Chicago’s reputation as having a hard winter is well earned—winters here can be bone-chillingly cold, with a wind that make it feel even colder. It’s no wonder than most tourists visit from May to October. But those visitors who do come during the winter months will find that, despite the cold and snow, there’s still plenty to see and do—and plenty of ways to stay warm.
Indoor attractions are obviously popular winter activities in Chicago, and you’ll find several great museums to choose from. There’s the Art Institute, the Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, and the Adler Planetarium—and those are just the biggest museums. There are dozens of equally excellent but less-visited (and often cheaper) museums like the Museum of Modern Art and the Institute of Surgical Science. The Garfield Park Conservatory and Peggy Notebeart Nature Museum are also toasty warm in winter. And don’t miss the chance to see the city covered in snow from above at either the Willis Tower or John Hancock Building. Another option for staying warm indoors is to go see a show like Wicked, the Blue Man Group, or Jersey Boys at one of the city’s excellent theatres.
Outdoors, there are a few great activities to keep your warm. The McCormick Tribune ice rink at Millennium Park offers free ice-skating (there is a charge for skate rental) every day from late-November through mid-March. The Chicago Winter Dance festival takes place in February and offers free ice-skating lessons on Saturdays and Sundays and free dance lessons and parties on Fridays and Saturdays. From November to January, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the largest free zoo in the US, becomes a dazzling display of lights during Zoo Lights.
Many of sightseeing tours operate year round as well, so you can see the city from the heated comfort or a bus or van. Hop-on, hop-off buses in Chicago will get you from point to point easily.
– Katie Hammel