Where to see spectacular Christmas lights in Chicago

Take in most magical Christmas light displays in the city (and the 'burbs) with the help of our shiny list
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
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Everyone has their own unique way of celebrating the holidays in Chicago, but nothing feels quite as surreal as an evening spent gazing at shimmering Christmas light displays. Throughout December (and much of November) the city is filled with strings of twinkling bulbs, from the gigantic display at Lincoln Park Zoo to the handiwork that can be found on houses in Chicago’s most beautiful neighborhoods. Get outside to peep these dazzling light shows before New Year's Eve. Use our guide to find some of the brightest spots in Chicago and the suburbs.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Christmas in Chicago

Christmas lights in Chicago and the suburbs

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Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
Things to do, Late openings

ZooLights

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park Zoo | Chicago, IL, Lincoln Park
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When the weather gets cold and most of the animals head indoors, Lincoln Park Zoo tranforms into a a field of twinkling bulbs. ZooLights decorates the beloved zoo with themed displays, perfect for a seasonal Instagram. Throughout the month, you'll also find ice-sculpture carvers and carolers joining the fun, as well as hot beverages available for purchase. This year, ZooLights adds several ticketed events, including a Holiday Market (Nov 27), an adults-only night (Nov 29), a live performance of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec 9) and a Zoo Year's Eve celebration (Dec 31). 

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Christmas Around The World and Holidays of Lights at The Museum of Science and Industry
Photograph: J.B. Spector
Things to do, Exhibitions

“Christmas Around the World”

icon-location-pin Museum of Science and Industry | Chicago, IL, Hyde Park
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Every year, the Museum of Science and Industry puts up its 45-foot-tall Grand Tree and surrounds the towering pine with more than 50 trees that represent Chicago's various communities and their respective holiday celebrations. Visitors can admire the 30,000 lights that cover the trees and stick around for the "snow" that falls from the rotunda every 30 minutes. During the weekend, live performances of holiday music fill the room, lending some additional seasonal cheer to your day at the museum.

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Things to do

Logan Boulevard

Logan Square may be best known as a destination for cocktails and cheffy dinners, but the neighborhood also hosts one of the most festive holiday light displays in all of Chicago. Locals refer to property at 2656 W Logan Boulevard as "the Logan Square Christmas House" because of the over-the-top decorations and twinkling blubs that cover the home during the holidays. Owner Frank Lopez creates wire frames of reindeer, birds and Christmas trees that he festoons with lights—it's a spectacle worth seeking out.

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Illumination
Photograph: Courtesy Morton Arboretum
Things to do, Festivals

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum

icon-location-pin Morton Arboretum, Suburbs
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When the weather gets cold, the trees at Morton Arboretum light up in a sea of color at this popular winter event. Guests at Illumination walk down a one-mile path through the forest, admiring the magical display and seasonal music. New features at this year's edition include tree-like sculpture from artist HYBYCOZO, a tree that changes colors when you hug it and campfires stocked with hot drinks and s'mores.

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Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka
Things to do, Performances

City of Chicago Christmas Tree

icon-location-pin Millennium Park | Chicago, IL, Millennium Park
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Every year, Chicago's front lawn (er, Millennium Park) is adorned with an epic Christmas tree that remains on display until the beginning of the new year. The city's 105th tree is a 48-year-old, 60-foot-tall, 8,200-pound Norway spruce from Elmhurst, Illinois. The larger-than-life attraction is festooned with twinkling lights and crowned with an illuminated star. Spectators can check out the festive tree near Washington Street and Michigan Avenue through Sunday, January 6, 2019.

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Bars, Pubs

Butch McGuire’s

icon-location-pin Gold Coast

There's nothing subtle about the holiday decor at this Division Street bar. Each year, the owners of Butch McGuire's cover the ceiling with strings of shiny LED lights and set up a toy train that zooms around the room. In December, it's not uncommon to find coworkers and friends gazing upwards to admire the festive display, which coexists with the Irish saloon's collection of antique beer paraphernalia and model ships.

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Things to do, Festivals

Winter WonderFest

icon-location-pin Navy Pier, Festival Hall,
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Too cold outside? Navy Pier brings all of the winter fun indoors, filling its gigantic 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall with an ice skating rink, carnival rides, a tubing hill, seasonal activities and piles of holiday decorations. Bring the kids and avoid the slush for an afternoon or show up on New Year's Eve (when the attraction is open until 8pm) to slide around the fake ice during the final hours of 2018. Anyone under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. 

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Things to do, Festivals

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo

icon-location-pin Brookfield Zoo, Suburbs
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More than one million lights cover the trees, fences and structures in the Brookfield Zoo at this annual holiday event. Attendees are encouraged to sing carols to the animals, explore the zoo's indoor exhibits and view light shows. This year, Holiday Magic will feature a Chicago Wolves skating rink, where visitors can slide around while admiring the decorations.

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Things to do

Roscoe Village

There's a $150 cash prize for the top commercial and residential holiday displays in this cozy North Side neighborhood, which means that residents get pretty serious about their decorations. Take a stroll along the side streets that surround the intersection of Damen Avenue and Roscoe Street and you're guaranteed to find some blinding physical manifestations of seasonal spirit.

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Photograph: Krystal Thibault
Things to do, Festivals

Aurora Festival of Lights

icon-location-pin Phillips Park & Zoo, Suburbs
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A city named after nature's most stunning light show deserves an equally spectacular man-made display. The Rotary Club of Aurora organizes this holiday wonderland in Phillips Park, allowing visitors to drive through and take in more than 420 different scenes. You'll see reindeer, elves, Santa's sleigh, gigantic snowflakes and more impressive illuminated sights on as your cruise through this festival.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Shopping, Department stores

Macy’s

icon-location-pin Loop

This historic downtown department store takes the holiday season very seriously. On the seventh floor, hungry visitors can sit down for lunch or dinner in the Walnut Room, which is outfitted with a massive light-strewn Christmas tree for the holiday season. On your way out, be sure to check out the epic window displays along State Street, where you'll find magical, illuminated scenes that the whole family will enjoy.

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Wonderland Express
Kids

Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Gardens

icon-location-pin Chicago Botanic Garden | Glencoe, IL, Suburbs
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All aboard for the Botanic Garden's 10,000-square-foot indoor model train exhibit, which runs through 80 itty-bitty replicas of Chicago landmarks while fake snow falls throughout the venue. Outside, Christmas lights are strung throughout the gardens and ice sculptors show up to create art with chainsaws on December 16 and January 5 and 6.

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