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Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival: Must Visit Stops (2021)

Zeidler Union Square, Photo from Instagram, @olgaksenidi

The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival kicks off November 18th, 2021 and will run through January 1, 2022.

For 23 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 in the car and take a self-guided Jingle Bus audio tour of the lights and sights, free on the iHeartRadio app.

Here are some must-visit stops and events:


Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kickoff Extravaganza 

Thursday, November 18 | 6:30 PM WISN 12

Downtown Milwaukee lights up with holiday spirit on November 18th as the 23rd annual Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival presented by Johnson Financial Group begins. Enjoy winter wonderland scenes at “Community Spirit Park” at Cathedral Square Park, “HiBEARnation Station” at Pere Marquette Park and “Home Is Where The Hearth Is powered by We Energies” at Zeidler Union Square through January 1, 2022. In lieu of an in-person kickoff event, WISN 12 will broadcast a special holiday program, thanks to support from Stein’s Garden & Home, on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m., with an all-new finale that all of Milwaukee will be talking about.

Home Is Where The Hearth Is powered by We Energies” at Zeidler Union Square

This interactive park is a favorite among families. Take a selfie in the oversized chair, stand before the flickering fireplace or snap a photo in the Season’s Greetings frame. There’s so much to see and do, including purchasing a Jingle Joy Bag on select night in December. (See more details about the Jingly Joy Bag below.)

Cathedral Square, Photo from Instagram, @sj53202

“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.

“HiBEARnation Station”

at Pere Marquette Park

Animated bear sculptures are taking over Pere Marquette Park with a keyboard, horn, guitar, drums and an accordion to create sounds of the season. This picturesque park is located right long the Milwaukee River.

Pere Marquette Park, Photo from Instagram, @yilicao

Wisconsin Avenue – 6th Street to Prospect Avenue

Downtown Milwaukee’s main street is an elegant display of cascading chandeliers accented by ornamental sculptures on harp lamps. Stroll or cruise the Avenue and take in the decorated storefronts and iconic buildings basking in the glow of the season.

Wisconsin Avenue, Photo from Instagram, @apurbabanerjee

Self-Guided Jingle Bus Audio Tours (English & Spanish)

November 18 – January 1 Downtown Milwaukee
414.220.4700 | milwaukeeholidaylights.com

Get acquainted with Downtown’s lights and sights via a self- guided audio tour available on the iHeartRadio app. Hop aboard the free tour by listening to five episodes available in both English and Spanish. Just type “MKE Jingle Bus Tour” in the iHeartRadio app, and follow along by car or on foot.

City Christmas Tree

Beginning November 18

Corner of Market & Wells Streets

414.286.2489 | city.milwaukee.gov

Gaze upon the City’s beautifully lit tree and grab a family photo.

Santa’s Mailbox at Cathedral Square Park

Presented by Educators Credit Union, Serving Older Adults & National Association of Letter Carriers Pioneer Branch 2

November 18 – December 12 Cathedral Square Park
414.220.4700 | milwaukeeholidaylights.com

Drop a child’s letter to Santa into Santa’s Mailbox and receive a personalized reply. Holiday spirit delivers the letters to Santa – no postage required. But be sure to include a return address!

Cathedral Square, Photo from Instagram, @brucecooperwayne

Letters To Santa at the Pfister

November 26 – December 19 The Pfister Hotel
414.273.8222 | thepfisterhotel.com

Children can write a letter to Santa and drop it off at The Pfister Hotel in the magical North Pole Mailbox. Each child will receive a personalized note from Santa himself, plus a free cookie from the front desk with their letter drop off.

The Pfister’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony

Fri, November 26 | 5pm to 6:30pm The Pfister Hotel
414.273.8222 | thepfisterhotel.com

Watch the expressions on young and old alike as Santa officially lights The Pfister holiday tree
at 5:30 p.m. Sip warm drinks and nibble on a holiday treat. Nonperishables will be collected for Hunger Task Force.

The Pfister Hotel

Jingle Joy Bag Drive-Thru

Fri & Sat, December 3 – 18
5:30pm to 8:30pm
Zeidler Union Square
414.255.0534 | milwaukeefoodtours.com 

While taking in Downtown’s lights and sights, pick up a Jingle Joy Bag. Curated by Milwaukee Food & City Tours, Jingle Joy Bags are grab-and-go treat packs featuring goodies from local businesses. Plus, they include a few surprises for the kiddos too. Each treat bag is $15. Bags can be pre-ordered or purchased day-of via cash or credit card, while supplies last.

Santa’s Christmas Calvacade

Fri, December 10 & 17
Departs at 5:15pm
Downtown Milwaukee
414.220.4700 | milwaukeeholidaylights.com 

See Santa and Mrs. Claus on this festive route riding atop a vintage fire truck. Sarah Fierek will also be on board singing jazzy holiday tunes. Route departs from the Milwaukee Public Market and travels throughout downtown.

Breakfast with Santa at the Pfister

Sun, December 5, 12 & 19
8am & 11:30am
The Pfister Hotel
414.935.5950 | thepfisterhotel.com 

Join Santa and his elves for a festive feast, a gift for each child, crafts, letters to Santa, and countless memories. Smaller seating groups will ensure that everyone has an exceptional experience.


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

Check out our full 2021 Holiday Guide for more festive fun.

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