From iconic traditions like the Christkindlmarket to hidden gems in nearby suburbs, there’s plenty of outstanding things to do for Christmas in Chicago
As the crisp air descends upon the Windy City, Chicago transforms into a winter wonderland covered with twinkling lights, festive decorations and holiday cheer. The holiday season in Chicago is a magical time, offering locals and visitors an abundance of enchanting experiences that capture the spirit of Christmas.
Embark on this journey unwrapping the treasures and traditions that make spending Christmas in Chicago an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re a seasoned Chicagoan or a first-time visitor, prepare to be captivated by the extraordinary festivities and attractions that make this city a truly exceptional destination during the most wonderful time of the year.
Nestled in the heart of downtown Chicago, the Christkindlmarket stands as a cherished holiday tradition, bringing a touch of Old World charm to the bustling cityscape. Inspired by the famous Christmas markets of Nuremberg, Germany, this open-air market has become an integral part of Christmas in Chicago since 1996. As visitors stroll through the wooden stalls with red and white canopies, they are engulfed in the sweet aroma of roasted nuts, spiced mulled wine and the delightful sounds of carolers. At this free-entry holiday attraction, you’ll find handcrafted ornaments and unique holiday gifts available for purchase. With its charming atmosphere and iconic giant Christmas tree as the centerpiece, the market serves as an immersive cultural experience that brings the spirit of the holiday season to life.
Ice Skating in the Park
Embracing the winter frost, ice skating has become a popular activity around Christmas in Chicago. Both locals and visitors can glide gracefully among the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park. The breathtaking backdrop of the Cloud Gate sculpture – known to locals as “The Bean” – makes this a bucket-list worthy attraction. Skating is free to all guests but you must make an online reservation to secure a skating session time slot. Each day allows six skating sessions between 11am and 10:30pm. Guests can bring their own skates or rent them at the park for $20. About a block away, Maggie Daley Park transcends the traditional ice skating rink with its winding ribbon trail of ice. Glide along the ribbon while taking in the scenic views of the park surrounded by glistening skyscrapers. The skating ribbon is free to guests with their own skates excluding peak times like weekends and holiday sessions. An increasingly popular attraction, it is highly recommended to make an online reservation for preferred skating times.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
In the dead of winter, the Chicago Botanic Garden undergoes a magnificent metamorphosis as the lush landscape is transformed into twinkling enchantment. As the sun sets, nature meets a winter wonderland. A unique attraction during Christmas in Chicago, visitors will encounter interactive light displays that flash in harmony with holiday music. The 1.3 mile trail is perfect for all ability levels, with four locations along the trail to purchase food and cold or hot beverages. Tickets for non-members of the garden start at $34 per person with an additional parking fee. As with many Christmas attractions in Chicago, it’s highly recommended to secure your preferred time slot with reservations.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Arguably the most popular thing to do around Christmas in Chicago, ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo is a must-see attraction. During the holiday season, displays of millions of twinkling lights illuminate the zoo. Family, friends and visitors of all ages can take part in a journey through the decorated pathways, photo ops and glittering lights synchronized to holiday music. Beyond the captivating light displays, ZooLights offers activities like observing ice carving demonstrations, a twinkling light maze, a towering Ferris Wheel, visits with Santa and traditional Victorian carolers. Additionally, this attraction hosts an annual sensory-friendly night, where flashing lights will be switched to static or turned off completely. Tickets start at just $7 per person on weeknights, and $10 per person on weekends and holidays. You’ll find that this cherished Chicago tradition will inspire nostalgia for generations.
Honorable Mentions in the Suburbs
While there are several outstanding things to do for Christmas in Chicago, there are also countless holiday wonders a short distance outside the heart of the city. Nearby suburbs offer similar, but still noteworthy attractions that have been captivating spectators year after year.
A short drive Northwest of the Windy City, you’ll find Parkway Bank Park in Rosemont, IL. Every year in late November, the town kicks off the holiday season with their “Light up the Park” tree lighting event. Visitors will have the opportunity to twirl and glide on the Chicago Wolves Ice Rink in the middle of the park, visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, or take a magical horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Just across the street you’ll see Rosemont’s Sparkle Light Festival at Impact Field. As the holiday season approaches, the baseball field is transformed into five mesmerizing festive villages. Stroll through the Frozen Forest, Snowflake Circle, Winter Wonderland, the North Pole and Deck the Walls. For those interested in adventure, snow tubing is available on the Alpine Slide. General admission to the festival starts at $24 per person with additional fees for access to snow tubing, indoor facilities and holiday-themed food and beverage options.
An iconic spectacle in the West suburbs, Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum is an immersive holiday attraction you don’t want to skip. This one-mile paved walking path features thousands of lights meticulously placed to illuminate the arboretum and its wonders. Gather with family and friends around one of the crackling campfires to warm up and roast marshmallows. Tickets start at $24 per person and increase in price as your preferred date approaches. As with all winter festivities in the area, be sure to book your reservation before they sell out.
From mesmerizing light displays and visits with Santa to ice skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides, there are countless things to do around Christmas in Chicago. Bundle up, lace up your skates, and prepare for a magical holiday season with friends and family!
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By Debbie Taylor