Grand Rapids was named America’s Jolliest City for the way we celebrate the holidays. Generous and friendly residents coupled with fun holiday events, safe streets and Christmas tree farms make this one of the best places in the world to get into the spirit of the season. No wonder the Travel Channel picked Grand Rapids for having the state's most dazzling holiday light display.
Holiday light displays are an essential part of our end-of-year festivities. From twinkling trees to beautifully decorated storefronts to one-of-a-kind seasonal attractions, Grand Rapids truly becomes a magical winter wonderland – whether or not we have snow!
Here are some of our best “lightseeing” suggestions.
Downtown Walking Tour
The city center is especially beautiful at night, when you get the full impact of all of the lights. There are many ways to explore all of the downtown holiday decor, and any of these stops are great on their own if the long walk isn’t an option.
If you want to see as many holiday lights as possible, here’s one suggested route to help you hit the highlights.
Ellis Parking Lot: Start Here
Park in or near the Ellis Parking lot at the Monroe Street/Lyon Street intersection. The waving Santa on the Ellis Parking Ramp building and lighted trees in the parking lot will start your evening off with a smile. (The Pearl Street side of the building is also decorated with lights and sparkling ice skaters.)
Ellis Parking ramp illuminated with holiday lights.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids
DeVos Place Convention Center
As you stand at the corner of Lyon and Monroe, glance to your right (or take a short walk north on Monroe) to see the front entrance of DeVos Place Convention Center, bright with strands of icicle lights.
Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Pantlind Entrance
Across the street to your right, the front of the Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton hotel is elegantly outfitted with lights and greenery.
Head left on Monroe to the light at Pearl Street and cross to get to the diagonal Monroe Center Street NW, where 50+ trees and lampposts glimmer with hundreds of miniature white and blue lights over several blocks. This street is the heart of the Center City Social Zone, where local restaurants and bars have set up winterized outdoor dining spaces. You can even purchase an alcoholic beverage from a participating location and sip it as you stroll past downtown lights – just look for the signs indicating Refreshment Area boundaries.
Rosa Parks Circle and Christmas tree at dusk.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids
Rosa Parks Circle
Spend some time gazing at the magnificent 40-foot-tall tree, glimmering with 40,000 multicolored lights, that sits between the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Rosa Parks Circle – it’s a great photo op! Smaller trees are lit up in electric blue with white orbs dangling from their limbs throughout Rosa Parks Circle.
Take a minute to revel, or join, in the fun of the ice skaters making merry in the cold. (Ice skating is by reservation only this winter due to COVID-19 safety precautions.) If you need to warm up with a hot coffee or cocoa, you’ll find Madcap Coffee and Kilwin’s close by – check with the stores for current COVID-19 restrictions, such as takeout/curbside service only.
Be sure to check out the giant bow across the front of the Van Andel Arena.
Photo by Brian Craig for Experience Grand Rapids
Van Andel Arena
Continue down Monroe Center Street towards Ottawa Avenue. The trees that line the street are aglow with tiny white lights, making the walk especially bright. As you approach Fulton Street, you’ll see the lights of Van Andel Arena, and the huge holiday bow that spans the entire front of the building.
Plaza Tower Apartments
Turn right on Fulton and walk one block west to the corner of Fulton and Monroe. There, you’ll see twinkling lights on the trees in front of Plaza Tower Apartments. As you head northeast up Monroe, don’t miss the pretty white lines outlining the top of the AC Hotel (on your right).
Louis Campau Promenade
Continue north on Monroe to the Louis Street intersection. Just past Louis, look to the left to see lit trees in Louis Campau Promenade, home of the iconic pop art LOVE sculpture. On your right, you’ll pass more lighted trees decorating the lawn in front of Rosa Parks Circle.
Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, South Entrance
Walk west (left) at the Pearl Street intersection to see the Amway Grand Plaza’s south entrance draped with hundreds of lights in a display that will make your heart leap. Head inside the hotel to take in the exquisite decorations and towering lobby Christmas tree.
Plenty of downtown attractions celebrate the holidays with festive lights and displays.
Photo by Melody VanderWeide
JW Marriott Grand Rapids
Back outside the south entrance of the Amway Grand Plaza, cross Pearl Street at Campau Avenue and head toward the main entrance of the JW Marriott Grand Rapids hotel. Trees lining the entrance are dressed up in dazzling whites and blues.
Grand River Bridges
Head back to Monroe Avenue and turn left (west) to cross the Grand River. As you walk across the Pearl Street Bridge, you’ll see the famous Blue Bridge to your left, which is lit up in festive hues every night of the year. Look right and you’ll see the warm white glow of lights adorning the Gillett Bridge.
Grand Rapids Public Museum & Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Just across the river, the front lawn of the Grand Rapids Public Museum (at your left) is decorated in holiday finery. Across the street to your right, you’ll see a glimpse of decorated trees and wreaths at Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum (currently closed due to COVID-19).
Turn back to the east to see the lights of the city skyline. Red and green lighting at the top of the Amway Grand Plaza celebrate the season while the signature blue light “stripe” that spans the vertical length of the JW Marriott Grand Rapids seems even more festive at this time of year.
You can head back to the city center the way you came (via Pearl Street) or follow the Riverwalk trail to a pedestrian-only bridge: go north past the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum to the Gillett Bridge or south past the Grand Rapids Public Museum to the Blue Bridge. All paths lead back to Monroe Avenue and your original starting point, Ellis Parking.
Two Carriages along the Grand River in the winter.
Photo by Russ Climie of Tiberius Images
How About a Ride?
You can take a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of downtown for a somewhat different perspective on our holiday light displays.
Classic Carriage LLC is found on the southwest corner of Pearl & Monroe, in front of PNC Bank and across from the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel on Friday and Saturday evenings, beginning at 7:00 pm (other days and times are by appointment only). The holidays are a popular time of year for carriage rides, so reservations (call 616-498-6090) are recommended, but walk-ups will be accommodated with availability. Rates start at $60 for a half hour.
Lake Michigan Credit Unions's annual Christmas Lite Show is bigger and better than displays from previous years!
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
Lake Michigan Credit Union Ballpark
Speaking of rides – the annual Christmas Lite Show at Lake Michigan Credit Union Ballpark invites you to view more than a million lights and 50 animated displays from the comfort of your car, as you drive through the nearly two-mile route.
The Christmas Lite Show is open nightly through January 2 and tickets start at $25 for a family vehicle. Or you can ride the socially distanced Memory Lane Train for a 360˚ views of the lights – it’s $60 per row, which comfortably seats four adults (small children may sit on laps for free).
Christmas trees representing cultures around for the world on display a Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
Photo by Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
The world’s best sculpture park pulls out all the stops for the holiday every year. Its Metro Health Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World show features more than 300,000 colorful lights plus 46 international trees and displays decorated with handcrafted symbols of beloved holiday traditions.
Meijer Gardens extends its hours to 9 pm December 14-19, 21-23, 26 and 28-30. It is closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, capacity restrictions will be in effect and wait times may apply.
Admission is $14.50 for guests 14-64 years old, $11 for guests 65+, $7 for guests 5-13 years old, and $4 for guests 4 years old or younger.
Classic holiday decorations line the streets of Grand Rapids.
Photo by photo by Kirsetin Morello
Tanger Outlet Mall
Enjoy the holiday display while shopping 70+ stores at Tanger Outlet Mall. Stroll the heated sidewalks and warm up at the cozy fire pits underneath the beautifully decorated, larger-than-life Christmas tree as you check off your gift list.
Ada Covered Bridge
This picturesque historic wooden bridge – pedestrian-only – is festooned with twinkling lights set to music. It’s on the Ada Village Winter Lights Walking Trail, which loops for nearly one mile through the charming downtown area decorated with more than 25,000 lights.
A three-mile display on Lake Michigan Drive in Allendale encompasses 230 trees decorated with 150,000 multicolored lights. The display spans the heart of the Allendale Business District, so you might want to do some shopping along the way. Allendale is a 20-minute drive from downtown GR, just follow Fulton Street west as it turns into Lake Michigan Drive.
East Grand Rapids
The tree-lined residential streets of this GR suburb are a favorite for holiday lightseeing, either on foot or by car, as many homeowners consider decorations part of their civic duty. The city’s Gaslight Village business district is also decked out for the holidays.
The Haunting of Storybook Hollow in Comstock Park transforms from a Halloween haunt to a Christmas fantasyland for the season. As you drive by this private home, keep your eyes peeled for the dragon trying out for Santa’s sleigh team, a life-sized gingerbread house and elves at work.
While you’re in Comstock Park, check out the Dana Street neighborhood, which features seven houses with lights synced to music.
Sparta Candy Cane Lane
For a true small-town holiday experience, head 20 minutes north of GR to downtown Sparta, in the heart of Michigan’s apple country. Drive through streets lined with lights and decorated storefronts, and take a stroll down Candy Cane Lane, a lighted walkway just beyond Santa’s workshop (you can take a peek inside his workstation).