Holiday Happenings at Lincoln Park Zoo

November 16, 2023

The lights are bright at ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ this year! This longtime tradition transforms the grounds of Lincoln Park Zoo into a twinkling winter wonderland.

In 2023, you’re going to experience an exciting update that includes new interactive elements, a never-before-seen garden-themed light show on the South Lawn, and all the festive photo ops, costumed characters, traditional carolers, and North Pole-inspired seasonal excitement you’ve come to expect from this family-friendly holiday tradition.

We’re talking 2.5 million lights, hundreds of radiant holiday displays, ticketed rides, themed lighting concepts, the Light Maze Presented by Invesco QQQ, and more! Relive your childhood in a fun, nostalgic way—but also, enjoy plenty of new sights and sounds, along with seasonal food and cocktails from s’mores you can roast over fire pits to warming hot cocoa.

Here’s what you need to know about ZooLights in 2023:


ZooLights begins Friday, November 17, and ends Sunday, January 7. It’s open every night except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. ZooLights will also be closed on December 14 for Adults Night Out: Holidaze.


In November and December: Sundays through Thursdays, ZooLights is open from 4:30-9 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays, it’s open from 4:30-10 p.m.

In January: ZooLights is open 4:30-9 p.m. through January 7.

Please note that the zoo closes at 3 p.m. daily for the duration of ZooLights, and all guests must leave the grounds until ZooLights opens at 4:30.

Enter through the East Gate, West Gate, or Fisher Gate.


Admission is free on Mondays.

Most weeknights cost $7.
Fridays, Saturdays, and Premium Dates (November 22, December 31) cost $10.

Attraction tickets for the Endangered Species Carousel, Lionel Train Adventure, Gorilla Trek, and the Ferris wheel are $4 each; get 10 for $36 or 20 for $69. All attractions cost 1-2 tickets.

Proposals and Packages:

Looking to host a holiday celebration or propose to someone during ZooLights? Contact us at to learn about your package options for turning the night into something unforgettable.

Special ZooLights Nights

 Friday, November 17 | ZooLights Opening Night

Wednesday, December 6 | Sensory-Friendly Night at ZooLights

Sunday, December 31 | Family-Friendly New Year’s Eve at ZooLights with countdowns every hour 

Other Holiday Happenings:

Thursday, December 14 | Adults Night Out: Holidaze, 21+ after-hours event (separate ticket required)

Sunday, December 10 | The Chris White Trio Tribute to A Charlie Brown Christmas (multiple shows; separate ticket required)

Shop “Zoo”-venirs

The Gift Shop at Lincoln Park Zoo features gifts for all the animal-lovers on your list, whether they’re into cute plushes, cozy sweatshirts, or Beelove local honey products from zoo partner North Lawndale Employment Network.

This year, the zoo is selling three custom ornaments to commemorate 2023. You’re going to want to add all of them to your holiday tree.

  • A porcelain ornament ($35) showcases art featuring the three lion cubs born in January: Pesho, Sidai, and Lomelok.
  • A brass ornament ($25) features two giraffes with necks crossed, ready to munch on leaves.
  • A glass globe ornament ($35) incorporates an illustration with blue skies, the Chicago skyline, Helen Brach Primate House, and the storied bur oak from the South Lawn.

The New Nostalgia

ZooLights is a longstanding tradition in Chicago that families have been coming to enjoy for decades. Of course, every year brings new updates to keep the holiday show fresh and fun for all — like last year’s light tunnel and neighborhood additions, which are returning for 2023. This year, a mix of tried-and-true highlights and brand-new luminous excitement makes Lincoln Park Zoo a holiday hotspot whether you’re coming with your entire family or hanging out with adult friends.

The Nostalgia

You’ll recognize some of the classic themed light displays and attractions, from the dragon guarding the South Pond to the giant bear you can see near Brauer Gate. The 65-foot Ferris wheel, the Endangered Species Carousel, the Light Maze Presented by Invesco QQQ, and 2.5 million twinkling lights are legendary additions to zoo grounds.

Returning from the recent past, the 18-foot holiday tree in Pepper Family Wildlife Center is now joined by Santa Claus himself, who moves over from Helen Brach Primate House. The 165-foot RGB Light Tunnel on Main Mall remains a stunning and dramatic way to enter ZooLights, and festively wrapped trees add to the joyous atmosphere.

As always, you can take pictures with Santa, listen to Victorian carolers, and enjoy the work of ice carvers — who are creating a bur oak throne this year in honor of the historic tree the zoo removed from grounds this year when it reached the end of its life.

You can also enjoy rides on the 65-foot Ferris wheel, the Endangered Species Carousel, and Lionel Train Adventure. All rides require one or two tickets per person. Tickets cost $4 apiece, or you can get discounts on 10-packs and 20-packs.

The New

The South Lawn light show has a new name—the Garden Glow Light Show—and a new theme paying tribute to the zoo’s status as an accredited arboretum and the horticulture team that beautifies the zoo year-round. The light show features Chinese-style lanterns on display in shapes reminiscent of dragonflies, birds, caterpillars, flowers, and other sprightly garden residents.

In Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, a new IllumiNature display features atmospheric displays featuring light spheres, mist-producing crescents, and more. Also, the indoor Houston Family Play Treehouse will be open to offer sensory, tactile, and physical experiences for children of all abilities.

A giant interactive light wall on the north side of the zoo outside the African wild dog habitat will allow families to make brilliant and creative masterpieces, while cookie decorating takes place at Searle Family Board Room in Regenstein Macaque Forest, with special guest Mrs. Claus available Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays (cost is $8 per cookie, with a maximum of four people per cookie). Enjoy costumed characters, live music in the Safari tent, a cappella carolers, and more.

Gorilla Trek, which features three different themes to choose from, is a new ticketed experience on-grounds. Each themed ride costs two tickets per person.

The Evening Zoo Experience

One of the most magical things about spending a night at Lincoln Park Zoo during the holiday season is the ability to see animals as you enjoy the shining lights with a city backdrop. Animals always have the option to remain in view or retreat to behind-the-scenes areas based on their preference, but some will hopefully be out and about so you can continue to connect with the natural world.

Zoo buildings that are open during ZooLights will start to close a half hour before the zoo does. So, make sure to visit your favorite animals early in the evening. And don’t forget to visit Snowy’s Spirits & S’more for seasonal treats and beverages as you enjoy all the enchantment that ZooLights has to offer!

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