Joyful holiday lights across Chicago have a way of making the frigid winter season a little more tolerable. The biggest and longest running light displays—ZooLights and Holiday Magic—take place at the city’s two zoos. In addition to millions of sparkly lights and extravagant colorful shows, there are plenty of events and activities at each zoo.
The cheery seasonal festivals have everything from kid-friendly activities to holiday shopping and craft beer tasting. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about both ZooLights and Holiday Magic.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
For the past 24 years, LP Zoo has hosted ZooLights, a holiday tradition where 2.5 million lights decorate the grounds in elaborate displays. The free event features rainbow-lit archways, glimmering snow globes, leaping reindeers, happy snowmen and so much more. Throughout the winter season the zoo hosts a variety of family-friendly and adult events with ice carvers, musical light shows, mazes and beer tastings.
When is ZooLights?
The lights go on at 4:30 until 9 p.m., except when the zoo closes at 8 p.m. on New Years Eve, December 31. No ZooLights on Thanksgiving Day, Black Friday, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. The schedule is posted to the zoo’s website.
November: 23-25 and 30
December: 1, 2, 7-23, 26-30 and 31
Where is ZooLights?
You’ll be able to access the event through the two main entrances at Lincoln Park Zoo. The West Gate is located at Stockton Drive and Webster Avenue. The East Gate is located near Cannon Drive and Fullerton Avenue. The lights are all outside but indoor areas of the zoo will be open where you can warm up.
Lincoln Park Zoo can be reached at the Armitage stop on the Brown or Purple Line and bus routes No. 22, No. 36, No. 151 and No. 156.
Is it free?
Yes! But there are nights only open to visitors with tickets for certain events.
Are there special events or family nights?
ZooLights hosts an opening night ceremony where the staff will flip on the switch at 4:25 p.m. on Friday, November 23 and celebrate the holiday season. Family-friendly nights are marked on the calendar.
Tuesday, November 27: The Holiday Market will feature local artists, crafters, makers and shops. Tickets for the third annual event are $10 and is a night good for all ages.
Thursday, November 29: Adults Night Out: Holidaze! lets visitors walk around with hot chocolate, mulled wine or beer while enjoying holiday activities and entertainment from animal experts. Tickets are $12 to $15 and there’s a cash bar.
Thursday, December 6: One of the more popular events, BrewLights, brings in local craft beer and seasonal brews for guests to taste will admiring the dazzling light display. If you’re drinking, tickets cost $49 and if you’re the designated driver a ticket is $20.
Sunday, December 9: The Chris White Trio Tribute to ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is a family-friendly, musical event at Cafe Brauer. Tickets for the live jazz performance cost between $20 to $40 and is a night good for all ages.
Sunday, December 16: Take the kids to Breakfast with Santa, which includes a buffet and cookie decorating. Kids under a year get in free, tickets for children ages 1 to 12 cost $20 and 13 or older cost $45.
Monday, December 31: This year’s new event lets visitors ring in the New Year at Zoo Year’s Eve with a DJ, ice-carving stations, cash bars and spots to warm up in the animal houses. Early bird tickets are $10 to $20.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
This is the city’s longest running lights festival, for 37 years the zoo has hosted the festive event. Today there are nearly a million twinkling lights, a 41-foot tall tree, a 20-foot light orb perfect for photo ops, an ice-skating rink, carolers, ice carvers and lots more to get you in the holiday spirit.
When is Holiday Magic?
Holiday Magic takes place Saturdays and Sundays in December and the last week of the month. The dates for 2018 include December 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 and 26-31. Head to the zoo’s website for a more detailed schedule.
Where is Holiday Magic?
Visitors will need to hop on the Metra to get to Brookfield Zoo. Take the Burlington Northern Line and get off at the Hollywood Station. If you’re driving there’s a parking lot that costs $14.
Is it free?
Holiday Magic is free for members of the Brookfield Zoo but if you’re not it just costs the price of admission which is $21.95 for adults, $15.95 for seniors and children aged 3 to 11. You can save a few dollars when purchasing tickets online.
Are there special events?
Holiday Magic hosts nightly events and activities across the zoo during Holiday Magic. Entertainment includes carolers, dancers, magicians, zoo chats with animal experts, cookie and cupcake decorating, and a model railroad.
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