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Chicago Attractions - Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour

Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour – Enjoy Three Chicago Attractions

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The Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights tour is a great way to experience some of the best Chicago attractions that I mentioned in my previous article, 10 Best Things to do in Chicago Over the Holidays. Our family took this tour a few days ago to kick off our holiday season this year. Here are more details based on our experience:

The tours are run by the Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company, which has been operating various popular tours in Chicago for over two decades. But don’t let the name scare you, there are no open-air buses involved and the trolleys are all covered and heated, so you won’t have to worry about those brisk Chicago December “breezes” as you motor through the city’s streets! In fact, this tour is a great way to take in the festive atmosphere of the city, particularly if the weather is cold.

In 2014, the Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour runs from November 28 through January 4. Departure times vary, so make sure to check the company website. The tour, which lasts about 2 1/2 hours, begins and ends at the John Hancock Tower on North Michigan Avenue, which is short walk from Hilton Chicago/Magnificent Mile Suites or The Drake Hotel. Your family might get a kick out of learning that the trolleys are festively named after Santa’s reindeer including Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, … and of course, Rudolph. Make sure to ask your driver which one is yours!

The company describes their tours as “lightly narrated” which we found to be a fitting description. Our driver offered some commentary, mostly to point out some of the Chicago’s most famous holiday sights such as the sparkling lights of the Magnificent Mile, the iconic Macy’s Holiday window displays depicting scenes from classic Children’s Christmas stories, and Chicago’s historic State Street. This can be particularly helpful for out-of-town visitors who may be less familiar with Chicago.

The rest of the time my family and our fellow riders enjoyed catchy holiday tunes coming from the trolley’s overhead sound system. By the end of our tour, everybody in our trolley was rocking and singing along to The Twelve Days of Christmas and Feliz Navidad.

As part of its standard route, the Chicago Holiday Lights Tour makes three stops at popular Chicago attractions. At each one, the trolley waits 30 minutes for its passengers at the same spot where they were dropped off. However, if you would like to spend more time at a particular stop, you can board the next trolley, just make sure to check on the schedule with your driver.

First Stop: The Christkindlmarket

Located at the Daley Plaza, the now famous Chicago Christkindlmarket offers visitors the opportunity to shop at an authentic, traditional German American holiday market with distinctive crafts, delicious sweets and holiday food and drinks. Most products and booths are transplanted from Germany specifically for this event each year.

At this time of year, the plaza is also known for its beautiful sky high (and real!) Christmas tree which offers a beautiful backdrop for family photos. There is also a Santa station, which is not hard to find, just look for the long line of excited children and their parents.

Chicago Attracations - CHRISTKINDLMARKET AT DALEY PLAZA

Christkindlmarket is a popular Chicago attraction that showcases booths with authentic German wares such as these Cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest.

Second Stop: ZooLights

After you board your trolley again, it leaves the downtown area via LaSalle Street and heads north, to Lincoln Park. There, the trolley makes its second stop at the city’s beloved Lincoln Park Zoo so that the passengers can experience ZooLights, another famous Chicago holiday attraction.

Every evening, from Thanksgiving through the New Year, Lincoln Park Zoo visitors can enjoy an elaborate light display strung throughout the entire grounds as well as many family-fun activities such as a musical light shows (stop by the sea lion exhibit!), nightly animal shaped ice carving demonstrations by “arctic artists,” various holiday crafts, ice skating, a mini holiday train ride for the kids, a Santa visit and more.

Chicago Attractions - Ice carving at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Animal shaped ice carving (performed every night, weather permitting) is one of the most popular attractions at ZooLights.

Third Stop: Sweet Finale, the Hershey’s Chocolate Store

After stopping at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the trolley takes you back to Michigan Avenue. The final stop of the tour is at the Hershey’s Chocolate store where all passengers can enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and a cookie (each tour ticket includes a coupon), as well as the opportunity to purchase a a few delicious chocolate treats to bring back home as a souvenir or a cute Holiday gift. Who can resist?

Hershey's Chocolate Store in Chicago, Illinois

A stop at the Hershey’s Chocolate store on the Magnificent Mile was a sweet finale to our Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour.

I should mention that as a parent, I particularly appreciate the fact that the Chicago Trolley company participates in the State of Illinois Keep Warm Illinois drive. From December 1-22, trolley patrons are invited to bring new, warm hats, gloves and scarves which are donated to those in need. In return, you receive $5 off the regular price ticket for select tours.  

A few tips:

  • Tours hold 32 passengers each and tickets must be purchased 24 hours in advance online. A limited number of tickets may be available on the day of the tour at the Delaware Street Chicago Trolley kiosk; however, I recommend advance planning to avoid disappointment as tours do sell out.
  • The tour can be long for children, particularly younger ones. Because all tours are in the evening after it gets dark, you may consider eating dinner first or plan to bring snacks. You can buy some food at one of the two stops, but be aware that the lines for food at the Christkindelmarket can be quite long and returning to the same trolley within 30 minutes might be a challenge.
  • Both stops also have bathroom facilities; however, those with strong aversions to Porta-Potties (like me!) may want to wait until the second stop. The bathrooms at the Lincoln Park Zoo are a lot more family friendly.
  • New this year, Chicago Trolley offers riders a Holiday Combo ticket which includes the Holiday Lights Tour and the Company’s Signature Hop-on Hop-off Tour, in case you might be interested.

Happy Holidays from Chicago!

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A native of Slovenia, Vera moved to the U.S. 20+ years ago after meeting her American husband. Together with their two children they live on the North…

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