There are plenty of ways to celebrate the holiday season along the Great River Road, from winter festivals and markets to light shows and parades. Here’s a look at the kinds of events you’ll find this winter in communities up and down the Mississippi River.
Light shows & festivals
Every winter in Dubuque in northeastern Iowa, motorists take a scenic drive through stunning holiday light displays at Reflections in the Park, an annual event held at Louis Murphy Park, which sits atop a limestone bluff and overlooks the city and the Mississippi River. See more holiday attractions in Dubuque here.
There are plenty of reasons to visit New Orleans any time of year, but there’s a particularly special event that welcomes guests right around Christmastime. NOLA ChristmasFest is held at the city’s Ernest N. Morial Convention Center over the last two weeks of December, and highlights include New Orleans’ only skating rink, carnival rides, a Gingerbread Village, and more.
Head to the Memphis Zoo for their annual Zoo Lights display, which dazzles visitors with more than a million holiday lights, an LED Ferris wheel, Santa’s workshop, live reindeer, holiday events and more. Zoo Lights runs on select nights from after Thanksgiving to early January.
The GLOW Holiday Festival in Minnesota’s capital city of St. Paul runs from mid-November to New Year’s Eve. The event, held at CHS Field—home of the St. Paul Saints baseball team—is a family-friendly event where you’ll find everything from a tubing hill to a zip line.
Christmas & holiday markets
For nearly 60 years every November, the city of La Crosse on Wisconsin’s section of the Great River Road has hosted its annual Holiday Fair, which is home more than 100 arts and crafts vendors who sell seasonal wares, from ornaments to home décor to apparel. (While you’re in La Crosse, don’t miss the Rotary Lights display in Riverside Park, which attracts more than 100,000 people a year.)
Belleville, a city of 42,000 in southwest Illinois—just on the other side of the river from St. Louis—holds its annual Christkindlmarkt, an open-air German Christmas market, in the public square every weekend from late November until just before Christmas. Visitors will can shop for unique European and handcrafted items and enjoy food, beverages, and live entertainment.
Natchez, Mississippi—the oldest city on the Mississippi River—rings in the holiday season every November and December with its Christmas in Natchez celebration, a monthlong event that features a tree lighting ceremony, weekly caroling and other events.
The charming town of Galena, Illinois, offers a full calendar of holiday events in November and December, including its annual holiday parade through the historic downtown, the Holiday Fire in the Sky fireworks show, and the Night of Luminaria and Living Windows, where more than 5,000 candelit luminaries light up the street and Main Street businesses display their holiday-inspired Living Windows.
Photo Credit: Travel Wisconsin