Just when you were beginning to settle into fall in Chicago, you might have heard the first Christmas music invade a coffee shop playlists and realized that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Don't despair—November may signal that snow and dipping temperatures are imminent, but there's a whole lot to look forward to. Get a head start on holiday traditions this month by sipping a mug of glühwein at Christkindlmarket, checking out the glowing display at ZooLights or taking in the spectacle at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. You can also attend Chicago Humanities Festival programming, catch the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Art Institute, dance the night away at Smart Bar's 23-hour party or see R&B singer-songwriter FKA Twigs headline the Riviera. Looking through the best things to do in Chicago this Novemeber and fill your calendar.
RECOMMENDED: Events calendar for Chicago in 2020
Featured events in November 2020
Arriving in the Midwest after drawing hordes in San Francisco and New York, this retrospective (the first to be organized by a U.S. institution since 1989) of Andy Warhol's career features more than 350 works for guests to explore. Instead of focusing on a specific era of his life, “From A to B and Back Again” accounts for the entire breadth of the Pop Art legend's output, from early illustrations that were commissioned for magazines to recolored portraits of celebrities that graced the cover of Interview magazine. While there are plenty of familiar pieces on display (a print of Marilyn Monroe, several Campbell's soup cans), there are also sections of the exhibit devoted to lesser-known aspects of Warhol's practice, including performance art, television and publishing. Filled with self-portraits, homages to vaunted brands and celebrations of fame, “From A to B and Back Again” accentuates the echoes of Warhol’s art in the contemporary world—and seeing so much of it one place only makes its prophetic themes that much clearer.
Best known for devising the characters of Flyboy and Lil Mama that grace walls throughout Chicago, local artist Hebru Brantley latest project is an immersive origin story for his most famous creations. Named after a fictional Chicago neighborhood, Nevermore Park takes visitors through 6,000 square feet of installation that begin in a traditional art gallery before quickly transitioning to fantastical environments that feature a crashed rocket ship, a Pullman train car and thick clouds of fog. Much of the pop-up serves as a celebration of the African-American culture that Brantley grew up with, featuring old issues of Jet and Ebony magazines as well as vintage stereo equipment playing some of his favorite songs. The experience lasts about an hour and ends with a chance to purchase some exclusive Flyboy and Lil Mama merch that will only be available during the pop-up's run.
Every year, the Museum of Science and Industry puts up its 45-foot-tall Grand Tree and surrounds the towering pine with more than 50 trees that represent Chicago's various communities and their respective holiday celebrations. Visitors can admire the 30,000 lights that cover the trees and stick around for the "snow" that falls from the rotunda every 30 minutes. During the weekend, live performances of holiday music fill the room, lending some additional seasonal cheer to your day at the museum.
You haven't experienced the holidays in Chicago until you've stepped into this giant open-air market inspired by a similar seasonal tradition in Nuremberg, Germany. At Christkindlmarket, guests can shop handcrafted items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins and glass ornaments. When hunger strikes, nibble on potato pancakes, hot pretzels, schnitzel, döner and chocolate-covered treats. And no trip to Christkindlmarket is complete without a steaming mug of Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine (there's also hot cocoa for the kids). The holiday market boasts three locations in Daley Plaza, Gallagher Way and Milwaukee, but the outpost in the Loop is its most popular iteration. When the weather is decent, the market is generally packed in the evenings, so stop by in the afternoon for a more plesant (and less-crowded) shopping and/or dining experience.
Don't feel like going to the Loop for your glühwein fix? The Wrigleyville outpost of Christkindlmarket returns to Gallagher Way this year, with fewer vendors than the Daley Plaza version of the event, but just as much holiday cheer. At booths around around an ice rink, you'll find ornaments, beer steins, jewelry and clothes available for purchase, in addition to a smorgasbord of German foods, such as pretzels, sausages, döner and strudel. Naturally, you'll be able to browse the selection of goods while clutching a mug filled with a steaming beverage of your choice. Plus, unlike its counterpart in the Loop, Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville remains open through the end of the year, so you can extend the spirit of the season to the week after Christmas.
Every year, Chicago's front lawn (er, Millennium Park) is adorned with an epic Christmas tree that remains on display until the beginning of the new year. The larger-than-life attraction is festooned with twinkling lights and crowned with an illuminated star—and it's not too far of a walk from Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. To see the tree's big debut, head to Millennium Park at 6pm on Friday, November 22, when the city hosts a lighting ceremony headined by Grammy award-winning South African singer-songwriter Jonathan Butler. The evening will also include performances from mariachi group Cielito Lindo and the cast of Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish - The Musical, as well as appearances by Santa and Mrs. Claus (the mayor usually shows up, too).
Situated in the heart of downtown Chicago, with the city's sweeping skyline as a backdrop, the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is a winter attraction unlike any other. Skaters can lace up and wind around a winding ice-covered path that's twice the length of a lap around a traditional rink. Admission to the Skating Ribbon is always free, and skate rentals are available for $13–$15. The Ribbon stays open through March (weather permitting) and even offers limited hours on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
Skate under the Chicago skyline and within eyeshot of the Chicago Christmas Tree at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Admission to the rink is free, and you can rent skates for $13–$15. The most popular time to hit the rink is in the evening, so show up earlier if you don't feel like waiting in line for your chance to slide around. Take advantage of free skating lessons on Fridays at 11am and Saturdays and Sundays at 9am. If it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 8, weather permitting.
The Goodman Theatre’s annual holiday production of the Charles Dickens classic keeps its seasonal charm intact in its latest iteration. No bah humbugs here. Larry Yando returns for yet another outing as Ebenezer Scrooge, while director Henry Wishcamper guides the classic story of three spirits who confront Scrooge with the consequences of his miserly actions.
This immersive Christmas pop-up bar boasting wall-to-wall holiday decor returns to Wrigleyville, taking over Deuce's Major League Bar during the most festive time of the year. You'll find photo-ops galore as well as multiple bars serving drinks decked out with decorative garnishes and garlands, including large-format cocktails like the Mega Yule Mule and Jingle Juice. Feeling hungry? Try chowing down on the Atomic Yule Logs, consisting of three cheese sticks covered in a with Flamin’ Hot Cheetoh crust and Sriracha dust. Don't forget to snag a ticket before you head to Santa Baby—admission is typically free during the week, but during weekends (and the days leading up to holidays) you'll pay a $20 cover. Families are welcome to stop by during the day, but after 8pm it's 21+.
Concerts in November 2020
Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls directs the Lyric Opera's latest staging of Don Giovanni, Mozart's classic opera that follows the seductive and arrogant Count Giovanni in his quest for revenge. Russan bass Ildar Abdrazakov makes his Lyric debut in the title role (Nov 14–30) and Italian baritone Davide Luciano steps in to lead the December performances.
Theater shows in November 2020
In this dark, searching comedy from playwright Kate Tarker, a group of travel agents try to mourn their coworker after her abrupt suicide. The only problem? None of them really knew her that well. Devon de Mayo directs this world premiere production for Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.
Steppenwolf stalwart Francis Guinan makes his TimeLine Theater debut in this Chicago premiere of the 1912 feminist drama by Githa Sowerby. Guinan is somewhat of a local legend, so the opportunity to catch him in a more intimate setting is not to be missed.
In Memphis, Tennessee, in the throes of the Great Depression, an aspiring blues singer named Toulou puts a hex the man of her dreams—and the results are disastrous. Wardell Julius Clark directs this 2007 play from The Mountaintop author Katori Hall for Raven Theatre.
In Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm’s TV-era update of George Bernard Shaw’s classic Pygmalion, a Canadian popstar looking to toughen up his brand finds two rappers willing to take the job. Lili-Anne Brown directs the Midwest premiere at Jackalope Theatre.
A globetrotting love story from ensemble member Eric Simonson, Lindiwe brings together Chicago blues and traditional African sounds. The play, co-directed by Simonson and Jonathan Berry, features musicians Buddy Fambro and Frank Russell and the acclaimed South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Actors Harmony France and Christina Hall are swapping roles every night for this show at Firebrand Theatre, which chronicles the real-life friendship between the iconic Cline and regular gal Louise Seger. Pulling off this theatrical gambit is no easy task, but both France and Hall have the chops to pull it off.
A man gets out of prison and returns home to mark the sixth anniversary of his sister’s death—a death that his family pins on him. Part of Victory Gardens’s 2018 Ignition Festival of New Plays, playwright Lee Edward Colston II’s searing family drama has lots of skeleton-filled closets. It’s an old formula, sure, but that’s because it works.
Chicago Shakes artistic director Barbara Gaines sets her new take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in the hot Chicago summer of 2020. Presumably, that means that Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Brittany Bellizeare’s titular teens will spend most of their time browsing TikTok and stressing about the election.
Rejoice, all ye fans of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, which enjoyed a wonderful production from Northlight Theatre in 2016. In The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley, the Bennett-Darcy family’s servants must keep the clan’s ne’er-do-well brother-in-law George Wickham from spoiling everyone’s holiday cheer.
The late, great Nicholas Rudall’s translation of Oedipus Rex kicks off a trilogy of plays at Court Theatre, followed by Gospel at Colonus in the spring and Antigone next season. Starring Kelvin Roston Jr. as the titular King of Thebes, this production from Court artistic director Charles Newell showcases Rudall’s reputation as Chicago’s premier translator of the Greek classics—and demonstrates why his passing last year has left a hole that will be difficult to fill.