From the bright lights of Chicago to the stunning light show in the village of Brookfield, Illinois is home to exciting holiday festivities and attractions. Travel through the Christmas Wonderland in Alton, or venture to the beautiful Way of Lights in Belleville. Many Illinois vacation rentals are situated near wonderful Christmas light displays. Take a look at the most festive cities in Illinois, and start packing your bags for an unforgettable holiday adventure.

1. Brookfield

The village of Brookfield is home to the Brookfield Zoo and Holiday Magic, a northern Illinois tradition for more than 35 years. Treat your family to this million-light festival featuring ice carving demonstrations, a 41-foot-tall talking tree, a model train display, and magic shows. Festival tickets include admission to the zoo, and buying them in advance online saves time and money. While at the zoo, check out Hudson, the resident polar bear at the Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, and watch him swim, dive for treats, and solve puzzles. Start your day with breakfast or brunch at Mary’s Morning Mix Up, where kids gobble up the green eggs and ham, or try family-friendly Tony’s Breakfast Cafe and savor the delicious country fried steak. For indoor fun, let the family loose at Galloping Ghost Arcade, with hundreds of games and activities, including classic video games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.

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2. Chicago

Chicago has numerous Christmas lights extravaganzas, and for more than 20 years, ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo has been one of the most popular. This free exhibit features 2.5 million dazzling lights, 3D displays, illuminated animal designs, and Light Maze, a 30,000-light labyrinth open on Family Nights. In addition to the lights, there’s food, holiday crafts, and children’s activities. Kids love going through the canyon and forest on the Lionel Train Adventure and visiting Santa at the Helen Branch Primate House. At Farm-in-the-Zoo, ponies and goats watch ice skaters zip past them. Plan for more fun at Winter WonderFest on Navy Pier. This Christmas lights attraction is indoors, so even if the weather outside is frightful, your family trip remains delightful. Inflatable slides, a carousel, an ice skating rink, and a Ferris wheel keep everyone entertained. Illuminated snowflakes and icicles dazzle visitors, and so do the giant candy canes and snowmen that complement the rides. During your stay in the Windy City, dine at Crosby’s Kitchen, where kids 12 and under eat free every day. Call or check their website or Facebook page for exact freebee times.

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3. Mooseheart

About 40 miles west of Chicago, the Holiday Lights at Mooseheart event twinkles brightly during the Christmas season. Hosted by Mooseheart Child City and School, this evening extravaganza offers almost 100 lighted displays and scenes along a two-mile campus road leading to the school’s farm area and a live Nativity scene. Admission includes a visit with Santa, crafts, holiday music, hot chocolate, and Christmas cookies. To keep the kids busy all day, make a short drive north to nearby Batavia, where Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center lives up to its name. Children and adults have loads of laughs while skating, bowling, riding go-karts, playing laser tag, and driving bumper cars. On a slightly more serious note, satisfy the family scientists and nature lovers with a stop at Fermi National Accelerator Lab, a physics lab and nature reserve. While you’re learning about splitting atoms, you may see bison roaming.

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4. Alton

Each year in Alton, an enchanted Christmas Wonderland springs forth in Rock Springs Park, thanks to a local volunteer group, the Grandpa Gang. As you drive through the park, experience the thrills of cascading waterfalls of lights, illuminated trees and tunnels, laser lights, and millions of sparkling orbs. Kids love spending time at Snowman Village, the Enchanted Forest, and Santa Claus House, where they chat and snap photos with the jolly gentleman and buy food to feed the animals at the petting zoo. Make your wonderland trip more special with a family carriage ride with the Black Tie Carriage Company. During the day, tour the Alton Museum of History and Art, and learn about the legend of the Piasa Bird, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and Robert Wadlow, known as Alton’s Gentle Giant and the World’s Tallest Man. Before heading back to your vacation rental, let the family fill up on delicious burgers, fries, wings, and homemade root beer at Mini Corral Hamburgers.

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5. Belleville

In the southern Illinois town of Belleville, The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows displays the Way of Lights, a tradition since 1970. Called Journey to Bethlehem, this Christmas celebration stimulates all of your senses as it focuses on the birth of Christ. Entry is free, and donations are welcomed. Here, your family can see brilliant Christmas lights and eat delicious kettle corn, and your children can ride camels, ponies, or donkeys and feed the petting zoo animals. Choirs sing carols as you take in the fragrant, greenery in the Christmas Tree Room. Kids enjoy free crafts activities in the Children’s Cove and can linger to marvel at the Lego block Christmas displays. Tour the entire site in a family carriage ride with St. Louis Carriage Company to enhance your enjoyment of the indoor and outdoor activities.

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