Ready or not, the holidays are upon us, and every year moms are on the hook to create a lot of magic. So let us take the pressure off with these drive-worthy events and stops across the Midwest! Whether you want to see spectacular light displays, meet Santa, enjoy holiday-inspired treats, or check out new places to explore and shop, (or all of the above!) we have a whole line-up of Midwest holiday musts.
Here’s Midwest holiday fun worth the drive:
Famous holiday fun: The Santa Claus Museum and Village, Santa Claus
You won’t want to miss the town of Santa Claus this time of year. See the 22-foot-tall Santa statue, then have the kids mail wish lists from the town’s first post office (bonus: you’re guaranteed to receive a letter in return!). Residents amp up their Christmas celebrations during the festive season with a full calendar of events, including chestnuts roasting on an open fire at Santa’s Candy Castle and a live reindeer exhibit. When: 11/24-1/1.
Outdoor must: Carmel Christkindlmarkt, City of Carmel
You don’t have to travel abroad to experience the charm of an authentic, open-air German market at the Carmel Christkindlmarkt. Running from thru December, plan an outing to enjoy traditional German foods, gifts, and drinks sourced directly from Germany and other European countries. At the center of the market, find an outdoor ice skating rink for the right amount of holiday magic. When: 11/19-12/30.
Don’t-miss light display: Circle of Lights Tree Lighting, Indianapolis
Watch the downtown Indianapolis Monument Circle transform into a winter wonderland at Indy’s biggest night of the holiday season on 11/25. Enjoy live music, holiday performances, and plenty of festive food and beverages as you await the arrival of Santa to flip the switch shortly before 8pm, then return throughout the season for festive lights, a visit to the Indianapolis Symphony Yuletide Celebration, and sweet treats after the show at South Bend Chocolate Company. When: 11/25-1/13.
Off the beaten path:Ho Ho Ho Holiday Breakfast, City of Greenfield
The City of Greenfield welcomes you for a special meet-and-greet Breakfast with Santa and his missus. Enjoy a hot chocolate bar, activities, meet reindeer, then enjoy historic Main Street in Greenfield, take photos at Penny Lane’s vintage VW bus, and shop a holiday market at Bradley Hall. When: 12/17.
Honorable mentions:Holiday in the Village at Spring Mill State Park (12/2-12/3), Magic of Lights show at Ruoff Music Center of Noblesville (11/18-1/1), and Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum in downtown Indy (11/19-1/16).
Famous holiday fun: Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Frankenmuth
Known as the “World’s Largest Christmas Store,” Bronner’s is the place in the Mitten State to stock up on holiday decor, trims, and gifts. Stop at the onsite Season’s Eatings snack bar for Christmas Lane for lights, or plan a longer trip to enjoy the surroundings of Frankenmuth, the surrounding village that feels Alpine, but is distinctly pure Michigan. When: Year-round.
Outdoor must: Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, Dearborn
Be advised this popular metro Detroit activity “historically” sells out. Explore more than 80 acres of the historic Greenfield Village - located on the grounds of the Henry Ford Museum - in a glimmering after-hours setting. Stroll down Main Street brimming with holiday goods, food, and warm beverages, or take a ride on a historic Model T. When: 12/2-12/28.
Don’t-miss light display: Christmas Lite Show, Grand Rapids
This 2-mile, drive-thru light show - now a Western Michigan holiday staple - has grown to offer over 1 million lights, a Winter Wonderland Walk path for out-of-car excitement, and more. When: 11/23-12/31.
Off the beaten path: Downtown Light Parade and Holiday in the Village, Traverse City/Suttons Bay
Get into the holiday spirit before Thanksgiving with a downtown light parade, tree lighting, and arrival of Santa in Traverse City, then head north to Holiday in the Village in Suttons Bay for caroling on the corner, mailing letters to Santa, and stories from Mrs. Claus. When: Light Parade - 11/19, Holiday in the Village - 11/26.
Honorable mentions: Wild Lights at Detroit Zoo (11/19-1/8), ice skate at Campus Martius in Detroit (11/18-3/5), or Winter Bazaar on Mackinaw Island (12/2-12/4).
Famous holiday fun: The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, Chicago
Boasting the largest nighttime parade in the US, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival features Mickey and Minnie Mouse, balloons, floats, Santa, and fireworks that illuminate the Avenue’s 200+ trees. When: 11/19.
Outdoor must: Santa Claus Parade, Peoria
ISO a special way to see Santa and kick off the season? Head to Peoria for the longest-running parade in the U.S. the day after Thanksgiving. The Santa Claus Parade brings holiday-themed floats, live music, lots of candy, and the arrival of Santa Claus himself! When: 11/25
Don’t-miss light display: Morton Arboretum Tree Lights, Aurora
Explore the Arboretum’s 50 acres of majestic trees during this spectacle of color, light, and sound, featuring six new displays and returning favorites. Be awed by the first-ever Illumination display in the Arboretum’s new Grand Garden, complete with a laser-light finale. When: 11/19-1/17.
Off the beaten path: Immersive Nutcracker, Chicago
Experience the beloved Nutcracker ballet in a whole new way. Immerse yourself in the world of Clara’s dreams, surrounded by Tchaikovsky’s enchanting music in the Immersive Nutcracker. From “The March of the Toys” to the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” you’ll become a part of the story. When: 11/19-12/31.
Honorable mentions: Festival of Lights in East Peoria (11/24-1/2), Chicago Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza (11/18-12/24), and Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge of Gurnee (11/18-1/4).
Famous holiday fun: A Christmas Story House, Cleveland
For some pop culture nostalgia, make your way to Cleveland and visit the house from A Christmas Story. It offers a museum to tour behind-the-scenes photos, see original movie props, and book overnight stays. Snap a few selfies with the iconic leg lamp, Ralphie’s snowsuit, and the oversized pink bunny costume. When: year-round.
Outdoor must: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad’s North Pole Adventure, Independence
Climb aboard the North Pole Adventure train for a whimsical ride to the North Pole. Enjoy cookies and cocoa, hand deliver your letter for Santa to the North Pole’s Postmaster, and dance and sing with Santa’s elves. When: 11/11-12/21.
Don’t-miss light display: Historic Crew Stadium Magic of Lights, Columbus
This national drive-thru Magic of Lights holiday light show is peppered in other Midwest locations and with good reason: They know what they’re doing. With over a mile of spectacular light displays including Holiday Barbie, Bigfoot Monster Truck, and holiday favorites, there’s something everyone will love. When: 11/18-1/2.
Off the beaten path: Castle Noel, Medina
Aka the world’s largest indoor Christmas attraction, Castle Noel houses the world’s biggest privately-owned collection of Christmas movie props and costumes from your favorite holiday movies, animated NYC Christmas store window replicas from Bloomingdale’s, gift shop, and more. When: Year-round.
Honorable mentions: WinterLand winter celebration in Cleveland (11/26-12/31), WonderLight’s Christmas in Hartford (11/11-1/1), and Dickens Victorian Village, Cambridge (11/1-12/31).