Each year is a little different, but the Mag Mile (as it’s called by locals) brings in about 500,000 people from near and far. People line the streets up to four deep to see the parade and enjoy the booths. Typically, the booths have cheap food and beverages, and some of them give out things for free.
While the parade is the reason for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, there are two full days of fun and excitement. This means you and the entire family can experience a true Midwestern Festival of Lights.
The dates vary each year, but the goal is to start off the holiday season with the Mag Mile lights festival. Typically, it happens the day after Thanksgiving, with the parade being on the Saturday after the turkey holiday.
For 2021, the event was on November 19 and 20, though most of the festivities were canceled because of the pandemic. Ultimately, everything was shown on live television from a local broadcast station. Still, 84 percent of the US and parts of Canada tuned in to watch all the fun and excitement.
In the past, the Friday after Thanksgiving started the Lighting of Festival Lane in Pioneer Court. There are plenty of family-friend events, as well as a visit from Santa and live music. You can explore holiday-themed activities and wonderlands, sample favorite trees from Eli’s Cheesecake Company and Frango, and so much more.
Then, the next day, there are plenty of experiences. The parade starts as early as 3:30 p.m., but the festivities begin at 11 a.m. Get there early to get a taste of what the Windy City has to offer.
Where’s It At/How to Get There
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is held right on the Magnificent Mile. This stretch runs from Oak Street to Wacker Drive, and the entire area is closed to regular traffic. Therefore, you’ve got to use your GPS and understand how to get there.
Consider using the Metra trains if you’re in the suburbs. If you’re at Union Station, take the 151 or 157 to North Michigan Avenue. You can exit anywhere between Oak Street and Wacker Drive.
If you’re at the airport, you can use public transportation from O’Hare or Midway. There are often shuttle buses at the airport that can take you directly to the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. Prepare for longer wait times and the requirement of walking. It might be best to take a cab to your hotel and go from there.
Those North should go south and drive on Lake Shore Drive to exit at Michigan Avenue. If you’re coming from the Northwest portion, you can take the I-90/94 to Ohio Street and then go east to Michigan Avenue. People coming from the south should head north onto Lake Shore Drive, exit on Illinois Street and Grand Avenue, and then follow the signage to Michigan Avenue.
The Mag Mile Lights Festival happens on two days. The Friday after Thanksgiving runs from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and includes many family-friendly activities. Most of the shops and boutiques are also open, so you can enjoy a full day on the Mag Mile. Nightlife scenes are also available, so when the festivities end, you may want to go to the bar for a nightcap if no children are present.
Saturday is the big event, with the parade starting at about 5:30 p.m. However, vendors start opening up at 11 a.m., and the festival of lights can go on well into the night. It also ends with a fireworks spectacle, which begins after the parade ends and once it’s dark enough (usually around 8 p.m.)
Since the Magnificent Mile is a stretch of road that’s home to many shops and restaurants, there is no charge to attend the event. However, there are various activities to enjoy, and some of them may have special pricing. You may also have to pay for parking. Out-of-towners may want to take a cab to avoid the craze of trying to park and then walk when the cab driver can’t drive anymore.
Weather and What to Wear
Chicago is called the Windy City for a reason – it’s always windy. Since it’s nearing winter when the Mag Mile Lights Festival happens, you can expect temperatures to drop rapidly into the low 30s and be up to 50 degrees in the daytime. However, most of the Festival of Lights activities start in the evening, so be prepared to dress warmly.
It’s recommended to wear a base layer, a warm sweatshirt, and a heavy coat. Consider wearing comfortable shoes and thick, warm socks. You may also want to wear a hat, scarf, and mittens to protect your fingers and neck from the chill. If you’re bringing children along, make sure that they are bundled up, as well. It’s always easier to take off a layer than it is to be shivering in the cold. You can’t enjoy the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival if you’re freezing!
Where to Sleep
The good news is that the Magnificent Mile has many hotels right on it. However, there are plenty of options nearby, and they all offer the best amenities, technology, and service.
The InterContinental Chicago is an iconic hotel on the Mag Mile. It’s rich with architecture and has been a legend since 1929 when it was built. The historic designs can still be seen throughout the building. Each room blends the comfort of home with the spirit of Chicago and the sophistication of a resort. This destination hotel embraces your tastes while also paying homage to the rich history. Amenities include bathrooms, bath amenities, hairdryer, 24-hour room service, blackout curtains, specialty coffee makers, and more.
If you’re interested in something more spacious, the Hyatt Centric is the luxury place to stop. You’re right near the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, so you can walk out the door and into the fun. Amenities can include an indoor pool, fitness center, concierge services, free Wi-Fi, and room service. There’s also an indoor whirlpool, and you can bring your pets with you.
Another excellent spot is the Courtyard by Marriott. The modern hotel is in a prime location, so you can explore the many downtown attractions. Unwind in your stylish room and enjoy free Wi-Fi while you’re here.
Where to Eat
There’s no shortage of restaurants on the Magnificent Mile, so consider trying Bandera. This upscale location prefers that you don’t wear anything too casual. You can find home-style meals, such as cornbread, various salads, barbecue, and so much more. The menu is quite extensive, so you’re sure to find something to enjoy.
NoMI Kitchen is named because it’s situated on North Michigan Avenue. The windows rise from the floor to the ceiling so that you can see downtown Chicago while you dine. There’s no separation between the chefs and you, so you can watch how the meals are prepared. You can get all meals here, and there’s an all-day lounge, as well.
Michael Jordan’s Steak House Chicago is a luxury steakhouse with bold flavors, great hospitality, and seasonal ingredients. The atmosphere is energizing and warm. Though steak is the prime menu item, you can also get seafood, chicken, and other favorites. Choose to go bold and try something new or stick with what you know!
More Things to Do in the Area
Once you’ve attended the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, it’s time to do something a little different. Consider going to the Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Park. There are over 300,000 pieces of art in various media styles, such as textiles, paintings, and sculptures.
You should also visit the Navy Pier to ride the Ferris Wheel and see the various attractions. There’s the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Shakespeare Theater, as well as the Crystal Gardens.
Then, head to Millennium Park for some ice skating and outdoor concerts while viewing the beautiful architecture and sculptures available.
The festival of lights on the Mag Mile is just the start. There is plenty to do and see in Chicago, and you may want to spend a few days sightseeing.