Illinois is home to lakefront beaches, historic monuments, and state parks that offer hiking adventures for all ages. During the Christmas season, Illinois is a must-visit place with its stunning light displays, Santa-themed festivals, and fantastic firework displays over lakes. View the festive magic from your Illinois vacation rental. Look forward to snow-filled adventures in Illinois. Take a look at the state’s top seasonal vacation destinations.

1. Effingham

As one of the northernmost cities in the southern part of Illinois, Effingham is most known for housing the world’s largest cross. At Christmas time, this city turns into a wonderland of lights, with colorful displays surrounding the cross and the nearby downtown area. The Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum hosts Christmas shows with toe-tapping music and art displays that range from spiritual designs to mainstream artwork depicting the holiday season, while Hendelmeyer Park offers an additional wonderland of lights for locals and tourists. Snap a few photos in front of the cross, and let the kids visit with Santa each Saturday in December at this historic site. Enjoy the caroling of the locals as you drive through the light displays before heading back to your Effingham vacation rental. If you’re looking for help with dinner, be sure to check out the Firefly Grill for rustic dining that’s locally sourced.

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2. St. Charles

If you’re seeking a holiday adventure with a touch of history, St. Charles is the place to visit for your Christmas celebration. The city hosts a Christmas parade each December, complete with an appearance by Santa and horse-drawn carriage rides free of charge. The downtown area features quaint, mom and pop specialty shops with homemade items perfect for Christmas gifts. Take a stroll down the city streets to view the Christmas light displays and the storefront decorations before stopping in for some hot chocolate at Town House Books and Cafe or the Buttermilk Cafe. This historic city is located just 40 minutes from downtown Chicago, making it the ideal vacation destination if you want a small town experience with close proximity to the big city.

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3. Naperville

Celebrate Christmas with the family in Naperville, a north-Illinois city offering a thriving downtown area with close access to Chicago. Naperville pulls out all the stops during the holiday season with a Jingle Bell Jamboree in December, featuring a variety of musicians and bands performing classic Christmas carols and rock favorites. Head to Naper Settlement to see the Naper Lights and Santa-themed displays for the day. Let the kids enjoy a visit with Santa in the downtown area, surrounded by specialty shops with gifts for those special people in your life. Be sure to stop by the impressively off-beat Dandelion Fountain for an unforgettable photo. One of the highlights of the season includes the Holiday Mansion Tour that takes you in and out of homes decorated elaborately for the Christmas season.

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4. Alton

Consider a vacation rental right on the famous River Road that starts in the heart of Alton for the holidays. Take a ride on the river road for rich views of the cliffs and the famous Piasa Bird display while admiring the Christmas light displays along the roadway. Alton is also a mecca for holiday cheer, with the Christmas Wonderland holiday light display located in the downtown area, as well as the Rock Springs Park light display that offers guided trails. See more than two million lights strung along the trees and near the cascading waterfalls. The city also sponsors an Enchanted Forest with a trail that leads you and the kids straight to Santa’s Workshop where you can visit Santa and his elves. Stop off for something sweet on the way back to your vacation rental at My Just Desserts for quaint surroundings and a slice of pie or cobbler.

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5. Monticello

Visit the quaint Illinois city of Monticello and spend those cold December days shopping through the downtown area or hiking through Allerton Park. At Christmas time, this city becomes one of the liveliest in the state and is known for its Christmas parade. Line the kids up on the downtown streets to catch candy during the parade, and then head over to the historic Depot area to see the Polar Express. The trains are one of the biggest attractions this city has to offer and in December, you and the little ones can have lunch with Santa right on the train.

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6. Galena

If a small town vacation destination is what you’re looking for during the Christmas season, then Galena delivers with 19th-century building tours and the historic Horseshoe Mound with views of three states from one spot. This city brings magic to the holiday season with Old Fashioned Christmas Weekend celebrations that begin in November and last through mid-December each year. See the Night of the Luminaria, which features more than 5,000 luminaries to light up the city. Visit with Santa in the downtown area, located next to locally-owned shops such as Poopsie’s, offering both food and souvenirs to take home.

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7. Chicago

Bright lights and the big city become even brighter and bigger in December when Chicago celebrates Christmas. You have your choice of Santa-themed activities to explore when visiting the winter wonderland on Navy Pier, complete with fireworks on the weekends, or a trip down the Magnificent Mile to find just the right gift for your family members. Daley Plaza hosts the Christkindlmarket in December, while Millennium Park hosts caroling every night of the week. Take in a holiday-themed show at the Goodman Theatre to get you into the Christmas spirit.

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