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 (November 23, 2023) and even more during Thanksgiving weekend. Here are the best things to do in Chicago on Thanksgiving including holiday events and activities and more!
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Things to Do in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day 2023
Below are the top things to do in Chicago on Turkey Day (Thursday, November 23, 2023).
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.
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 the city: 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.
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:
Take an Architecture Cruise
Taking an architecture river cruise is a must when visiting Chicago.
Join a Thanksgiving Gourmet Lunch Cruise
Make Thanksgiving special with a luxurious Thanksgiving gourmet afternoon lunch cruise on the Chicago River or Lake Michigan aboard a glass-enclosed boat. Enjoy an elegant 3-course, plated lunch with all the trimmings freshly prepared by the chef. While onboard, experience exceptional views of Chicago’s skyline and architecture, DJ entertainment, and festive décor.
When: Thursday, November 23, 2023 at 2:30 PM
See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree at Millennium Park. 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.
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.
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: Timed tickets are available from 9:00am-7:00pm on Thanksgiving Day. Advance tickets are strongly recommended.
Visit Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is another popular Chicago attraction that is open every day including Thanksgiving day.
Where: 2400 N. Cannon Drive
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.
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. See the official website for hours and prices.
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:
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.)
Disney100: The Exhibition
The Disney100: The Exhibition is coming to Chicago for a few weeks starting mid-November. 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 (2021).
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.
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. You can also see the Art Institute’s 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: Closed on Thanksgiving Day but is open Friday–Sunday from 11 a.m.– 5 p.m.
Where: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
Cost: Price varies. There are discounts for Chicago and Illinois residents. Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines.
Watch Fireworks (New!)
Navy Pier is introducing free winter fireworks shows for the first time this year. Get cozy on the Pier and enjoy the spectacular winter display. You don’t have to visit Navy Pier to enjoy the fireworks, you can also see them from the lakefront and various restaurants.
When: Saturday, November 25, 2023 at 9:00 – 9:10 pm
You can also see fireworks from the water on a fireworks lake cruise.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
Enjoy holiday lights indoors and fun family activities at Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier. Immerse yourself in the magic of 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: Opens Friday after Thanksgiving.
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: Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is included in regular museum admission. Here is a link to the official website for prices, times and more information.
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.
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 Chicago Artisan Market (November 25-26, 2023).
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.)
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.
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 be available October 16, 2023.
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.
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. Timed entry tickets are now on sale. Book early – tickets have sold out the last few years!
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 $17. Children under 3 are free. See https://www.chicagobotanic.org/lightscape for prices and to purchase tickets in advance.
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