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Millennium Park Christmas tree
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best things to do during the holidays in Chicago

Experience the holidays in Chicago with beautiful lights, festive theater productions and bustling markets.

Emma Krupp
Written by
Emma Krupp
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Chicago winters can be a bit of a drag, to say the least, but the holidays offer a shimmering diversion from long nights and frosty weather. Starting in November, you'll find plenty of festive events and celebrations to put you in a holiday mood as temperatures start to drop, from glittering Christmas lights in Chicago and Christkindlmarket Chicago villages in Daley Plaza and Wrigleyville to an annual Hanukkah play. You could even take a spin around the City of Chicago Christmas tree at ice skating rinks downtown and warm up afterwards with a hot cocktail at holiday pop-up bars scattered throughout the city, or plan a festive night of Christmas theater thanks to annual performances of shows like The Nutcracker and The Steadfast Tin Soldier. Whatever holiday you celebrate this time of year, you'll find plenty of ways to feel festive with our list of the best things to do during the holidays in Chicago. 

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Christmas in Chicago

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Time Out Market
  • West Loop

Get in a holly jolly mood as Time Out Market Chicago welcomes a series of musical acts to perform classic holiday songs throughout the month of December! From lively jazz to multi-genre bands, you’ll find music to keep you feeling merry all month long. Check out a full schedule of performances below: 

December 4: Verzatile, 2-4pm
December 5: Holiday jazz with The John Fournier Quartet, 5-8pm
December 12: Holiday jazz with The John Fournier Quartet, 5-8pm
December 17: Marlow, 1-3pm

Chicago Christmas events

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Loop

The iconic German-inspired holiday market at Daley Plaza brings just over a month of Christmassy celebrations to the Loop. Browse stalls stocked with handmade gifts, German food and plenty of hot beverages to keep you warm while you wander around and soak in the festive atmosphere. Don't leave without trying spiced glühwein, a German hot wine concoction that's best enjoyed in the market's famous boot mugs

  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Wrigleyville

You might not ever get the chance to throw a pitch at Wrigley Field, but you can lace up your skates and hit the ice inside the iconic baseball field starting this winter. Winterland at Gallagher Way, the annual holiday experience that normally offers programming (like Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville) beside the field, is officially moving some of its wintry attractions inside the ballpark for the 2022 season, including the 12,000-square-foot Gallagher Ice Rink. Rent a pair of skates and take a spin before checking out on-field games, carnival rides, an ice slide and a miniature train, or grab tickets to ride around on the rink’s ice bumper cars. You can even book dinner reservations at The Lodge, an après-ski style pop-up restaurant inside the park complete with cozy firepits. 

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Hyde Park

Every year, the Museum of Science and Industry puts up its four-story Grand Tree and surrounds the towering pine with more than 50 trees that represent Chicago's various communities and their respective holiday celebrations. Visitors will be able to take in even more seasonal cheer at the accompanying "Holidays of Light" exhibit, which recognizes the traditions of Chinese New Year, Diwali, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Visakha Puja Day and St. Lucia Day. Admission to "Christmas Around the World" and "Holidays of Light" is included with a regular Museum of Science and Industry ticket.

  • Things to do
  • Millennium Park

Every year, 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. Spectators can check out the festive tree near Washington Street and Michigan Avenue through Sunday, January 8. Want to see the tree light up for the first time this season? The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony returns this year on Friday, November 18 starting at 6pm.

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  • Things to do

Get ready for a festive ride—the CTA Holiday Train and Bus are coming to town! The train is decked out in twinkling holiday lights, with Santa and his reindeer riding outside to wave at families—you can spot the festive locomotive in CTA stations throughout the city from November 25 through December 19. The CTA Holiday Bus, on the other hand, will hit the road on November 29 and make its rounds through December 23. Santa prefers to pop up through the roof when he rides the decked-out bus, so be sure to look up. Check out the full schedule below: 

Train schedule

  • Green Line: November 25, 26, 29
  • Brown Line: November 30; December 1-3
  • Orange Line: November 30; December 1-3
  • Red Line: December 6, 8 and 10
  • Purple Line: December 7 and 9
  • Pink Line: December 13 and 14
  • Blue Line: December 15-17
  • Yellow Line: December 20

Bus schedule

  • November 29, 30: #56 Milwaukee
  • December 1: #91 Austin/#92 Foster
  • December 2: #22 Clark
  • December 3: #22 Clark/#97 Skokie
  • December 6: #74 Fullerton
  • December 7, 8: #66 Chicago
  • December 9: #126 Jackson
  • December 10: #12 Roosevelt
  • December 13: #62 Archer
  • December 14, 15: #49 Western/#X49 Western Express
  • December 16, 17: #3 King Drive
  • December 20: #79 79th
  • December 21: #28 Stony Island
  • December 22: #29 State
  • December 23: #J14 Jeffery Jump
  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Suburbs

Ready to get into the holiday spirit? The Morton Arboretum's annual holiday light show returns for its 10th anniversary this year as a mile-long, walk-through spectacle of LED lights and music, featuring a blend of new and returning light displays set amid 50 acres of trees. New features for 2022 include "Electric Illumination," a series of late-night parties with DJ-curated playlists that will synchronize progressive and trance house beats with the light shows, as well as a special finale exhibit in the arboretum's new Grand Garden. Timed entry tickets for Illumination, which will run from November 19 through January 7, go on sale October 1—keep an eye out for 20 percent off deals on select Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from event sponsor ComEd.  

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  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Millennium Park

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. Reservations for the popular ice rink should be made in advance, as they tend to fill up quickly.

Admission to the Skating Ribbon is free Monday through Thursday and for 11am sessions Friday through Sunday (and $5 for other time slots Friday through Sunday, as well as holidays) if you bring your own skates. No skates? Entry is $16–$22 if you need to rent a pair. 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.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Suburbs

The Chicago Botanic Garden hosts this annual (and quick to sell out) display of festive lights, giving guests a host of shimmering reasons to visit the forest preserve during the holiday season. Set along an illuminated path, the after-dark experience features a series of installations to explore, including a 110-foot tunnel made up of 100,000 lights and a group of trees festooned in bulbs that "sing" holiday songs. This year, check out new exhibits like Starscape, a series of more than 700 handmade acrylic stars lighting up a 130-foot-long tunnel.

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Suburbs

After debuting a glittery holiday spectacle last year in Rosemont, the Amaze Light Festival is headed to a larger venue in Tinley Park this winter with five themed light-up exhibits, photo ops, a holiday market and more stunning seasonal attractions to explore. General admission tickets include access to the light shows, shops and food and beverage areas, but visitors can also opt for exciting ticket add-ons like Zing's Thrill Hill (an all-ages tubing hill) or the Arctic Express train. 

  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • Millennium Park

Skate under the Chicago skyline and within eyeshot of the Chicago Christmas Tree at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Plus, take advantage of free skating lessons on most Saturdays and Sundays from 9–10am, where you can learn both beginner- and intermediate-level skills. Note that you'll need to make a free online reservation for both regular skating and lessons this year, and if it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 5, weather permitting.

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  • Things to do
  • Festivals
  • Streeterville

Too cold outside? Navy Pier brings all of the winter fun indoors during the holiday season, filling its gigantic 170,000-square-foot Festival Hall with a regulation-size Alpine ice skating rink, kiddie train rides and a 600,000-bulb light show made up of themed sculptures. This year, guests can also check out new attractions like a lit-up maze of birch trees, interactive light sculptures and a reflection pond for resting and photo ops. Each Light Up the Lake ticket also  includes a ride on Navy Pier's 200-foot Centennial Wheel—don't worry, all of the gondolas are fully enclosed and heated!

  • Art
  • Film and video

Projecting a 25-story-tall video installation on the side of the Merchandise Mart, Art on theMart's winter program showcases moving images from the Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score, as well as a tribute to Chicago design history spanning the last 100 years. Art on theMART's array of 34 digital projectors display the programs at 7:30pm and 8pm every evening. The show is best viewed from the section of the Chicago Riverwalk between Wells Street and Franklin Street.

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  • Things to do
  • Late openings
  • Lincoln Park

To see one of the largest displays of holiday lights within city limits, you need to head to Lincoln Park Zoo, where the annual ZooLights display strings up millions of LED blubs. While most of the animals will be keeping warm inside, visitors are free to wander through the park, snapping photos of the various displays and taking part in a variety of activities throughout the holiday season.There are some new ticketed features to look forward to this year—including a Ferris wheel for ogling the lights from a bird's eye view—and as always, guests will also be able to enjoy hot beverages and snacks at stands throughout the park.

Just like last year, a $5 admission fee will be charged throughout most of the week, with free admission tickets on Mondays. Check out the Lincoln Park Zoo website for information on special ticketed events during ZooLights, including the BrewLights beer festival and a musical tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

  • Theater
  • River West/West Town

The American Blues Theater has brought the humble story of George Bailey to life in various Chicago venues for more than 20 years, transforming Frank Capra's classic film into an interactive, 1940s-style radio broadcast production. Arrive 15 minutes early to make the most of interactive audience engagement and prepare for original music, holiday carols and plenty of Christmas cheer. 

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  • Things to do
  • Loop

In honor of Hanukkah, JCC is hosting eight nights of in-person and virtual programming across the Chicagoland area—scroll through the organization’s website for a full schedule of events, including dreidel competitions, free ice skating in partnership with Gallagher Way’s Winterland, a latke and lo-mein social, film screenings and a menorah lighting ceremony. 

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Loop

More than 40 vendors take up residence on the fourth floor of the Chicago Athletic Association for the popular holiday iteration of SAUCED Night Market, where you can try tasty dishes from vendors like Funeral Potatoes and Bon Bon Bon, sip a specialty cocktail and shop for local goods. 

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  • Dance
  • Ballet
  • Loop

Having retired cofounder Robert Joffrey's production of The Nutcracker after nearly 30 years, the Joffrey Ballet debuted a brand-new version in 2016, set in Chicago against the backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. This year's production will be staged in the Civic Opera House (where the Lyric Opera also resides), featuring music performed by the Lyric Opera Orchestra and the stunning choreography of Christopher Wheeldon. The Chicago-inspired iteration of the classic Christmas ballet will have you humming “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” for days after you leave the theater.

  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • Wrigleyville

Don't feel like going to the Loop for your glühwein fix? The smaller-scale Wrigleyville outpost of Christkindlmarket returns to Gallagher Way this year with just as much holiday cheer as its downtown counterpart. Plus, Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville remains open through the end of the year, so you can extend the spirit of the season to the week after Christmas. 

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  • Shopping
  • Markets and fairs
  • New City

Get your holiday shopping in during this food and craft market at The Plant featuring an all-star lineup of local vendors, including spots like Bike a Bee, Tinyshop and La Selva. Admission to the market is free, though you can also book a $10 tour of The Plant at 2pm if you're interested in seeing how the facility operates behind the scenes—and feel free to bring along gently used winter clothing to donate or fresh food for The Plant’s Love Fridge. 

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