If you don’t enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of loading up the kids, driving through a holiday light display while drinking hot cocoa (spiked hot cocoa is optional but encouraged), during a Wisconsin winter during the weeks leading up to Christmas… then this post is not for you. 🙂 We thoroughly enjoy the holidays and try to pack in as much joy as one can take during this leading-up-to-Christmas season! (We’re also all for the simple things that don’t require much money or effort – so these are all options that we condone!)
There are SO many light displays and unique holiday events in Wisconsin, but we focused on the few in the greater Madison area. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list and we love learning about new places and festivities from you guys! We haven’t visited them all but have heard good things, so we’d love your thoughts and ideas as well.
HOLIDAY Fantasy In Lights at Olin Park – Madison
For years, both of our families have been driving through Olin Park in Madison, Wisconsin to visit the annual light show put on by The Electric Group. The Lights are open every evening from dusk ’til dawn from November 7, 2020 – January 3, 2021. It’s fully drive-through, so no judgement on those Christmas jammies you’ll be wearing in the car since nobody will see you! It’s a free display, but don’t forget to drop a few dollars in the donation box and grab a candy cane upon exit.
Zoo Lights at Henry Vilas Zoo – Madison
Sadly, the Zoo Lights have been cancelled for the remainder of the 2020 holiday season but bookmark this for next year! It was a really fun time and everyone enjoyed walking around to look at the lights.
For more on our family outing to both Fantasy in Lights and Zoo Lights, we wrote a blog post in 2019 (pre-COVID of course) here for you to check out!
University Avenue – Madson
Along University Avenue in Madison, WI, near the intersection of University Bay Drive, a 25 year annual holiday tradition is carried on by the Kammer Family Foundation. In memory of Dr. Jack Kammer, their mission is to provide holiday spirit to anyone of any race and religion during a time of year meant for unity and peace. Their Facebook page will keep you up to date on the lights and any related events this year.
It’s a fun surprise when driving along University Avenue in the dark, especially for all the healthcare workers who pass by on their way to and from the Madison hospitals this year. NBC 15 of Madison recently featured a story on the University Avenue Holiday Lights – check it out here.
While you’re in the area, bundle up and swing by the open-air Hilldale Mall! We love Hilldale any time of year, but the holidays get a little extra magical with the string lights, patio heaters, and Christmas music piped in as you walk around all the amazing shops and restaurants.
Rotary Lights – Waunakee
Just north of Madison, the small village of Waunakee, Wisconsin puts on a pretty good free drive-through light display at Village Park at 410 E. Main Street. This Rotary Club event runs from November 22 – December 31, 2020 from 5:00-9:00 pm each night. You can also walk through the park on foot and see the lights. There is a contactless option to give a free-will donation, as well as candy canes (!) upon entering.
While you’re in town, we think the house at 1808 Dover Drive has a pretty fun residential display. It is timed to the music on their radio station and made for some fun “ooohs!” and “aahhs!” from the kids.
Holiday Light Show – Rotary Botanical Gardens – Janesville
We’ve never been to this light show, but have heard it’s a good one! A walk through the Botanical Garden’s paths feature over one million lights and is described on their website as a fun family-friendly activity with Covid-19 precautions. Visit their site for all the information about schedule, ticket prices, and visitor rules and guidelines.
Tree of Light – Wisconsin Dells
The Tree of Light is going on downtown Wisconsin Dells now until mid-January. It’s the only tree of its kind in the Midwest and has over 30,000 points of light. The tree is lit every night from dusk until 11 PM for self-guided tours and is free! There’s a parade of other tree’s decorated by area businesses along the River Walk as well. For all the info, please check out www.wisdells.com/treeoflight
Wisconsin Christmas Carnival Of Light – Caledonia
Located in Jellystone Campground in Caledonia, Wisconsin, this unique holiday light display is another one we haven’t been to but is on the list. It features a drive-through option in your own vehicle, as well as booking a ride through the display in Santa’s Sleigh or a Holiday Golf Cart Train.
The website has all the information you need here:
Other Holiday Events in the Area:
Ice Castles – Lake Geneva
This frozen winter attraction is located in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and has many hand-carved ice sculptures, caves and castles, tunnels and slides. It’s obviously weather dependent, so make sure to check their website for updated information on open days and times.
The website has all the information you’ll need and more to have a fun and safe visit to the Ice Castles this year.
Ice Skating at The Edgewater Hotel, Madison
An active way to get in the holiday spirit is spending a night at the outdoor ice rink at the Edgewater hotel. The hotel decorates the rink with beautiful twinkling lights and skating alongside Lake Mendota makes a beautiful backdrop. Highly recommend visiting the rink this time of year and grabbing a warm beverage!
The Ice Rink – The Edgewater website: www.theedgewater.com/the-ice-rink/
Tenney Park in Madison, Wisconsin is a frozen natural body of water that has
public skating once it’s deemed safe. It is currently closed, but the City of Madison Parks website will keep you updated on its opening.
Nutcracker Ballet at the Overture Center, madison
A fun holiday tradition for Sara dating back to childhood is attending the Nutcracker ballet with family. The theater’s holiday decor and ambiance, the warm beverages, and music from the live orchestra are very nostalgic and makes it feel like Christmas! While the live ballet isn’t happening this year, there is a virtual streaming event you can participate in.
Canadan Pacific Holiday Train –
This holiday-themed train usually makes it’s annual trip through Canada and the northern States of the U.S., with stops in Wisconsin. However, this year it’ll look a bit different with a virtual streaming option, featuring a concert and food bank fundraising event.
Local City and Village Events
Many individual towns, villages, and cities feature their own annual holiday events like tree lightings, festivals, Santa visits, etc. We love following our local Chamber on social media to stay up-to-date on events and happenings, especially this time of year!