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

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. If you are thinking of visiting Chicago for the holidays, here are the best things to do in Chicago at Christmas that are guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit!

Things to Do in Chicago During Christmas

Below are the best things to do in Chicago during the Christmas holiday season. I suggest bookmarking this blog post as I plan to update it regularly with any new information or updates.


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

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 opening a new location in Aurora, Illinois.)

Where: 50 W Washington Street and 3635 N Clark St

When: Dates and 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:

Festive Food & Walking Tour
Seasonal Stroll Walking Tour of Holiday Attractions
Magnificent Mile Holiday Lights Walking Tour
2-Hour Holiday Lights Segway Tour
BYOB Party Bus Holiday Lights Tour

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 Jazz and Soul Classics feat. Ella Fitzgerald

You can find the full list of candlelight concerts in Chicago here.

See the Giant City of Chicago Christmas Tree

Christmas Tree at Millenium Park in Chicago

The 109th Annual City of Chicago Christmas Tree at Millennium Park is a 55-foot Colorado Blue Spruce.

When: November 18 – January 8

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

Cost:  Free.

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: November 25 through January 7

Cost: Prices vary depending on day. Click here.

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

When: select dates from November 19–January 8

Cost: Mondays are free. Tuesday-Sunday tickets are $5.


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 November 25 the museum’s lions will be decked with their evergreen wreaths for the holiday season.

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 from November 19- January 8.

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:  $25 for adults, $19 for seniors, students and teens (14-17); 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.

The Art of The Brick exhibit is also getting into the holiday spirit with the debut of new pieces themed around the 12 Days of Christmas.

When: November 16 – January 4

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. The Art of the Brick is not included in Museum Entry and requires a separate, timed-entry ticket. Here is a link to the official website for more information.

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.

Synonymous with the holiday season, Macy’s iconic Chicago Great Tree will be celebrating its 115th anniversary. Traditionally the first major tree across the country to be installed and unveiled, this celebration coincides with the opening of holiday dining at the Walnut Room, Santaland, the 55th annual holiday windows and State Street signature trumpets.

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

When: The Great Tree will be lit from November 5 – January 8

Go Outdoor Ice Skating

One of the best and picture perfect spots to go ice skating in Chicago is McCormick Tribune Ice Rink right in front of the Bean which opens November 18. Admission is free, but online reservations are required.

Another another option is the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park which has a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink also opens November 18. Advance reservations are recommended.

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.

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Winterland at Gallagher Way is back and will be bigger than ever. In addition to the Gallagher Ice Rink (now inside the ballpark) and Santa’s Workshop, there will be new family-friendly experiences inside iconic Wrigley Field. Gallagher Way is also the site for the Wrigleyville location of Christkindlmarket until December 31.

When: November 18 through January 8.

Where: Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613

Watch Digital Art at Art on the Mart

Art at the Mart light show during the Christmas holiday season

Art on theMART is the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, projecting contemporary artwork across the 2.5-acre river-façade of theMART. Their winter program features Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”.

When: 30-minute program of projections are shown twice nightly

Where: The Merchandise Mart, 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654. Spectators can watch the show from the jetty section of the Chicago Riverwalk on Wacker Drive between Wells Street and Franklin Street.

Cost: Free.

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: The CTA Holiday Train runs from Friday after Thanksgiving) through December 19 and holiday bus runs from November 29 through December 23. 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.

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: Millennium Park Art Market (November 18-20), Chicago Artisan Market (November 26-27), Sauced The Night Market Before Xmas (December 1-2), One of a Kind Show (December 1-4), Randolph Street Holiday Market (December 17-18), Renegade Craft Fair (December 17-18) and State Street Holiday Market (weekends from November 18 -December 18).

Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously “Caroling at Cloud Gate”)

The new Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously “Caroling at Cloud Gate”) will be back for four Fridays during this holiday season. Chicagoans will be able to join their voices with community singers and choruses from around the city.

Where: Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

When: November 25, December 2, 9 & 16

Cost:  Free.

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Winterland at Gallagher Way is back and bigger than ever. In addition to the Gallagher Ice Rink (now inside the ballpark) and Santa’s Workshop, there will be new family-friendly experiences inside Wrigley Field. Gallagher Way is also the site for the Wrigleyville location of Christkindlmarket so you can combine both holiday activities in one visit.

When: November 18 through January 8.

Where: Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613

Cost: Admission to Gallagher Way activities, including the Christkindlmarket and Santa’s Workshop, is FREE and requires no tickets. Tickets are required to access the Wrigley Field portion of Winterland. Regular entry tickets start at $5.

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

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. Timed entry tickets are now on sale. Book early – tickets have sold out the last few years.

When:  November 11 – January 8 (select dates).

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

Cost: Price varies depending on date. Tickets for adults start at $30 and tickets for kids 3-12 start at $14. 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. Timed entry tickets are now on sale. Tickets are limited and advance purchase is strongly recommended as popular dates and times sell out quickly.

When: November 19–January 7 (select days)

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

Cost: Tickets range between $7-$19 for members, $13-$24 for guests. See their website for more information and to purchase tickets in advance.

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 will take place on November 18.

When: Friday, November 18. Pre-show starts at 5pm, actual lighting at approximately 6:30pm, followed by fireworks.

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, will celebrate 31 years with a live parade (the largest nighttime parade in the US) when one million lights are illuminated on the trees along The Magnificent Mile.

When: Saturday, November 19.

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

Cost:  Free.

More Chicago Holiday Events

In addition to the events mentioned above, other festive holiday themed events and activities include: Santa Hustle 5K (December 3), Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade (December 4), TBOX (Twelve Bars of Christmas) Bar Crawl (December 10), Do-It-Yourself Messiah (December 18) and New Year on the Pier (December 31).

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

savvyglobetrotter

6 Comments

  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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