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The Best Holiday Events in the Midwest (2023)

I think that the Christmas season is the best time of year to visit the Midwest. There is a constant stream of events to choose from to celebrate the season. You’ll find holiday favorites like sleigh rides, Santa visits, Christmas music, and more. Below, I’ve rounded up some of the more unique and fun activities in the region to bring you the best holiday events in the Midwest for the whole family.

The Best Holiday Events in the Midwest - Kids Are A Trip

You’ll find something special in both big cities and small towns. You can visit a German market, visit the most Christmassy towns in the Midwest, or enjoy a unique experience that’s full of holiday magic. It’s all up to you. Happy holidays!

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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.

CP Holiday Train Best Holiday Events in the Midwest-Kids Are A Trip
Photo: Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

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

Chicago

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.

Christkindlmarket from above taken by Jim Prichard
Photo: Jim Prichard

With locations at Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville, and Aurora, this German Christmas market is very similar to its European counterparts. Families can enjoy music, food, live music, and shopping in a magical holiday setting.

Other holiday events in Chicago to add to your list include Light Up the Lake (at Navy Pier), Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden, Illumination at the Morton Arboretum, and Christmas Around the World with the Holiday of Lights at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Galena

One night every December, the Midwest city of Galena glows with a special light, as part of the town’s Night of the Luminaria and Living Windows event.

Best Christmas events in the Midwest Galena-Kids Are A Trip
Photo: VisitGalena.org

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

Christmas Events in Indianapolis

Circle of Lights

Circle of Lights kicks off the holiday season, as the city’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument turns into a giant Christmas tree with over 50 garland strands and 5,000 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.

Christmas Nights of Lights

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. It boasts more than a million lights across dozens of displays.

Festival of Trees

If you prefer a slower pace, the Indiana History Center offers a chance to explore their annual Festival of Trees. You’ll get to enjoy more than 75 individually decorated trees, carolers, and an “Elf on the Shelf” Scavenger Hunt.

Monument Circle 5958 © 2018 Rich Clark
Photo: Rich Clark

Winterlights

Newfields rolls out the red carpet for their annual holiday experience, Winterlights. It features 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.

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

Christmas at the Zoo is held at the Indianapolis Zoo, the first zoo in the US to hold a holiday lights event. Since its debut, Christmas at the Zoo has become a fan-favorite for both Indy residents and visitors alike.

Christkindlmarkt at the Athenaeum

Another favorite in the region is Christkindlmarkt at the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum is a historical German American landmark in the arts district of downtown Indy.

Local artisans sell holiday-specific items, German-themed items, Christkindlmarkt ornaments, boot mugs, and more.

There is live entertainment on the Biergarten stage, visits from St. Nicholas & Krampus, and food available from Rathskeller restaurant.

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Best Small Towns to Visit for Christmas

Other can’t-miss holiday attractions in Indianapolis include Jingle Rails’ locomotive wonderland at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and A Merry Prairie Holiday at Conner Prairie.

Holiday Events in Iowa

Davenport

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

Lindsborg

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.

Celebrate-Christmas-in-Lindsborg-Kids-Are-A-Trip
Photo courtesy: Lindsborg Convention & Visitors Bureau

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 cookies with Mrs. Claus and a snowflake parade.

Wichita

Botanica Wichita has “Illuminations”, a holiday light show set to music featuring over a million lights. Visitors can choose to either walk through 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 happen 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

Louisville

For something really unique, head to Lights Under Louisville. Visitors take a 30-minute ride through 1.3 miles of underground passageways. Along the way, there are 40+ themed displays, mapping projections, approximately 900 lit characters, and a 200-foot-long MEGA light tunnel. Plus, over 6,500,000 points of light will immerse visitors in a megadose of holiday spirit. There’s nothing else like it!

Best Holiday Events in the Midwest Lights Under Louisville-Kids Are A Trip
Photo: Louisville Convention Bureau

Holiday Events in Michigan

Dearborn

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 immerse guests in the sights, sounds, smells, and magic of the season.

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’s home with his trusty reindeer.

Frankenmuth

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.

Frankenmuth Michigan Christmas town lamp with red ribbon and Christmas lights
Photo: Unsplash

There’s a Christkindlmarkt, holiday concerts, and even horse-drawn carriage rides. 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.

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.

Lansing

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

Duluth

Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” is known as America’s “Largest Free Walk Through Light Display”. Visitors stroll through 20 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 CoastCharming US Towns for Celebrating Christmas or Best Places to Celebrate the Holidays in the U.S.

Twin Cities

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul (The Twin Cities) are filled with excitement during the holiday season. 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 theater.

Holidazzle Minneapolis holiday lights celebration
Photo: Dusty Hoskovec Photography via Holidazzle.com

Across the river in St. Paul, head to the grand lobby of the historic St. Paul Hotel. It hosts festive, 5-course afternoon teas throughout the holiday season.

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Holiday Events in Missouri

Branson

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.

There are special events and live shows, as well as more than 1,500 Christmas trees in “America’s Christmas Tree City.” This season’s can’t-miss extravaganza is the 8-story Christmas tree at Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas.

Christmas in Fireman's Landing Christmas in Branson-Kids Are A Trip
Photo: Explore Branson

Spectacular ways to celebrate the magic of Christmas in this incredibly festive destination include the season’s famous live shows, authentic shopping, and seasonal food (like the world-famous fruitcakes made by students at College of the Ozarks).

You can enjoy drive-through Christmas displays and magical parades, as well! 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

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

Omaha

The Durham Museum hosts a magical event known as Christmas at Union Station. There are holiday concerts, a 40-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

Cincinnati

Head to the Cincinnati Zoo for their PNC Festival of Lights. The Cincinnati Nature Center has its 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

Lake Geneva

If you are looking for a family-friendly Christmas hotel head to the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa. You won’t want to miss their Christmas in the Country celebration which 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!

Milwaukee

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 festive fireworks show.

Milwaukee also has festive, larger-than-life hand-painted ornaments, creating a walkable Ornament Trail as part of Milwaukee’s 25th annual Holiday Lights Festival.

Spanning through 15 locations across downtown Milwaukee, this is the perfect route for travelers to soak up Christmas magic before watching live holiday performances like the Black Nativity in Vogel Hall or hopping on the delicious Christmas Around Milwaukee Bakery Tour.

Thirty miles north of Milwaukee, don’t miss Enchantment in the Park, a drive-thru holiday adventure through Regner Park (there’s also a shorter walk-through route). Revelers will wind through dancing light arches, twinkling pines, and larger than life holiday scenes, all leading to Santa’s Workshop.

Enchantment in the Park
Photo credit: Enchantment in the Park

At Santa’s Workshop people of all ages can gather for hot cocoa, concessions, live entertainment and of course, a picture with Santa himself. Horse drawn carriage rides through the park will also be available on select Friday and Saturday evenings.

If you want to explore outside Milwaukee, don’t miss these best places to see Christmas lights in Wisconsin.