In my opinion, the holidays are the best time of year to visit the Midwest. There is a constant stream of events to choose from to celebrate the season. While this year might be different than others, we went ahead and rounded up some of the more unique and fun activities in the region to bring you the best holiday events in the Midwest. Happy holidays!
Where to Celebrate the Holidays in the Midwest
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
Making stops throughout the Midwest, this is the ultimate holiday train ride. Two trains actually depart from Montreal, making their way across Canada and the Midwest, stopping in 171 communities along the way. At each stop, the train pulls in, and a holiday celebration begins!
Musicians perform and attendees are asked to bring donations of food or money to give to local food banks. The event is free. Check the calendar here to find a stop near you.
Holiday Events in Illinois
There are many amazing Christmas celebrations in the Midwest, but I might be partial to the Christmas events in Chicago. My all time favorite holiday event in Chicago is Christkindlmarket. With locations at Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville, and Milwaukee, this German Christmas market is very similar to its European counterparts. Families can enjoy music, food, and shopping in a magical holiday setting.
Other holiday events in Chicago to add to your list include: Light Up the Lake (new this year at Navy Pier), Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden, and Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights at the Museum of Science and Industry.
One night every December, the city of Galena glows with a special light, as part of the town’s Night of the Luminaria and Living Windows event. Over 5,000 candlelit luminaries fill the streets and more than thirty windows around town come alive with holiday inspired animation. There’s nothing like a romantic stroll through Galena to put you in the holiday mood.
Holiday Events in Indiana
Circle of Lights kicks off the holiday season, with the city’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument turned into a giant Christmas tree with over fifty garland strands and 4,000 plus holiday lights. More than 100,000 people gather downtown to see the Christmas tree lights switched on by a specially chosen child and Santa, followed by fireworks, and live holiday performances.
Lights at the Brickyard allows visitors to drive across the famed Yard of Bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and see over 2.5 millions lights and decorations along the way. It’s a fun way to see holiday lights from the comfort and warmth of your own vehicle.
If you’re looking for drive-through experiences, Indy’s Christmas Nights of Lights provides a 35-minute interactive driving experience at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and boasts more than a million lights across dozens of displays. If a virtual experience is more your speed, the Indiana History Center offers a chance to explore their annual Festival of Trees exhibition online thanks to 360-degree viewing technology.
Winterlights– Newfields rolls out the red carpet for their annual holiday experience featuring 1.5 million lights decorating the campus, a jaw-dropping light show on the famed Lilly House Lawn and snacks and beverages for all to enjoy. Winterlights is one of the Midwest’s must-see holiday experiences of the season.
There are warming stations and fire pits throughout the property if anyone gets cold. Kids will enjoy the s’mores making stations, cocoa and hot cider (there are adult versions too), and other treats to enjoy. It’s one of the best Christmas celebrations in the Midwest.
Christmas at the Zoo – The Indianapolis Zoo was the first zoo in the US to hold a holiday lights event, and since its debut, Christmas at the Zoo has become a fan-favorite for both Indy residents and visitors alike.
Other can’t miss holiday attractions include Jolly Days at the world’s largest children’s museum, Jingle Rails’ locomotive wonderland at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Celebration Crossing at the Indiana State Museum and A Merry Prairie Holiday at Conner Prairie.
Holiday Events in Iowa
The Festival of Trees is the annual fundraiser for Quad City Arts, a local non-profit organization. This event kicks off with the largest helium balloon parade in the Midwest, parading through the streets of Davenport. Thousands of volunteers, entertainers and sponsors come together and decorate Davenport’s River Center for the weeklong Midwest Christmas festival.
Inside the River Center are trees and holiday decor designed by various groups that are auctioned off for charity. There’s also a gingerbread house and creative candy room so prepare to be amazed!
Holiday Events in Kansas
The Swedish holiday of St. Lucia’s Day is also celebrated in the Swedish town of Lindsborg. The St. Lucia Festival celebrates the figure who is the emblem of light on a long winter day. A processional of girls in white carrying candles and stjärngosse (star boys) lead the crowd to the Bethany Lutheran Church where the annual St. Lucia is crowned.
Children sing Swedish songs, and dancers provide entertainment while the new Lucia goes among the crowd serving ginger cookies and coffee.
Other fun holiday events in Lindsborg include a Jultide concert, cookies with Mrs. Claus, and snowflake parade.
Botanica Wichita has “Illuminations”, a holiday light show set to music featuring over a million lights. Visitors can choose to either walk thru or drive through the exhibit.
There’s a Children’s Garden with lit monster trees, a musical maze and fun holiday characters throughout the garden. Carolers and live entertainment happens throughout the week and hot cocoa and treats are available to keep bellies warm while strolling outside. A must see in Wichita!
Holiday Events in Kentucky
For something really unique, head to Lights Under Louisville. Visitors take a 30 minute ride through a mile of underground passageways. Along the way there are 40 themed displays, 10 mapping projections, approximately 900 lit characters, and over 4,000,000 points of light that will immerse visitors in a megadose of holiday spirit. There’s nothing else like it!
Holiday Events in Michigan
Three hundred years of holiday traditions come to life during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village presented by Citizens, located in Dearborn, Mich. This year’s event will continue to immerse guests with the sights, sounds, smells and magic of the season, while still being a safe and responsible experience.
Unlike anything of its kind, Holiday Nights allows guests to experience the holidays throughout history and explore the origins of Christmas as a national holiday. The halls of historic homes have been decked with festive decorations and guests can gain inspiration for meals this holiday season with cooking demonstrations inside the historic kitchens.
Live performances by musicians and carolers fill the streets of Greenfield Village. Santa returns to his post on top of Robert Frost home with his trusty reindeer.
Frankenmuth just might be the cutest Christmas town in Michigan. This Bavarian themed town (known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria), offers events throughout the holiday season, starting with its Holiday Celebration and Candle Walk. Revelers meet at the River Place Shops and walk to Chamber Platz where the town’s Tannenbaum is lit.
There’s a Christkindlmarkt, holiday concerts, and even a holiday tea. Frankenmuth is home to Bronner’s Winter Wonderland, the “World’s Largest Christmas Store” where it’s Christmas every day of the year. This is one of the best places to visit in the Midwest during Christmas.
Silver Bells in the City kicks off the holiday season with an electric light parade, lighting of the state Christmas tree on the lawn of the state capitol, and fireworks over the Capitol dome. Residents come from far and wide to celebrate the season. The Silver Bells Village is perfect for holiday shopping, with over 100 vendors selling unique gifts for everyone on your list.
Holiday Events in Minnesota
Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” is known as America’s “Largest Free Walk Through Light Display”. Visitors stroll through twenty acres under the cover of 4 million lights while enjoying free hot cocoa, cookies, and other treats. Located on the shores of Lake Superior, this annual Christmas celebration offers visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus every evening for good boys and girls!
If you’re looking for other holiday posts check these out: 11 Festive Cities Guaranteed to Get You in the Holiday Spirit, 15 Best Places to go for Christmas on the East Coast, Charming US Towns for Celebrating Christmas or Best Places to Celebrate the Holidays in the U.S.
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul (The Twin Cities) are filled with excitement during the holiday season. Holidazzle has food booths, festive drinks, heated tents and more, it’s perfect for getting into the holiday spirit. Don’t miss one of the many holiday shows in downtown Minneapolis, ranging from the Guthrie Theater’s A Christmas Carol to the crazy fun holiday show at the Brave New Workshop comedy theatre.
Across the river, St. Paul will celebrate the season during Destination Winter Saint Paul, a one-of-a-kind experience that features an ice skating rink and 130-foot snow-packed Superslide at CHS Field. After you’re exhausted from all that skating and sliding, warm up in the grand lobby of the historic St. Paul Hotel, which hosts festive, five-course afternoon teas throughout the holiday season.
Holiday Events in Missouri
If you want to celebrate Christmas in the Midwest, there’s no Christmas destination like Branson, Missouri. Each year the city tries to outdo only itself and this year is no exception. Their Christmas lineup of events is beyond belief, with indoor and outdoor celebrations at literally every turn.
From special events and live shows to seeing more than 1,500 Christmas trees in “America’s Christmas City,” this season’s can’t-miss extravaganza is the debut of a first-of-its-kind, 80-foot tall Christmas tree at Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas.
Spectacular ways to celebrate the magic of Christmas in this incredibly festive destination include the season’s famous live shows, authentic shopping, seasonal food (like the world famous fruitcakes made by students at College of the Ozarks), drive-through Christmas displays and magical parades.
For the young and young at heart, Branson Scenic Railway provides visitors with an opportunity to step inside a classic Christmas tale aboard the renowned “Polar Express” to the North Pole.
St. Louis sparkles throughout the holiday season with amazing light displays and unique holiday events. For nearly half a century, Saint Charles Christmas Traditions® has made the holiday spirit come to life. With a unique blend of storytelling and history, guests are welcomed into a world of yuletide nostalgia and fantasy where you can explore unique holiday customs from around the world.
THE POLAR EXPRESS™ at St. Louis Union Station is an opportunity to interact with the Polar Express characters, Santa Claus himself and his elves. Enjoy a magical ride to the North Pole where Santa boards the train and hands out the gift of Christmas to the children.
Be sure to lace up those skates and head out ice skating at Steinberg Skating Rink, the largest outdoor skating rink in the Midwest.
Holiday Events in Nebraska
The Durham Museum hosts a magical event known as Christmas at Union Station. There are holiday concerts, a forty foot tree, and celebrations of holiday traditions around the world. This is an event not to be missed.
Lauritzen Gardens, the city’s botanical gardens, has a holiday poinsettia show with over 5000 poinsettias of varying colors and a 20 foot poinsettia tree. There are also model trains winding their way through miniature Omaha area landmarks, adding a special festive touch.
Holiday Events in Ohio
Saengerfest is something you won’t find anywhere else. Award winning choirs from the World Choir Games perform at six churches around Over-the-Rhine (a Cincinnati neighborhood). Patrons are transferred by bus from venue to venue and can enjoy the beautiful music, churches, and even a brewery. A perfect holiday date night in Cincinnati! (Not happening in 2021)
Head to the Cincinnati Zoo for their PNC Festival of Lights. The Cincinnati Nature Center has their Light in the Forest woods walk in Rowe Woods with unique light displays all ages will love. Don’t miss a chance to support locals when shopping at Findlay Market’s annual Holiday Market and Washington Park’s Winter Market.
Holiday Events in Wisconsin
If you’re heading to Lake Geneva, there’s no better place to spend the holidays than the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. You won’t want to miss their Christmas in the Country celebration which starts November 21 and runs through the holiday season. Festive holiday experiences include breakfast with Santa, dining in an igloo, a trolley tour of lights, and a gingerbread house contest.
Families can opt to stay in adjoining rooms, suites, or private villas, and enjoy numerous activities including skiing, ice skating, and sledding (weather dependent of course). Grand Geneva’s holiday elves can even arrange to have a fully decorated Christmas tree in your room upon request and will even take a letter up to the North Pole for Santa – just drop it off in the resort’s magical mailbox.
At Miller Valley, home of the historic MillerCoors Brewery, revelers are invited to celebrate the holiday season while touring their Miller Holiday Lites. Over 350,000 holiday lights are strung throughout the valley with a musical show to go along with the display. The event is free, but guests are asked to bring a toy to donate to Toys-for-Tots or a non-perishable food item for Hunger Task Force.
Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward lights up for the holidays. At Christmas in the Ward, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, sample some delicious hot chocolate (or adult beverages), and end the evening watching the giant tree in Catalano Square light up before a festival fireworks show.
If you want to explore outside Milwaukee, don’t miss these best places to see Christmas lights in Wisconsin.