The holidays in Chicago are a wondrous time. From window displays to wintertime flurries to holiday cheer spread throughout the city, it’s pretty hard to not get caught up in the holiday spirit.
To help you make the most of the season when visiting, we’re sharing the top ten ways to celebrate the holidays in Chicago. Pick and choose any one of these activities to give your weekend a festive flair or check them all off for a merry good time. ‘Tis the season, after all!
If celebrating its 24th anniversary tells you anything, it’s that the Christkindlmarket is a Chicago holiday staple. This outdoor festival brings German Christmas traditions downtown during November and December. Find hand-crafted gifts, eclectic ornaments, German food and hot spiced wine. And afterward, you can head over to State Street for some shopping or check out any of the nearby restaurants.
Start the holiday season off with BMO Harris Bank’s light parade down the Mag Mile on November 22 – 23. While you can probably catch the parade on TV, there’s nothing quite like being here in person. The excitement, the lights, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, live performances and more—it’s sure to be an experience to remember.
Starting November 29th and going through January 5th, Lincoln Park ZooLights is a classic way to celebrate the holidays in Chicago. This free zoo, nestled by the lake in one of Chicago’s young and bustling neighborhoods, creates a luminous and festive experience that’s perfect for everyone—from family outings to date nights. Brookfield Zoo and The Morton Arboretum also have some pretty spectacular holiday light shows too!
Chicago’s Navy Pier is one of the top destinations for visitors far and wide. With a children’s museum, lakefront views and tons to do, families can spend a whole day at the pier. During the holidays, Navy Pier takes things up a notch with holiday decor, rides, slides and even indoor ice skating to create their Winter Wonderfest. And if you stay at a Hilton Hotel when visiting Chicago, you could save on your tickets!
What’s a skating ribbon you may be asking? Well, it’s a full ribbon of ice that winds through a slice of downtown Chicago to create a more alpine-like feel. Or visit the Millennium Park McCormick Tribune Ice Rink for a more traditional downtown Chicago skating option. While these two rinks are some of the bigger ice skating attractions in the city, you can find rinks in almost every neighborhood. And don’t forget to take a hot chocolate break!
The Museum of Science & Industry is a must-see, no matter what time of year you visit. But over the holidays, it’s truly magical. With a four-story Christmas tree and more than 50 smaller trees and displays around it, the museum is spreading cheer to everyone who visits!
One of our favorite things about the holidays is the window displays downtown. The historic Macy’s on State Street is one store, in particular, that goes above and beyond. People from near and far stop by to check out their windows and head inside to enjoy a special holiday menu at The Walnut Room alongside a gorgeous 45-foot Christmas tree.
The Joffrey is a renowned ballet company based right here in Chicago, and every year they perform a quintessential holiday story: The Nutcracker. If you’re a fan of the theatre or dance performances, this is one show you don’t want to miss!
Take a one-hour, immersive train ride to meet Santa, just like in the Polar Express movie. With golden tickets, hot chocolate, elves, caroling and more—this is a holiday experience for all ages. Tickets are expected to sell out quickly, so be sure to book early!
If you’re traveling with adults, there are a number of holiday pop-up bars you can check out around the city. Logan Square’s tiki bar, Lost Lake gets into the holiday spirit with festive takes on tiki drinks, and for fans of the movie Elf, Stretch Bar and Grill in Wrigleyville turns into a Buddy-inspired wonderland featuring themed drinks, decor and events.
While these ten activities are just a few of our favorite ways to celebrate the holidays in Chicago, the options are truly endless. Come see for yourself just how magical the Windy city is this time of year!