DISCLAIMER: This Christmas light display guide may be guilty of several National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation references. You’ve been warned!
It’s a fun, old-fashioned family tradition that’s generations old: it’s time to load the family into the 4-wheel drive sleigh and tour the town visiting the best Christmas light displays in Madison, Wisconsin (or wherever you live)!
Before you go coasting around town in Uncle Eddie’s RV or dipping the reindeer glass into the egg nog 37 times, it’s a good idea to do a little research and locate some of the best annual Christmas light displays the Madison area has to offer. That way it’s easier to navigate the car and not accidentally get stuck under a semi-truck or crash land into a Christmas tree lot.
Without further ado, here’s our list of must-visit Christmas light displays in and near Madison and South Central Wisconsin.
#1: The Wisconsin State Capitol Tree
Probably one of the most iconic (if not the most) Christmas displays in the Madison area can be found inside the State Capitol Building. The tradition of displaying this tree inside the Capitol was started in 1916 and continues to this day.
Every year, the towering Christmas tree is selected and transported from a different area in the State of Wisconsin and proudly displayed throughout the holiday season. Families come from all over the state to see the tree and the model Christmas train that circles its base.
Every year the tree is decorated with ornaments focused on a specific theme made by school children from across the state.
#2: Olin Park’s Holiday Fantasy in Lights
An annual family favorite for just about any resident of the Madison and Dane County areas, Olin Park’s “Holiday Fantasy in Lights” is a drive-thru wonderland of Christmas light displays proudly supported and sponsored by numerous local businesses, organizations, groups, and individuals.
The light show sits along Lake Monona and offers glimpses of Downtown Madison. The lights are accompanied by Christmas music on a local radio station.
This is certainly one tradition you will want to add to your family memories.
#3: Henry Vilas Zoo Lights
What happens when you combine Christmas light displays, zoo animals, and Santa Claus? The Henry Vilas Zoo Lights!
This beloved event invites families in to walk through the zoo and experience all the light displays sponsored by local businesses and organizations. Zoo facilities are open and in past years you were able to visit the big man himself (Santa).
#4: Olbrich Botanical Gardens Holiday Express
While this one may not necessarily have lights, it is still a great time for the kids! Throughout December, you can visit and experience the Holiday Express Model Train & Flower Show, where large-scale model trains chug through festive scenes of poinsettias and fresh evergreens.
#5: Dane County Regional Airport’s Flight of Lights
Pack your bags, it’s time to head for the airport! But don’t worry: you won’t be catching a flight. You’ll be driving through for Dane County Regional Airport’s Annual Flight of Lights!
Every year the airport, along with several sponsoring businesses, hosts a collection of themed Christmas light displays along the International Lane loop that travels through the terminal and airport property.
#6: University Avenue Holiday Lights
A popular sight for UW-Madison college students and residents alike, the “famous” University Avenue Holiday Lights have been a staple attraction in Madison since 1996. Started by a local dentist and continued by his son (another local dentist), the mission for this light display is to provide holiday spirit to anyone of any race or religion during a time of unity and peace.
#7: Rotary Lights (Waunakee)
Just North of Madison, in the “Only Waunakee in the World”, resides a small town drive-thru Christmas lights display that is worth the short drive for.
Starting the week of Thanksgiving, the Waunakee Rotary Club hosts “Rotary in Lights” every evening during the season from 5:00 – 9:00 pm.
#8: Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday Lights (Janesville)
A short 45-minute drive South of Madison will take you to Janesville, where you can experience the Rotary Botanical Gardens Holiday Light Show!
Starting after Thanksgiving, you can check out more than one million lights, themed displays, and animations. You do have to purchase tickets in advance for this one, but it’s sure to delight the family!
#9: Lake Ripley Park Holiday Lights (Cambridge)
Last on the list of public displays, but certainly not least, be sure to take a short drive over to Cambridge, just east of Madison, to experience the Holiday Lights in Ripley Park.
Starting November 30th, the Christmas lights display will be only daily from 5:00 – 10:00 pm. You can learn more and support their efforts by visiting their event page.
Residential Christmas Light Displays: Some of our Favorite Customers!
Let’s not forget about some of our favorite customers’ homes! As we start decorating and get permission, we hope to share some of our favorite and elaborate displays located around the South Central Wisconsin area!