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Christmas in Illinois: Best Christmas Towns, Markets, and Festivals (2023 Guide)

Christmas has always been a time of celebration and happiness. It’s not just about the presents, though. It’s also about the memories.

In this post, we will walk you through some of the most exciting Christmas activities in Illinois as well as some of the other events in the area that you can look forward to this holiday season.

Happy holidays. 

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Christmas Towns in Illinois

The state of Illinois is filled with holiday cheer all throughout the winter season.

Here is a selection of a few of the most exciting Christmas towns in Illinois.

Christmas tree at the Millennium Park in Chicago
At Chicago, they go all-in once Christmas arrives

Chicago

Nestled along Lake Michigan, Chicago is one of the most exciting cities in the entire Midwest.

Whether you’re checking out the holiday light shows or shopping at the Christmas markets, spending Christmas in Chicago is a great way to make this holiday season magical.

Chicago is the perfect place to spend Christmas in Illinois.

Throughout the entire month of December, the city is packed full of light shows, window displays, and ice skating for the whole family.

The giant Christmas Tree perched in Millennium Park is also a must-see.

Learn more about Christmas in Chicago later in this post.

Highlights

If you’re spending Christmas in Illinois this year, Chicago is one city that you won’t want to miss.

Here you’ll find endless winter activities to enjoy such as light festivals, ice skating, and an abundance of Christmas markets.

Houses decorated for Christmas
Houses decorated for Christmas

Galena

If you’re looking for a city in Illinois that is full of Christmas cheer, Galena is the place to go. This city is known for its historic charm and gleeful community events.

Here, you will find plenty of winter festivities that are sure to fill you with holiday cheer.

Some of the most exciting Christmas activities in Galena are their captivating light shows, holiday markets, and special events hosted by local small businesses.

Highlights

The historic town of Galena is a must-see destination if you’re spending the holidays in Northern Illinois.

During the month of December, you’ll find a plethora of activities for the whole family to enjoy including light festivals, special offers and events, and holiday markets.

Woodstock

Woodstock, Illinois is a wonderful Christmas town near Chicago.

Every year around Christmas time, this sleepy town comes alive with holiday magic.

When you visit Woodstock during the holiday season, you can expect to enjoy plenty of holiday festivals including parades, meet and greets with Santa, and live performances at the historic Woodstock Opera House.

Highlights

If you’re spending Christmas in the Chicago suburbs, you will want to check out Woodstock.

This historic area is full of Christmas cheer with live performances, art displays, and even Christmas carolers.

For more information about Woodstock, click here.

An overload of Christmas Lights at the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens. This is a perfect place to celebrate Christmas in Illinois.
Christmas at the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens (photo credits: Chad Horwedel)

Rockford

Rockford is another Christmas town in Illinois that stands out for its holiday traditions and attractions.

From light festivals to giant Christmas trees, this town has it all.

You can even stop into Santa’s workshop with your family to deliver your Christmas wish lists.

Regardless of if you are a Rockford local or you are just passing through on your way to visit family, Rockford is sure to fill you with delight this holiday season.

Highlights

Christmas in Rockford, Illinois is sure to be merry and bright. Here you will find tons of vivacious Christmas lights displays and even have the chance to visit Santa in his workshop!

Here is more info about Rockford.

Christmas Markets in Illinois

Christmas markets have been spreading holiday cheer since the Middle Ages.

They got their start in Europe, and today you can find these open-air markets all over Illinois.

Here are some of our favorite picks for Christmas markets in Illinois.

The Christkindlmarket in Chicago
The Christkindlmarket in Chicago (photo credits: Eric Allix Rogers)

Christkindlmarket Chicago

No holiday season is complete without a trip to a German-style Christmas market.

In Illinois, the Chriskindlmarket in Chicago is a must-visit.

This festive market features gift vendors, food stalls, and plenty of hot glühwein.

This Christkindlmarket in Chicago is the go-to location for spreading holiday cheer with family and friends.

There are plenty of activities and attractions for the little ones to enjoy, such as the Kinder Passport, which features an area for children to collect stamps from each vendor.

Highlights

Christkindlmarket in Chicago is packed full of traditional food stalls and vendors from throughout the area.

This is the place to go if you want to celebrate the German history of Christmas with your family.

Location

Daley Plaza, 50 W Washington St

Chicago, IL 60602

Opening Hours

Mid-November to late December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission

Belleville Christkindlmarket

Come to Belleville’s Christmas Market for an unforgettable holiday shopping experience!

With vendors from all over the world – Germany, Poland, Russia, Egypt, Ireland, Nepal, and Kenya – you’ll find unique gifts for everyone on your list.

And because it’s located in downtown Belleville around the Public Square, you can enjoy all the sights and sounds of the season while you shop.

On top of their classic open-air German market, this Christmas festival features plenty of exciting attractions for guests of all ages to enjoy.

There will even be a special guest appearance from Santa that your little ones won’t want to miss out on.

Highlights

Belleville Christkindlmarket boasts a unique shopping experience and lively atmosphere that everyone can enjoy. Here you will find one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts for everyone on your list as well as some exciting activities and attractions.

Location

30 Public Square

Belleville, IL 62220

Opening Hours

Weekends in late November through December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission

Handicrafts for sale at the Christmas Market

Carlinville Christmas Market

This holiday season, escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the small-town charm of Carlinville Christmas Market.

This warm community comes alive each December with festive markets, tours of beautifully decorated historic buildings, and plenty of opportunities to find unique gifts for your loved ones.

Whether you’re strolling through the downtown square or browsing the shops at Carlinville Plaza, you’re sure to have a merry time when you spend Christmas in Carlinville.

Highlights

Carlinville Christmas Market is full of plenty of surprises for you to uncover this Christmas season.

With local shops, festive lights, and more, this is a must-see location for Christmas in Illinois.

Location

Various locations throughout Carlinville, Illinois.

Opening Hours

The first weekend in December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission

Christmas Festivals in Illinois

There are a number of Christmas festivals in Illinois that are worth checking out if you’re looking for something festive to do this holiday season.

From the Stroll on State Event in Rockford to Caroling at The Carillion, Illinois has no shortage of Christmas-themed events.

Although there are many to choose from, here are just a few of the best Christmas festivals in Illinois.

The Santa Parade
A Santa Parade

Stroll on State Event, Rockford

The Stroll on State is a Christmas festival that is held annually in Rockford, Illinois.

There are over a dozen different exciting activities that take place throughout the event.

The event kicks off with the Stroll on State Parade, where you will witness the spirit of the Christmas season come to life.

From there, you can head over to the tree lighting ceremony, visit Santa, or even go for a horse and wagon ride.

There is even an annual car show where you can check out all the local hot rods. If you are looking for a fun time with your family, this would be an excellent place to check out.

Highlights

The Stroll on State Event in Rockford, Illinois is packed full of all of your favorite winter activities. From visiting with Santa to ice skating, this event has it all.

Location

Various locations throughout Rockford.

Opening Hours

Weekend in December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission

Fireworks during Christmas

Holiday Fire in The Sky, Galena

What better way to celebrate Christmas in Illinois than with an exciting firework display in the historic river town of Galena?

At Holiday Fire in The Sky, the Galena sky is lit up for all to see.

The fireworks are set off at the beginning of December in an official kick-off to the holiday season.

Whether you’re located in downtown Galena or in the surrounding countryside, these fireworks are big enough for all to see.

Highlights

Enjoy some holiday thrills with the Holiday Fire in The Sky fireworks show in Galena, Illinois.

This iconic display will light up the entire town of Galena one night a year and you won’t want to miss it!

Location

Depot Park

91 Bouthillier Street

Galena, IL 61036

Opening Hours

First Saturday in December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission

Caroling at The Carillon

Help spread the spirit of Christmas in Illinois with Caroling at The Carillon.

Here you will gather around a lively bonfire to sing all of your favorite Christmas Carols.

The stunning sounds of the Carillon will be there to accompany you.

This is one of the most heartwarming ways to bring in the holiday season for Christmas lovers of all ages.

To make this event even sweeter, there will be complementary hot cocoa and cookies available.

Highlights

Gather around a bonfire and get ready to sing your favorite Christmas carols while accompanied by the mesmerizing sounds of the Carillon.

After the event, there will be complimentary cookies and hot cocoa served.

Location

Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon

1740 W Fayette Ave

Springfield, IL 62704

Opening Hours

Sunday in mid-December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission

Christmas Lights in Illinois

Each year, Illinois is home to several spectacular Christmas lights festivals.

From the North Pole Express in Fox River Grove to the Festival of Lights in Naperville, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Although we can’t include them all, we’ve picked some of our favorites to share with you.

Here’s where to find the most stunning Christmas lights festivals in Illinois.

The Morton Arboretum during Christmas
Enjoy a nice Christmas walk at the Morton Arboretum (photo credits: briandjan607)

Tree Lights, Morton Arboretum

If you’re looking for something fun and unique to do this winter, look no further than the Illumination lights festival at the Arboretum in Illinois.

This one-of-a-kind event features 50 acres of sparkling lights, festive music, and a festive atmosphere. It’s the perfect way to experience the beauty of trees in winter.

Walking along the one-mile path is a magical experience. The lights highlight the trees in a way that is absolutely breathtaking.

If you get hungry, there are concession tents with snacks and drinks.

This is a can’t-miss event for anyone spending Christmas in Illinois.

So, bundle up and come out to enjoy the beauty of Illumination.

Highlights

This annual event features 50 acres of beautiful trees adorned with colorful lights and festive music. You can stroll along the one-mile paved path and enjoy the enchanting atmosphere.

Location

Morton Arboretum

4100 IL-53

Lisle, IL 60532

Opening Hours

Mid-November through the beginning of January.

Entrance Fee

$10-$27

The Navy Pier during Christmas
The Navy Pier turns into a Winter Wonderland during Christmas (photo credits: yuan2003)

Light Up The Lake, Navy Pier

For an exciting Christmas lights festival in Chicago, check out Navy Pier’s Light Up the Lake event!

This massive indoor lights display is sure to get you into the holiday spirit.

With interactive light displays, a skating rink, a birch tree maze, visits with Santa, and more, there’s something for everyone at Light Up the Lake.

So grab your friends and family and head on down to Navy Pier for a holiday tradition you’re sure to love! Reserve your tickets in advance through their website.

Highlights

Light Up The Lake at Navy Pier is one of the most unique winter activities in Chicago.

Here you can experience an interactive lights experience unlike any other.

Location

Navy Pier

600 E Grand Ave

Chicago, IL 60611

Opening Hours

Late November through the beginning of January.

Entrance Fee

$17 for children, $27 for adults

Lots of Christmas Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo
Get in the Christmas mood at the Lincoln Park zoo in Chicago (photo credits: Justin Kern)

Zoolights, Lincoln Park Zoolights

The holidays are a magical time of year, and what better way to celebrate than at the Lincoln Park Zoo?

ZooLights is an annual event that you won’t want to miss. This festive, one-of-a-kind experience offers a merry, family-oriented tradition in the heart of the city.

Your visit helps keep Lincoln Park Zoo free and supports our animal care, community, and conservation work.

Photos with Santa, hundreds of themed displays with 3D and LED lights all across zoo grounds, and live ice carving are just a few of the many reasons to attend ZooLights.

Highlights

Come see a festive light show unlike any other at Lincoln Park Zoolights.

Here you can experience a wide assortment of winter activities for the whole family including 3D and LED light displays as well as photos with Santa.

Location

Lincoln Park Zoo

2001 N Clark St

Chicago, IL 60614

Opening Hours

End of November through the beginning of January.

Entrance Fee

Free on Mondays, $5 Tuesdays through Sundays.

Larsen’s Light Show, Elburn

The holidays are a time for family, friends, and of course, lights!

And if you’re looking for an epic display of holiday lights, you’ll want to check out Larsen’s Light Show in Elburn, Illinois.

This Christmas light festival is designed by seasoned professionals who are ready to mesmerize you with the stunning sights of Christmas.

From traditional displays to more modern takes on the holiday, this light show is sure to dazzle and delight.

So if you’re spending Christmas in Illinois, be sure to check it out!

Highlights

Larsen’s Light Show is sure to mesmerize all who attend. With LED displays that will transport you to another dimension, this is one light show that you won’t want to miss.

Location

42W813 Reinking Rd

Pingree Grove, Illinois 60140

Opening Hours

Dates TBD, head to their website to learn more.

Entrance Fee

Information TBD, head to their website to learn more.

Firetruck with Christmas Lights during a Christmas Parade
An atmospheric Christmas parade

Festival of Lights, East Peoria

For a festive way to bring in the holidays in Illinois, you’ll want to check out the Festival of Lights in East Peoria, Illinois!

This annual event kicks off with the Parade of Lights and continues throughout the month of December with Folepi’s Winter Wonderland drive-through display.

Folepi, the Festival’s wooden soldier mascot, gets his name from the acronym for “Festival of Lights, East Peoria, Illinois.”

So if you’re in the area, be sure to check out this fun and festive event!

Highlights

This lively light show in Illinois will transport you directly to a winter wonderland. The festival starts out with a parade of lights and then the featured displays will set up shop at their drive-through display.

Location

Various locations in East Peoria, Illinois.

Opening Hours

Mid-November through the beginning of January.

Entrance Fee

$10 – $150 dollars, depending on vehicle size.

Christmas Decoration at the windows
Christmas decorations at the windows

Night of The Luminaria & Living Windows, Galena

Galena, Illinois is a beautiful small town, and every year it becomes even more magical during the Night of the Luminara and Living Windows festival.

More than 5,000 candlelit luminaries line the streets, steps, and sidewalks, and local store windows come alive with special displays.

The whole town glows, from Main Street to the hills overlooking Grant Park.

It’s a truly romantic vision, and not to be missed. Make sure to add it to your list of must-see holiday light festivals!

Highlights

Experience the stunning sights of Galena in their night of the Luminara and Living Windows festival.

Here you will uncover candlelight displays that shine a light on all of Galena’s best features.

Location

Downtown Galena

Main Street

Galena, Illinois 61036

Opening Hours

Early December.

Entrance Fee

Free Admission.

Christmas Wonderland, Alton

Looking for some holiday fun in Illinois? Why not check out the Christmas Wonderland in Alton!

This festive park is decked out with more than 4 million lights, making it a truly magical place to visit. Plus, you can drive through the park to see all the decorations up close.

This year, the popular Enchanted Forest is back, where you can vote for your favorite decorated tree.

And of course, Santa will be there too! So bring your camera and snap some free photos with the big guy himself.

Christmas Wonderland is the perfect place to get into the holiday spirit!

Highlights

Check out the exciting light displays at Christmas Wonderland at Alton!

Here you can vote on your favorite Christmas trees and get your photo taken with Santa Claus.

Location

Rock Spring Park

2100 College Ave

Alton, Illinois 62002

Opening Hours

End of November through the end of December.

Entrance Fee

$1 to $7

A spectacular Christmas light show at the Brookfield Zoo
A spectacular Christmas light show at the Brookfield Zoo (photo credits: Tom Gill)

Holiday Magic Brookfield Zoo

For a festive lights festival to help get you into the holiday spirit, look no further than the Holiday Magic Brookfield Zoo lights festival!

Now in its 41st year, this beloved event is sure to get you in the holiday mood.

Featuring over two million twinkling LED lights, the Holiday Magic Brookfield Zoo lights festival is Chicagoland’s longest-running lights festival.

And it’s easy to see why – this event is simply magical!

Advance tickets will be required for the South Gate Entry this year, so be sure to check out the website for more information.

Highlights

Known throughout the area as Chicagoland’s longest-running lights festival, Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo will not disappoint!

With over two million LED lights, this display will delight your senses and help you get in the holiday spirit.

Location

Brookfield Zoo

8400 W 31st St

Brookfield, Illinois 60513

Opening Hours

Late November through Late December

Entrance Fee

TBD – check their website for more details.

Shelbyville Festival of Lights

Head to Shelbyville, Illinois this holiday season for the annual Shelbyville Festival of Lights!

This drive-through light display is a beloved tradition for many families in the area and is sure to get you into the holiday spirit.

The Festival of Lights features a wide area of lighted displays.

You’ll be dazzled by the twinkling lights as you drive through, and can even tune your radio to a special frequency to listen to holiday music as you enjoy the sights.

If you’re looking for a fun and festive way to celebrate the holidays this year, be sure to check out the Shelbyville Festival of Lights!

Highlights

Here at the Shelbyville Festival of Lights, you’ll find numerous light displays that are sure to get you in the holiday spirit.

Location

Forest Park

9th Street

Shelbyville, Illinois

Opening Hours

Mid-November through the beginning of January.

Entrance Fee

Donations accepted.

Christmas at the Museum of Science and Industry
Christmas at the Museum of Science and Industry (photo credits: Pete)

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light

For a festive lights festival in Illinois, look no further than Christmas Around the World at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

This winter wonderland features more than 50 trees decorated by volunteers from around the Chicagoland area to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the globe.

The centerpiece of the display is the four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, which is sure to dazzle and delight.

So come on out and enjoy the holidays with family and friends at this one-of-a-kind event.

Highlights

Enjoy the beautiful natural elements of Christmas at the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light festival in the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

Here you will find a plethora of stunning displays to enjoy.

Location

Museum of Science and Industry

5700 S DuSable Lake Shore Dr.

Chicago, IL 60637

Opening Hours

Mid-November through early January

Entrance Fee

$12.95 for children, $21.95 for adults

Conclusion

By following this guide to Christmas in Illinois, you are sure to have a magical holiday season!

See our web stories that accompany this post.

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