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 will be updating it regularly with new infornation 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
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: Opens November 17, 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:
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 “Silent Night, “Jingle Bells,” and More
Candlelight: Holiday Jazz and Soul Classics feat. Ella Fitzgerald
Candlelight: Holiday Special Featuring “The Nutcracker” & More
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.
When: Dates to be announced.
Where: Millennium Park near the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Washington Street.
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: November 17, 2023 – January 7, 2024.
Cost: Tickets will be available for purchase beginning in mid-October. Pricing information is coming soon.
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: Dates to be announced.
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.
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: Open from mid-November until the first weekend of January.
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. Here is a link to the official website for more information.
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: Mark your calendar- reservations open on September 29, 2023 and go quickly!
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.
Opening dates have not yet been announced but both skating rinks open by mid-November.
Here is a list of the best outdoor ice skating rinks in Chicago with hours, prices and other information.
Watch Digital Art at Art on the Mart
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.
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.
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.
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 (November 26-27, 2023)), Sauced The Night Market Before Xmas (November 17 & December 8-9, 2023), One of a Kind Show (December 7-10, 2023), Randolph Street Holiday Market (December 18-19, 2023) and Renegade Craft Fair (December 16-17, 2023).
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. Tickets are now on sale. Book early – tickets have sold out the last few years.
When: November 10, 2023 – 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. Tickets will go on sale on October 16, 2023. Mark this date on your calendar as tickets sell quickly.
When: November 18, 2023 through January 6, 2024.
Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532 (28 miles west of downtown Chicago)
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, November 17, 2023.
Where: Millennium Park, Near Washington St. & Michigan Ave. Enter Park through the South Promenade on Monroe Street.
Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
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The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, will celebrate 32 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. 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.
When: Saturday, November 18, 2023
Where: The parade is on North Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Wacker Drive.
More Chicago Holiday Events
In addition to the events mentioned above, other festive holiday themed events and activities include: Santa Hustle 5K (December 2, 2023), Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade (December 3, 2023) and TBOX (Twelve Bars of Christmas) Bar Crawl (December 9, 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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