BEST Things to Do in Chicago in December 2023 (From a Local!)

Searching for what to do in Chicago this December? Here are the best things to do in Chicago in December 2023 (from a local) – from the top attractions to festive holiday events and activities.

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.

I suggest bookmarking this blog post as I will be updating it regularly with new events.

Things to Do in Chicago in December (2023)

Below are the top things to do in Chicago in December.

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.

Go Outdoor Ice Skating

people ice skating in Chicago in December at Millenium Park
There are several places to go outdoor ice skating in Chicago in December. One of the best and instaworthy places to go ice skating in downtown Chicago is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink right in front of The Bean. Another picture perfect spot is the nearby skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park which has a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink.

Visit an Authentic 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 visit.

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: Hours vary see the website for more details

Cost: Admission is FREE.

Take a Holiday Tour

If your time in Chicago is short, take a holiday tour that focuses on Chicago’s holiday attractions:

Holiday Hike: Festive Food & Walking Tour
Seasonal Stroll Walking Tour of Holiday Attractions
Chicago’s BYOB Party Bus Holiday Lights Tour ‘Tis The Season
2023 Holiday Pop-Up Bar Crawl to Christkindlmarket

Disney100: The Exhibition

The Disney100: The Exhibition will only be in Chicago for a few weeks. 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.

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.

Steve McCurry: ICONS: An Extraordinary Photography Exhibition

The Steve McCurry. ICONS: An Extraordinary Photography Exhibition is in Chicago only for a limited time after touring Sydney, Lisbon, Madrid and Mexico City. ICONS is an international photography exhibition showcasing the work of Steve McCurry, one of the greatest travel photographers. Discover over 80 large-format photographs, such as the iconic “Afghan Girl,” who captivated the world on the cover of 1985’s National Geographic magazine. Access audio descriptions from 42 selected photographs to hear the story behind the photo, in Steve McCurry’s own words.

Where: Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), 820 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611

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

Art Institute of Chicago holidays
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States and is frequently found on lists of the top museums in the world.

During the entire month of December, you can see the lions decked with their evergreen wreaths as well as the 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. Closed on Tuesdays & Wednesdays.

Where: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Cost:  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).

Attend a Candlelight Concert

Chicago’s Candlelight Concerts is a series of special classical music concerts that take place in beautiful venues bathed in candlelight. Some of the concerts taking place this December include:

Candlelight: A Tribute to Adele
Candlelight: A Tribute to Juan Gabriel
Candlelight: Holiday Carols on Strings
Candlelight: Holiday Jazz and Soul Classics feat. Ella Fitzgerald
Candlelight: Holiday Special featuring “Silent Night, “Jingle Bells,” and More
Candlelight: Holiday Special Featuring “The Nutcracker” & More

You can find the full list of candlelight concerts in Chicago here.

Watch Winter Fireworks Shows Over the Lake (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: 9:00 pm – 9:10 pm every Saturday from December 2-23, 2023 (and midnight on Sunday, December 31).

Cost: Free.

Watch Digital Art at Art on the Mart

Art at the Mart light show during the Christmas holiday season

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 are shown two times every evening.

Cost: Free.

See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree

Seeing the City of Chicago Christmas Tree is one of best things to do Chicago in December

The City of Chicago Christmas tree can be seen at Millennium Park during the entire month of December.

Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Alongs

Bundle up and belt out songs in celebration of Chicago’s diverse holiday traditions in Millennium Park on Friday evenings during December. Each week of the Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Alongs features a local Chicago choral group leading guests and families in song.

Where: Millennium Park, Wrigley Square

When: 6pm on Fridays, December 1, 8 & 15, 2023

Cost:  Free.

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

Cost: $7–$10. Free on Mondays.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Museum of Science and Industry (@msichicago) on

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.

Where: Museum of Science and Industry (5700 S Lake Shore Drive).

Cost: Included in regular museum admission. Here is a link to the official website for more information.

Tip:  If you are visiting a few museums and indoor attractions, consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS or Go Chicago Card to save money on entrance fees.

See 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. During the entire month of December you can see their Winter Flower Show exhibit.

Where: 300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60624

Hours: Wednesday 10am-8pm; Thursday – Sunday 10am-5pm; Closed Monday and Tuesday. Visitors are encouraged to make a reservation online in advance.

Cost: FREE (suggested donation)

READ: Best Indoor Things to Do in Chicago for more indoor Chicago attractions.

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 large shopping centers and departments stores, luxury stores and other popular brands).

If you are looking for unique and/or handmade items, check out there markets for your holiday shopping: Sauced The Night Market Before Xmas (December 8-9, 2023), One of a Kind Show (December 7-10, 2023) and Renegade Craft Fair (December 16-17, 2023).

Ride the CTA Holiday Train and Bus

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.

When: See transitchicago.com/holidayfleet for full details on dates, times and routes.

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

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Winterland at Gallagher Way is back this December with family-friendly festivities both at Gallagher Way and inside historic Wrigley Field, including new experiences and returning favorites like the Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville and the Gallagher Ice Rink.

Where: Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613

Cost: See prices and purchase tickets in advance here.

Watch Classic Holiday Movies at Gallagher Way

Watch classic holiday movies outside at Gallagher Way. While you are Gallagher Way, you can also visit Winterland as well as the Wrigleyville location of Christkindlmarket. The movie schedule is as follows:

• December 7: The Grinch
• December 14: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
• December 21: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Where: Gallagher Way, 3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613

When: Thursdays from December 2-23 starting at 6 p.m.

Cost:  Free.

See a Holiday Show

There are many holiday shows you can see in Chicago in December, 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 in December.

Where: Simon’s Tavern at 5210 N Clark St, Chicago, IL

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.

Chicago December 2023 Events

In addition to the activities mentioned above, other Chicago December 2023 events include: Santa Hustle 5K (December 2, 2023), Louis The Child and QUINN XCII (December 2, 2023), Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade (December 3, 2023), TBOX (Twelve Bars of Christmas) Bar Crawl (December 9, 2023), A Very Sinatra Christmas Special at Teatro ZinZanni (December 12, 2023), St. Lucia and the Lucia Procession (December 13, 2023), Adults Night Out: Holidaze (December 14, 2023), A Blues Christmas (at Navy Pier) (December 15, 2023), The Elfed Up Christmas Crawl (December 16, 2023) and Tuba Christmas (December 23, 2023).

As you can see there are many fun things to do in Chicago in December this year.

Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out my Chicago guides and itineraries:




  1. Thanks for the information, How many days would you suggest seeing Chicago at Xmas time?

    • Would this be your first time? There is so much to do in Chicago, I would recommend at least 3 days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.