Where to See the Best Christmas Lights Displays in the Midwest

Jamie Bartosch Avatar
Christmas lights at Amaze Light Festival.
The Christmas lights at Amaze Light Festival. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

With Christmastime just around the corner, everyone’s looking to get into the holiday spirit. And if you live in the Midwest, you’re in luck: it’s home to some of the most impressive Christmas lights displays around. In fact, many of the Midwest’s illuminations are award-winning family traditions. Here’s where to see the best Christmas lights displays in the Midwest, from Illinois to Ohio, Wisconsin to South Dakota, and Michigan to Missouri.

Illinois

Northbrook

Let It Shine converts the Northbrook Court mall parking lot into a fun, drive-through musical light display. Tune your car radio to a certain station and drive along the winding path and watch the lights move to the music on towering trees, lighted tunnels and flashing candy canes. The mouths of the illuminated characters move to sing along with the mood-lifting music-everything from the “Frozen” soundtrack to old-school Christmas tunes.

Limited spots are available, so advanced purchase is required. Including taxes and fees, tickets are $32.99 per car on weekdays and $42.99 per car on weekends and holidays. Fast passes are available for an additional $20. Tickets can be used for discounts at nearby restaurants and shops. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the NorthShore University HealthSystem Kellogg Cancer Center. Runs November 18, 2022-January 1, 2023, every night from 6-10 p.m (including Christmas Day!).

SheBuysTravel Tip: Let the kids stand up through the sunroof as you drive slowly through the lighted tunnels. It makes a cool video!

Northbrook is now also home to another fun drive-thru lights display: Willow Hills Winter Magic at the Willow Hill Golf Course. The display features more than one million lights making up characters, tunnels, Christmas trees and more family fun. Willow Hill Winter Magic is open every day from 4:30-10:30 p.m., running November 2, 2022-January 2, 2023. The lights will stay lit Fridays and Saturdays from January 3-22.

girl in car at holiday lights display in the midwest
Let it Shine is a fun, new drive-thru Christmas Lights display in Northbrook, Illinois. Photo credit: Soaring Badger Productions

Alton

The “grandpa gang” hangs up 4 million lights on the trees in Rock Spring Park for Christmas Wonderland from November 25-December 27. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $7 per car.

Bethalto

Just nine miles east of Alton is the Bethalto Christmas Village. It’s a walk-through festival in the Arboretum. Expect to see the cottages, giving trees, wire art and lit trees throughout the half-mile path. The Village is free to enjoy, but donations are always accepted to improve the event. It opens on November 26 and runs through the beginning of the new year.

Several of the 24 whimsical gnomes placed throughout Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic event.
Five of the 24 gnomes placed throughout Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic event. Photo credit: Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield

Brookfield Zoo’s annual Holiday Magic event will feature a 600-foot-long tunnel with thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music; a giant 20-foot-lit orb ideal for Instagram selfies or holiday photos; a 41-foot-tall holiday tree; larger-than-life LED animal sculptures of a bison, a bear, and a giraffe; and 660 LED-lit trees decorated with ornaments.

There will also be a Game of Gnomes family-friendly scavenger hunt, seasonal treats and beverages, and a life-size cut out Santa Claus photo frame. The event is open Wednesday-Sunday from November 25-December 18 and daily from December 26-31. Hours are always 3-9 p.m. Admission is by timed tickets, which must be purchased in advance. Tickets are not yet available, but regular zoo tickets are normally $24.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 3-11. Parking is $15.

Chicago

The big Magnificent Mile Lights Festival returns Saturday, November 19, beginning with an early ceremonial tree lighting on Friday, November 18 at 4 p.m., located at the Wrigley Building Centennial Plaza. The parade itself takes place on November 19 from 5:307 p.m. If you can’t see it live, the parade will air on ABC 7 Chicago on November 20 at  6 p.m., with additional broadcasts throughout the holiday season depending on your location.

This year, the Christkindl Market will be returning as a physical event instead of online! There will be locations in Aurora and Chicago from November 18-December 24, as well as in Wrigleyville from November 18-December 31. The Market will be open on holidays with reduced hours. Admission is always free, but tickets are available for early entry on November 17. Prices are $80 for adults and $42 for kids aged 6-14. Tickets include complimentary beverage tickets andother goodies.

To experience Chicago Christmas lights in person, drive up Michigan Avenue or head to Lincoln Park for the ZooLights displays at Lincoln Park Zoo. ZooLights runs on select dates from November 19, 2022 to January 1, 2023. Hours are 4:30-10 p.m. Admission is free on Mondays and $5 all other days. Tickets are available online.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Check out all of the ways to celebrate Christmas in Chicago.

East Peoria

The East Peoria Festival of Lights is set to be even bigger this year. The town was a 2020 contender for Season 8 of The Great Christmas Light Fight on ABC. How did the town do? It was the CHAMPION of the Heavy Weights Division on the show! The 37th annual East Peoria Festival of Lights holiday light show will be open from November 24, 2022, through January 3, 2023. Admission to the Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through festival costs $10 per vehicle. Various extra events occur throughout the season, with details for each available on their website.

Rosemont

Impact Field (9850 Balmoral Ave.) is the new home of the Sparkle Light Festival. Featuring millions of holiday lights, a free “Holly Jolly” train ride, tubing on the “Alpine Slide” and illuminated villages including the Frozen Forest, Snowflake Circle, Winter Wonderland, the North Pole and Deck the Walls.

Families can also visit Rudolph’s Kids Zone and write letters to Santa. Open November 23, 2022, through January 1, 2023, general admission tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children ages 2-12. Premium ticket packages are available that include unlimited rides on the Alpine Slide and access to a buffet.

Christmas tree lights displayed at Amaze Light Festival.
Enjoy Amaze Light Festival with the whole family in Tinley Park. Photo credit: Amaze Light Festival

Tinley Park

The Amaze Light Festival has moved to Odyssey Fun World in Tinley Park this year. The festival is a magical experience. There are timed light shows, seven theme-based illuminated worlds and a ridiculously fun tubing hill with single and double tubes so even little kids can get the thrill of sliding down the icy hill with an adult. This festival runs from November 18, 2022-January 8, 2023. Hours are 4-10 p.m. Tickets start at $36 for adults and $30 for children ages 2-12. Family bundles are also available at a special price for groups of four or more.

Lisle

Trees are the stars of the awesome lights display at Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum in Chicago’s west suburbs. Illumination is a one-mile walk through colorful and creative lights displays. You can be sure this year will be extra special, as it’s both the 10th anniversary of the festival and the 100th anniversary of the Arboretum! Dates are November 29, 2022-January 7, 2023. Tickets must be purchased online for a timed entry. Tickets will not be sold at the door. Prices range from $10-$22 for members, and $16- $27 for guests. This year, there are two special events for adult attendees:  

  • Electric Illumination, in which the lights are synced to a curated selection of house music later at night
  • IllumiBrew, a craft-beer-focused experience

Aurora

Aurora’s Festival of Lights is one of the largest drive through Christmas lights shows in Illinois. Expect to see Santa’s Toy Factory, Old Man Winter, elves and reindeer, holiday trains, gigantic snowflakes and beautiful lighted swags on the fence line surrounding the zoo, Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive. This year, the event runs from November 25-December 26. The Rotary Club of Aurora sponsors the light show. Admission is free (even for buses!), but donations are being accepted online. The money is used to support local area organizations.

Indiana

Indianapolis

Indy has the nation’s tallest holiday light display at Circle of Lights in downtown Indianapolis’ Monument Circle. About 100,000 people have shown up in the past to watch the lights turn on. That will happen November 25, when the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument is transformed into a 242-foot tall Christmas tree. It will remain up until January 13, 2023. In addition, the Indianapolis Zoo’s Christmas at the Zoo is set for 5-9 p.m. from November 19-December 30.

Winterlights, a fun indoor and outdoor event with over 1.5 million lights, returns to the Garden at Newfields from November 20, 2022-January 8, 2023. Enjoy various themed displays, including the Landscape of Light, which is synced to the music of the Nutcracker. Seasonal food and drink are also available. Ticket prices vary based on membership and other events taking place.

Santa Claus

As you can imagine, this Christmas-themed town goes all-out for the holidays. A highlight is the 1.2-mile Santa Claus Land of Lights, a driving journey that tells the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer through huge LED displays. Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Thanksgiving, November 24-December 5 and nightly from December 9-26, the cost is $15/car, but you can get a $4 off coupon at local McDonald’s restaurants.

Carolers in period costumes at Conner Prairie's Merry Prairie Christmas Lights Display
Carolers in period costumes at Conner Prairie’s Merry Prairie Christmas Lights Display. Photo credit: Hamilton County Tourism

Conner Prairie

Get in the holiday spirit this year at the Merry Prairie Holiday Festival! The Reynolds family donated their annual lights display to the Festival, hosted at Conner Prairie. The festival will run from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from November 25-December 18, as well as Wednesday and Thursday, December 21 and 22. Tickets for members are $11 and nonmembers cost $22. Timed admission tickets must be purchased in advance. Admission is free for children under 2.

Valparaiso

Winter Lights Drive Thru features lots of unique displays, many custom-made by park maintenance staff. Look for farm scenes, a roller coaster and Santa taking off into the sky. Open nightly from dusk-9 p.m. on November 19, 2022-January 1, 2023 at Sunset Hill Park. Admission is always free, but donations are gladly accepted.

Kokomo

Highland Park’s City of Lights is a drive-through attraction with more than 50 light displays. Open nightly from Thanksgiving, November 24-December 31. Driving through is free.

Iowa

Davenport

The long-running Kwik Star Festival of Trees is now in its 37th year, and more magical than ever! Enjoy a walk in the Peppermint Forest, hundreds of unique and amazing displays, gift shops and more. Kids will love meeting Santa, playing fun holiday-themed games and doing arts and crafts. The festival runs from November 19-27 this year, and proceeds go to the Quad City Arts foundation, allowing them to help the community and continue to offer fun programs like the Festival every year. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 2-10, and can be purchased online, at the event or at any Kwik Star location near you. Purchase tickets at your local Kwik Star between November 1-15 to get $3 off each ticket.

Michigan

Greenfield Village Holiday Nights Main Street
Christmas lights at Greenfield Village Holiday Nights. Photo credit: Cindy Richards

Dearborn

Lantern-lit paths illuminate the old-fashioned Christmas performances and light displays at the charming Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village. Horse-and-carriage and Model T car rides, ice skating, caroling and fireworks can all be found here. Dates will be December 2-4, 9-11, 15-23, and 26-28 from 6:30-10 p.m. Members can arrive early at 6 p.m.

Grand Rapids

The Christmas Lite Show at Fifth Third Ballpark has almost two miles (more than a million lights!) of animated displays, lighted tunnels and more. It’s open from November 23-December 31. Hours are 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 5:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $30 per car.

Manistee

Sparkle in the Park, features more than 100,000 lights in holiday displays in Hopkins Park and throughout the village of Bear Lake, including angels, Christmas trees, Santa and reindeer, a salute to troops, snowmen, animals and Christmas scenes. Free, though donations are accepted. The event runs November 26, 2022-January 1, 2023 from 5-10 p.m. nightly at Hopkins Park in Bear Lake.

Minnesota

Duluth

The Bentleyville Tour of Lights, located along Lake Superior, is a drive-through event in the 20-acre Bayfront Festival Park. Displays feature Duluth and Christmas-themed icons illuminated by more than 5 million lights. The Tour runs November 19-December 26. Hours are from 5-9 p.m. from Sunday-Thursday, and 5-10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Entrance is free, but parking is $10 at the gate. No vehicles longer than 20 feet or taller than 8 feet allowed.

Read More: The Best Midwest Ski Resorts for Families

Missouri

Christmas lights displays in Kansas City, Missouri.
Christmas lights in Kansas City, Missouri. Photo credit: Kansas City

Kansas City

Country Club Plaza continues a nearly century-old tradition on Thanksgiving eve, when the mayor’s Christmas tree lights are turned on. Views are available from plaza hotels, such as the upscale Hotel Sorella or the family-friendly Holiday Inn. Best views are from the rooftops, or the second floor of Barnes & Noble. The displays stay up through mid-January. City Lights also includes the front façade of the 22-story Marriott Kansas City Downtown, which features a synchronized display of 30,000 bulbs.

Branson

Branson bills itself as “America’s Christmas Tree City,” and it’s no joke! They do it up big during the holidays. There are several impressive drive-through light displays, including Let There Be Lights! at the Promised Land Zoo from November 1-December 31, Branson’s Lights of Joy and the Trail of Lights at the 160-acre Shepherd of the Hill Homestead. Ticket prices vary from $20-$30 by event.

St. Louis

Garden Glow at the Missouri Botanical Garden features more than 1 million dazzling lights. This year’s event will include fun new experiences, and traditional favorites such as s’mores, festive drinks, and fantastic family photo opportunities. Garden Glow is open every evening from November 19, 2022-January 7, 2023, excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Doors open at 5 p.m. Nonmember tickets are $20-$22 for adults and $10 for children ages 3-12. Children ages 2 and under are free. On Family Nights (November 23 &  30 and December 7 & 14), children’s tickets are only $3. All tickets are dated and timed. 

SheBuysTravel Tip: We’ve got lots more ideas for celebrating Christmas in St. Louis!

Brewery Lights in St. Louis features more than a million Christmas lights
Brewery Lights in St. Louis features more than a million Christmas lights, a children’s play area, and of course, beer. Photo credit: Anheuser-Busch.

Beer, of course, is served at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Lights display. But you can sip it under more than 1 million twinkling lights. Ice skating, a Kid Zone play area with a train ride, live music and a Soup Bar are part of the festivities. The festival will be open on select dates from November 17-December 30. Tickets are available now starting at $10.

Ohio

Christmas lights at Pyramid Hill in Hamilton Ohio
Pyramid Hill in Hamilton drive-thru Christmas lights. Photo credit: Nick Daggy

Hamilton

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum’ Journey Borealis integrates monumental sculptures, inventive lighting displays, and a custom soundtrack from the Cincinnati Boychoir and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in a drive-through display. The Journey will be open from November 19, 2022-January 1, 2023. Hours are 6-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, and 6-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Tickets are $25 per carload for nonmembers and $15 for members. Hamilton residents get free admission on Tuesdays.

Middletown

Light Up Middletown is entirely designed and installed by a group of volunteers called the “Grandpa Gang.” Drive through the display to see animated lights that feature all kinds of holiday cheer from the North Pole to snowflakes to winter animals. Open 6-10 p.m. nightly from Thanksgiving, November 24 through New Year’s Eve, December 31. Admission is by cash donation-you pick the price you’re comfortable with.

Christmas Lights in South Dakota

Brooking

Garden Glow at McCrory Gardens Education & Visitor Center is a winter wonderland of holiday spirit. The newest addition is “Reindeer Meadow” and holiday tunes throughout the walk. The event ran last year, but 2022 information is still unavailable at the time of publication. Stay up-to-date here.

Hill City

Are you a Polar Express fan? Then South Dakota has the perfect attraction for you: 1880 Train’s Holiday Express! Enjoy a one-hour ride to the North Pole to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, sip on hot chocolate and munch on tasty sugar cookies. The Express will be running on select dates during November and December in the afternoons and evenings. Tickets for adults are $29-$34 and $15-$17 for children, depending on whether you choose a round trip or one-way journey. For adults, a special ticket with spiked hot chocolate is also available. Make sure to purchase tickets in advance, as space is limited.

Rapid City

Storybook Island in Rapid City magically becomes a winter wonderland during Christmas Nights of Light. Storybook characters are all dressed up and the park is decorated in lights for the holiday season. The event runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from November 25-December 11, and every day from December 16-23. Hours are 5:30-8:30 p.m. Admission is just $4 per person.

Wisconsin

Photo courtesy of Grand Geneva Resort Christmas lights near me
Photo credit: Grand Geneva Resort

Lake Geneva

The beautiful Grand Geneva Resort & Spa hosts an annual Christmas in the Country celebration. More than two million lights illuminate the resort’s 1,300 acres of rolling countryside, including the family-favorite “12 Days of Christmas” drive-thru light show and the Gingerbread House Walk. The event begins November 20, culminating in a 6 p.m. countdown to the illumination.

Milwaukee

Thousands of lights create animated scenes and dancing luminaries in Pere Marquette Park for the annual Holiday Lights Festival. This year, the Festival runs November 20, 2022-January 1, 2023.

More Ways to Celebrate Christmas

Best Drive Through Christmas Lights Across the USA

Christmas Lights Displays in the Northeast U.S.

Christmas Lights Displays in the Southeast U.S.

Christmas Lights Displays in Texas and the Southwest U.S.

Christmas Lights Displays in California, Hawaii and the Northwest U.S

Christmas Traditions Around the World – Fun and Funky Celebrations in Other Countries

Jamie Bartosch is an award-winning journalist based in suburban Chicago. Her stories have appeared in dozens of publications, including USA TODAY, A&E, The Telegraph (U.K.), and the Chicago Daily Herald. A longtime contributor to SheBuysTravel, and the mother of two college students, Jamie’s stories provide honest, useful information to help parents save time, save money, and maximize their family fun.
Read full bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *