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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.

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Polar Plunge 2018
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

Ready to make the most of the final weekend of January? If for some reason you haven't made it to the Art Institute to see “Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again,” you should get your tickets before the exhibition closes on Sunday. While you're at it, book a reservation at some of Chicago's best restaurants as Chicago Restaurant Week begins, or line up to taste the best donuts in Chicago at Donut Fest. If you're itching to see a show, Japanese rocker CHAI, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard and Wu-Tang Clan rapper GZA are in town this weekend, which also sees the official premiere of punk-rock musical Verböten, based on the true story of a band of Evanston teenagers that formed in the early ’80s. Plus, you can jump into Lake Michigan at the Polar Bear Plunge, dance the night away with the Windy City Soul Club or shop the Randolph Street Market pop-up at Time Out Market Chicago. Find some excitement among the best things to do in Chicago this weekend.

RECOMMENDED: Full Chicago events calendar

Things to do this weekend in Chicago

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Andy Warhol. Skull, 1976.
Photograph: © 2019 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Art, Contemporary art

“Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again”

Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

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.

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Photograph: Jay Wennington
Restaurants

Chicago Restaurant Week

Various venues, Loop

Open wide! Chicago Restaurant Week is back with nearly 400 eateries offering dining deals from January 24 through February 9. For 17 belt-busting days, Chicagoans can cash in on special prix-fixe menus for brunch and lunch ($24) and dinner ($36 and/or $48). Use the culinary event as an excuse to revisit an old favorite or explore a splashy new opening. With two weeks to chow down, there's plenty of time to make a few reservations and check out some of the best restaurants in Chicago.

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Records turntable
Photograph: Pixabay
Music, Funk, soul and disco

Windy City Soul Club

Sleeping Village, Avondale

Chicago's long-running dance party devoted to Northern soul, Motown and R&B settles into its new home at Sleeping Village. Windy City Soul Club DJs oversee an all-vinyl soundtrack, digging through their personal collection to put together playlists that keep the dance floor grooving into the wee hours of the night.

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Verböten
Photograph: Audrey Palumbo
Theater, Musicals

Verböten

Chopin Theatre, River West/West Town

Based on the true story of a group of Evanston teenagers who formed a punk rock band in the early ’80s, Verböten examines how the simple act of picking up an instrument can become an escape from a difficult home life and a crucial means of self-expression. Local musician Jason Narucy—who played in the original incarnation of Verböten when he was just 11 years old—penned the songs for this musical, writing fiery punk anthems for its young protagonists and ’60s- and ’70s-rock numbers for the adult characters. Filled with relatable teenage angst and energetic live performances, Verböten might just inspire you to make some music of your own.

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Snow winter
Photograph: Unsplash
Kids, Quirky events

Polar Adventure Days

Northerly Island, Museum Campus

Enjoy a free journey through Chicago's natural winter wonderland during one of three Polar Adventure Days on Northerly Island. Visitors will be able to check out birds of prey from the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, make nature-inspired winter crafts and see Siberian huskies and wolves. If there's snow on the ground, you can also strap on a pair of snowshoes and trudge around the island.

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CHAI
Photograph: Julien Kelly-Gross
Music, Rock and indie

CHAI + Bunny

Empty Bottle, Ukrainian Village

The four women who make up CHAI hail from Japan, often wear matching pink jumpsuits and have been known to hang out with gigantic Japanese pop stars like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. But this quartet isn't belting out processed four-part harmonies atop layers of synthesizers—CHAI is a rock band on a mission. On its latest album, PUNK, the group speaks out against the homogenized, hyper-cute "kawaii" beauty culture of Japan, championing individuality and inclusivity atop disco beats and fuzzed-out basslines. Even if you don't understand enough Japanese to decipher every lyric, the spirit of empowerment in CHAI's rebellious anthems is palpable. Local rockers Bunny open the show.

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Chicago Polar Bear Plunge
Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Polar Bear Club
Things to do, Quirky events

Chicago Polar Bear Plunge

Oak Street Beach, Gold Coast

Not to be confused with the Chicago Polar Plunge, which takes place in March, this frigid tradition is organized by the Chicago Polar Bear Club and challenges participants to take a dip in Lake Michigan to raise money for local families in need. No matter how much time you spend on the beach during the summer, you're probably not going to be prepared for just how cold the lake gets in January, so make sure that you bring something warm to wear (even if you're just there to watch).

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Hallie Duesenberg
Things to do

Randolph Street Market Festival Pop-Up

Time Out Market Chicago, West Loop

Beloved vintage bazaar Randolph Street Market will host a pop-up installation at Time Out Market on January 25, offering guests a curated designer showcase packed with amazing finds—just in time for Valentine’s Day. Get some shopping done with a mimosa in hand before heading downstairs for lunch. Randolph Street Market returns to its usual outpost with 125 vendors at 1341 W Randolph Street on February 8 and 9.

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Nevermore Park
Photograph: Amy Lombard
Art, Installation

Nevermore Park

949 W 16th St, Lower West Side

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. 

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Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Theater

Dance Nation

Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Lincoln Park
5 out of 5 stars

The competitive preteen dancers in Clare Barron’s Dance Nation have more on their minds than just making the Nationals in Tampa: They are interested in sex, power, friendship, their bodies and their place in the world. Barron has taken a premise from the Bring it On playbook and used it to create a work that is far more complicated and beguiling. A 2019 Pulitzer finalist, Dance Nation is a thrilling, theatrically daring, utterly singular night of theater that has more in common with Our Town than with issue plays, small-town mockumentaries or realist stories of any sort. Its biggest stylistic swing is a matter of casting: The troupe members, six girls and one boy, are played by adults from across the age spectrum. Adolescence is tumultuous but fleeting, and there’s no better reminder of that than watching grown men and women—burdened with the knowledge of what comes after—try to wrestle it to a draw.

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Photograph: Jenny Jiao Hsia
Art, Digital & interactive

“System Link: Video Game as Memoir”

VGA Gallery, Logan Square

While many video games put the player in the role of a heroic character tasked with saving the world, some recent games have explored how an interactive medium can be used as a vehicle for memoir and personal storytelling. Showcasing titles like Consume Me, which unpacks the creator's relationship with food, "System Link: Video Game as Memoir" is interested in how picking up a controller can allow you to go inside the mind of the person responsible for the game you're playing.

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Beer Temple
Photograph: Courtesy Beer Temple
Shopping, Pop-up shops

Beer Temple Pop-up Record Store

The Beer Temple, Avondale

A new year demands some new records to spin on your turntable, and you'll find lots of interesting options at the Beer Temple's latest record store pop-up. Teaming up with Collective Arts Brewing, the bar and bottleshop sets up crates of albums supplied by local shops Bucket O' Blood Books and Records, Wild Prairie and Tone Deaf Records. Attendees can grab a beer and browse the offerings—and any record purchase comes with a free gift from Collective Arts.

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Time Out Chicago's Donut Party, June 12, 2016
Photograph: Jordan Avery
Things to do, Festivals

Donut Fest

The Chop Shop, Wicker Park

While fancy doughnuts are a bit played out at this point, Chicago still boasts some amazing purveyors of fried dough. The annual Donut Fest brings together some of the city's best shops (Roeser's Bakery, Stan's, Firecakes and Doughnut Vault) for an afternoon of sampling, accompanied by coffee from Dark Matter and La Colombe. With two sessions to choose from, you'll have to decide if you want an early-morning sugar rush or doughnuts for lunch.

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Wu-Tang Clan performs at The Congress Theater, 1/8/11
Photograph: Max Herman
Music, Rap, hip-hop and R&B

GZA

Concord Music Hall, Logan Square

Wu-Tang Clan member GZA—also known as "the Genius"—was the first member of the group to sign an individual record deal (his debut was aptly titled Words from the Genius), but he saved his most memorable tracks for his 1995 release, Liquid Swords. The album was part of the first wave of Wu-Tang solo records, layering GZA's agile lyricism atop the kung-fu movie excerpts and dusty soul samples of producer the RZA. Though he's toured behind the album extensively in recent years, his latest stop in Chicago will bring the 25-year-old songs to life with the help of a live band.

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Photograph: Nick Murway
Things to do, Festivals

Winter Brew

DANK Haus German American Cultural Center, Lincoln Square

Warm up during some of the coldest weeks of winter at the DANK Haus, where local breweries, cideries and distilleries will be serving their wares. Guests can attend one of two sessions and purchase tickets that can be redeemed for beer, cocktails and food provided by Fountainhead. Stick around for specialty tappings throughout the afternoon, including Half Acre's Benthic, Empirical's BRO.VALANCE and Temperance's Heaven Hill Barrel Aged Blueberry Maple Might Meets Right Imperial Stout.

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Evil Dead The Musical
Photograph: Courtesy Evil Dead The Musical
Theater, Musicals

Evil Dead The Musical

Greenhouse Theater Center, Lincoln Park

The gory musical based on cult classic horror films The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness, returns to Chicago for a string of shows at the Greenhouse Theatre. Running with the basic premise of five college students spending a night in a haunted cabin in the middle of nowhere, Evil Dead The Musical follows the chainsaw wielding Ash as he mows down demons while belting out tunes like “All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons” and “What the F**k Was That?” Plus, it's one of the only musicals we've ever heard of with a "splatter zone," where viewers will get sprayed with fake blood during the show.

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Diane Coffee
Photograph: Alexa Viscius
Music, Rock and indie

Diane Coffee

Hideout, River West/West Town

A former child voice actor who played characters in animated series like Kim Possible and Lilo & Stitch: The Series, Shaun Fleming has tried on plenty of new identities through the albums he's released under the name Diane Coffee. After portraying King Herod in the Lyric Opera's production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2018, Fleming entered the studio to write an album that deals with the anxieties of life in a digital age. On Internet Arms, Fleming approaches contemporary electro-pop music with the theatricality of his glam rock alter-ego, creating soaring synth-dappled anthems that recall the radio-friendly fare of Robyn and Lykke Li. Here, he headlines a two-night stand at the Hideout, where you might hear the debut of some new tunes.

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Photograph: Grace DuVal
Things to do

Storytime with Drag Queens

Time Out Market Chicago, West Loop

Switch up your Sunday routine and introduce the whole family to Muffy Fishbasket 'n Palz, the nationally recognized Chicago chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour, which promotes an early understanding of gender fluidity through glamorous, positive queer role models. After storytime, hit the first floor of the Market for lunch—kids will dig the offerings at Art of Pizza and Duck Inn Dogs!

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Photograph: Lorenzo Tassone
Things to do

Chicago Restaurant Week at Time Out Market Chicago

Time Out Market Chicago, West Loop

For 17 belt-busting days, Time Out Market is tackling Chicago Restaurant Week with a menu that allows diners to choose their own culinary adventure. Join us for lunch or dinner, where you’ll be able to build your ultimate three-course menu with dishes from some of the best chefs in Chicago. Stick around for curated cocktails at the bar, and be sure to save room for dessert!

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The Art Institute of Chicago.
Photograph: Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago
Music, Rock and indie

John Cale

Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

A founding member of the Velvet Underground who went on to dabble in straight-ahead rock, avant-garde composition and classical music, John Cale has a reputation as a daring musician and an adventurous producer. After working on music with contemporary artists like Field Music and Marissa Nadler, Cale recently revisited and reinterpreted his 1982 art rock opus, Music For a New Society. Cale's performance at the Art Institute coincides with the closing of the “From A to B and Back Again” exhibition, which explores the work of artist—and, briefly, the Velvet Underground's manager and producer—Andy Warhol.

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

Ice Skating in Millennium Park

Millennium Park | Chicago, IL, 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. 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.

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chi_fd_parsonschicken&fish_0715
Photograph: Clayton Hauck
Restaurants, Soul and southern American

Parson’s Chicken and Fish Pop-up

Chicago Athletic Association, Loop

One of the biggest bummers about a cold Chicago winter is not being able to have a meal (and a couple of Negroni Slushies) on either of the Parson’s Chicken and Fish patios. To tide you over until the warmer months arrive, Chicago Athletic Association is hosting a three-week pop-up that replicates the experience of a summer afternoon spent eating fried chicken under a red and white-striped umbrella. The hotel's Tank will be transformed into an indoor version of a Parson's patio, complete with ping pong tables, strings of twinkling lights and menu of chicken sandwiches, hush puppies and fried fish. And yes, you'll also be able to order the aforementioned Negroni Slushie, as well as highballs, picklebacks and a housemade pickle soda. It's no replacement for real patio weather, but we'll take what we can get.

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Death Cab For Cutie
Photograph: Michael J. Chen
Music, Rock and indie

Benjamin Gibbard + Tara Jane O'Neil

Thalia Hall | Chicago, IL, Lower West Side

After more than two decades, Washington outfit Death Cab For Cutie is still synonymous with the kind of dramatic, lovelorn indie-rock balladry that always seems to find its way into TV soundtracks. Expect to hear plenty of classic Death Cab tunes when Benjamin Gibbard brings his solo tour to Thalia Hall for three nights, performing songs from throughout his memorable catalog. And just because we're completists, we're also hoping to hear a few cuts from Gibbard's full-album cover of Teenage Fanclub’s 1991 power pop classic, Bandwagonesque. Experimental singer-songwriter Tara Jane O'Neils opens the show each night.

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Reginald Malcolmson. Hall of Sport and Culture, Collage, 1971/74.
Photograph: The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Reginald Malcolmson and Margaret Malcolmson.
Art, Design

“Bauhaus Chicago: Design in the City”

Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

After the Nazis forced the closure of the German Bauhaus art school, prominent figures like László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe moved to Chicago to continue the school’s legacy as heads of new institutions. This exhibit examines the work of their students and faculty, including jewelry, photography, furniture and architecture that channeled the creative spirit of the Bauhaus.

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Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room
Photograph: Courtesy wndr museum
Art, Installation

wndr museum

1130 W Monroe St, West Loop

Step inside one of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's famous Infinity Mirror Rooms at this pop-up exhibition, which features installations that blend art and science. The latest "chapter" of wndr museum features a lineup of new installations (giving previous visitors a reason to come back), focusing on works that utilize technology. Among the new experiences are a room lined with LED walls that guests can "draw" on with water, a series of abstract shapes that guests can project images onto and an interactive dance station that replicates and manipulates your moves on a screen. You'll also find a two-story rainbow slide and murals by local artists Mac Blackout and Lauren Asta. The latest iteration of wndr museum will stick around for "limited, yet undetermined amount of time," so squeeze in a visit while the current batch of installations is on display.

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Photograph: Ryan Bourque
Music, Folk, country and blues

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy's Legends, Loop

Most people call January "the first month of the year" or "three weeks of taking my resolutions seriously," but hardcore Chicago blues fans know that it's actually "Buddy Guy month." Throughout the entire month, the legendary bluesman picks up his polka-dot guitar and takes the stage during a residency at the South Loop blues clubs that bears his name. Guy performs every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, with a different supporting act joining him each evening. This year, you'll see Guy paired with 20-year-old Mississippi guitarist Kingfish, local singer Demetria Taylor and veteran singer-songwriter Jimmy Burns. Tickets to Guy's January residency aren't exactly cheap, but witnessing a bonafide blues icon perform in his hometown is the kind of experience that's worth splurging for.

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Merit School of Music
Photograph: Jasmin Shah
Kids

Merit's Musical Storytime

Time Out Market Chicago, West Loop

Join Merit School of Music at Time Out Market Chicago for a special live musical storytime. Performing artists will combine music, movement and early literacy skills to explore the new year. We look forward to meeting your little ones and sparking the joy of books through music!

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Giuseppe Porta. Bearded Man with his Right Arm Raised, 1562/64.
Photograph: The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Richard and Mary L. Gray
Art, Drawing

“Pure Drawing: Seven Centuries of Art from the Gray Collection”

Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

Assembled from the collection of art dealer Richard Gray and his wife, the art historian Mary L. Gray, this exhibition of drawings spans 700 years of Western art. Visitors will be able to see work by artists like Vincent van Gogh, François Boucher and Giuseppe Porta, ranging from rough sketches of landscapes to intricate renderings of the human form.

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Photograph: Austin Oie Photography
Theater

Working

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, Evanston
4 out of 5 stars

It’s not so strange that a musical based on the work of oral historian Studs Terkel would find it’s ideal match in a Chicago storefront—even if said theater is technically on the Evanston side of Howard Street. Director Christopher Chase Carter’s superb revival of the 1977 musical Working demonstrates that Terkel’s man-of-the-people style is ideally suited for small houses. Like much of Terkel’s work, Working is a celebration of ordinary people who often go overlooked. Theo Ubique’s cozy cabaret space allows the talented actors (including Stephen Blu Allen, Cynthia F. Carter, Kiersten Frumkin, Jared David Michael Grant, Michael Kingston and Loretta Rezos) to perform with chatty barroom intimacy even as they cycle through character after character. No need to play to the back of the house when it’s a mere 20 feet away. All they have to do is talk—and sing.

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Wired to Wear, Museum of Science and Industry
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Museums, Science and technology

“Wired to Wear”

Museum of Science and Industry | Chicago, IL, Hyde Park

Try on the next generation of wearable technology at this exhibition devoted to clothing and augmentations that improve upon the capabilities of the human body. You'll see more than 100 inventions on display, including a flying Jet Suit made by Gravity Industries, Nike’s self-lacing shoes from Back to the Future Part II and Dainese’s D-Air Racing Suit, which monitors the speed and position to determine if embedded air bags need to be deployed. Guests can also try on the SpiderSense Vest (which uses vibrations to allow you to feel your surroundings) or the Electric Dreams headset (which reads brainwaves and translates them into colored fiber optics lighting).

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Queen!
Photograph: Erik Kommer
Nightlife, Alternative nightlife

Queen!

Metro Chicago, Wrigleyville

In the city that served as the birthplace of house music, the weekly Queen! party carries on the genre's inclusive and subversive spirit. In January, the party moves out of Smart Bar's subterranean confines and into Metro, where residents Derrick Carter, Michael Serafini and Garrett David spin deep grooves while drag performers strut across the foggy dance floor. For serious dance music fans, the trek across town to spend a night at Queen! is a pilgrimage worth making.

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Photograph: Courtesy Maggie Daley Park
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice Skating at Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park | Chicago, IL, 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. 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.

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Maxwell Street Market
Photograph: CC/Wikimedia Commons/Edsel Little
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Maxwell Street Market

Maxwell Street Market, West Loop

Originally established in the late 1800s, the Maxwell Street Market brought vendors, musicians and cooks to an open-air flea market where shoppers could find just about anything they wanted. The market introduced the Maxwell Street Polish sausage, provided a venue for rising Chicago blues musicians and was immortalized in a scene in The Blues Brothers. These days, the market sets up on nearby Desplaines Street (between Roosevelt and Howard) every Sunday, where visitors will find vendors hawking their wares, an abundance of delicious Mexican food and ocassional performances by local bands and dance troupes. Don't let the cold or wet weather scare you away—the Maxwell Street Market takes place outdoors year-round.

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Winterland at Gallagher Way
Photograph: Heidi Zeiger Photography
Things to do, Ice skating

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Gallagher Way, Wrigleyville

The Cubs may be hibernating for the winter, but Gallagher Way provides some excellent reasons to hang out in Wrigleyville during baseball's off-season. The public square's Winterland event series offers an array of seasonal, family-friendly activities, including an 8,000-square-foot ice rink, curling and skating lessons, holiday movie screenings and visits from Santa Claus. Beloved holiday bazaar Christkindlmarket also hosts an outpost at Gallagher Way, bringing shopping and glühwein north of the Loop. Plus, look out for wreath-making workshops, breakfasts with Santa and a tree lot at Big Star.

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Fantastic Bug Encounters!
Photograph: © Te Papa 2016
Museums, Natural history

“Fantastic Bug Encounters!”

The Field Museum | Chicago, IL, Museum Campus

There are far more bugs than humans on the planet, and the Field Museum's latest exhibition gives you an opportunity to learn more about the tiny, multi-legged creatures that largely go unnoticed in our day-to-day lives. “Fantastic Bug Encounters!” features larger-than-life models created by Weta Workshops (the folks behind the Lord of the Rings movies) that allow guests to see insects like bees and praying mantises in extreme detail. Interactive stations let you test your reflexes against those of a mantis, send origami butterflies into a wind tunnel and perform bug brain surgery. There's even a bug zoo where you'll be able to get your hands on a dozen live bug species.

GYG Chicago TTD

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