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Light shows to Christmas trains: 14 Chicago holiday events you need reservations for, and you better get them now

Score tickets to iconic holiday events like the Arboretum's Illumination, the Jingle Ball and more

The Morton Arboretum

Temperatures are cooling and tickets for iconic holiday traditions are already selling fast. To set yourself up for the jolliest holiday season, score a reservation at some of Chicago’s best light shows, theater performances and winter festivals before tickets run out.

Here are some of the events you can secure a spot for in advance. 

Lincoln Park ZooLights

ZooLights will return to Chicago with its dazzling LED light displays, carolers and more on Friday, Nov. 17. Enjoy a variety of live music events scheduled throughout this year’s chilly season and purchase holiday refreshments while exploring the zoo’s attractions.

Purchase tickets on the zoo's website.

Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum

Traverse the Arboretum's 50 acres of trees lit up in endless colors starting Saturday, Nov. 18. The Arboretum will be introducing new features and immersive installations in addition to the returning fan favorites this year. 

Visitors can also enjoy s’mores, a bonfire and concession tents with more snacks.

Find tickets here.

The Polar Express

All aboard the Polar Express train ride in Union Station starting Dec. 3! This immersive one-hour train experience allows passengers of all ages to experience the magic of the iconic Christmas book. The ride will feature dancing chefs, caroling and keepsakes that passengers can take home. 

Guests choose their seats when they purchase tickets and prices vary depending on passenger age and departure type.

Purchase Polar Express tickets here.

Lightscape in the Botanic Garden

Tickets are selling fast for the fifth annual Botanic Garden’s Lightscape celebration. Starting Nov. 10, visitors can walk through the dazzling landscapes of Evening Island, the new Winter Cathedral and new holiday trails. The experience is full of bright colors, lights and festive music. 

Secure Lightscape tickets here.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Cirque du Soleil

Watch Cirque du Soleil’s first holiday show based on the classic poem “A Visit from Saint Nicolas” by Clement Clarke Moore. The spectacle features twisting acrobats, dancers and stunt artists as the show follows a young girl who rediscovers holiday magic. The show’s soundtrack features holiday classics with a unique Cirque du Soleil twist. 

Purchase tickets to the show here.

Brookfield Zoo Holiday Magic

Starting Nov. 24, Holiday Magic by the Brookfield Zoo is back with cheer. Holiday Magic has an extensive schedule this season: Visitors can watch various shows with juggling elves, carolers and ice carving. In addition, the zoo will feature dance parties, interactive displays, virtual reality experiences and a carousel. 

Purchase tickets to the zoo’s various entrances for Holiday Magic here.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights at the Museum of Science and Industry

Visit the Museum of Science and Industry’s four-story Grand Tree and a forest of over 50 trees and holiday displays opening Saturday, Nov. 18. The seasonal exhibit explores the diversity of holiday traditions around the globe. 

Entry to the holiday exhibit is included in a general admission ticket to the museum.

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Families, visitors and neighbors can enjoy this holiday festival at Gallagher Way starting Tuesday, Nov. 21. While admission to the Wrigleyville Christkindlmarket is free, the Wrigley Field portion of Wonderland requires a purchased ticket. Admission will allow guests to experience a variety of attractions including various rides, games and more this season. 

Purchase a ticket here.


While admission into the Daley Plaza market is free, guests can reserve a Stammtisch in advance – a regular’s table. There are only 12 stammtisch’s in the market, seating up to eight people for 90 minutes at a time. Different packages to reserve a table include servings of Glühwein, German mulled wine, beer, pretzels and Brozeit.

Reserve a stammtisch here

Chicago Jingle Ball

Celebrate the holidays with a star-studded cast at the Allstate Arena on Monday, Dec. 4, for the iHeartRadio 103.5 KISS FM Jingle Ball. Artists like Nicki Minaj, Jelly Roll, Big Time Rush, Doechii, (G)I-DLE, Kalii and more are set to grace the stage in one of the most anticipated Chicago concert events of the year.

More information and tickets can be found here

Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas One And All!

All we want for Christmas is to watch Mariah Carey sing her heart out to holiday classics. Carey will make her Chicago pit stop for her Christmas tour at the United Center on Sunday, Dec. 3.

Score your tickets to Carey’s Christmas extravaganza here.

The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party

Meet fantastical characters starting Nov. 4 at the Chicago Children’s Theatre. This year’s Holiday Tea Party will feature four tales based on stories by Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse, The Tale of Two Bad Mice, The Tailor of Gloucester, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Buy tickets for the tea party on the Chicago Children’s Theatre website.

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