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Christmas Around the World exhibit at Museum of Science and Industry
Photograph: Heidi Peters

The 20 best things to do during the holidays in Chicago

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

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
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If last year's holiday season felt a bit empty, this year's festivities should prove to be closer to the usual onslaught of lights, skating, theater and singing. As the weather gets colder, you'll find a slew of Chicago Christmas events, from sparkling Christmas lights in Chicago to a museum exhibition featuring trees festooned with ornaments. After taking a year off, Christkindlmarket Chicago is back with markets in Daley Plaza and in Wrigleyville, along with annual local productions of The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol. Need some inspiration as you begin to make your plans for December? We've gathered some of the most iconic events and happenings during the holidays in Chicago.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Christmas in Chicago

Chicago Christmas events

  • 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. Admission to the rink is free, and you can rent skates for $13–$15. Plus, take advantage of free skating lessons on most Saturdays and Sundays from 8am–9am, 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 6, weather permitting.

  • Travel
  • Transport & Travel

Passengers weren't allowed on the Chicago Transit Authority's annual Holiday Train and Bus last year, but we have good news for anyone who wants to take a ride on the festive modes of public transportation. You'll be able to get on board the CTA's holiday fleet this year, beginning on Friday, November 26 when the Holiday Train makes its first run and continuing on Tuesday, November 30 when the Holiday Bus begins rolling throughout the city. The train and bus will be running in various neighborhoods through Christmas—read on to find the complete schedule.

 

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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. This year's edition of the ribbon will be decorated with designs inspired by Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" and "Starry Night" paintings, a collaboration between the art exhibition "Immersive Van Gogh" and Chicago Park District. 

Admission to the Skating Ribbon is free during weekdays if you bring your own skates; otherwise, reservations are $5 (with skates on weekends on holidays) or $16–$20 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.

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