Things to Do in Chicago in the Winter

This year, enjoy the holiday season with a Chicago twist. Extravagant lights, museums transformed into magical wonderlands, and Santa sightings are just the beginning of the fun. From November through January, Chicago is brimming with holiday spirit. ‘Tis the season for celebration, so check out some of these festive holiday events.

Winter Wonderland at the John Hancock Observatory

November 1 – December 31

This family-friendly holiday attraction held high in the sky above the Magnificent Mile features a model train, festive decor, special activities for kids, and weekend visits from Santa Claus! This year’s weekend activities include arts & crafts, cookie decorating, the coloring contest, and face painting.

Macy’s Great Tree Lighting & Holiday Windows

late November

Join Macy’s as they kick-off the holiday season with the Great Tree Lighting Ceremony. New and exciting special guests grace the festivities each year, and you can expect a majestic musical performance from the Chicago Mass Gospel Choir. Kids will also enjoy face painting, balloon twisting, and holiday crafts.

Holiday Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute

mid-November – early January

The historic holiday finery is back in select Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. Last year, the tradition began with seven tiny rooms bursting with holiday joy. This year, the New Orleans and New Mexico rooms will join the custom, along with the never-before-seen Americana Room!

Christmas Around the World & Holiday of Lights

November 17 – January 8

The Museum of Science and Industry’s annual holiday extravaganza centers around the 45-foot Grand Tree, glowing with over 30,000 lights. The tree is surrounded by more than 50 smaller trees decorated to represent the diverse cultures and traditions of the Chicago’s ethnic communities. Expect holiday singers and dancers to add to the excitement.

Millennium Park Ice Skating

Starts late November

Free and open to the public, the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park draws more than 100,000 skaters each year. Skate rental is available for around $10.

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

Late November

Celebrating over two decades of holiday fun, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is hailed as the nation’s largest evening holiday event. After a day of family-friendly activities and shopping, Grand Marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse will lead the lighting procession, illuminating more than one million lights on 200 trees. The procession will feature Disney friends, dozens of floats, giant balloons, marching bands, celebrities, and finally, Santa Claus.

A Holiday Fantasea at the Shedd Aquarium

late November – early January

This holiday sea life show is back by popular demand and better than ever! In a magical winter wonderland, watch Pacific white-sided dolphins, beluga whales, and sea lions showcase their natural talents set to a festive soundtrack from around the world. Be on the look out for Santa sightings, as well!

Holiday Magic at the Brookfield Zoo

Starts early December

Every Saturday and Sunday in December, the Brookfield Zoo will host Chicago’s premier light festival, featuring over one million sparkling lights. View your favorite animals, grab some tasty seasonal treats, and enjoy a full schedule of holiday entertainment.

ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo

mid-December – January 1 (Open on weekend nights only starting late November)

Presented by ComEd and Charter One, ZooLights is a vibrant holiday spectacular featuring ice carving demonstrations, warm drinks, cool crafts, and visits with Santa.

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