Magical Holiday Experiences Throughout the Midwest

My family just loves the holidays. I love finding new places to go during this time of the year to make memories with my family because we remember these experiences more than the presents they get on Christmas. This list is filled with some family-friendly attractions that will leave you with treasured holiday memories. Happy Holidays from my family to yours.

Looking for holiday magic closer to home? Check out all our favorite Indy traditions!



Fair Oaks Farms

856 N 600 E, Fair Oaks, IN 47943

The Forest of Lights trail has returned to Fair Oaks Farms. Additional outdoor winter activities include an ice-skating rink and a large 135-foot tube slide. Please note that skate rental starts at youth size 9, and riders must be at least 42” tall for the tubing hill. This year, more lighted scenes have been added to the trail including a UFO beaming up a group of cows. Hungry after your walk through the woods? Visit the Farmhouse restaurant for some food. You can even eat outside in a private igloo! Fairfield Suites is located right next door to the Farmhouse Restaurant and is connected by a breezeway.

Extend your stay with a trip to Harvest Tyme in nearby Lowell, right off I-65, to enjoy their drive-through light display.

A Christmas Story Comes Home

7770 Corinne Dr, Hammond, IN 46323

If you are a fan of the film “A Christmas Story,” your family will love this FREE attraction at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond near the Illinois border. Every holiday season, the Welcome Center transforms with displays of scenes from the movie, decorated Christmas trees, and holiday-themed events and activities. They have the best Santa who sits on top of a mountain, like in the movie, and you can even ride down the slide like Ralphie after your visit. There is a fee for the picture with Santa and reservations can be made online. Walk-ins are accepted if there is availability. You can also visit a fun gift shop and a drop box where you can mail letters to Santa.

French Lick

French Lick, Indiana

French Lick is full of ways to celebrate the holidays. The French Lick Scenic Railway’s Polar Express is a popular attraction during the winter. At the Wilstem Wildlife Park, you can enjoy the Twilight Drive Thru and Light Show or the Winter Fest Light Show. Explore the French Lick Springs and West Baden Resorts to see their beautiful decorations.

The West Baden Resort features sparkling lights, indoors and out. At the French Lick Springs Resort, you can enjoy a holiday light show, a large Christmas Tree in the lobby, holiday scenes, an area to write to Santa, a reindeer barn display, a large life-size gingerbread house, a scavenger hunt, and visits with Santa.



Lights Under Louisville

1841 Taylor Ave, Louisville, KY 40213

The Lights Under Louisville are worth making an annual tradition. Located at the Louisville Mega Cavern, drive through the cave to find different holiday light displays. Some family favorites are the Disney, dinosaurs, and Despicable Me/Minions displays. On weekend evenings, it gets very busy and waits can be long. Beat the crowds by visiting the cave during the day, during the week, or after Christmas.

Winter Woods Spectacular

1080 Amphitheater Rd, Louisville, KY 40214

Iroquois Park, which also hosts the popular Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, invites you to experience the Winter Woods Spectacular. The trail will consist of twinkling holiday lights, artistic displays, decorated trees, and beautiful stained glass along the 1/3-mile trail through the wooded park.

ChristmasTown at the Creation Museum

2800 Bullittsburg Church Rd, Petersburg, KY 41080

The Creation Museum offers a free Christmas event, open to the public. Just pay $15 for parking. ChristmasTown features light displays throughout the garden and an array of lights illuminating Noah’s Ark. There are many free activities to enjoy including a live nativity scene, Christmas concerts, carousel rides, and the Encounter the Wonder Show.

You can also enjoy the nightly animal show and visit the animals at the Ararat Ridge Zoo which includes a kangaroo walkabout and petting area. For $10, children 17 and under can even ride on a camel, weather permitting. The Ark Encounter Gift Shop will be open and festive refreshments will be available for purchase.




Cincinnati, Ohio and Newport, Kentucky

Turn a trip to Cincinnati into a holiday adventure. Watch Santa scuba dive with the sand sharks at the Newport Aquarium on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. If you love model train displays, visit the Cincinnati Museum Center and see their Holiday Junction Exhibit. Follow the holiday trains through different scenes including Brickopolis, where scenes from Star Wars, an amusement park, a medieval village, and local landmarks are built out of LEGO Bricks.

The Cincinnati Zoo is hosting “Wild Wonderland” for the 40th annual PNC Festival of Lights. The zoo will illuminate with 4 million LED lights, 30 animal lanterns, and a Wild Lights Show on Swan Lake.

Kings Island

6300 Kings Island Dr, Mason, OH 45040

In 2021, Kings Island Winterfest was voted as one of the top Theme Park Holiday Events in the country by USA Today readers. There are more than 5 million lights throughout Kings Island and the park’s icon, the Eiffel Tower, is transformed into a Christmas Tree. During Winterfest, guests can go ice skating on the Royal Fountain, go on about 20 of the park’s rides, and enjoy the Wonderland Parade and live entertainment throughout the park. Winterfest is open on select nights in November and December.

Great Wolf Lodge

2501 Great Wolf Dr, Mason, OH 45040

Families love spending time at the Great Wolf Lodge. During the winter, the Great Wolf Lodge transforms into a ‘SnowLand’ where you can visit with Santa and partake in winter-themed festivities. Try out the scavenger hunt, bingo, trivia and competition games, crafts, and a frosty dance party.



Gaylord Opryland

2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214

Staying at the Gaylord Opryland in December has been one family’s favorite holiday trips. The resort is gorgeous, and you can spend hours walking around the different conservatories, viewing the gardens and water features. In the Delta Conservatory, you can find a 48-foot Christmas tree, a scavenger hunt, pictures with Santa, a gingerbread house-making station, and the Delta River Boat ride. At the Cascades Conservatory, see the Christmas Tree Parade, featuring trees decorated by country music stars.

Of course, you have to visit Ice. In this year’s Ice experience, explore the classic tale of Rudolph and the misfit toys told through scenes sculpted out of ice. It is a brisk 9 degrees inside the attraction, but you’ll be loaned a parka. Believe it or not, this is just a sample of holiday festivities at The Gaylord Opryland! Check out their website for a full description of all the family fun.


2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863

The Smoky Mountains are just magical in the winter, partly due to all the Christmas decorations and light displays in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. But the best place to experience Christmas in the Smoky Mountains has to be Dollywood. Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood has been voted America’s Best Christmas Event for more than a decade.

At the park, you will see more than 6 million twinkling lights, ride the Dollywood Express train ride, visit Santa’s village, and view holiday shows like “Christmas in the Smokies” and “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” Enjoy the light displays throughout the park including Glacier Ridge and purchase holiday-themed concessions. Complete your trip with a stay at Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort & Spa, which is also beautifully decorated for the holiday season.



Downtown Chicago

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is magical in the winter. A favorite holiday tradition is watching Mickey and Minnie Mouse and friends light up the trees along Michigan Ave the weekend before Thanksgiving. Throughout the holiday season, visit the Macy’s window display on State Street. View the big Christmas tree at Millenium Park, then go ice skating at the rink there or at the skating ribbon at nearby Maggie Daley Park. Navy Pier’s Light Up The Lake runs until January 7 and features more than 600,000 lights, along with a Winter WonderFest Forest, an ice skating rink, Santa visits, and more.

Stroll outdoor light displays at both The Chicago Botanic Garden and Lincoln Park Zoo. At Wrigley Field, Gallagher Way has a Winterland filled with free events, an ice-skating rink on the field, and a Christkindlmarkt. Finally, the Museum of Science and Industry features its “Christmas Around the World” exhibit, showcasing more than 50 trees that represent a variety of countries and cultures.

Harry Potter Magic at Play

Water Tower Place, 835 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Located at Water Tower Place on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue, Harry Potter Magic at Play spans 30,000 square feet and covers 3 floors where you immerse yourself in the Wizarding World. Your experience begins with Harry Potter’s at Privet Drive. From there, continue on to King’s Cross Station and eventually enter Hogwarts through the boathouse. In the Hogwarts section of the attraction, discover your house with the Sorting Hat in the Great Hall, play with cauldrons and potions, take part in classes, and learn charms to levitate a feather.

You will also train for Quidditch, explore the Hogwarts grounds to find Hagrid’s hut, and go through the Forbidden Forest with a lantern. Don’t miss out on some Butterbeer at the Butterbeer Bar and treats from Honeydukes. Other immersive experiences worth visiting in Chicago include the Sloomoo Institute, WNDR Museum, Blue Man Group, the Immersive Nutcracker, and the King Tut Experience.



Ice Castles

1091 Hidden Cottage Cir, Lake Geneva, WI 53147

One of only five in the country and the only one located in the midwest, Ice Castles is a unique experience. A beautiful frozen structure built into the landscape offers visitors a chance to experience the Ice Castle by admiring the ice caverns and archways and exploring ice slides and crawl tunnels. Winter characters like a snow queen and a winter fairy will be greeting guests. There is also an Illumination Grove and winter sleigh rides take you along a scenic, illuminated trail before dropping you off near the castle.

Ice Castles is located at the Geneva National Resort and Club. Overnight stays at the resort include complimentary winter activities like ice skating, snowshoeing, and sledding on the property.



Downtown St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri

There are many opportunities to enjoy the holidays in St. Louis. At the St. Louis Aquarium, you can see Scuba Claus and his elf on Saturdays during the 1:15 dive show in the Shark Canyon. Union Station is filled with holiday-themed activities, including a Polar Express Train ride to the North Pole and a Christkindlmarkt. Head to the Soda Fountain to enjoy a Grinch shake.

The Budweiser Brewery hosts Brewery Lights featuring festive activities and a nightly parade at 7:30 pm where you can see floats, a trolley, and the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. At the Missouri Botanical Garden, Garden Glow features over 2 million lights and different illuminated displays. The St. Louis Zoo’s Wild Lights includes holiday lights, kids’ activities, a 4D Theater playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, live carollers and entertainers, festive refreshments, and a penguin encounter.

Six Flags St. Louis

4900 Six Flags Rd, Eureka, MO 63025

At Six Flags St. Louis, enjoy the Cosmic Sleigh Ride, a nightly drive-through light experience that features over 500 space-themed installations. Advanced tickets are required and on Friday through Sunday, your ticket also includes admission to Six Flags’ Holiday Square. This event is on the front mall area of the park and is decorated with sparkling lights, holiday décor, and dancing trees. You can also enjoy the shops and concessions for some holiday gifts or festive treats. Try peppermint funnel cakes, seasonal fudge, and flavored hot cocoa.

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