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Garfield Park Conservatory
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Beat the winter blues by visiting these Chicago attractions

Escape the ice and snow (or find ways to revel in them) at these winter-friendly destinations.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

We won't sugarcoat it: Winter in Chicago can be downright brutal, especially when the temperature drops to the single digits and the sidewalks become a solid sheet of ice. But it's still possible to enjoy things to do in Chicago when there's snow on the ground—in fact, many Chicago attractions are more enjoyable to visit during the tourist off-season.  From a movie theater with come interesting winter programming to a cocktail bar that boasts two roaring fireplaces, we've found 11 Chicago attractions are even better in the winter. A bit of time outside of the house might be just what you need to survive winter in Chicago.

Time Out Market Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • West Loop

Need a great meal that will warm you up? With 50,000-square-feet of space and plenty of cozy corners to sit down in, you can enjoy a steaming bowl of noodles from Bill Kim Ramen Bar, chicken curry from Bar Goa or a plate of Soul & Smoke's signature mac and cheese. You can even snag a hot cocktail from Time Out Market Chicago's tropical speakeasy, Secret Sound.

Chicago attractions that are even better in the winter

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Millennium Park

Located to the east of Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park is a year-round attraction with climbing walls, tennis courts, the City Mini Golf course and one of the city's most epic playgrounds. But the park truly comes alive in the winter, when skaters flock to its quarter-mile ice ribbon, which allows visitors to slide through a serpentine circuit while admiring the Chicago skyline. Reservations are encouraged and you can use the rink free of charge if you bring your own skates, though rentals are available for $16–$22.

  • Music
  • Folk, country and blues

January in Chicago is Buddy Guy season, when the legendary bluesman picks up his polka-dot guitar and takes the stage for a series of shows at the South Loop blues club that bears his name. The annual month-long residency pairs Guy with a different supporting act on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, including local singer Demetria Taylor, California guitarist Leilani Kilgore and veteran singer-songwriter John Primer.

  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Wrigleyville

Sure, you could sit on your couch and stream a movie, but the Music Box Theatre's winter programming provides some compelling reasons to sit down in front of a much bigger screen. Throughout January and February, the theater is screening a different black and white movie presented in ultra-widescreen (a.k.a. cinemascope), including Akria Kurosawa's classic samurai film, Yojimbo. And in February and March, you can see some unlikely double features during a series called High and Low, which presents a surreal comedy like The Phantom of Liberty alongside a more mainstream movie like Billy Madison.

  • Health and beauty
  • River West/West Town

Few things feel better than a warm bath after a long commute in freezing temperatures, which is why a trip to this luxurious River West spa should keep you rejuvenated until spring arrives. There are six different thermal baths housed in Air Ancient Baths, and you can switch between them as you please during your visit (you'll probably gravitate to the warm and hot baths). It might feel strange to put on your swimsuit in the dead of winter, but once you dip your toes in a steaming pool, you'll temporarily forget about the drifts of snow outside.

Garfield Park Conservatory
  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • East Garfield Park

If you need to pretend that you've escaped to a desert or a tropical landscape for a few minutes, you can always stop by the Garfield Park Conservatory, which offers free admission 365 days a year (reservations are recommended). With two acres of indoor displays to explore, you can stop by throughout the season to warm up while walking throught the Fern Room, which provides an approximation of Chicago's prehistoric plantlife, or the Aroid House, where you'll find plants that don't need much sunlight to thrive.

  • Restaurants
  • Coffee shops
  • New City

Nothing warms you in the winter quite like a great cup of coffee, and there's only one roast on the menu at Sputnik Coffee, so you won't have to waste time deciding what to order. The Back of the Yards roaster's home base boasts a few stools where you can sit down with your drink, served in its signature bright red mug. You'll also find bags of coffee that you can take home to brew and drink in your personal cafe (the kitchen table or your couch).

  • Shopping
  • Womenswear
  • Lower West Side

This elegant space is part retail shop and part metalsmith studio, The Shudio also happens to be among Chicago's best plant stores. Stop by to browse a solid selection of houseplants, ranging from fiddle leaf fig to a neon-colored philodendron. Stepping inside the Pilsen shop is a nice respite from the city's drab winter landscape—and bringing home a plant can help make your home an equally welcoming cold weather refuge.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Loop

The main branch of the Chicago Public Library is already a great place to curl up with a book when the weather gets cold, but savvy Chicagoans know to head for the ninth floor. Appropirately named the Winter Garden, the top-floor reading room at the Harold Washington Library Center boasts a glass ceiling that lets in natural light without forcing you to brave the elements.

  • Restaurants
  • Ice cream parlors
  • Beverly
  • price 1 of 4

For several decades, the Original Rainbow Cone closed for business during the winter months. But a few years back, the Beverly institution decided to keep its door open as the temperature dropped—and customers have continued to show up. You can get scoops of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House (vanilla with cherries and walnuts), pistachio and orange sherbet seven days a week at the Rainbow Cone in Beverly (and a newer location in Lombard). This just proves a fact we've known all along: It's never too cold for ice cream.

  • Museums
  • Natural history
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 1 of 4

No matter how chilly it is outside, it's perpetually springtime inside the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The 2,700-square-foot Judy Istock Butterfly Haven is especially attractive during the frosty months, as it offers a dreamy (and warm) reprieve from the harsh elements where you can observe 1,000 butterflies. The rest of the museum is fantastic, too—kids will love the interactive displays in exhibitions devoted to wildlife and conservation.

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Logan Square
  • price 2 of 4

With no less than two fireplaces to keep you warm, Logan Square cocktail bar Scofflaw becomes an especially cozy place to grab a drink during the winter. You can embrace the season with cocktails like hot buttered rum or defy it by opting for a swizzle or a rum and pisco concoction that's simply called "Paradise." 

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