The best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Find the best things to do in Chicago this weekend with our guide to concerts, exhibitions, festivals and more.
Chicago Christmas Tree
Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but the holiday season in Chicago kicks off well before you sit down for a turkey dinner. This weekend, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Christmas has arrived early—there's a parade of lights on Michigan Avenue, the opening of Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza and the lighting ceremony for Chicago's official Christmas Tree in Millennium Park. You can also sample an extensive selection of barrel-aged beers, watch Martha Stewart cook a meal or play with toys at a giant Navy Pier convention. Did we mention that some of the city's best ice skating rinks open this weekend? Have some pre-holiday fun with our guide to the best things to do in Chicago this weekend.

Things to do this weekend in Chicago

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Shopping, Markets and fairs


icon-location-pin Daley Plaza, Loop

You haven't experienced the holidays in Chicago until you've stepped inside 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 and chocolate-covered treats. No trip to Christkindlmarket is complete without a steaming mug of Glühwein, a traditional hot spiced wine.

Festival of Wood & Barrel Aged Beers 2015
Photograph: Elizabeth Atkinson
Things to do, Festivals

Festival of Barrel Aged Beers

icon-location-pin UIC Forum, Little Italy, UIC

Affectionately known as FOBAB, the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers offers a stacked lineup of wood and barrel-aged concoctions that some serious beer-lovers worship. More than 200 craft brewers come to Chicago for the annual event, where attendees can sample stouts, sours, ciders and mead throughout three tasting sessions. Throughout the weekend, judges evaluate all of the beers being poured and award medals in various categories—it's like the Olympics of high-ABV brews.

Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice Skating in Millennium Park

icon-location-pin McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink, Downtown

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 Sunday at 9am. If it seems too warm to skate, call ahead—this rink is open through March 10, weather permitting.

Photograph: Shelly Mosman
Music, Rock and indie

Low + IN/VIA

icon-location-pin Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago, Hyde Park

Putting the band's pristine vocal harmonies and sparse arrangements through a digital blender, Low's latest album Double Negative is a daring permutation of its signature sound. The beautiful song-craft of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker is still recognizable, but producer BJ Burton finds interesting ways to deconstruct it, obscuring melodies with bursts of noise and turning rhythms into a serious of distorted thumps. It's the band's boldest reinvention since its 2007 album, Drums and Guns, and it's just as affecting as anything else in the Duluth, Minnesota act's catalog over the past 25 years. Minneapolis synth artist IN/VIA opens the show.

Martha Stewart
Things to do, Festivals

Chicago Wine & Food Experience

icon-location-pin Soldier Field, United Club, Downtown

Martha Stewart joins a long list of notable Chicago chefs (including mainstays like Stephanie Izard and Graham Elliot) for an afternoon of tastings, seminars and cooking demonstrations. Attendees can taste dishes from Little Goat Diner, Longman & Eagle, Daisies and more local restaurants while sampling wine, beer and spirits. The Foos & Wine Experience also includes a chance to take a hands-on cooking class and the opportunity to see Martha Stewart show off her culinary skills.

Photograph: Max Herman
Things to do

Chicago Toy & Game Fair

icon-location-pin Navy Pier, Festival Hall,

Chicago is the birthplace of the Lite Brite, Radio Flyer Wagons, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Lincoln Logs and Beanie Babies, so it's not surprising that the city has its own toy and game fair. The two-day event welcomes kids and their parents to test some of the latest toys while taking in events like a yo-yo championship and a giant bubble show.

A parade and fireworks entertained crowds at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, November 21, 2015.
Photograph: Stacey Rupolo
Things to do, Festivals

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

icon-location-pin Multiple venues

Chicago's most well-known shopping district kicks off the holiday season by lighting up the trees that line Michigan Avenue. The fun begins on Friday, November 16, when Pioneer Court hosts family-friendly activities (including a visit from Santa Claus). On Saturday, November 17, stores on the Magnificent Mile will offer special experiences and offers throughout the day, before Michigan Avenue hosts a two-hour tree-lighting parade, which sets off from Oak Street. Head to the Chicago River by 6:55pm to catch the spectacular fireworks display that closes out the evening.

Photograph: Courtesy Morton Arboretum
Things to do, Festivals

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum

icon-location-pin Morton Arboretum, Suburbs

When the weather gets cold, the trees at Morton Arboretum light up in a sea of color at this popular winter event. Guests at Illumination walk down a one-mile path through the forest, admiring the magical display and seasonal music. New features at this year's edition include tree-like sculpture from artist HYBYCOZO, a tree that changes colors when you hug it and campfires stocked with hot drinks and s'mores.

Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon
Courtesy Maggie Daley Park
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice Skating at Maggie Daley Park

icon-location-pin Maggie Daley Park | Chicago, IL, Millennium Park

The Maggie Daley Park ice ribbon looks like a Mario Kart track, but you won't have to worry about dodging banana peels while you glide around the quarter-mile circuit. As you skate around the park's climbing wall and admire skyline views, you'll be able to stop for a cup of hot chocolate. The ribbon stays open through March (weather permitting) and will host a Skate with Santa on Saturday, December 15 from 10am to noon. 

Photograph: Patrick L. Pyszka
Things to do, Performances

City of Chicago Christmas Tree

icon-location-pin Multiple venues

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 city's 105th tree is a 48-year-old, 60-foot-tall, 8,200-pound Norway spruce from Elmhurst, Illinois. To see the tree's big debut, head to Millennium Park at 6pm on Friday, November 16, when the city hosts a lighting ceremony with the help of Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes.

Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
Things to do, Late openings


icon-location-pin Lincoln Park Zoo | Chicago, IL, Lincoln Park

When the weather gets cold and most of the animals head indoors, Lincoln Park Zoo tranforms into a a field of twinkling bulbs. ZooLights decorates the beloved zoo with themed displays, perfect for a seasonal Instagram. Throughout the month, you'll also find ice-sculpture carvers and carolers joining the fun, as well as hot beverages available for purchase. This year, ZooLights adds several ticketed events, including a Holiday Market (Nov 27), an adults-only night (Nov 29), a live performance of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas (Dec 9) and a Zoo Year's Eve celebration (Dec 31). 

Photograph: J.B. Spector
Things to do, Exhibitions

“Christmas Around the World”

icon-location-pin Museum of Science and Industry | Chicago, IL, Hyde Park

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.

Theater, Drama

In the Canyon

icon-location-pin Broadway Armory Park, Edgewater

In previous works, including her thrilling horror play Hinter earlier this year, Chicago writer Calamity West has explored the gaps between truth, perception and reality. Her new play, In the Canyon, is something different: a full-throated, pro-choice, pro-women, anti-Trump war cry. It still has room for ambiguities—spiritual ones, in particular—but its purpose is sharply clear.

Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Cultural Center
Art, Design

“African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race”

icon-location-pin Chicago Cultural Center | Chicago, IL, Loop

Black designers such as Charles Dawson, Emmett McBain and Eugene Winslow take the spotlight in the Chicago Cultural Center's latest exhibition, which explores how African American professionals used their work to portray their race. “African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race” includes examples of cartooning, architectural signage, illustration, product design and more that was developed in Chicago between 1900 and 1980.

Soul Summit
Photograph: Mo Manley
Nightlife, Nightlife

Soul Summit

icon-location-pin East Room, Logan Square

While it's been ousted from its longtime home at the Double Door, this killer monthly soul music party lives on at East Room with dusty grooves and rare soul that will keep the dance floor packed until 5am. Resident DJs Scott "Sloppy White" Williams, Dave Mata, Duke Grip and Mo Manley invite crate-digging experts to show off their collections of vintage vinyl.

Art on theMART
Photograph: Joshua Brott
Art, Film and video

Art on theMART

icon-location-pin Merchandise Mart,

Five nights a week, a 25-story-tall video installation takes over the side of Merchandise Mart, filling the building's historic facade with vibrant colors and moving images. Harnessing 34 digital projectors, the show features work by a rotating lineup of artists and is best viewed from Wacker Drive or the Riverwalk, between Wells and Orleans Streets. Art on theMART lights up the night Wednesday through Sunday, from 7:15 to 9:15pm.

Karl Wirsum. Youdue, c. 1966.
Photograph: Courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago
Art, Contemporary art

“Hairy Who? 1966–1969”

icon-location-pin Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

In 1966, School of the Art Institute graduates Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca and Karl Wirsum presented a group show at the Hyde Park Art Center, exhibiting together under the moniker of "Hairy Who." The artists went on to present five more shows, displaying bold, humorous art that was inspired by everything from comic books to sign painters. The Art Institute's latest exhibition presents work that was displayed during one of the six Hairy Who shows—much of which hasn't been seen publically since the ’60s.

Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room “Let’s Survive Forever”
Photograph: Courtesy wndr museum
Art, Installation

wndr museum

icon-location-pin 1130 W Monroe St, West Loop

Step inside one of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's famous Infinity Mirror Rooms at this new pop-up exhibition, which features installations that blend art and science. Other attractions include a “zero-gravity ball pit” that uses helium balloons and fans to simulate a weightless version of the childhood attraction, a floor that reacts to your footsteps and a gigantic screen that replicates your image with black and white discs. 

Illustration: Emory Douglas
Art, Contemporary art

“ICONIC Black Panther”

icon-location-pin Stony Island Arts Bank, South Shore

Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party’s Illinois chapter, this group exhibition celebrates the legacy of a group that spoke out against racism and inequality. Featuring work by established and emerging artists, “ICONIC Black Panther” includes pieces by Emory Douglas (the former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party), Chicago-based artist Rashayla Marie Brown and sculptor Celine Browning.