No doubt the holiday season brings more expenses. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have any holiday fun. Explore this list of free holidays activities in and around Chicago, ensuring festive fun without breaking the bank!

FREE HOLIDAY EVENTS

  • View the Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) Holiday Train in Pingree Grove. The train is scheduled to arrive at 8:45 a.m. and there will be a musical show from 9-9:30. Who knows maybe Santa and Mrs. Claus will make a stop here as well? Find more fun activities at Milk House and Gather.  (November 26)
  • Downtown Algonquin will be lit up at Miracle On Main. Have a merry time with the arrival or Santa and Mrs. Claus, reindeer, free hot chocolate, live music, and more.
  • Go to a parade. Cary’s Merry Cary Parade in downtown Cary rings in the season with a Mrs. Claus Storytime, sleigh rides, hot cocoa, and more! (December 3)
  • Bundle up and go on a hike! Better yet, make plans for a Luminaria Hike. The Crystal Lake Park District has one from November 29th – December 2nd. On December 2nd, they go all out with carolers, hot cocoa, a Candy Cane Forest, and more.

ONGOING HOLIDAY

  • Imagine Christmas as it was back in the days. Explore the charming town of Long Grove. Browse the shops, listen to carolers, and see Santa (select days).
  • See the Milk House Ice Cream transformed into a cute gingerbread house.
  • See Santa in his hut. Santa visits Crystal Lake and Woodstock.
  • Search for the Christmas Pickle. Woodstock has a fun Pickle Scavenger Hunt. Plus, it’s a great way to explore one of our favorite downtown areas! Plus, it’s just so magical when the Square all lit up! Starts Sunday, November 12.  While you’re here enjoy the rest of historic Downtown Woodstock.
  • Go to the library! Sign up for winter reading programs, stock up on Christmas or holiday books, or find someone to help if an Angel Tree is available.
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides make for amazing memories. Woodstock offers free carriage rides around the historic square. (Saturday, November 25, Sunday, December 3, Saturday, December 9, Sunday, December 17, Saturday, December 23)
  • Marvel at the festive holiday window displays at Macy’s on State Street.
  • Take photos at Panton Mill Park’s soundstage. Great photo ops in front of the tree.
  • Visit Downtown Crystal Lake during Luminary Nights. Downtown is all lit up with luminaries dotting the sidewalks. While here, say hello to Santa in the Santa House and take a pic in front of the big tree. During our visit, we encountered carolers and our beloved coffee truck, Joe and Dough, offering a fun hot chocolate bar.

LIGHT IT UP

  • Enjoy the free Christmas lights display Lights on Rockville in Gilbert and walk through the lighted arches synchronized to music.
  • Go to an outdoor mall. The outdoor malls are usually all decked out with lights and more! The Arboretum of South Barrington, The Promenade Bolingbrook, are just a few examples.
  • While in Wheaton check out Night of Lights, a light display in Adams Park. Read all about the holiday fun we had in Wheaton.
  • Say hello to the animals at Cosley Zoo when it is all lit up and trees are decorated. Donations appreciated and hot chocolate is available for purchase. (November 24-December 30)
  • See Chicago’s favorite zoo all lit up. At Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights find twinkling lights including a lighted maze, photo ops, carolers, and more. General Admission is free on Mondays only. (Nov. 17, 2023 – Jan.7, 2024. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.)
  • Take a stroll through Lilacia Park in Lombard where it is all lit up. Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in December visit with Santa. Free! Tip: While here, visit the Hughes Digital Christmas not too far away.
  • Head to downtown Naperville for Naper Lights, a free event with holiday displays and music.
  • See the free drive through lights at Mack Manor in Fox River Grove.
  • Look for more holiday lights around your area. Another great free option? The Aurora Festival of Lights at Phillips Park!
  • Walk around Central Park in Oak Brook to experience Winter Lights, a half-mile walk through the park among thousands of lights. (November 23 – January 7 from 4:30-9:30 p.m. )
  • See the Swiftie house in Naperville! (1228 Atlas Lane, Naperville)

HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES

  • Go ice skating for free at Parkway Bank Park. Rentals available for $8. See website for hours.
  • Watch Reporting for Christmas which was filmed in Long Grove and Woodstock.
  • See ice sculptures. On December 16, Downtown Huntley will have their annual cocoa crawl with ice sculptures. Afterwards, the ice sculptures will be up – until they melt. Scope out the ice sculptures before they melt! At night, the downtown square is super cute!
  • See the Home Alone house. Did you know Home Alone was filmed in the North Shore? You can see film locations including the outside of the house in Winnetka! Afterwards, head to Hubbard Street Park, the site of the skating rink and gazebo, but now a fun playground.  End your day across the street which was the old pharmacy now turned Graeters ice cream.

  • Explore the German-inspired Christkindlmarkets in downtown Chicago, Aurora, and Gallagher Way featuring festive stalls, food, and entertainment.

SEE SANTA

  • See Santa and get a free 4 x 6. During Santa’s Wonderland at Cabela’s/Bass Pro Shops, you can see Santa, make a wish list, play with Lincoln Logs, and pose for a few photo ops. Just make a reservation online.
  • See Santa in the Santa House in Downtown Crystal Lake. Located at Brink Street Market, you can find Santa in his house at Brink Street Market. While you’re here make sure to take a pic in front of the big tree. Santa House Hours: Thursday & Friday (6PM – 8PM), Saturday (10AM – 3PM), Sunday (Noon – 3PM)

  • See Santa at the Holiday Tent at The Arboretum of South Barrington. Not only does the heated tent have Santa, but there are specials like hot cocoa, face painting, and balloons. (Saturdays, 9-12 p.m.)