Experience Chicago's holiday charm: lights, events, and unforgettable moments.
As the holiday season approaches, Chicago bursts into a festive spectacle that's hard to resist.
From twinkling lights to heartwarming traditions, the Windy City offers a plethora of activities to immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit.
Whether you're a local or a visitor, there's something magical awaiting you at every corner.
Dive into our curated list and discover the top festive activities you can't miss in Chicago this Christmas 2023.
Visit the City of Chicago Christmas Tree
Imagine the heart of Chicago illuminated by the radiant glow of the 110th Annual City of Chicago Christmas Tree.
As the festive spirit fills the air, Millennium Park comes alive near the bustling intersection of Michigan Ave. and Washington St.
The grandeur of the tree, coupled with the shimmering lights, promises a magical experience that embodies the holiday season.
This year, the Tree Lighting Ceremony is set for Friday, November 17, with a spectacular display of fireworks to follow - one of the best Christmas events for families in Chicago!
The event is scheduled from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM at Millennium Park.
Attend the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
The image is taken from the Magnificent Mile’s website (https://www.themagnificentmile.com/lights-festival/schedule-of-events/).
Led by Mickey Mouse and Minnie, the Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival promises a dazzling spectacle that will ignite the festive spirit in every heart.
While traditionally associated more with Thanksgiving, this event offers a marvelous head start to the Christmas festivities. Keep in mind, some of us start planning Christmas in August itself!
Picture this: a mile-long extravaganza with fabulous floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, and musical performances, all culminating in the grand Tree-Lighting Parade down North Michigan Avenue.
And yes, Santa Claus himself will be part of this magical evening.
Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 18, 2023, and join in the celebrations that light up over 200 trees along The Magnificent Mile.
Stepping into the Christkindlmarket is like being transported to a traditional holiday market straight out of Europe.
With the backdrop of the bustling city, Daley Plaza transforms into a festive wonderland, offering unique shopping experiences, intercultural activities, and family-friendly events.
Visitors can meander through stalls brimming with handcrafted ornaments, traditional German delicacies, and unique artisan gifts.
The aroma of roasted nuts, spiced wine, pretzels and bratwurst fills the air, creating a sensory delight and evoking the warmth of the holiday season.
While the main attraction is at Daley Plaza, mini-markets at Aurora and Wrigleyville also capture the holiday essence.
The event runs from November 17 to December 24, with opening hours from 11 AM to 8 PM on Sundays through Thursdays, and 11 AM to 9 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.
Special hours are set for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, both from 11 AM to 4 PM.
Meet Santa Claus
There's nothing quite like the twinkle in a child's eye when they meet Santa Claus for the first time, and Chicago offers plenty of magical moments to cherish.
At the heart of the city, Daley Plaza's Christkindlmarket is a must-visit, but did you know there are numerous other spots where you can share your Christmas wishes with the jolly old elf?
From the enchanting setting at the 900 North Michigan Shops to the festive ambiance at ZooLights in Lincoln Park Zoo, Santa is making his rounds.
And for those who fancy a unique experience, the drive-through Magical Christmas at Santa’s Village promises over 3 million lights synchronized to holiday tunes, ending with a chance to snap a photo with Santa himself.
Most of these events run through December, with varying dates and times, so it's a good idea to check their respective websites for specifics.
Sing along at Merry Christmas One And All - Mariah Carey’s Christmas Concert at the United Center
Led by the Queen of Christmas herself, Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas One And All concert promises a musical journey filled with holiday cheer.
As the winter chill sets in, the United Center will come alive with the melodies of Mariah's timeless holiday classics.
Imagine singing along to the record-breaking mega-hit, “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and other fan-favorite chart-toppers.
While this concert is one of Mariah Carey's exclusive Christmas performances for the season, it's an experience that embodies the festive spirit like no other.
The concert is scheduled for December 3, 2023, at 7:30 PM, with gates opening at 6:00 PM. Ensure you grab your tickets early for this enchanting evening!
Gaze in awe at Christmas lights
Chicago, during the holiday season, transforms into a luminous wonderland, with streets and landmarks adorned with twinkling lights.
The heart of the city, especially around Michigan Avenue, is a spectacle in itself, with trees lining The Mag Mile shining brilliantly throughout the Christmas season.
For those who prefer a more immersive experience, the Lightscape event at the Chicago Botanic Garden is a top choice, turning the garden into a glowing wonderland.
And if you're looking for a drive-thru experience, the Tree Lights Illumination at The Morton Arboretum and the Aurora Festival of Lights at Phillips Park are must-visits.
Generally speaking, these events are family-friendly and can be a great way to wean your kids off of phones.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
Embrace the season's beauty as new parts of the Botanic Garden, including Evening Island, transform into dazzling landscapes filled with radiant installations and beloved classics like the Winter Cathedral.
This year's reimagined Lightscape, marking the fifth annual holiday celebration, invites visitors to immerse themselves in a world of music, color, and light, accompanied by festive food and drink.
The event runs from November 10, 2023, to January 7, 2024, and it's recommended to book tickets in advance to secure your preferred slot.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum's annual Illumination event is a magical journey that showcases the beauty of trees in winter, bathed in vibrant lights.
As you stroll along the one-mile paved path, you'll be serenaded by festive music, witness trees dancing in lights, and even experience a grove of trees that seem to change and grow right before your eyes.
The crisp outdoor air, combined with the mesmerizing light displays and the sound of music, creates a perfect festive ambiance.
This enchanting experience is available from November 18, 2023, to January 6, 2024, and the path is fully ADA-compliant, ensuring accessibility for all.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park Zoo's annual ZooLights is a festive spectacle that promises to dazzle visitors of all ages.
As you wander through the zoo, you'll be treated to a mesmerizing display of shimmering lights, turning the entire space into a winter wonderland.
The ambiance is further enhanced with special events, including a tribute to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and a family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration with hourly countdowns.
ZooLights runs from November 17, 2023, to January 7, 2024, with varying hours depending on the date, and while Mondays offer free admission, reservations are still required.
Are you interested in more Charlie Brown events for Christmas? Keep your eyes peeled; we’ll come to one in a while!
Go on a real-life adventure at Fox in a Box Escape Room
Christmas is all about creating memories, and what better way to make unforgettable ones than by embarking on a thrilling escape room adventure with your loved ones?
Here at Chicago’s top escape room, we offer immersive escape room experiences that challenge your wit, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.
It's not just about escaping a room; it's about bonding, laughing, and sometimes even screaming in excitement together.
Whether you're a seasoned escape artist or a first-timer, our rooms promise an exhilarating experience that will leave you craving for more.
We're conveniently located in the lower level of Dearborn Galleria. Just look for the Byline Bank sign near Dearborn Station, and you'll find us waiting to take you on an unforgettable journey.
Attend Christmas events at the Navy Pier
Navy Pier, with its iconic Ferris wheel and stunning lakeside views, becomes a winter wonderland during the holiday season.
The "Light Up The Lake" event is a must-visit, turning the pier into a luminous spectacle with thousands of twinkling lights, festive decorations, and a giant Christmas tree that stands tall, overlooking Lake Michigan.
As you stroll along the pier, the aroma of roasted chestnuts and hot cocoa fills the air, while the sound of carolers sets the perfect festive mood.
It's an experience that captures the very essence of the holiday season in Chicago.
The event usually kicks off in late November and runs through December.
While the pier itself is wheelchair accessible, it's always a good idea to check specific event details for any special accommodations.
And while you’re around there, explore these cool downtown Chicago activities as well!
Go ice skating
There's something magical about gliding on ice amidst the backdrop of Chicago's iconic skyline. As the holiday season approaches, the city transforms, with ice rinks popping up in various parks and plazas, beckoning residents and visitors alike.
Whether you're a seasoned skater or lacing up for the first time, the experience of ice skating in Chicago, with the crisp winter air and twinkling Christmas lights, is unparalleled.
From the scenic Ice Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park to the community rinks at McKinley Park and Midway Plaisance Park, there's a spot for everyone.
Most rinks open around late November, with some requiring pre-registration due to limited session capacity.
It's always a good idea to check specific rink details for timings and any special accommodations.
The Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park
Glide along the unique Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, a winding path that offers a twist on traditional rink skating.
Surrounded by the park's scenic beauty, you'll feel the festive spirit as you skate amidst the city's iconic skyline.
Whether you're a seasoned skater or just looking for a magical winter experience, this venue promises a delightful time.
The Skating Ribbon operates from 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM, offering multiple sessions throughout the day.
And don't forget, parking is conveniently available below the park at the Millennium Park/Lakeside Garages.
The skating rink at Millennium Park
Skating beneath the iconic Cloud Gate, also known as "The Bean", is an experience that epitomizes winter in Chicago.
The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park offers this enchanting opportunity from November through March, weather permitting.
Not only can you skate amidst the city's architectural marvels, but free ice skating lessons are also available each weekend, ensuring that even beginners can join in the fun.
While the exact dates for the 2023 Winter Ice Skating Season are yet to be announced, it's always a good idea to check the park's official website for the latest updates and timings.
Chicago's winter charm extends beyond its iconic parks, reaching into the vibrant heart of its neighborhoods.
Local ice rinks, especially those managed by the Chicago Park District, become bustling hubs where laughter and camaraderie fill the air.
Sponsored by the Chicago Blackhawks, these rinks are open until February 20, 2023, offering free admission with advanced registration.
From Midway Plaisance Park to McKinley Park Ice Rink, each venue promises a delightful, authentically Chicagoan experience.
Enjoy hot chocolate
When the chilly winds of Chicago start to bite, there's nothing quite like wrapping your hands around a steaming mug of hot chocolate to warm your soul. Especially when paired up with a DIY Christmas game!
The city offers a plethora of delightful spots where you can indulge in this winter favorite.
From the luxurious drinking chocolate at Katherine Anne Confections to the traditional blend of cocoa and spice at Kristoffer’s Cafe & Bakery, Chicago ensures that every sip takes you on a journey of rich flavors and comforting warmth.
For those venturing to Old Town, Cocoa + Co offers an array of thick, satisfying drinking chocolates with flavors like Mayan Magic and Mocha X’Tasy.
And if you're in the mood for an authentic Mexican hot chocolate, XOCO in River North is a must-visit.
So, as the festive season approaches, make sure to explore these chocolaty havens and let the flavors dance on your palate.
Visit Macy’s on State Street
Stepping into Macy's on State Street during the holiday season is like entering a winter wonderland.
The iconic store, renowned for its festive spirit, transforms into a hub of Christmas celebrations. From the glistening decorations to the enchanting window displays, every corner of the store exudes holiday magic.
And for those looking for a classic holiday dining experience, the Walnut Room awaits with its rich history and sumptuous meals.
If you're planning a visit, make sure to head to the 5th floor between November 4th and December 24th.
And here's a tip: you can book a reservation online 5 days in advance of your visit to ensure a seamless experience.
Climb aboard the CTA Holiday Train
The holiday season in Chicago is incomplete without the iconic Allstate CTA Holiday Train.
For 32 years, this beloved tradition has spread joy and festive cheer to both residents and visitors.
This year, Santa himself, along with the CTA, is thrilled to welcome everyone aboard not just the Holiday Train but also the popular Allstate CTA Holiday Bus. It’s one of the best indoor activities that kids love (well, sorta)!
Imagine the city's regular 'L' lines transformed into a winter wonderland, with the Holiday Train making stops at all stations along its route, bringing smiles and holiday spirit to all.
The CTA Holiday Train will be running from Friday, November 24 to Monday, December 18. For exact locations and timings, it's best to check the CTA holiday train schedule.