December is one of the best months to visit Chicago. Even though the weather is getting colder, it is still comfortable and there are so many fun and festive Christmas and holiday activities and events that take place. Below are the best things to do in Chicago in December.
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Things to Do in Chicago in December 2021
- Things to Do in Chicago in December 2021
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Go Ice Skating
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 in downtown Chicago is the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park which has a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink.
When: Hours vary. Reservations are required and can be made up to 2 weeks in advance. See the official website for hours and to make a reservation.
Where: 337 E Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60601
Cost: Skating costs $5 if you bring your own skates. You can rent skates for $16-$20 depending on date.
See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
The City of Chicago Christmas tree will be Millennium Park all of December.
Make sure to check out Cloud Gate (also called the Bean) just a few feet away from the tree. You can even take photos of the Bean with the Christmas tree in the background.
When: Millennium Park is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
Where: Millennium Park near the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Washington Street.
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. The nightly program features images from The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker, the Art Institute of Chicago’s current exhibitions “Monet and Chicago” and “Bisa Butler: Portraits” as well as Arts of Life, a nonprofit working with individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities.
When: 30-minute program of projections are shown nightly at 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. until December 30, 2021
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.
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 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).
Spot the CTA Holiday Train and Bus
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This year, both the CTA Holiday Train and CTA Holiday Bus will travel out-of-service, meaning that customers will not be able to board but it is still fun to spot it.
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 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.
When: The CTA Holiday Train and CTA Holiday Bus typically runs until Christmas Eve. See https://www.transitchicago.com/holidayfleet/ for full details on routes and times. The CTA did not release exact times for the holiday train this year but many Chicagoans have been posting on twitter when they spot it so you can track its progress.
Cost: Regular CTA fare to enter the platform and see the train. See transitchicago.com for prices. You can see the bus for free from the street.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ at Lincoln Park Zoo is a one-of-a-kind, festive holiday experience in the heart of the city. Zoolights features hundreds of luminous displays and incredible seasonal activities, all under the glow of millions of illuminated lights. The entire event is outdoors. Animal buildings will be closed but animals may be visible in their outdoor habitats.
When: Select dates this month. See website for hours and to make reservations.
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL
Cost: Lincoln Park Zoo is requiring all guests to purchase a timed entry ticket for $5.
See Christmas and Holiday Lights Around Chicago
There are many places to see Christmas and holiday light shows in Chicago and the suburbs. There are several drive thru holiday lights shows in the Chicago area or you can also drive through neighborhoods known for their holiday lights. Here are the best places to see Christmas and holiday lights in and around Chicago.
Visit a Christmas Tree Farm
If you still don’t have a Christmas tree, you can 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 are open until the weekend before Christmas or Christmas Eve but it is recommended to visit early in December for the best selection.
Where: Here are the best Christmas tree farms in and near Chicago to visit this year.
As you can see there are many fun things to do in Chicago in December.
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