The best things to do in Chicago in the winter. You will find something for both adults and families with kids to do in December, January, February and early March in the city and suburbs.
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Where to Stay in Chicago During the Winter
If you are visiting Chicago in the winter, it is even more important to stay somewhere centrally located so you don’t have to walk very far while sightseeing or spend money on ride sharing. I recommend these Chicago hotels for winter – they are not only centrally located but many also offer winter attractions and activities like heated rooftops and even curling.
The Peninsula Chicago. The Peninsula Chicago is a 5 star hotel with a central and convenient location right off the Magnificent Mile, close to shopping and less than a block from the Water Tower and 360 Chicago. This is the only hotel in Chicago with a seasonal skating rink. Other hotel amenities include a world renown spa and a half-Olympic length swimming pool. Click here to see the latest prices and click here to read reviews.
Gwen Hotel Chicago. The Gwen Hotel Chicago is conveniently located off the Magnificent Mile and is connected to The Shops at North Bridge, which provides guests with enclosed access to shopping. The hotel was ranked #1 in Chicago and #8 in the world according to Condé Nast The Best Hotels in the World: 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards. It has an outdoor winter rooftop with fire pits and heaters as well as outdoor curling and igloos. Click here to see the latest prices and click here to read reviews.
LondonHouse Chicago, Curio Collection by Hilton. LondonHouse Chicago, Curio Collection by Hilton is located on the iconic Chicago River, on the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue, just minutes away from Millennium Park and the city’s theater and business districts. Many of their rooms as well as their tri-level rooftop bar have amazing views of the Chicago River. Click here to see the latest prices and click here to read reviews.
Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Chicago Athletic Association Hotel is a unique boutique hotel conveniently located right across The Bean and Millennium Park. It is a short walking distance to two ice skating rinks as well as The Art Institute of Chicago. The hotel has several bars & restaurants including Cindy’s, the popular rooftop restaurant and bar which offers panoramic instagram worthy views of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. Families will enjoy spending time in their Game room where you can play billiards, shuffleboard, foosball, and other games for free. Click here to see the latest prices and click here to read reviews.
What to Pack for Chicago in the Winter
For out of town visitors, winter in Chicago is typically very cold and it frequently snows. Layers are key because the temperature can vary greatly (from below zero to more than 60 Fahrenheit). Here are some things to pack if you are visiting Chicago in the winter for the first time:
• Winter coat – I recommend a longer coat with a hoodie to keep you warm
• Knit hat
• Gloves – Thin touchscreen gloves are best so you can use your smartphone without having to take them off
• Boots – Boots are a must if it snows but some people like to wear them even if there is no snow because they are warmer. Make sure your boots are water resistant with good traction.
• Reusable water bottle
• External battery for your phone – To recharge your phone’s battery when you are outdoors
Things to Do in Chicago in the Winter
Wondering what there is to do in Chicago this winter? Below are the best things to do in Chicago during the winter – whether looking for fun outdoor winter activities or the best Chicago indoor attractions.
Go Outdoor Ice Skating
There are several places to go outdoor ice skating in Chicago during the winter.
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 Bean. The rink is open until March 5, 2023 (weather permitting). Admission is free, but online ticketed reservations are required.
Another ice skating rink with great skyline views is the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park located next to Millennium Park. The skating ribbon has a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink. The skating ribbon is open until March 5, 2023 (weather permitting). Reservations are strongly encouraged. See the official website for hours and prices.
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 winter include:
Candlelight: A Tribute to Taylor Swift
Candlelight: The Best of Hans Zimmer at Music Box Theatre
Candlelight: The Best of Joe Hisaishi at Music Box Theatre
Candlelight: A Tribute to ABBA at Stan Mansion
Candlelight: A Tribute to Juan Gabriel
You can find the full list of candlelight concerts in Chicago here.
Harry Potter™: Magic at Play
The Harry Potter™: Magic at Play is in Chicago for a limited time run. 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.
Join a Food Tour
Winter is a great time try some of the food that Chicago is known for. If your time in Chicago is short or you want to try a variety of dishes, consider a food tour like this Chicago favorites tasting tour. If you have a sweet tooth, you might like this underground donut tour.
Visit the new Museum of Ice Cream
Museum of Ice Cream is Chicago’s newest attraction. 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.
Where: Tribune Tower, 435 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Cost: You can see full prices and purchase tickets in advance here.
Admire Famous Works 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. (Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines).
When: Hours are Monday and Thursday–Sunday from 11 a.m.– 6 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.
Chicago usually gets a lot of snow during the winter. If there is snow on the ground (usually at least 3 inches), grab a sled and head to one of sledding hills found in parks and forest preserves in the Chicago area.
Where: Various. See Best Sledding Hills in Chicago.
Go Cross-Country Skiing & Snowshoeing
Looking for a fun outdoor winter activity? If there are four or more inches of snow on the ground, take a trip to the Morton Arboretum in the suburbs for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Trails are marked and groomed. There are rentals available or you can bring your own cross-country skis or snowshoes.
When: Rentals start January 7, 2023 (as soon as snowfall permits it).
Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL-53, Lisle, IL 60532 (about 26 miles west of downtown Chicago)
Cost: Cross-country skis (includes boots and poles) for 2-hour rental: $20 member/$22 guest (costs apply to adults and children); Snowshoes: Adults – $13 members/$15 guests; Children – (Ages 10 and younger) $11 members/$13 guests.
Go Outdoor Curling
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Curling is a winter sport in which players slide stones on a sheet of ice or a lane towards a target. Below is a list of places offering outdoor curling (along with drinks) in the winter:
Upstairs at The Gwen (521 North Rush Street) – until March 1, 2023
Harry Caray’s Tavern – Navy Pier (700 E. Grand Ave)
Kaiser Tiger, 1415 West Randolph St
Eat and Drink in an Igloo
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Having dinner and drinks in an outdoor igloo has been trendy for a few years. Here are some of the best outdoor igloos in Chicago open this winter (advance reservations may be required).
Kennedy Rooftop (1551 W North Ave)
I|O at The Godfrey Hotel Chicago (127 West Huron Street)
Joy District (112 West Hubbard Street)
London House (85 E Wacker Dr 22nd Floor)
Enjoy Warm Temperatures at the Garfield Park Conservatory
The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest and most stunning botanical conservatories in the US. Often referred to as “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory showcases thousands of plant species from around the world throughout eight indoor display gardens.
Through January 8, 2023 you can also 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)
See Flowers Inside the Lincoln Park Conservatory
Lincoln Park Conservatory is a smaller conservatory but closer to other tourist attractions. It is always green and lush year round, offering visitors a tropical experience within its four display houses: Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House and Show House.
Through January 7, 2023, the Lincoln Park Conservatory presents Sugar Plum with poinsettias and scenes from The Nutcracker Ballet. Plants such as ‘Jubilee’ Poinsettias and ‘Purple Heart’ Spiderwort will create a lavender dream world filled with dancers and nutcrackers.
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm (last entry at 2:00 pm). Timed entry reservation is required.
Where: 2391 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago, IL 60614
Cost: Admission is free, but registrations are required.
Visit the Field Museum
The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world with more than 40 million specimens and artifacts. Inside the museum you will see Maximo, the Titanosaur, the largest dinosaur that ever lived. (Click here to purchase an Early Access VIP Tour if you want to avoid crowds and lines).
Hours: Open daily 9am to 5pm (last admission at 4pm)
Where: Chicago’s Museum Campus, 1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605 (detailed directions and parking information is available here)
Enjoy the Views from 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck
360 CHICAGO, the observatory on the 94th floor of the former John Hancock Building, has one of the best views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan (which might be frozen).
(Click here to buy a skip the line ticket).
Where: 875 North Michigan Avenue, 94th floor, Chicago, IL 60611
Visit the Shedd Aquarium
Visit the Shedd Aquarium, one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums, for unforgettable encounters with aquatic animals including belugas and bluegills, stingrays, sturgeons and more.
Where: 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605 (detailed directions and parking information is available here)
Hours: Open 9 am – 5 pm. Advance purchase of timed tickets is required.
Cost: Price varies depending on day. Admission is free for Illinois residents on select dates this winter (must be reserved online in advance).
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 Color Factory
Color Factory is a new interactive art museum located on the lower level of Willis Tower. Named one of the 22 Best New Experiences in the World in 2022 by Time Out, the Color Factory is a sensory celebration of color, with interactive installations, immersive rooms and carefully curated moments inspired by the city of Chicago including its signature ball pit and confetti room.
Hours: Hours vary, advance tickets are required.
Where: Willis Tower, 320 W Jackson Blvd, Chicago, IL 60606
Cost: Tickets start at $28 per person.
Chicago Winter 2022/2023 Events
In addition to the activities mentioned above, other Chicago events taking place this winter include: Chicago Polar Plunge (January 28, 2023), Argyle Lunar New Year Celebration (January 28, 2023), Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown (January 29, 2023), Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival (January 19-29, 2023), Chicago Restaurant Week (January 20-February 5, 2023), Chicago Black Restaurant Week (February 12-26, 2023), Chicago Auto Show (February 11-20, 2023), and Chicago Theatre Week (February 16 – 26, 2023).
As you can see there are many things to do in Chicago in the winter. Have you visited Chicago during the winter? If you end up loving Chicago (most people do), you can always return when the weather is warmer for Chicago tourist attractions you can enjoy year round.
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