Looking for the best things to in Chicago during the holiday season? Here are the best things to do in Chicago at Christmas and during the entire holiday season that are guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit!
I suggest bookmarking this blog post as I will be updating it regularly with new events and activities.
Things to Do in Chicago During Christmas
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.
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Visit an Outdoor German-Style Christmas Market
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 purchase a limited edition souvenir mug to remember your trip.
Christkindlmarket will be in two locations in the city of Chicago: Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago and Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville. (They will also be have a location in Aurora, Illinois.)
Where: 50 W Washington Street and 3635 N Clark St
When: The downtown location is open until December 24, 2023 and the Wrigleyville location is open until December 31, 2023.
When: Hours vary see the website for more details.
Cost: Admission is FREE.
Take a Holiday Tour
If your time in Chicago is short, there are a few tours that focus on Chicago’s holiday attractions:
Holiday Hike: Festive Food & Walking Tour
Seasonal Stroll Walking Tour of Holiday Attractions
Chicago’s BYOB Party Bus Holiday Lights Tour ‘Tis The Season
2023 Holiday Pop-Up Bar Crawl to Christkindlmarket
Listen to Holiday Inspired Music at a Candlelight Concert
Looking for a unique holiday activity? Chicago’s Candlelight Concerts is a series of special classical music concerts that take place in beautiful venues bathed in candlelight. These concerts taking place during the holiday season will feature holiday inspired music:
Candlelight: Holiday Special Featuring “The Nutcracker” & More
Candlelight: Holiday Special featuring “Silent Night, “Jingle Bells,” and More
Candlelight: Holiday Jazz and Soul Classics feat. Ella Fitzgerald
Candlelight: Holiday Carols on Strings
You can find the full list of candlelight concerts in Chicago here.
See the Giant City of Chicago Christmas Tree
See the large City of Chicago Christmas Tree at Millennium Park during the holiday season.
When: The tree will be at Millennium Park through January 7, 2024. The park is open daily from 6am–11pm.
Where: Millennium Park near the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Washington Street.
Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Alongs
Bundle up and belt out songs in celebration of Chicago’s diverse holiday traditions in Millennium Park on Friday evenings during December. Each week of the Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Alongs features a local Chicago choral group leading guests and families in song.
Where: Millennium Park, Wrigley Square
When: 6pm on Fridays, December 1, 8 & 15, 2023
Disney100: The Exhibition
The Disney100: The Exhibition is in Chicago only for a few weeks this holiday season. The Walt Disney Archives opens its vault of historical and special treasures, works of art, artifacts, costumes, and memorabilia with the launch of Disney100: The Exhibition. This exhibition celebrates the magic of Disney, which is capturing the hearts of audiences of all ages around the globe. Wonder at more than 250 artifacts and props, see costumes from some of your favorite Disney classics, and explore enchanting galleries that bring the magic of Disney to life. Featuring the latest members of the Disney family (Pixar, Star Wars, and MARVEL) along with renowned classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and recent releases such as Encanto.
Where: Exhibition Hub Art Center Chicago, 2367 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647
Cost: Price varies. Click here for full prices and to purchase tickets in advance.
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. Tickets are available for purchase.
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL
When: Through January 7, 2024.
Cost: $7–$10. Free on Mondays.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier is a family-friendly winter event. Immerse yourself in interactive light displays, a whimsical skating rink, journeys through the birch tree maze, visits with Santa and more.
Where: Festival Hall at Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
When: Through December 31, 2023.
See the Crèche and Wreathed Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago
Beginning Friday after Thanksgiving the museum’s lions will be decked with their evergreen wreaths for the holiday season.
Through January 8, 2024, 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.
When: Opens through January 7, 2024.
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.
Dine at the Walnut Room
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
When: The Great Tree will be lit through Sunday, January 7, 2024.
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.
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
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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
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.
When: Select dates and times from December 3, 2023 to January 1, 2024. Tickets are on sale now and sell out quickly.
Cost: Pricing varies by date. Visit their website for pricing and to buy tickets.
Winterland at Gallagher Way
Winterland at Gallagher Way is back with family-friendly festivities both at Gallagher Way and inside historic Wrigley Field, including new experiences and returning favorites like the Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville and the Gallagher Ice Rink.
When: Open through January 7, 2024.
Where: Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613
Cost: See prices and purchase tickets in advance here.
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: Chicago Artisan Market (December 3 & 16-17, 2023), One of a Kind Show (December 7-10, 2023), Sauced The Night Market Before Xmas (December 8-9, 2023) and Renegade Craft Fair (December 16-17, 2023).
Watch Classic Holiday Movies at Gallagher Way
Watch classic holiday movies outside at Gallagher Way. While you are Gallagher Way, you can also visit Winterland as well as the Wrigleyville location of Christkindlmarket. The movie schedule is as follows:
• December 7: The Grinch
• December 14: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
• December 21: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Where: Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613
When: Thursdays from December 2-23 starting at 6 p.m.
See a Christmas Show
Get in the holiday spirit with a Christmas show. There are many holiday shows you can see in Chicago this year, including:
This is a great list of all the holiday shows in Chicago.
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
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. Book early – tickets have sold out the last few years.
When: Through January 7, 2024.
Where: Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022 (24 miles north of downtown Chicago)
Cost: Tickets for adults start at $30 and tickets for kids 3-12 start at $17. Children 2 and under are free. See https://www.chicagobotanic.org/lightscape for prices and to purchase tickets in advance.
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.
When: Through January 6, 2024.
Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532 (28 miles west of downtown Chicago)
Chicago Christmas Holiday Events
Festive holiday themed events and activities include: Santa Hustle 5K (December 2, 2023), Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade (December 3, 2023), TBOX (Twelve Bars of Christmas) Bar Crawl (December 9, 2023), A Very Sinatra Christmas Special at Teatro ZinZanni (December 12, 2023), St. Lucia and the Lucia Procession (December 13, 2023), Adults Night Out: Holidaze (December 14, 2023), A Blues Christmas (at Navy Pier) (December 15, 2023), The Elfed Up Christmas Crawl (December 16, 2023) and Tuba Christmas (December 23, 2023).
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:
- 3 Days in Chicago Itinerary + Travel Tips From a Local
- The Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Chicago (According to a Local)
- Most Instagrammable Places in Chicago
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