Wonderland Express, Chicago’s favorite seasonal event, arrives again at the Chicago Botanic Garden for the holidays. Now in its 11th year of delighting Garden visitors, the exhibition transforms the Garden’s Regenstein Center into a magical holiday haven, full of trains, lights and botanical decorations.
The fun kicks off on Friday, November 25—the day after Thanksgiving—and runs daily until Monday, January 2. From November 25 to December 15, Wonderland Express is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From December 16 to January 2, it is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wonderland Express closes early at 3 p.m. (last ticket sold at 2 p.m.) on December 2, 9 and 24, and is closed all day on Christmas (December 25).
Trains run on 950 feet of track, zipping past more than 80 mini-replicas of Chicago landmarks handcrafted from natural materials. Wonderland Express stretches across multiple spaces, with many things to see and enjoy, including wreaths made by Garden staff, a gingerbread village, an old English-style train platform and on select dates, family drop-in activities. Visitors can also see miniature felt figurines modeled after storybook characters in the Lenhardt Library and watch video in the Alsdorf Auditorium showing the creation of Wonderland Express.
Making a special appearance this year from the outdoor Model Railroad Garden will be none other than Wrigley Field—the home of the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs! After the 2016 season of baseball magic, this is a must-see and a photo opportunity for all who visit.
Several special events will be held throughout the exhibition, including a Christmas Concert (Saturday, December 10), Hanukkah Concert (Thursday, December 29), Breakfast with Santa (Saturday, December 17, and Sunday, December 18), Hot Chocolate with Mrs. Claus (Monday, December 19), and Holiday Cheers! (Wednesday, December 7). Tickets for these events include entrance to Wonderland Express; Breakfast with Santa tickets also include parking. Members-only night is Wednesday, December 14. Advance tickets for all special events can be purchased online.
There are also free events happening for Wonderland Express visitors. The Holiday Market, with vendors offering seasonal produce, herbs, soaps, honey and more, will take place Saturday, December 10, and Sunday, December 11, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Listen to carolers November 25–27, from 10 a.m. to noon, and watch ice-carving on December 11 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m..
New this year is a movie weekend on Saturday, December 3, and Sunday, December 4, showing holiday favorites like Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Admission to the movies is included in the Wonderland Express ticket. Showtimes are every hour from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. throughout movie weekend.
Wonderland Express is generously supported by ComEd, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Discover and Grainger.
Tickets to Wonderland Express are on sale now. Adults: $13; children ages 3 to 12 and seniors over age 62: $10. Member tickets: $2 off. Children 2 and under: free. Visitors are strongly encouraged to buy tickets in advance, due to the popularity of the exhibition. Half-price tickets, sponsored by Grainger, are available on Tuesdays.
All Garden visitors during the holiday season will enjoy festive decorations, including lit trees in the courtyard and a large lit tree on the Esplanade, wreaths in the Greenhouse Galleries (which can be purchased while Wonderland Express runs), horticultural elements in the Greenhouses, spheres floating in the North Lake by the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden and at the Gatehouse and lights in the Heritage Garden. More than 700,000 LED lights will brighten the Garden, starting at the entrance at Lake Cook Road and extending to the Visitor Center, bridge and decks, and throughout the Heritage Garden, Esplanade, and Runnells and Searle Courtyards.
For more information, visit chicagobotanic.org/wonderland.