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. We’ve 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!
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*This post originally appeared in November 2018, but was updated for the 2019 holiday season.
Where to Celebrate the Holidays in the Midwest
A Christmas destination unlike any other, each year Branson, Missouri 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.
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.
Chicago has many amazing events to choose from (see them here), but my all time favorite is the 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.
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!
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 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 and creative candy room so prepare to be amazed!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Winterlights returns to Newfields (formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art) with 1.5 million lights, a new winter market featuring local food, drink and gifts, and an enhanced grand finale light show. The experience takes place outside the museum in a winter wonderland that makes visitors feel like they are strolling through a snow globe. There will be warming spaces inside the museum and the Lilly House mansion (which will be decorated for the holidays), since most of the event is outdoors. Kids will enjoy the s’mores making stations, cocoa and hot cider (there are adult versions too), and other treats to enjoy.
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.
The Swedish holiday of St. Lucia’s Day is also celebrated in the Swedish town of Lindsborg. 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.
For something really unique, head to Lights Under Louisville. Visitors can take a ride or drive their own vehicle through the underground caverns. The caves are decorated with over 850 holiday characters and more than 3,000,000 lights. There’s nothing else like it!
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.
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.
Twin Cities, Minnesota
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 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.
Botanica Wichita has “Illuminations”, a holiday light show set to music featuring over a million lights. 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!
If you’re looking for other holiday posts check out these: 5 Christmas Markets in Germany Kids Will Love , 11 Festive Cities Guaranteed to Get You in the Holiday Spirit, 15 Best Places to go for Christmas on the East Coast, or Best Places to Celebrate the Holidays in the U.S.
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