NOTE: This list is updated every year although the original “publish” date is from years past. Last updated 11.19.2018
Although I may criticize the houses that have mismatched lights (half blinking color lights, regular white lights, and purple rope lights all at once? Seriously?!?), one of my absolute FAVORITE Christmas activities is to drive around looking at all of the holiday lights in Chicagoland. Our block is kinda lame in terms of lights—unoriginal LED icicles accent most houses—but there are so many great light displays around us that we happily take “the scenic route” on the way home from the grocery store and walk the dog that extra block to see the standout displays.
So in an effort to maintain our holiday spirit even when we are exhausted from running all over to get the “perfect” gift for our loved ones and spending way too much time wrapping said present when we could have been enjoying a glass of wine and some gingerbread cookies (I’m not bitter, I swear!), we have special “Light Nights” when we pile into the car in our jammies to look at the very best Christmas light displays in Chicagoland.
Many of the displays we go to are ones that my Dad used to take me when I was a little girl, and there are also some secret spots that I learned about after reading Mary Edsey’s “The Best Christmas Decorations in Chicagoland.” This great guide to twinkling winter wonderlands not only gives directions on where to find them, but also provides some background on the light displays and adds some of Edsey’s favorite anecdotes. And before you ask, she is no way sponsored this post…she is simply the sister of my beloved aunt and I know first hand of Edsey’s remarkable research going into this wonderful Christmas book.
BEST PARK LIGHT DISPLAYS
North School Park, Arlington Heights
This is a great spot where you and your kids can run around and interact with the light exhibits. In other seasons this is our favorite local park because of the ornate water fountain, and in the winter it is covered by a giant Christmas tree. There are many different lighted structures throughout the park, including some Hannukah dreidels, which makes my multi-faith family very happy.
Donald E. Stephens Park, Rosemont
Located just off of Higgins Road, this amazing light display is a feast for the eyes. The majority of the display is located within the gated community, so simply tell the gatekeeper located and Higgins and Scott Street that you are there to look at the lights. Similar to North School Park, there are many different light exhibits to look at, so it is best to dress warmly and get out of the car to check these out. On certain weekends (typically the one before Christmas), you can visit Santa in some of the Christmas huts and not have to wait in a long line. This park also has a petting zoo, which is a fun “extra” that you just can’t find at different Christmas light displays.
Philips Park Festival of Lights, Aurora
This free mile long stretch of roadway has tons of illuminated magic to enjoy. The whimsical displays make you feel like you have been transported straight into Santa’s workshop with 20 feet tall dancing trees and singing reindeer. Just remember to visit before Santa heads back to the North Pole for good; the light display ends on December 26th, much earlier than the other displays in this list. You can also donate to the local charities supported by the Philips Park Festival of Lights.
PRIVATE HOME LIGHT DISPLAYS
First off….the bad news. The famous home on the corner of Engel and Bell Plaine in Park Ridge is staying dark this year. But as shared on their Park Ridge Lights Facebook page, their jaw dropping, philanthropic focused display will be back in 2019.
There is also another fun display located at 2112 Birch Street that is orchestrated to holiday music.
Arlington Heights has a few great houses decked out to celebrate the season. There is also an adorable display set to music located at 311 North Haddow Avenue. It is a very cute 5 minute long display set to music.
Magnolia Drive in Rolling Meadows has an amazing stretch of houses decorated and synchronized to favorite Christmas songs. They are also collecting donations for some local charities to spread cheer and joy this holiday season. To learn more about this display of over a MILLION lights, check out their popular Facebook page.
Des Plaines has a “candy cane” lane near Westfield Gardens (between Mount Prospect, Wolf, and Dempster). It is really tricky to find, so just google “Westfield Gardens” and pick just one street to send your GPS to locate. Some streets are better than others, but we got a kick out of all of the illuminated candy canes!
Another Des Plaines gem a fun set of houses on Wicke Road (enter 1773 Wicke, Des Plaines into your GPS). Two houses across the street from one another are set to music (the station is posted on a sign outside the homes). If you are lucky, you might even get a candy cane from one of the home owners (tell her that I sent you and your chances will be greatly improved!).
Christmas on Cleveland (1200 Cleveland Avenue) in Willmette has a dazzling, music synchronized display that would make Clark Griswold jealous. Bring a donation to add to their collection being raised for Ann and Robert H. Lurie’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
Just a short drive to an adjacent town, Christmas on Evergreen will run from 11/23/18 to 1/6/19. You can support their charitable drive benefiting Make-A-Wish when you head to 145 Evergreen Lane in Winnetka.
And I saved my absolute FAVORITE for last…I love, love, love the Sauganash/Lincolnwood Towers area. It has the coolest house that I have ever seen…their Christmas tree goes through the roof! A little tricky to find, these homes are located within a geographical square. When looking at a map, use the following streets to draw your square: Central Avenue, Cicero Avenue, Pratt Avenue, and Devon Avenue. The address of the house with the tree emerging from the roof is 6601 North Leroy (intersection of Leroy and Albion).
2656 West Logan Boulevard is one of the most impressive lights displays in Logan Square. While the lights might not be synchronized to music, they are still spellbinding!
Suburbs and Beyond
While quite a bit of a drive, it is definitely worth it if you make the trek to the Larsen Christmas Lights Show (42W891 Beith Road in Elburn). Check their Facebook page for updates and the option to purchase glow bracelets and necklaces that synchronize to the light display!
Chicago Botanic Gardens, Glencoe
While driving to see the Chicago Botanic Gardens lights display, you will undoubtedly enjoy seeing the gorgeous homes near it decked out in their festive glory. But once you make it past the gate house, you will be impressed by the simple artistic beauty throughout the entire gardens. The artists decorate in such a unique way that highlights the preexisting fountains and beautiful landscaping both inside and outside. There is also a special Wonderland Express train exhibit that goes on during the holidays, that is sounique because all of the replicas of Chicago landmarks are made of natural material. Admission to the Chicago Botanic Gardens is free, but parking is $25 per car and there is a special ticket required for the Wonderland Express but you can get discounted tickets here. I highly recommend getting a membership for the Chicago Botanic Gardens for discounts and special member events throughout the year.
Holiday Light Show, Randhurst Village
Starting December 8th and continuing every night until December 15th, there is a 3D holiday display complete with elves, snowflakes, and other fun holiday details projected onto the Hampton Inn hotel, all coordinated to Christmas music. Admission is free and shows run every half hour between 6 and 8 p.m. Pre show featuring adorable little elves at 5:30 p.m.
Illumination, Morton Arboretum
While it might be chilly to walk the grounds of the Morton Arboretum to see their famous “Illumination” Tree Lights, it is definitely worth it! Kids of all ages (even thirty six year olds!) can get up close to interactive light displays (trees that talk!) and warm up at fire pits set up along the path. Stretch your holiday dollar by getting discounted tickets from ComEd! Get your discount code here. Please note: Illumination is closed on Mondays except for New Year’s Eve.
Chimes, Gallagher Way
The interactive light display at Winterland at Gallagher Way can be prompted by a gust of wind, dancing from the crowd…the options are endless. While enjoying the lights, check out the ice skating options and watch holiday themed movies on the big screen as long as you are bundled up!
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light, Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry’s popular holiday exhibit showcases more than 50 trees representing countries, cultures and various holiday traditions celebrated around the globe. This year you can also enjoy the “snow” falls, Santa visits, and performances from various Chicagoland based cultural groups.
Zoo Lights, Lincoln Park Zoo
This FREE light show at Chicago’s zoo is the perfect way to brighten up your holiday season. Take advantage of the seasonal drinks and treats, as well as strolling carolers, ice sculpting displays, holiday markets, and more!
Festival of Lights Show, Promenade at Bolingbrook
Want to take a festive break from all the shopping? Then enjoy the nightly (on the hour) shows of over 250,000 LED lights dancing to holiday music.
Holiday Magic, Brookfield Zoo
Light displays, animal encounters, ice skating rinks, ice sculpting, carolers…does it get any better than Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic? I really don’t think so. The only thing is that SO MANY PEOPLE love Brookfield’s Holiday Magic that the traffic is a NIGHTMARE. My tip? Head to the zoo in the early afternoon, check out the animals and warm up in the indoor exhibits, and wait for the lights to begin! Get discounts here.
Art on the Mart, Merchandise Mart Chicago
This public art display runs 10 months a year, but has added new holiday themed images to run during the first 20 minutes and throughout the two hour long display. The digital art projection display starts at 7:05 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.
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