Spending Thanksgiving in Chicago and looking for fun things to do other than eat turkey? You are in luck because Thanksgiving is a great time to visit Chicago. There are tons of things to do in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day and even more during Thanksgiving weekend. Here are the best things to do in Chicago on Thanksgiving including holiday events and activities and more!
- Things to Do in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day
- Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
- Go Outdoor Ice Skating
- Visit an Outdoor German-Style Christmas Market
- See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
- Stand on the Ledge at The Skydeck at Willis Tower
- Enjoy the Winter Flower Show at the Garfield Park Conservatory
- Visit Lincoln Park Zoo
- Watch Digital Art at Art on the Mart
- See Holiday Lights
- Things to do in Chicago during Thanksgiving Weekend
- Take a Holiday Tour
- Visit a Christmas Tree Farm
- Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously “Caroling at Cloud Gate”)
- Dine at the Walnut Room
- Go Holiday Shopping (or Window Shopping)
- Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
- Ride the CTA Holiday Train
- Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
- Enjoy the ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
- Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
- Walk the Illuminated Light Trail at Lightscape
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Things to Do in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day
Below are the top things to do in Chicago on Turkey Day (Thursday, November 24, 2022).
Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Chicago Thanksgiving Parade is a family friendly annual parade that features huge helium-filled balloons, floats, marching bands, dance & equestrian groups, local sports teams and more.
Where: State Street from Ida B. Wells Dr. to Randolph. (Parade starts on the corner of State Street and Ida B. Wells Dr., and travels north on State Street to Randolph.)
When: Thanksgiving Day from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Cost: FREE. VIP tickets are available for purchase as well.
Go Outdoor Ice Skating
There are several places to go outdoor ice skating in Chicago for Thanksgiving. One of the best and picture perfect spots to go ice skating is at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph St.) right in front of the famous Bean sculpture. Admission is free, but online ticketed reservations are required. Reservation dates are released 2 weeks in advance of session date.
Another ice skating rink with great skyline views is the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park (337 E Randolph St.) located next to Millennium Park. The skating ribbon has a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink. Reservations are strongly encouraged. See the official website for hours and prices.
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.
The market is in 2 locations in Chicago: Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago and Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville.
Where: 50 W Washington Street and 3635 N Clark St
When: 11am – 4pm on Thanksgiving; see the website for hours on the rest of Thanksgiving weekend.
Cost: Admission is FREE.
See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
See the 108th Annual City of Chicago Christmas Tree at Millennium Park. The 51-foot blue spruce is Chicago’s “official” Christmas tree. While you can take photos in the day, the tree is prettier at night when it is lit up.
Where: Millennium Park (near the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Washington Street).
When: Millennium Park is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
Stand on the Ledge at The Skydeck at Willis Tower
While many museums and other indoor attractions are closed on Thanksgiving Day, The Skydeck, the observatory on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, is still open. For the best instagram photos head to The Ledge, glass balconies extending four feet outside the 103rd floor. (Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines).
Where: Willis Tower, 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606
Hours: 8:30am-8:00pm on Thanksgiving Day. Advance tickets are strongly recommended.
Enjoy the Winter Flower Show at the Garfield Park Conservatory
The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest and most stunning botanical conservatories in the US. Often referred to as “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory showcases thousands of plant species from around the world throughout eight indoor display gardens. Visitors can enjoy the lush flora and tropical temperatures indoors year-round! Their Winter Flower Show, Serenity starts the day before Thanksgiving.
Where: 300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60624
Hours: 10am-5pm (last entry at 3:30pm). Visitors are encouraged to make a reservation online in advance. Walk-ups are welcome if there is space available.
Cost: FREE (suggested donation)
Visit Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is another popular Chicago attraction that is open every day. You might want to come back in the evening another day for ZooLights (more below).
Where: 2400 N. Cannon Drive
When: The zoo is open every day from 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
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.
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.
When: 30-minute program of projections will be shown twice in the evening.
See Holiday Lights
Jump in the car and take a drive to see holiday lights. Some of the large popular light shows are closed on Thanksgiving Day, but there are holiday light drive thru-shows as well as free holiday light displays open near Chicago.
These holiday light shows and displays in the suburbs are open on Thanksgiving Day:
Willow Hill’s Winter Magic – 1350 Willow Rd, Northbrook, IL
Let It Shine – Northbrook Court, Aurora and Schaumburg
Goebbert’s Christmas Light Show – 42W813 Reinking Road, Pingree Grove, IL
Larsen Christmas Lights Show – 42W891 Beith Rd, Elburn, IL
Winter Lights at Central Park – Oak Brook Park District – 1510 Forest Gate Rd, Oak Brook, IL
Naper Lights – Downtown Naperville
You can find more details and other places to see holiday lights in Chicago and the suburbs here.
Things to do in Chicago during Thanksgiving Weekend
If you are spending Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago, you will find even more fun things to do. (And if you have more time, here are more things to do in Chicago in November.)
Take a Holiday Tour
There are a few tours that focus on Chicago’s holiday attractions that you can join on Thanksgiving weekend if your time is short. For some history with your holiday tour, check out this walking tour or this Segway tour.
Visit a Christmas Tree Farm
Another thing to do over Thanksgiving weekend is to visit one of the many Christmas tree farms in the Chicago area to choose and cut your own Christmas tree. If you would rather not cut your own tree, you can just enjoy the ambiance, take holiday photos and buy a freshly pre-cut tree.
When: Most Christmas tree farms open for the season on the Friday after Thanksgiving but a few are already open. The best trees go early in the season.
Where: Here are the best best Christmas tree farms in and near Chicago to visit this year.
Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously “Caroling at Cloud Gate”)
Do you enjoy caroling? Sing and celebrate the holiday season next to The Bean on Friday after Thanksgiving. The new Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously called “Caroling at Cloud Gate”) series is an annual Chicago holiday tradition but it has been reimagined to be more inclusive of Chicago’s many faith backgrounds, cultures and holiday music traditions.
Where: Cloud Gate at Millennium Park
Dine at the Walnut Room
Having a meal at the Walnut Room is a 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 dining on holiday classic dishes.
This season’s menu will showcase traditional Walnut Room items such as Mrs. Hering’s 1890 Original Chicken Pot Pie, cider glazed slow roasted breast of turkey, meatloaf, spice rub salmon and carrot cake, among others.
Reservations are now open and available on OpenTable here for the holiday season. For parties over 16 people, the Walnut Room asks that guests make a reservation using an online form.
Where: 7th floor at Macy’s State Street at 111 N. State Street, Chicago, IL
When: Hours vary by day – see their holiday hours here. Closed on Thanksgiving Day.
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 something more unique and/or handmade items, check out North Center’s Black Friday Night Handmade Market (November 26) and Holiday Expo and Toy Drive at Navy Pier (November 27-28).
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier is Chicago’s newest holiday adventure. The indoor, temperature-controlled experience features a sprawling light garden of large-scale sculptures comprising more than 600,000 twinkling lights; a massive Alpine ice rink; authentic holiday beer garden; kiddie train rides; Santa’s Merry Main Street and gift market; and other family-friendly and date-night activities.
Where: Festival Hall at Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Cost: Tickets start at $15, including a ride on the iconic Centennial Wheel, offering inspiring views of the city all decked out for the holidays.
Ride the CTA Holiday Train
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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.)
Unlike last year, this year the Allstate CTA Holiday Train is open again to riders.
When: The CTA Holiday Train will start running on Friday after Thanksgiving. See transitchicago.com/holidayfleet for full details on times and routes.
Cost: Regular CTA fare. See transitchicago.com for prices.
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: Closed on Thanksgiving Day but open the rest of the weekend.
Where: Museum of Science and Industry at 5700 S Lake Shore Drive.
Cost: Included in regular museum admission. Here is a link to the official website for prices, times and more information.
Enjoy the 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.
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL
When: Closed on Thanksgiving Day but open rest of weekend from 4–10 p.m. Reservations are required.
Cost: Monday and Tuesday nights are free and Wednesday-Sunday tickets are $5.
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. Advance purchase is recommended as some dates sell out.
Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL 60532 (28 miles west of downtown Chicago)
When: Closed on Thanksgiving Day but open the rest of the weekend.
Cost: Tickets range between $7-$19 for members, $13-$24 for guests. See their website for more information and to purchase tickets in advance.
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 to guarantee your preferred dates. Tickets for have sold out the last few years.
Where: Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022 (24 miles north of downtown Chicago)
When: Closed on Thanksgiving Day but open the rest of the weekend. Hours are 4:30 – 11 p.m. (last entry at 9 p.m.)
Cost: Price varies depending on date. Tickets for adults start at $24 and tickets for kids 3-12 start at $12. Children under 3 are free. See https://www.chicagobotanic.org/lightscape for prices and to purchase tickets.
As you can see there are many things to do in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day and even more on the rest of Thanksgiving weekend. Have you visited Chicago during Thanksgiving?
Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out my Chicago guides and itineraries:
- 3 Days in Chicago: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary
- 24 Hours in Chicago: A Perfect One Day Itinerary From a Local
- Most Instagrammable Places in Chicago
- Best Free Things to Do in Chicago