise money for Make-A-Wish of Illinois for children suffering illnesses. Another activity you can do is to visit Santa *by car* and if you have children, they can drop off their letter to him right then and there.
So if you want to experience the cozy, warm, holiday magic and decor you see in movies like the ones mentioned, then definitely consider a drive through a suburb town/city such as Naperville, Geneva, Libertyville, Woodstock, and more!
Christmas on Evergreen address: 145 Evergreen Lane, Winnetka, IL. Click here for more information on Christmas on Evergreen. // Santa’s Visit address: 540 Hibbard Rd, Winnetka, IL 60093. Click here for more information
Related post: The Prettiest Small Towns To Visit in Illinois
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
If you’re more about staying home and finding a way to experience the magic and light of the holiday season, then look no further than the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival! Due to the pandemic, it will not take place as it does usually with a live parade, however, it will be broadcasted through ABC 7 (which can also be streamed to a large part of the country). It will be one hour of performances, Disney characters, and the lighting up of the Magnificent Mile trees! The event will take place on November 22nd, 6 pm- 7 pm, so don’t forget to tune in!
Botanic Garden Lightscape
Very much like the Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum, the Chicago Botanic Gardens Lightscape show offers the magic of the season with a pretty spectacular walk through the 1.25 miles of twinkling lights, music, wonder, and the warm glow of the multitude of lights all around. This event is very popular, and as of right now (November 18th), as I finish this post, all tickets have sold out for the season (November 13th-January 3rd). However, I wanted to add this as a potential idea for next year, in case you reading this may not be aware of this holiday attraction. The Botanic Garden itself is very beautiful, so the lightshow that they put on, I have heard from many people, is one of the best! So a visit here is very much recommended!
The Chicago Botanic Garden Lightshow address: 1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL 60022. Click here for more information on The Chicago Botanic Garden Lightshow
Pandemic or not, or knowledge of what tomorrow will look like in terms of regulations is uncertain. I think that what we are allowed to do is plan and hope for the chance to experience at least some kind of holiday festivity even if it means enjoying it from the comfort of our cars or homes.
The main intention of this post is to give you ideas of different ways in which you can experience the holiday season this year, and show you that some places within the state have rules, and others do not as strictly. The uncertainty can create confusion and miscommunication on what is ok and what is not ok to do, but from the information shared so far, the intention is to reduce large crowds, maintain distance, and keep washing your hands to avoid the spread of the virus.
I hope this list gave you a good base to either take ideas from that you may not have known before, or that it sparked your own ideas to look into things happening in your local area that I may not have covered in this post. Regardless, I would love it if you can share down below something you plan on doing, maybe differently from other years, to experience the holiday season this year. Are you taking a stroll to see the Christmas lights at your local park district, or even your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments!
To many more travel adventures of light, warmth, and new perspectives ✨