Chicago is a great city in which to celebrate the holidays. Michigan Avenue bustles with shoppers in the final days before Christmas Eve, people ice-skate at Millennium Park and sip hot chocolate (or hot mulled mine) at the German Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse of Santa himself riding on the special holiday-themed cars on the el train.
If your visit falls before the holidays, you’ll find a vibrant – if cold – city full of excitement. The season kicks off with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival the Saturday before Thanksgiving and the Christkindlmarket downtown is open daily between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. The Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo are a must-see, with light displays throughout the zoo and, of course, appearances by Santa and his reindeer. One el train car (which changes lines throughout the season) is transformed into Santa’s dazzling sleigh, and in Daley Plaza a giant tree towers over a traditional German market selling sausages, gifts, ornaments, and hot gluhwein. Many Chicago theaters put on holiday shows during December, ranging from traditional classics like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker to more modern productions like Elf: The Musical, playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas, the city quiets down a bit as most people spend the days with family and friends in their own homes. For out-of-towners, though, plenty of restaurants are open and welcoming, many offering special prix fixe or a la carte menus. The lounge and restaurant at the John Hancock Building and Sixteen at the Trump Hotel Chicago are also spectacular places for a holiday toast.
Most museums in Chicago are open on Christmas Eve, including the Art Institute and the Field Museum. Many also put on special holiday exhibits like the Christmas Around the World Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, featuring 50 trees representing various holiday traditions from across the globe. Museums may be closed on Christmas Day, but you can still enjoy the Skydeck at the Willis Tower, the skating rink at Millennium Park or even a Chicago Bulls basketball game at the United Center. Or just enjoy a stroll along Michigan Avenue without the pre-holiday crowds.
Book a Chicago Christmas tour.
- Katie Aune