BEST Things do in Chicago for Thanksgiving (Other Than Eat Turkey!)

Spending Thanksgiving in Chicago and looking for things to do other than eating turkey? You are in luck because Thankgiving 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.  If you visiting Chicago during Thanksgiving, here are the best things to do that are guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit!

Things to Do in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

2019 is the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade’s 86th year.  This family friendly annual parade features huge helium-filled balloons, floats, marching bands, dance & equestrian groups, local sports teams and more.  Parade highlights include beloved mascot Teddy Turkey and Santa Claus himself, plus 90 diverse and captivating groups, including 20 talented marching bands, 13 festive floats, 16 staged theatrical performances, 11 equestrian groups, 18 cultural groups, inflatables, celebrity guests, and thousands of volunteers.

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 (November 28, 2019) from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Central time

Cost:  Free but for even better views you can purchase access to the VIP area.

Ice Skate at Millennium Park

Ice Skating in Chicago is a fun thing to do in Chicago during Thanksgiving Day

There are several places to go ice skating in Chicago during the holiday 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:  On Thanksgiving Day the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink is open from 10am–8pm. See the official website for  hours during the rest of Thanksgiving weekend.

Where: Millennium Park 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 given on certain dates but not on Thanksgiving Day.

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.

When:  Thanksgiving Day open from 11 am – 4pm. (Regular hours are Sunday-Thursday 11 am – 8 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am – 9 pm.)

Where: In front of Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago (50 W Washington Street).

Cost: Admission is free.

Run in a Turkey Trot

If you are worried about all the Turkey you are going to eat for Thanksgiving, burn some calories at the 42nd Annual Turkey Trot Chicago in Lincoln Park. Chicago’s Turkey Day tradition includes both 5K and 8K distances centered around the Turkey Day Tailgate and finishes with the Plymouth Rock Ramble kids race. Pre-feast fun includes family friendly games, warm apple cider and Lagunitas for those 21 and over. Here is the link to the official website to register. There are several other turkey trots all over Chicago as well.

When: Early morning on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 28, 2019.

Visit Macy’s on State Street

things to do in Chicago during Christmas

If you want to get a jump start on your Black Friday holiday shopping Macy’s State Street (formerly Marshall Fields) is open for part of Thanksgiving Day.  The building is a National Historic Landmark and it is known for its holiday window displays.

In addition to doing your holiday shopping, you enjoy the view of the Great Tree in the Walnut Room (the first restaurant ever opened in a department store and a Chicago tradition) which is located on the 7th floor.  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: 111 N State St. in Chicago.

When: Macy’s State Street is open on Thanksgiving Day from 5:00 PM – 11:59 PM. The Walnut Room is open on Thanksgiving Day from 5:00 PM – 11:59 PM.

The Turkey Crawl Bar Crawl

If you are stressed over having Thanksgiving with the family a night of drinking might help. The Turkey Crawl bar crawl starts on the night of Black Wednesday and takes you to Wrigleyville’s best bars.  The ticket purchase also includes entry to other weekend festivities and events in River North. Click here to purchase tickets.

When: From 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 27 through 2:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, November 28.

Things to do in Chicago during Thanksgiving Weekend

If you are spending Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago, you will find even more holiday things to do.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light

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.

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 the ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

The annual ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ illuminates Lincoln Park Zoo with more than 2.5 million lights and hundreds of dynamic displays. This FREE event transforms Lincoln Park Zoo into a twinkling winter wonderland complete with visits from Santa, ice sculptors (weekends), carolers (weekdays), festive activities and sweet treats of all kinds.

Where: Lincoln Park Zoo at 2001 N Clark St, Chicago.

When: ZooLights runs from 4:30 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night Nov. 29 – 30, Dec. 1, 2019. Check the official website for more information.

Cost: Free.

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:  The CTA holiday train starts on Friday, November 29, 2019 the day after Thanksgiving weekend.  See https://www.transitchicago.com/holidayfleet/ for the detailed schedule.

Cost: Regular CTA fare. See transitchicago.com for prices.


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:  See the schedule on https://www.chicagothepolarexpressride.com/scheduling-tickets/ for hours.

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 Holiday Themed Show

Get in the holiday spirit with a Christmas show. There are many holiday themed shows you can see in Chicago during the Thankgiving weekend, including:

This is a great list of all the holiday shows in Chicago.

RELATED – Take a look at A Local’s Guide to 48 hours in Chicago for the best things to do in Chicago year round, what to eat and where to stay.

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?


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