BEST Festive Things to do in Chicago at Christmas 2024 (From a Local!)

Looking for the best things to in Chicago during the holiday season? Here are the best things to do in Chicago at Christmas 2024 and during the entire holiday season that are guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit!

Things to Do in Chicago During Christmas 2024

I think that Christmas and the holiday season is one of the best times of the year to visit Chicago. Many festive events and activities take place in Chicago during the holiday season in November, December and early January, from tree lightings, holiday lights, holiday shopping, christmas markets and more.

Below are the best things to do in Chicago during the Christmas holiday season. Some activities have yet to announce their 2024 dates but I suggest bookmarking this blog post as I will be updating events and activities as they are announced.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. I may make a small commission if you make a booking using my links at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Visit an Outdoor German-Style Christmas Market

christmas things to do in chicago 2024

Christkindlmarket is an authentic German-style outdoor market. Visitors can shop for Christmas ornaments and products from around the world and try various German food and drinks such as roasted nuts, fresh pretzels, bratwurst, and hot spiced wine. You can also purchase a limited edition souvenir mug to remember your trip.

Christkindlmarket is in two locations in the city of Chicago: Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago and Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville. (They is also a location in the suburbs in Aurora, Illinois.)

Where: 50 W Washington Street and 3635 N Clark St

When: Hours vary see the website for more details.

Cost: Admission is FREE.

See the Giant City of Chicago Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree at Millenium Park in Chicago

See the large City of Chicago Christmas Tree at Millennium Park during the holiday season.

Where: Millennium Park near the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Washington Street.

Cost:  Free.

Take a Holiday Tour

If your time in Chicago is short, there are a few tours that focus on Chicago’s holiday attractions:

Festive Food & Walking Tour
Seasonal Stroll Walking Tour of Holiday Attractions
Guided Holiday Walking Tour and Food Sampling

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ at Lincoln Park Zoo is a cheerful, family-friendly holiday event in the heart of the city. Zoolights features hundreds of luminous LED displays and seasonal experiences, all under the glow of millions of lights. All dates require a timed reservation.

Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL

See the Crèche and Wreathed Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago holidays
The Art Institute of Chicago is a must on any Chicago bucket list year round but there are more reasons to visit during the holiday season.

Beginning Friday after Thanksgiving the museum’s lions will be decked with their evergreen wreaths for the holiday season.

Through early January, you can also see the Art Institute’s spectacular 18th-century Neapolitan crèche, or Nativity scene, telling the story of Jesus Christ’s birth through more than 200 painted terracotta figures staged in an elaborate environment inspired by 18th-century Naples.

Hours:  Monday and Friday–Sunday from 11 a.m.– 5 p.m. Thursdays from 11 a.m.– 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Tuesdays & Wednesdays as well on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Where: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Cost:  Price varies by age; members and children under 14 are always free. There are discounts for Chicago and Illinois residents. Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light


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The Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry annual celebration began in 1942 and features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 40 trees and displays which represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe.

Where: Museum of Science and Industry at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive.

Cost: Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is included in regular museum admission. You can purchase a skip the line ticket here.

Tip:  If you are visiting a few museums, consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS or Go Chicago Card to save money on entrance fees.

READ: Best Indoor Things to Do in Chicago for more indoor Chicago attractions.

Dine at the Walnut Room

large Xmas tree at the Walnut Room in Chicago

Dining at the Walnut Room is a legendary Chicago holiday tradition. Located on the 7th floor of Macy’s State Street (formerly Marshall Fields), the Walnut Room was the first restaurant ever opened in a department store. During the holiday season diners can enjoy the view of the Macy’s “Great Tree” in the middle of the restaurant while feasting on holiday classic dishes such as Mrs. Hering’s 1890 Original Chicken Pot Pie.

Where: 7th floor at Macy’s State Street at 111 N. State Street, Chicago, IL

Go Outdoor Ice Skating

One of the best and picture perfect spots to go ice skating in Chicago is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink right in front of The Bean. Admission is free, but online reservations are required.

Another popular option is the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park which has a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink. Tickets will be released on a rolling basis at (noon) every 2 weeks.

Skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park in Chicago

Here is a list of the best outdoor ice skating rinks in Chicago with hours, prices and other information.

Ride the CTA Holiday Train and Bus

The CTA Holiday Train is a holiday tradition unique to Chicago. As the train pulls into each station, Santa waves to riders from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and decorated holiday trees. Each car of the train is wrapped with holiday and seasonal images. Thousands of twinkling lights outline the shape of the train and windows, with even more lights running across the tops of the cars. (The video above is from one of my favorite Chicago photo spots.)

The CTA Holiday Bus is 60-foot bus turned into a winter wonderland with holiday music playing and Santa waving and from the roof-hatch of the bus. The exterior of the bus features Chicago’s skyline one snowy evening with “Ralphie the Reindeer” leading the way, his nose aglow and Santa’s sleigh in tow. Festive strings of lights outline the bus and its windows, along with sparkling snowflakes that light-up at night.

When: See transitchicago.com/holidayfleet for full details on dates, times and routes.

Cost: Regular CTA fare. See transitchicago.com for prices. You can see the bus pass by for free from the street.


THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is a re-creation of the classic children’s story on board a real train. Passengers are served hot chocolate and a treat by dancing chefs, enjoy a reading of the book by Chris Van Allsburg, and receive the first gift of Christmas after Santa boards the train to greet families. Performers engage passengers in caroling and fun holiday activities on the return trip to Union Station. The train ride lasts an hour and passengers are encouraged to wear pajamas.

Where: Train leaves and returns from Chicago Union Station at 500 W Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60606.

Go Holiday Shopping (or Window Shopping)

Chicago is a great city for shopping with every type of store you can imagine.  Many shopping centers and departments stores have holiday decorations and attractions to put you in a festive mood.  Make sure not to miss Macy’s State Street (formerly Marshall Fields) – the building is a National Historic Landmark and it is known for its holiday window displays.

The major shopping areas in downtown Chicago include State Street (where you can find Macy’s, Target and many smaller stores) and The Magnificent Mile (where you can find three shopping centers, luxury designers and labels, several departments stores and popular brands).

If you are looking for unique and/or handmade items, check out these holiday markets: and Renegade Craft Fair (November 9-10, 2024), Chicago Artisan Market @ Fulton Market (November 17 & December 15, 2024), Chicago Artisan Market @ Ravenswood (November 30-December 1, 2024), One of a Kind Show (December 5-8, 2024) andSauced The Night Market Before Xmas (December 13-14, 2024).

Drink Glogg at Simon’s Tavern

Drinking the signature glögg (mulled wine) at Simon’s Tavern is a holiday tradition for Chicagoans.

The long standing neighborhood dive bar in Andersonville is packed every year during the holiday season.

Where: Simon’s Tavern, 5210 N Clark St, Chicago, IL

Drink at a Christmas Themed Pop-Up Bar

Chicago has several holiday pop-up bars that open just for the holiday season. These bars offer holiday decorations, themed cocktails and snacks and more festive touches. Advance reservations are recommended as they tend to be very popular. Some of the best holiday themed bars include:

Nutcracker Bar & Hotel (100 E Chestnut St)
Frosty’s Bar (809 W Evergreen Ave)
Santa Baby Bar (3505 N Clark Street)
Elfd’d Up (Stretch Bar & Grill, 3485 N. Clark Street)
Reindeer Room (1807 S Allport St)
8 Crazy Nights Chicago (3441 N Sheffield Ave)- Chicago’s first Hanukkah pop-up

Walk the Illuminated Light Trail at Lightscape

Sparkling tunnel of light at Lightscape Chicago Botanic Garden

Lightscape is an after-dark, illuminated trail with thousands of twinkling lights at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Ok so this is technically not in Chicago but it is in the suburbs only a 30 minute drive from downtown.

Where: Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022 (24 miles north of downtown Chicago)

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum is a one-of-a-kind, interactive spectacle of color, light, and sound that has been delighting audiences since 2013. Be surrounded by color as you walk a one-mile paved path amid interactive lighting effects that highlight the beauty of trees in winter.

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532 (28 miles west of downtown Chicago)

READ: Best Places to See Christmas and Holiday Lights Around Chicago for more Christmas holiday light shows in and around the Chicago area.

Chicago Christmas and Holiday Events

City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

The City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is expected to take place on Friday evening, November 17, 2024.

Where: Millennium Park, Near Washington St. & Michigan Ave. Enter Park through the South Promenade on Monroe Street.

Cost:  Free.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival


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The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a popular family friendly live parade (the largest nighttime parade in the US) when one million lights are illuminated on the trees along The Magnificent Mile. Led by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse of The Walt Disney World Resort, the parade features fabulous floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Santa Claus, fireworks and more.  Tip: Streets around the parade route close to car traffic a few hours before the parade, so prepare to take the train or book a hotel nearby.

When: Saturday, November 23, 2024

Where: The parade is on North Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Wacker Drive.

Cost:  Free.

More Chicago Holiday Themed Events 2024

In addition to the events mentioned above, other festive holiday themed events and activities include: Chicago Thanksgiving Parade (November 28, 2024), Santa Hustle 5K (December 4, 2024), Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade (December 1, 2024) and TBOX (Twelve Bars of Christmas) Bar Crawl (December 14, 2024).

As you can see there are many things to do in Chicago during Christmas and the holiday season.

Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out my Chicago guides and itineraries:


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Things to Do in Chicago Christmas



  1. wow, I didnt know that Chicago is so much fun in Christmas season, my friends were mostly always complaining how cold it was in Chicago 😉

    • It definitely gets cold in Chicago in the winter but it varies day by day and sometimes it is not that bad. I’ve lived here most of my life so I am used to it plus I dress pretty warmly.

    • Chicago can be cold in the winter but not always. We had a really warm Christmas this year.

  2. Wow! Chicago looks fantastic at Christmas! I would love to visit the Chistkindlemarket and see the Cirque du Soleil show. Thank you for creating this post. I guess I better start travel planning for next year!

  3. I am in South Florida now, but I grew up in NY. The ice skating reminds me of the skating at Rockefeller Center.

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