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.
I suggest bookmarking this blog post as I will be updating it regularly with new events.
Things to Do in Chicago in December
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Go Outdoor Ice Skating
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
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:
Festive Food & Walking Tour
Seasonal Stroll Walking Tour of Holiday Attractions
2-Hour Holiday Lights Segway Tour
BYOB Party Bus Holiday Lights Tour
See the Crèche and Wreathed Lions at the Art Institute of Chicago
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: $25 for adults, $19 for seniors, students and teens (14-17); members and children under 14 are always free. There are discounts for Chicago and Illinois residents. (Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines).
Harry Potter™: Magic at Play
The Harry Potter™: Magic at Play started its limited time run in Chicago in November. Discover the Wizarding World and celebrate Harry’s adventures in this new hands-on experience, filled with magical moments and active play for witches and wizards of all ages with fun for the whole family. Harry Potter™: Magic at Play is a unique, hands-on experience that will engage imaginations of all ages to bring out the young witch or wizard in all of us. Explore, climb, and play your way through three floors of fun packed with playful celebrations of your favorite places and moments.
Where: Water Tower Place, 835 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 (corner of N Michigan Ave. and E Pearson St.)
Cost: Price varies. Click here for full prices and to purchase tickets in advance.
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 Taylor Swift
Candlelight: A Tribute to Adele
Candlelight: Holiday Special featuring “The Nutcracker” and More
Candlelight: Holiday Special featuring “Silent Night, “Jingle Bells,” and More
Candlelight: Latin Christmas featuring Luis Miguel, Celia Cruz, Jose Feliciano
Candlelight: Holiday Jazz and Soul Classics feat. Ella Fitzgerald
Candlelight Ballet: Featuring Tchaikovsky and More
You can find the full list of candlelight concerts in Chicago here.
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 are shown two times every evening.
See the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
The City of Chicago Christmas tree can be seen at Millennium Park during the entire month of December.
Make sure to stop by Cloud Gate (also called The Bean) for a quick photo. The bucket list worthy attraction is located just a few feet away from the tree and you can even take photos of The Bean with the tree in the background.
Where: Millennium Park (near the intersection of Michigan Avenue & Washington Street).
When: Millennium Park is open daily from 8am to 9pm.
Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously “Caroling at Cloud Gate”)
The new Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along (previously “Caroling at Cloud Gate”) will be back for Fridays in December. Chicagoans will be able to join their voices with community singers and choruses from around the city.
Where: Cloud Gate at Millennium Park
When: December 2, 9 & 16
Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle
The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle is the ultimate holiday experience for the entire family! Experience the timeless holiday tale like never before – brought to life on a majestic scale.
Where: Lighthouse ArtSpace at Germania Place, 108 W. Germania Pl, Chicago
Cost: You can see full prices and purchase tickets in advance here.
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. All dates require a timed reservation. Tickets are now on sale.
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL
When: 4:30–10 pm on select dates.
Cost: Mondays are free. Tuesday-Sunday tickets are $5.
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.
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.
Visit the Museum of Ice Cream for Pinkmas
Museum of Ice Cream is one of Chicago’s newest attractions. Step into an ice cream wonderland that is bound to ignite your senses through a theatrical experience with unlimited ice cream treats as you journey through 14 installations. Ride on the pink Sprink-L line, put your golf skills to the test on the Putt-Putt course, or take a dip in a pool filled with millions of sprinkles.
During the holiday season the museum is having a Pinkmas celebration with festive installations and holiday treats such as pink hot chocolate and gingerbread milkshakes.
Where: Tribune Tower, 435 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Cost: You can see full prices and purchase tickets in advance here.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier is a family-friendly winter event. Immerse yourself in 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
Cost: Prices vary depending on day. Click here for full prices and to purchase tickets in advance.
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: Snow Day! exhibit which features a 12-foot-tall tree made from over 200 white poinsettias as well as geraniums, pansies, sweet alyssum, poinsettias and more flowers in hues of white, silver and pink, creating an illusion of a snow-covered garden.
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)
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 1-2), One of a Kind Show (December 1-4), Renegade Craft Fair (December 17-18), Randolph Street’s Holiday Market (December 17-18) and State Street Holiday Market (weekends from until December 18).
Ride the CTA Holiday Train and Bus
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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.)
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: Holiday train runs through December 19 and holiday bus runs through December 23. See transitchicago.com/holidayfleet for full details on dates, times and routes.
Cost: Regular CTA fare. See transitchicago.com for prices.
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.
Jack’s Winter Walk & Christmas Tree Farm Pop-Up
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Jack’s Winter Walk & Christmas Tree Farm Pop-Up is an interactive pop-up outdoor experience located on over 2 acres in Goose Island. They have several holiday picture back drops to take instagram worthy photos, a nighttime lights display, a full-sized ice rink, bumper cars and axe throwing. They also sell precut Christmas trees. Advance reservations are required.
When: December 3 -31.
Address: 1265 West Le Moyne St, Chicago, IL 60642
Cost: Price starts at $20 per person. Drinks, ice skating, carnival games, axe throwing and drinks are extra.
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
Drink at a Christmas Themed Pop-Up Bar
Chicago has several holiday pop-up bars that open just for the holiday season. These bars offer holiday decorations, themed cocktails and snacks and more festive touches. Advance reservations are recommended as they tend to be very popular. Some of the best holiday themed bars include:
Frosty’s Bar (809 W Evergreen Ave)
Santa Baby Bar (3505 N Clark Street)
Rudolph’s Pop-Up Bar (3660 N Clark Street)
Elfd’d Up (Stretch Bar & Grill, 3485 N. Clark Street)
Reindeer Room (1807 S Allport St)
8 Crazy Nights Chicago (3441 N Sheffield Ave)- Chicago’s first Hanukkah pop-up
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 Events
In addition to the activities mentioned above, other Chicago December events include: Santa Hustle 5K (December 2, 2023), Chicagoland Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade (December 3, 2023), TBOX (Twelve Bars of Christmas) Bar Crawl and New Year Fireworks (December 31).
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:
- 3 Days in Chicago Itinerary + Travel Tips From a Local
- The Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Chicago (According to a Local)
- Best Free Things to Do in Chicago
- Most Instagrammable Places in Chicago
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.