If there’s one city that’s mastered being able to handle copious amounts of snow while providing plenty of opportunities for fun, it’s Chicago.
If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago in Winter 2016, check out our list of some of the best holiday activities and attractions to help you plan a fun-filled vacation itinerary.
Save on Attraction Admission
Regular admission to a number of these attractions are included on the Go Chicago® Card.
Choose as you go from dozens of top attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.
Please note, some of these special Winter events may be separately ticketed and not included on the Go Chicago Card.Note: the below ads are not affiliated with SmartDestinations.com
Enjoy a Chicago Holiday Sightseeing Tour
During the holiday season, between November 25-December 31 only, Bug Big offers a festive Holiday Express Tour of Chicago.
Tour starts in the heart of the Magnificent Mile® and heads downtown where you’ll see the elaborate Macy’s window displays, the bright light from over one million lights on display at the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s large Christmas tree, skaters at Millennium Park, and the Christkindlmarket in the Loop before heading back to the Magnificent Mile. You’ll finish your tour with a complimentary cup of hot cocoa from Ghiradelli.
If you are visiting in winter after December, then we suggest exploring Chicago at your own pace and keep warm inside a Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Chicago tour between popular attraction stops and destinations.
You’ll get to see Chicago from a bird’s eye view while taking in the sites and getting to know Chicago’s history on this narrated tour.
This is one of the best ways to orient yourself with the city and plan the rest of your sightseeing route.
The Field Museum – Art and Science Spotlight – Winter in the Wild!
When: December 17, 2016; 11:00 am-2:00 pm
The Field Museum gets into the winter spirit in exactly the way you’d expect; with an Art and Science Spotlight that explores what plants and animals do to prepare for the winter season.
Visitors can join in on the activities in the PlayLab to learn all about how different species survive during the long and cold winter months.
Be sure to play your visit around a special storytelling session with local storyteller Linda Gorham, featuring performances at 11:00 am and 1:30 pm.
Getting in: The Field Museum tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card and holiday events and activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.
LEGOLAND® Discovery Center – Holiday Bricktacular
When: December 1-30, 2016
LEGOLAND® Discover Center is hosting their annual Holiday Bricktacular featuring big time festive fun, including…
- Winter Wonderland in MINILAND covered in snow
- LEGO® Santa’s Grotto where you can take a picture with a life-size LEGO® Santa and Snowman
- learn how to build LEG®O ornaments
- workshop at the Master Model Academy where you can learn how to build a LEGO® gift
Getting in: LEGOLAND® Discovery Center tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card and holiday events and activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.
Brookfield Zoo – Holiday Magic 2016
When: Saturdays and Sundays, December 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, and Monday, December 26-Saturday December 31; festivities are 4:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Check out Chicagoland’s largest and longest running lights festival, the Polar Lights Show in its 35th year, with over 1 million lights at the Brookfield Zoo.
Other holiday highlights include: Wild Encounters, photo opps with the animals (alpaca, llama, reindeer, and Animal Ambassadors), Dolphins in Action, photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, Singing to the Animals, special Zoo Chats, and more.
Getting in: Brookfield Zoo tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card and holiday events and activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.
Art Institute of Chicago – Master Drawings Unveiled: 25 Years of Major Acquisitions
Getting in: Art Institute of Chicago tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card and holiday events and activities are included with admission, unless otherwise noted.
Ice Skating at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
Where: Millennium Park
When: November 13-March 6, 2016
For skating with a view of the Chicago skyline, head to the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park.
The ice skating rink is a holiday favorite among locals. Its convenient location makes it easy to find and its popularity makes it the place to be in the winter.
It’s open through March, so if you want to skip the holiday crowds, there’s plenty of time to head there after the new year.
Getting in: Check online for hours and more information. The rink, which is free and open to the public, draws more than 100,000 skaters each year. Skate rental is available for around $10.
Maggie Daley Park
When: November 14-March 15, 2016
The Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon rink features a skating path that weaves through Maggie Daley Park and features views of the city skyline to make for a unique ice skating experience.
Getting in: Check online for more information.
Lincoln Park Zoo
When: November 27-February 28, 2016
Turn your trip to the zoo into a day of festive winter fun at the Lincoln Park Zoo Ice Rink.
Bring your own skates or rent a pair from the Main Farmhouse where you can warm up after gliding around on the ice with special refreshments.
Getting in: Check online about admission and for more information.
Go to a Museum
Whether you’re a fan of the sciences or the art world, Chicago has a world class museum scene with lots of options for museum-goers to choose from.
Head to Chicago’s museum campus to check off three famous Chicago museums in one go. Explore marine life at the Shedd Aquarium, head to America’s first planetarium to learn about all things space, and then stop by The Field Museum to examine natural phenomenons and Earth’s history.
For a taste of Chicago’s fine arts scene, head to the Art Institute of Chicago, consistently ranked the top museum in America, the Museum of Contemporary Art for a look at art and the industry as a whole, or check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation to get an in-depth look and understanding of Chicago’s cutting-edge architecture industry.
Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier
When: December 2, 2016 through January 8, 2017
The much anticipated Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest features endless indoor seasonal winter fun with over 24 rides, slides, and even an indoor skating rink. Along with rides and activities, visitors can also expect lots of live entertainment and festive foods.
Attractions at Wonderfest include:
- Arctic Ice Skating Rink: lined with Christmas trees, banners, and white lights, this festive rink attracts visitors throughout the season.
- Extreme Ice Trail Ropes Course: maneuver your way across beams, staircases, and platforms while making your way through a course that stretches 27.5 feet in the air. Remember to dress appropriately–no heels, skirts, or dresses allowed.
- Ferris Wheel: get a view of Winter Wonderfest from the top of the 50-foot high indoor Ferris Wheel.
- Zero Gravity: brave riders will be held to the wall by the force of gravity as the ride spins faster and faster, finally lifting riders into the air at a 45-degree angle as it continues to spin.
- Polar Extreme: race through a frozen tundra to escape via slide on the other side of this course.
- Ice Peaks Climbing Wall: lace up your gym shoes and test your upper body strength on this interactive climbing wall.
Other popular attractions include the Cliff Hanger, Kringle Carousel, the Snowy Summit Climbing Wall, Lighthouse, the Reindeer Express Train Ride, and several slides and obstacle courses.
Getting in: check online for more information and to save on tickets in advance.
Polar Adventure Days
When: December 10, 2016, January 21, 2017, and February 25, 2017 from noon-4 pm
Geared towards kids, Northerly Island’s Polar Adventure Days features lots of fascinating fun, including meet and greets with Siberian huskies, ice sculpture creations, storytelling, live music, and more.
In its 12th year, the Adventure Days are perfect for the entire family and a big hit in the Chicago area.
While you’re there, check out some of the other attractions on Northerly Island such as the Adler Planetarium, Chicago’s oldest planetarium, to learn more about space exploration.
Tour the Chicago Theatre
Fans of the performing arts will also enjoy going on a behind-the-scenes, historic tour of the famous Chicago Theatre.
You’ll get to know the ins and outs and the rich history of the very stage that has hosted stars such as Dolly Parton, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and more since its opening in 1921.
When: January 28-29, 2017
If you love sugar and dough, and sugary doughy combinations, you don’t want to miss Donut Fest, a fun and entertaining celebration of donuts and other baked goods in all of their sweet, sweet glory.
Getting in: Check online for a list of vendors and to buy tickets.
The Magnificent Mile, which runs along Michigan Avenue, is Chicago’s most diverse shopping destination with everything from upscale boutiques to outlet stores.
You’ll find big mall names like Nordstrom, Tiffany, Gap, Ralph Lauren, and more, including indoor shopping complexes at Water Tower Place and 900 North Michigan Shops.
Traveling with kids? Consider checking out American Girl Place, which is as much a tourist destination as it is a shopping destination. Located right in Water Tower Place on North Michigan Avenue, it’s a fun place to bring the kids shop, dine, or partake in afternoon tea.
Head to the Chicago Loop for more shopping, including the famous Macy’s on State Street, recognized as a National Historic Landmark, where Go Chicago Card holders get an exclusive savings of 15% off their purchase. Plan to eat lunch or dinner at The Walnut Room in Macy’s, the first restaurant in a department store.
When: January 27-February 9, 2017
Get ready for two weeks of Chicago’s best dining experiences at participating establishments throughout the city. You’ll get a taste of Chicago’s booming culinary scene.
Getting in: Check online for a list of participating restaurants and more information.
Remember to Save on Attraction Admission
So there you have it. Our list of a few things to do in Chicago in the winter, including holiday events, other seasonal activities in December, January, and more.
Remember, many of these options are included on the Go Chicago Card, where you can save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate.
Please note, the Winter events taking place at some of these attractions may be separately ticketed and not included with the Go Chicago Card.
We hope you plan to add a few of these fun options to your winter vacation itinerary.