I think that Christmas and the holiday season is one of the best times of the year to visit Chicago. There are tons of festive events and activities that take place in Chicago during the holiday season in November and December, from tree lightings, holiday lights, holiday shopping, christmas markets, shows and more. If you are thinking of visiting Chicago for the holidays, here are the best things to do in Chicago at Christmas. These fun events are guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit!
- Things to Do in Chicago During Christmas
- Have a Meal at the Walnut Room
- Ice Skate at Millennium Park
- Take Photos in Front of the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
- Visit an Outdoor German-Style Christmas Market
- Go Holiday Shopping
- Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
- Enjoy Indoor Family Fun at the Winter WonderFest
- Ride a Holiday Train
- Take a Holiday Tour
- Get Tickets to a Christmas Show
- Have a Drink at a Christmas Themed Bar
- Christmas and Holiday Events in Chicago
Things to Do in Chicago During Christmas
Have a Meal at the Walnut Room
A Chicago classic, the Walnut Room on the 7th floor of Macy’s State Street (formerly Marshall Fields) was the first restaurant ever opened in a department store. During the holiday season you can enjoy the view of the Great Tree in the middle of the restaurant while dining. There is a holiday buffet or you can order from the menu but make sure to order Mrs. Hering’s Chicken Pot Pie, a staple on the menu since 1907.
Where: 7th floor at Macy’s State Street at 111 N State St.
When: The Great Tree can be seen at the Walnut Room from November 2, 2019 – January 5, 2020.
Ice Skate at Millennium Park
There are several places to go ice skating in Chicago during the Christmas season. One of the best and picture perfect spots to go ice skating is at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park right in front of the famous Bean sculpture.
When: November 15, 2019 – March 8, 2020 (weather permitting). See the official website for more information on hours and timing of free skating lessons.
Where: Millennium Park, McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at 201 E. Randolph St.
Cost: Skating is free if you have your own skates (you can also rent skates for a fee if you don’t bring your own). Ther are also free skating lessons offered an hour before the rink opens on certain dates.
Take Photos in Front of the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
The City of Chicago puts up a large Christmas tree annually at Millennium Park near the ice skating rink.
When: The City of Chicago Christmas Tree can be found at Millennium Park from November 22, 2019 – January 6, 2020.
Where: Millennium Park near the corner of Washington and Michigan Avenue.
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.
When: November 15, 2019 – December 24, 2019. Open daily Sunday-Thursday 11 am – 8 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am – 9 pm; Thanksgiving Day and Christmas 11 am – 4pm.
Where: In front of Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago (50 W Washington Street).
Cost: Admission is free.
Go Holiday 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 State Street, 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 something more unique, Chicago also has several indoor markets during the holidays including the One of a Kind Show and Sale (December 5-8, 2019) for handmade items and Randolph Street Holiday Market (November 23 and 24 + December 14 and 15, 2019) for a mix of vintage and modern items.
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 50 trees and displays which represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the globe. On the weekends, you can also enjoy live holiday performances.
When: Open from mid-November until the first weekend of January. Exact 2020 dates not announced.
Where: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive.
Cost: Included in regular museum admission. There are discounts for buying tickets online. Here is a link to the official website for prices, times and more information.
Enjoy Indoor Family Fun at the Winter WonderFest
Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier is the city’s biggest and best indoor winter playground packed with family fun, featuring 170,000 square feet of attractions including a festive carousel, carnival rides, giant slides, holiday-themed activities and decor, indoor ice skating and more.
When: December 6, 2019 – January 12, 2020.
Where: Festival Hall at Navy Pier at 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago.
Cost: Pricing varies by date. Here is a link to the official website to buy tickets.
Ride a Holiday Train
If you are traveling to Chicago with kids, they would love to ride on a special holiday train. There are two options in Chicago: 1) the Allstate CTA Holiday Train and 2) the THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride.
CTA Holiday Train
The Allstate CTA Holiday Train is a holiday tradition unique to Chicago, which, due to popular demand, is now accompanied by the Elves’ Workshop Train on Saturdays.
Both trains are 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. Strands of multi-colored lights are strung inside the two trains along with red bows, garland, red and green overhead lighting and hand poles wrapped to look like candy canes. Santa’s elves greet riders with plenty of candy canes for and as the train pulls into each station, Santa waves to the boarding riders from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and decorated holiday trees.
When: November 29 – December 23, 2019. See https://www.transitchicago.com/holidayfleet/ for full details on routes and times.
Cost: Regular CTA fare. See transitchicago.com for prices.
THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride
THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is a re-creation of the classic children’s story on board a real Amtrak 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 (a silver sleigh bell) after Santa boards the train to greet families. Attendants lead 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.
When: Select dates and times from late November to late December. Schedule released and tickets go on sale end of July. See the schedule on https://www.chicagothepolarexpressride.com/scheduling-tickets/ for more information.
Where: Train leaves from Chicago Union Station at 500 W Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60606.
Cost: Pricing varies by date starting at $38 per child. See the official https://www.chicagothepolarexpressride.com/ website for pricing and to buy tickets.
Take a Holiday Tour
If your time in Chicago is short, there are a few tours that focus on Chicago’s holiday attractions. For some history with your holiday tour, check out the Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys tour to see some classic holiday sights, and get the off-the-beaten path stories of Christmas’ past over a couple drinks.
Get Tickets to a Christmas Show
Get in the holiday spirit with a Christmas show. There are many Christmas shows you can see in Chicago, including:
- Joffrey Ballet -The Nutcracker
- A Christmas Carol
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- ‘Twas the Night Before… by Cirque du Soleil (their first ever holiday themed production)
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical
- A Charlie Brown Christmas
This is a great list of all the holiday shows in Chicago.
Have a Drink at a Christmas Themed Bar
Chicago has several Christmas- and Hanukkah-themed pop-up bars opening for the holidays. These bars offer holiday decorations, themed cocktails and snacks, and more. For more information here is a list of 15 Christmas- and Hanukkah-themed bars in Chicago for the 2019 holiday season.
Christmas and Holiday Events in Chicago
City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
The City of Chicago holds a lighting ceremony for the large tree that can be found at Millennium Park during the holidays. The lighting is followed by musical performances and fireworks and a special appearance by Santa and Mrs. Claus.
When: Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony will take place on Friday, November 22, 2019 at 6pm. Tree will be at Millennium Park from November 22, 2019 – January 6, 2020.
Where: Millennium Park.
Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
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Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Lights Festival features two days of free, family-friendly activities and holiday events and and live musical performances. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival culminates to the grand finale, a tree-lighting parade down Michigan Avenue which kicks off the holiday season and a fireworks spectacular show over the Chicago River. The parade features marching bands from around the country, helium-filled balloons, decorated floats and an appearance by Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse from Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
When: A 2 day event that starts at 4:00PM on Friday, November 20, 2020 and 11:00 AM on Saturday, November 21, 2020. The tree-lighting parade takes place between 5:30-7:00 PM on Saturday, November 21, 2020. Visit https://www.themagnificentmile.com for a detailed schedule of events.
Where: Lights Festival Lane in Pioneer Court (401 N. Michigan Avenue). Parade starts at North Michigan Avenue at Oak Street and proceeds down Michigan Ave to Wacker Drive.
As you can see there are many things to do in Chicago during Christmas and the holiday season. Have you visited Chicago during the holidays?