10 Must-See Holiday Lights in Downtown Milwaukee (2023)

The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival kicks off November 16th, 2023 and will run through January 1, 2024.

For 25 seasons, the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival has made spirits bright with its animated sculptures, interactive displays and twinkling street décor throughout downtown.

Coordinated by Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21, the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival is a Midwest tradition.

Visitors can take a stroll through magical scenes and over a half a million lights in Cathedral Square, Zeidler Union Square and Pere Marquette Park.

Or, hop on the jingle bus for a guided tour! This 40-minute narrated tour highlights the main attractions of the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival.

Jingle Bus tickets are $5 per person and must be purchased in advance at milwaukeeholidaylights.com. Guests can choose their tour date and time online, with an option to participate in a Spanish

Here are some must-visit stops and events:

1. Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kickoff Extravaganza 

Thursday, November 16, 2023 | 6:30 PM WISN 12

Downtown Milwaukee lights up with holiday spirit on November 16h as the 25th annual Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival begins.

Join as they illuminate more than a half million brilliant bulbs with live music, dance performances, fireworks, a visit from the Clauses, free treats and more. Then, take a free Jingle Bus tour after the show.

If you can’t make it downtown, you can watch it at home on WISN12 at 6:30 p.m.

2. New This Year: Ornament Trail

Larger-than-life holiday ornaments have taken over Wisconsin Avenue to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival.

15 ornaments have been uniquely hand-painted by a local or national artist with Milwaukee ties, in addition to a brand-new ornament display in the Court of Honor median on West Wisconsin Avenue.

We invite you to explore our Ornament Trail along Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street this holiday season. Plus, take advantage of sweet treat deals at participating downtown restaurants and coffee shops.

3. “Santa’s Celebration Square powered by WE Energies” at Zeidler Union Square

This interactive park is a favorite among families. Take a selfie in the oversized chair or newly added sleigh, stand before the flickering fireplace, snap a photo in the Season’s Greetings frame, and say hello to Santa’s electric reindeer.

4. “Community Spirit Park” at Cathedral Square Park

Over 100 evergreens have sprung on the square! Wind your way through the forest of trees and pay close attention to each tree’s décor. More than 70 area schools and businesses are sharing their wish for the season with handmade ornaments and garlands.

Plus, check out the park’s Singing Tree, which blinks to singing, music and clapping in real time.

5. “Felices Fiestas” at Pere Marquette Park

Pere Marquette Park, Photo from Instagram, @yilicao

It’s a celebration of the season! Animated elves and other holiday characters will electrify the season with cheerful North Pole scenes.

6. Slice of Ice Lights

Red Arrow Park will twinkle this year with new holiday decor, creating an enchanted holiday vibe at the Slice of Ice ice rink.

Bring your own ice skates and skate for free, or rent a pair at the warming house. Call ahead to confirm the season opening date.

7. Wisconsin Avenue’s Stunning Stretch – 6th Street to Prospect Avenue

Wisconsin Avenue, Photo from Instagram, @apurbabanerjee

The lights along Downtown Milwaukee’s main street guide your way with glittering chandeliers and harp lamps embellished with decorative sculptures throughout. As you tour along the Avenue, by car or on foot, take a gander at the festive décor within each business and storefront.

8. City of Milwaukee Christmas Tree Lighting

Friday, November 17th in the Cheer District at Fiserv Forum

Gather with family and friends to see the 110th annual Milwaukee Christmas tree lighting: an
event in partnership with local entertaining and style expert David Caruso and the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works Forestry Division.

9. Holiday Lights on the Hoan

December 7 – 15
December 24 & 25
Sun, December 31
Hoan Bridge
Enjoy Friday Night Lights through the end of the year beginning at 7pm, plus enjoy Hanukkah on the Hoan (Dec. 7 – 15), Christmas Light Shows (Dec. 24 & 25) and an NYE Countdown (Dec. 31).

10. BMO Holiday Display (TBD for 2023)

Must-Do Events:

Cocoa with the Clauses (Free!)

Sat, December 9 11am to 2pm Cathedral Square Park
414.220.4700 | milwaukeeholidaylights.com

Santa and Mrs. Claus return for this annual cocoa klatch. The free outdoor event is a chance for kids to share their wish lists and for moms and dads to grab a keepsake photo.

Elves and other holiday characters will also be there! Plus, complimentary cookies and hot cocoa sponsored by Taste of Home will be provided.

Santa’s Christmas Calvalcade (Free!)

Sat, December 2 | Departs at 5pm
Fri, December 8 | Departs at 5pm
Downtown Milwaukee

See Santa and Mrs. Claus on the festive route riding atop a vintage fire truck. Sarah Fierek will also be on board singing jazzy holiday tunes. On Dec. 2, the Cavalcade will feature a Black Santa. The route departs from the Milwaukee Public Market and travels throughout downtown.

Father Christmas at the Pabst Mansion

With his lantern, walking stick and red cloak with white trim, a whimsical Father Christmas travels south to visit the Pabst Mansion each Sunday during the holiday season. Create magical memories with holiday treats, letters to Santa, and room after room of enchanting Christmas displays.

Breakfast with Santa

The Pfister Hotel
December 9 & 10, 16 & 17

The Pfister Breakfast with Santa is a holiday tradition that creates lifelong memories. Guests can share a jolly breakfast selection with Santa and his elves in The Pfister’s festive ballroom. Seatings are available at 8:30am and 11am.

Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel
December 16 & 17, 22 & 23

Start a new holiday tradition at Saint Kate’s “Brunch With Santa” and create lifelong memories! Guests will have the opportunity to experience a plentiful brunch in Saint Kate’s festive ballroom and visit with the jolly man himself. There will be chefs in the room griddling up waffles with all the trimmings, along with traditional buffet favorites.

Supper with Santa
Sat, December 16 6pm to 7:30pm

Experience a magnificent dinner in Saint Kate’s festive ballroom, topped off with a visit from the jolly man himself! In addition to the opportunity to take photos with Santa, every child will receive a special gift, and will be able to make crafts and write their own letter to Santa.

Santa’s Mailbox

Downtown has a magical connection to the North Pole right in Cathedral Square Park.

From November 7 through December 17, drop your child’s letter and wish list into Santa’s Mailbox to receive a personalized reply from the big guy himself!

No postage is required; just remember to include a return address.

Letters to Santa at the Pfister

Write a letter to Santa and drop it off at The Pfister Hotel North Pole Mailbox. Each child will receive
a personalized note from Santa himself, plus all children will receive a free cookie from the Pfister front desk when they drop off their letters.

For more details about the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival, head to milwaukeedowntown.com.

About the author

In 2013, Calie Herbst, a former teacher with three little ones, saw a need for a “One Stop Shop” for family fun in Milwaukee. So she founded Milwaukee With Kids. Her goal was to find the best this city has to offer families and share it with other parents. In one place. In 2019, she published "Exploring Milwaukee WIth Kids", a comprehensive Milwaukee travel guide for families and kids. She appears regularly on WISN News, Fox 6's 'Real Milwaukee', B93.3, and Wisconsin Morning News. She has been featured in Medium, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, NPR, the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, and on CBS 58 News. Calie is available for hosting, moderating and media appearances.

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