Christmas in Chicago 2024: 20 Most Festive Things to Do

The windy city with a history of gangsters and deep-dish pizza may not conjure images of a holiday paradise.

However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a city that commits as wholeheartedly to Christmas as the city of Chicago. Follow along to discover the 20 best Christmas things to do in Chicago.

The merriest season transforms Chi-town into a veritable winter wonderland, complete with illuminating Christmas light displays, authentic German markets, and live musical productions.

Create family-friendly holiday traditions such as taking in the department store decorations on State Street. Or, snuggle up with a cup of cocoa in front of a towering Christmas tree in Chicago.

From photos with Santa to LED lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, there’s no end to the number of fun things to do at Chicago Christmas time.

If you can grin and bear the cold, we think you’ll see there is a world of joy, entertainment, and amazement to discover in Chicago this holiday season.

December in Chicago

Jack Frost might live at the North Pole, but he would feel right at home in the Windy City. While there are an array of awesome things to do in Chicago in December, many will require thermal layers.

Bundle up, as during Christmas in Chicago temperatures will reach lows of 27 degrees, and snowfall is usually imminent. We suggest loading up on leggings, long johns, warm boots, gloves, and hats if you plan on window shopping on Michigan Avenue. 

However, with the proper winter coat and attitude, visitors will have their pick of what to do in Chicago in December.

A museum with Christmas decorations
photo credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago via Facebook

Chicago in December Things To Do

Summertime may get all the glory when it comes to the Second City, but in our opinion, some of the best things to do in Chicago shine even brighter in December. Admire impressionist masterpieces at the Art Institute, or conquer your fear of heights when you try TILT at 360 Chicago.

Take a break from gingerbread with a grisly crime tour, or observe everyone’s favorite Blue Men at the Briar Street Theatre. One of the best things to do in Chicago in December is see a show!

Get Medieval with a royal feast and cheer on your favorite knighted champion as you chow down sans silverware.

Welcome in winter time with even more things to do in Chicago in December here.*

*Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of things to do in Chicago in December, things to do in Chicago December, Chicago December events, or things to do in Chicago for Christmas. The Windy city overflows with wintery activities and attractions, and visitors will never want for what to do in Chicago in December.

Christmas Vacation Packages in Chicago

Chicago has endless amounts of historical landmarks, museums, art galleries, and greenery to explore. Make the most out of all the merry Christmas activities in Chicago by spending a night or two in this metropolis by the Lake. 

Whatever your style or budget, we offer many options for Chicago Hotels, from boutique accommodations to budget inns. Book with confidence, knowing you can stay anywhere from the Magnificent Mile to the loop with our lowest rate guarantee. 

Are your little elves expecting quite the holiday haul? Save your hard-earned dollars for presents when you bundle your Chicago attractions and accommodations. Chicago Vacation Packages offer the ideal way to investigate the charm, history, and culture of the Windy City.

holiday shoppers at christkindlmarket
Image via Christkindlmarket / Facebook

Things to Do in Chicago at Christmas Time*

Visit a Christmas Market in Chicago or Take a Tour

Holiday Hike: Season Sampling Walking & Food Tour

When: November 18th – Christmas Eve

Delicious winter eats, an authentic German Christmas market, and the merriest light displays make for a Chicagoan Holiday experience. Foodies, sightseers, and history buffs alike will clamor to sign up for the Holiday Hike: Season Sampling Walking & Food Tour

Don your most festive sweater and comfortable walking shoes as you prepare for this 2.5-hour walking tour. This all-encompassing food-filled adventure features stops and samples at:

  • The lights at Magnificent Mile
  • The Millenium Park ice skating rink and Christmas tree
  • Samples of deep-dish pizza, German bratwurst, and a chocolate brownie
  • A visit to Christkindlmarket and the infamous ‘Cloud Gate.’
  • Samples of craft beer & hot apple cider
  • Viewing of the Marshall Field’s Christmas Windows
Huge Christmas tree with lots of lights and ornaments at Winter Wonderland at Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
photo credit: Navy Pier via Facebook

Winter Wonderland Festival at Navy Pier – Chicago, IL

Seeking some frost-bitten family-friendly fun? Head to the Navy Pier to escape city life for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Winter Wonderland Festival!* Embrace the snowy season and load up on outdoor activities when you visit this joyous event.

Santa’s biggest fans will enjoy hours of wintery fun when they strap on their ice skates and cruise through a land of twinkling lights and snowflakes. Follow in your favorite snowman’s footsteps as you journey through a birch tree maze, visit St. Nick, and more.

*Dates for Winter Wonderland and Light Up the Lake have yet to be confirmed.

Dine at the Walnut Room at Macy’s on State Street

When you feast at the famous Walnut Room, inject your Chi-town holiday plans with some gravitas and history. Not only does this State Street Staple located on the 7th floor of Macy’s offer amazing holiday decor, but diners can also revel in the presence of the ‘Great Tree.’ Decked out in red and green, this marvelous evergreen will be on display beginning early November.

Outfitted in stunning Russian wood paneling and Austrian chandeliers, the Walnut Room holds the distinct honor of being the first restaurant ever opened in a department store. Make your holiday meal reservations now and delight in Mrs. Hering’s original 1890 chicken pot pie or cider-glazed slow-roasted turkey.  Please note that dining reservations for the holiday season will open on September 29th. 

BYOB Party Bus Holiday Lights Tour ‘Tis The Season – Chicago, IL

When: Select dates December

Need a break from that winter chill? Gather your most festive friends for a raucous holiday light tour you’ll never forget. The BYOB Party Bus Holiday Lights Tour Tis’ The Season the booze-filled party bus Christmas tour of your dreams. 

Brought to you by the Wami Live Inc team, this event combines great tunes, comedy, and the iconic Chicago holiday sights to bring you one epic ride. 

Partygoers can expect to soak in the sparkling lights and decor at the Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park Christmas Tree, State Street, Lincoln Park Zoo Lights, and Macy’s Holiday Display. Your party bus ticket admission also includes the following:

  • Souvenir Santa hat
  • Complimentary apps & drink deals
  • Gift card
Light at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Lincoln Park Zoo via Facebook

Christmas Lights in Chicago

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo – Chicago, IL

When: Select dates November 17 – January 7th

Bright lights + Zoo animals = perfection! Get ready to witness the glow of millions of twinkling lights at one of Chi-town’s most beloved Holiday events. Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is a shining LED-fueled extravaganza featuring hundreds of luminous displays, seasonal experiences, and an 18-foot Christmas Tree.

This year the Zoo is ramping up the Christmas spirit with even more special activities and ticketed experiences, such as:

  • Photos with Santa
  • Snowy’s Spirits & S’more pop-up holiday bar
  • Light Maze Presented by Invesco QQQ (ticketed experience)
  • Enchanted Forest (ticketed experience)
  • AT&T Endangered Species Carousel (ticketed experience)

Pro Tip: Zoolights is a special ticketed event, Wednesday-Sunday evening tickets are $5, but Monday nights are free. 

To enjoy all of the animals and exotic species at the Lincoln Park Zoo during the day, we highly recommend combining the Zoo with any one of our other unique Chicago attractions featured on the Chicago Explorer Pass.

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights, Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago, IL

When: November through the first weekend of January 2024

While you won’t find Zoolights at the Museum of Science of Industry, you will be stunned by the piles of presents, tinsel, and evergreen cheer. An awe-inspiring celebration of multiculturalism and holiday joy, the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light event has brought smiles to people’s faces since 1942.

Ride the Museum of Science and Industry yuletide spirit all afternoon long, as you take in a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of over 50 smaller trees.

The painstakingly decorated displays showcasing holiday traditions worldwide remind us that while our heritages may vary, we all appreciate the love and magic of this special season.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss out on getting your fridge-worthy snapshot with Santa, who will be waiting in the festive photo studio inside the Holiday store.

Tickets for Christmas Around the World are included in general admission, so why not stick around and soak in the best of the Museum of Science and Industry post-Santa photo op?

Viewing Airplanes at The Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

Illumination at the Morton Arboretum – Chicago, IL

When: November 18th-January 6th, 2024

Dreaming of an enchanted forest filled with magic, color, and light? Fulfill your fantasy with a visit to Illumination Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum this winter. 

This truly immersive, one-of-a-kind experience allows visitors to leisurely meander through 50 acres of light installations, projections, and special technology, all designed to illuminate and change the appearance of trees and other plant life. 

Visitors are encouraged to interact with their wintery environment by hugging a tree and watching as the lights respond. Culminate your ethereal adventure with a spectacular laser light finale. 

Be sure to warm up with a cup of steaming hot chocolate or an ooey gooey roasted marshmallow s’more post-walk! This year adults 18 or older can get in even more after-dark thrills with Electric Illumination. Featuring an explosion of trance music and synchronized lights, Electric will challenge your perception of traditional holiday light displays.

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

When: November 10th-January 7th, 2024

Trails of glowing, life-sized lavender flowers plus the beloved Winter Cathedral installation come together in perfect harmony at Lightscape. This annual extravaganza of glowing lights is a love letter to the fleeting beauty of the winter season.

This year, the sparkling light installation will return to transform new parts of the Chicago Botanic Garden, including Evening Island. Visitors can meander through whimsical landscapes of electric Christmas trees, abstract shapes, and seas of floating poppies.

Capture the radiance of the reimagined trail, or wind down your night of lights with some festive food and drinks.

photo credit: The Morton Arboretum via Facebook

Christmas Shows in Chicago

A Magic Cirque Christmas – Joliet, IL

When: December 21st

Hightail it to the CIBC Chicago Theater for an evening of must-see Yuletide magic. A Magic Cirque Christmas is an explosion of sleights of hand, acrobatics, skating, and more. Audience members of all ages will observe in awe as the talent performs incredible circus-inspired stunts.

From trapeze twirls to back flips, daring feats will be set against the backdrop of your favorite holiday tunes. Hosted by the magnificent Lucy Darling, this unique production is perfect for the whole family.

The Immersive Nutcracker A Winter Miracle

When: dates TBD

Sugar plum fairies, massive Mouse kings, and winter soldiers, oh my! Experience the Nutcracker like never before when you become part of the ballet. Brought to you by the creators of Immersive Van Gogh, Nutcracker a Winter Miracle is the inspired new imagining of the classic tale.

Observe your favorite ballet on a majestic scale as you are whisked away by the sweeping soundtrack of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Unlike any other production, this immersive journey features falling snow, glittering photo ops, projections, and special effects. Pose before a life-size Nutcracker and witness the iconic March of the Toys.

Thanks to cutting-edge technology, you’ll have 500,000 cubic feet of holiday wonder to document and explore.

Ballet dancers performing the Nutcracker at the Orlando Ballet
photo credit: Orlando Ballet Company and School via Facebook

The Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet

When: December 2nd – December 27th

A timeless tale performed by Chicago’s premier dance company is hard to beat. Reunite with the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Toy Soldier, and the Mouse King for a heartwarming performance of the Nutcracker.

Let the familiar music of Tchaikovsky wash over you, as you watch our young heroine celebrate Christmas Eve in the shadow of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. A pure mix of fantasy and delight, this traditional tale has been reimagined for a new generation thanks to the Tony Award-winning choreography of Christopher Wheeldon.

Ice Skating in Chicago

Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Plaza – Chicago, IL

When: TBD

Nothing says ‘white Christmas’ more than a snow-filled ice skating session at one of Chi-town’s best ice skating rinks. The Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is unique in that its curved serpentine structure makes it twice the length of a traditional ice skating rink.

*No city loves Christmas quite like Chicago. As a result, this is just a tiny sampling of the offerings of Christmas things to do in Chicago, things to do in Chicago at Christmas, and things to do at Christmas in Chicago.

skaters at millennium park
photo credit: Millennium Park via Facebook

Cheery Treats in Chicago

A full day of sledding, building snowmen, and sightseeing around the Second City can build up quite the appetite. 

Reward (and warm) yourself with any number of mouth-watering treats and soothing beverages from our favorite Chicago cafes and bakeries:

XO Marshmallow Cafe – Chicago, IL

Looking for an Instagram-worthy cup of cocoa that’s (almost) too pretty to drink? XO Marshmallow Cafe’s multi-colored chocolates are seriously stunning and tasty to boot. Spice up your feed with the luscious lavender, white chocolate cocoa with matching lavender honey marshmallows. 

Pro Tip: For all of the Harry Potter fans out there, don’t forget to stock up on their gourmet Butterbeer White Hot Chocolate so you can recreate this tasty treat at home!

Close up of hot chocolate mug with marshmellow at XO Marshmallow in Chicago, Illinois, USAKatherine Anne Confections – Chicago, IL

Consistently named one of the ‘best hot chocolates in America’ by Fodor Travel, Katherine Anne Confections has built up one stellar reputation.

Luckily, their velvety thick, and rich hot chocolate lives up to the hype. Enjoy up to 10 varieties of this indulgent beverage with flavors like chai, peanut butter, salted caramel, and more. Each cozy cup can be topped with homemade marshmallows, Kilgus Farm whipped cream or both!

Stan’s Donuts and Coffee – Chicago, IL

Think pink! Take a walk on the wild side when you stop for a sip (or two) of pink hot chocolate at Stan’s Donuts and Coffee. This photogenic cup of cocoa pairs perfectly with a fresh donut (might we suggest a festive red velvet). 

We are also partial to their delectable hot chocolate malt, which features real chocolate malt balls!

Close up of woman choosing from a box of donuts with iced coffee on the side at Stan's Donuts and Coffee in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Stans Donuts and Coffee Facebook Pag

The Midwest’s largest city is a magnificent mess of lakefront beaches, iconic architecture, and an impressive art collection. But, for a city so thoroughly urban, it’s shocking to discover the holiday spirit alive and well.

Christmas in Chicago shows up everywhere, from the dazzling decorated CTA holiday train to the sparkling lights at Millenium Park

Every year visitors from all over the world enjoy first-class entertainment, holiday markets, festive illumination, and delicious eats in Chicago at Christmas time.

From memories under the mistletoe to dances of the Sugar Plum Fairy, a holiday in Chicago is something you’ll never forget!

So, will you spend Christmas in Chicago 2024?

What Things to Do in Chicago Around Christmas Did We Miss?

Leave a comment below and share your Christmas vacation in Chicago plans!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

2 comments about “Christmas in Chicago 2024: 20 Most Festive Things to Do”


November 22, 2021 at 8:32 am

I was just their on Saturday. I got re-directed due to the closing of the streets for the parade. I wish we had left earlier so the kids would have more time.
Besides Winter Wonderland at Navy Pier, what else can we do (coming from as far as Indianapolis, IN) and what are some of the best hotels that are kid friendly. I spend most Christmas at the Renaissance and we had booked the Royal Sonata. We really want a hotel on the river with river view from our room.

Thank you,

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