Wondering what to do this holiday season in Chicago? I’ve got you covered with a complete list of the best things to do at Christmas in Chicago. Magical ways to celebrate the 2023 Christmas season with family and friends this year. Find fun Christmas events for kids and adults to help get everyone into a festive mood.
Head out into the windy city to enjoy twinkling Christmas lights, see the official Christmas tree in Millennium Park, shop at the Daley Plaza’s Christkindlemarket or State Street, see a holiday parade on Michigan Avenue, and visit the city’s amazing Lincoln Park Zoo and Museum of Science and Industry.
There’s a favorite holiday activity for everyone in the family. Use this list of the 23 top things to do in Chicago at Christmas time to start planning your new holiday traditions.
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23 Festive Things to Do at Christmas in Chicago 2023
It might be cold outside but that won’t keep Chicagoans from enjoying the Christmas season. Our amazing city offers so many fun things to do from downtown Chicago to the suburbs.
Enjoy everything from beautiful holiday light displays to Zoolights, ice skating, holiday shows, and Christmas markets.
Here’s our list of the best Christmas activities in Chicago
1. Look at Christmas Light Displays
There are so many magical holiday light displays throughout the city of Chicago and its suburbs during this festive season. It’s on the top of our list of things to do at Christmas in Chicago because you’re sure to have a light show close to where you live.
You’ll find tree lights on Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park in the city plus lights at Zoolights and museums.
In the suburbs find amazing light festivals with huge drive-thrus and walk-thru displays.
If you have a Taylor Swift fan be sure to visit the Naperville home decorated with a Taylor Swift Christmas light display. Highlighting the Eras tour-inspired music and decor.
Find all of them in our complete list of the Best Chicago Light Displays in the city and suburbs. (includes the Taylor Swift light display)
2. See the Official Christmas Tree in Millennium Park
In Millennium Park you will find Chicago’s official Christmas tree. The tree lighting ceremony will be on November 17th and the lights will stay on through early January 2024.
While you’re there go ice skating at the McCormick Tribune Ice rink or take a fun spin around the skating ribbon. You can bring your own skates or use the skate rentals.
If you like to sing join in on a holiday sing-along on Fridays Nov. 24th through December 15th at Millennium Park.
There will also be an Art Market this year featuring Chicago area artists from November 18-20th.
Make sure to grab a hot chocolate while you walk around the bean and play in the awesome Maggie Daley Park playground too!
2023 Update: The Cloud Gate known to Chicagoans as the Bean will be closed for repairs and the area around it until Spring 2024.
Event Dates – November 17, 2023 – Early January 2024
Learn more about what to do at Millennium Park with Kids.
3. Visit Christkindlmarket Chicago
Get in the Christmas spirit by shopping at cute holiday markets. Christkindlemarket has a fun theme of an old German outdoor market during the holidays. You’ll find festive holiday gifts to purchase, European holiday decorations, food, and drinks for the whole family.
There are three locations for this event Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville, and Aurora.
Get more information on time and address on the Christkindlemarket website.
4. Shop on State Street & Macy’s Holiday Events
Head over to State Street after visiting the Christkindlemarket in Daley Plaza for some more holiday festivities. Visit the Macy’s department store to see the holiday window displays. These aren’t as great as when Marshall Field was here but they’re still fun to see if you’re in the area.
After visiting the windows head inside to have lunch or dinner in the Walnut Room where you’ll have amazing views of their huge Christmas tree. Make sure to leave time to really admire all the unique ornaments on the tree.
You can also visit Santa Claus while you’re there and let him know if you’ve been Naughty or Nice.
Pro Tip: You will need to make reservations in advance for the Walnut Room they book up quickly.
5. BMO Magnificent Mile Lights Festival & Parade
Kick off the holiday season and bring on your holiday spirit by watching the spectacular Magnificent Mile Lights festival parade. It goes right down Michigan Avenue and is led by Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse.
As the parade moves along it magically turns on the Christmas tree lights all along Michigan Avenue as it passes by. These lights are kept on all Christmas season so if you don’t make the parade you can still see the holiday lights.
You can learn more details in our Chicago Light Displays.
Event Date & Parade: Saturday, November, 18th 2023 – Parade Starts at 5:30 pm
6. Visit Navy Pier – Light Up the Lake
Head to Navy Pier for some family fun at their winter wonderland this year. Their Light Up the Lake special events are a great day out with the kids.
They have a huge indoor ice rink where you can rent ice skates. Plus kiddie train rides, a birch tree maze, an authentic holiday Beer garden, and Santa’s Merry Main Street & Market. Top the whole thing off with a visit to Santa Claus.
The holiday event also boasts the largest indoor light garden with huge light sculpture displays to walk through.
Find more information about Light Up the Lake.
7. See Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science & Industry
The whole family will enjoy an afternoon out at the Museum of Science and Industry. Every holiday season they host their annual Christmas Around the World with over 50 Christmas trees representing different cultures.
Each tree has been decorated with items that represent each country and has the history of how each country celebrates the holiday season. It’s really interesting to learn all the different ways people celebrate Christmas.
I like that this is a great event for all ages. Adults will enjoy learning about the different countries’ Christmas traditions and the kids will love all the unique holiday decorations. It’s one of our family’s Christmas traditions every year.
When you’re done spend the day exploring the awesome museum.
Pro Tip: Book your tickets for the museum ahead of time and go when it opens. On weekends the underground parking lot fills up.
Buy tickets to this event here.
Event Runs November 18th, 2023 – January 7, 2024
8. Visit Lincoln Park Zoo – ZooLights Event
It’s the 29th year of the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo hosting its Zoolights event. The entire zoo is lit up with 2.5 million twinkling lights that you’ll see as you wander around the zoo.
Enjoy a light show set to holiday music on the Main Lawn, live ice carvings, snowy spirits, holiday food, and of course the animals.
Usually, this zoo is free all year long but for this event, it is only free on Monday Nights and is $5 per person the rest of the week.
Pro Tip: You must purchase tickets ahead of time for this event at Lincoln Park Zoolights. If you want the free night make sure to book early.
Event Runs – November 17th – January 7, 2023, from 4:30-10 pm (closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve & Christmas Day)
To learn more visit our Lincoln Park Zoo Tips for Families.
9. Walk Through Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic
If you’re in the suburbs visit the Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic event. This year will be the 42nd year and it boasts being Chicagoland’s largest and longest-running lights festival.
This is another favorite of our familes. There is so much to do at this event for all ages.
You’ll walk through 2 million twinkling lights, see a 41-foot talking tree, enjoy ice carvers, an ice skating rink, carolers, light shows, a magic tunnel of lights, tons of Christmas decorations, and much more.
When you get there make sure to grab the event schedule so you don’t miss anything. If you get cold just pop into the indoor animal houses to get warm and watch the animals.
Pro Tip: You must buy tickets in advance for this event which runs from 3-9 pm. I’d suggest getting there early as the parking lot will fill up quickly.
Event runs in 2023- November 24-26 & 30th, December 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, 21-23, 26-31.
To learn more visit our Brookfield Zoo Tips for Familes.
10. Chicago Botanical Garden – Lightscape Event
A hugely popular holiday event in the northern suburbs is Chicago Botanical Garden’s Lightscape Event. The whole garden lights up with beautiful light displays. Visitors will walk through a 1.25-mile-long lighted path around the garden’s main island, through a lighted tunnel and unique lighted displays.
The path is new this year so if you’ve been before there will be new things to see. Finish it off with a hot chocolate and some holiday treats.
Pro Tip: These tickets go fast so make sure to get your tickets for Lightscape in advance.
Event Runs from November 10th, 2023 – January 7, 2024
11. Morton Arboretum – Illumination Tree Lights
Another fun botanical gardens holiday event is the Morton Arboretum’s Illumination Tree Lights event in the western suburbs.
This is the 10th year of the event where guests will enjoy exploring over 50 acres of twinkling colored lights, a one-mile paved walking path, plus six new holiday displays added onto the usual holiday favorites.
Pro Tip: You will also need to purchase tickets in advance for the Morton Arboretum holiday event.
Event Runs November 18, 2023 – January 6, 2024
12. Jack Frost Winter Walk – Christmas Tree Farm
Located in Chicago you’ll find this cool Christmas event pop-up that all ages will enjoy. Head over there to find the perfect Christmas tree and stay for the activities.
Enjoy Ice Skating, carnival games, ice bumper cars, Axe throwing, tons of fun holiday photo-op backgrounds, cocktails, and craft beer. Plus it’s all under 10,000 twinkling lights.
Learn more about this holiday event at Jack Frost Winter Walk
13. Immersive Nutcracker A Winter Miracle
This cool immersive experience at the Lighthouse Artspace in Chicago is a really unique holiday event.
Previously this was done with a Van Gogh exhibit and the creators will now be hosting an immersive Nutckcracker event. Your family will be surrounded by the sights and sounds of your favorite songs from the Nutcracker Ballet.
Learn more about this festive event at Immersive Nutcracker.
Event Runs – November 18, 2023 – January 7, 2024
14. The Nutcracker – Joffrey Ballet
Go see a holiday classic this year at the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker. It’s a beautiful ballet with an engaging holiday story your whole family will enjoy watching.
Find tickets and dates at Joffrey Ballet.
Event Runs – December 2 – 27th 2023
15. Christmas Shows at Chicago Theatres & Suburbs
Have a night out on the town with your family enjoying the Chicago theatres. Here are a few shows to see:
Goodman Theatre is hosting A Christmas Carol in Chicago
Auditorium Theatre – is hosting Cirque Dreams: Holidaze in Chicago
Dury Lane Theatre is hosting Elf In Oakbrook Terrace IL
Marriott Theatre is hosts A Christmas Story in Lincolnshire IL
Rosemont Theatre is hosting Nutcracker Magical Christmas Ballet in Rosemont IL
Paramount Theatre is hosting Second City’s Holiday Review: What the Elf (Not for younger kids) Great parent night out!
16. Go See Art on the Mart
Head to the Chicago River Walk between Wells & Lake Street to get the best views of Art on the Mart. It’s the largest digital art projection in the world taking up one whole side of the Merchandise Mart.
The Nutcracker will be on display at Art on the Mart from November 19- December 30th from 7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
17. Enjoy Ice Skating in Chicago
Enjoy a day or evening out ice skating with the kids. There are tons of places to ice skate this time of year but here are a few festive holiday locations.
McCormick Tribune Ice Rink – located in Millenium Park
Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon – in Maggie Daley Park located just east of Millenium Park
Light Up the Lake – located on Navy Pier and is an indoor ice rink.
Winterland at Gallagher Park – This is located right next to Wrigley Field. You will also find the Wrigley Christkindlemarket here too. So you can do these two events together.
Jack Frost Winter Walk – located in Chicago
18. CTA Holiday Train & Bus
Hop on a fun CTA holiday train or holiday bus that is all decorated for the holidays. Look out for Santa on the ride too!
Get details on times and locations on the CTA Website.
19. Light Up the Park
The green space at Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park entertainment district is hosting a fun event called Light Up the Park. The Chicago Wolves have sponsored a huge FREE ice rink that you can bring your own ice skates to or rent for $8.
On November 18th the event kicks off with children’s activites from 2 pm – 6 pm including visits from Santa & Mrs. Claus, free horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice sculptures, and more.
The ice rink will stay open through January 28, 2024.
Visit the Park Events to find out more details about Light Up the Park.
Event Runs – November 18, 2023 – January 28, 2024
20. Sparkle Light Festival
This reimagined Rosemont Light festival is sure to be a hit this year. Guest will get to walk through Illuminated Villages, ride the Holly Train, visit with Santa, make their way through a Maze, and slide down a 2 story ice slide.
The whole event is located at Impact Field in Rosemont.
Find more information on dates and times here.
Event Runs – November 17, 2023 – December 31, 2023
21. Amaze Light Festival
The Amaze Light Festival is an immersive storybook event that makes you feel like you’re in another world. Newly relocated to Odyssey Fun World in Tinley Park.
Visitors will walk through millions of twinkling lights, colossal 3D-lighted décor, and photo opportunities around every corner in this interactive holiday-themed world.
They also have holiday performances every 2 hours and a Mega light show every 30 minutes. It’s a great place to spend an evening with the kids.
To find more information on dates, times and tickets check here.
22. Six Flags Holiday in the Park
Update 2023 – The Six Flags Great America event is canceled for 2023 they will instead rent out their parking lot for an outside drive-thru holiday event.
23. World of Illumination Artic Adventure
This year Six Flags Great America will host the World of Illumination Arctic Adventure in their parking lot instead of their traditional Holiday event. It is a new drive-through light display for Chicagoans in 2023.
Once you finish the holiday drive-through on select nights you can visit the Carousel Lights & Market with photo ops, holiday treats, and more Holiday decor.
Tip: You can not use your Six Flag passes for this event.
To learn more about tickets and details visit World of Illumination.
Event Runs – TUES- SUN November 17th, 2023 – December 31, 2023, from 6 pm – 10 pm
Find all the top Holiday Light Displays in Chicago Holiday Lights Festivals, Displays, and Drive-Thrus in 2023 (includes suburbs too!)
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Hopefully, you’ve found some fun things to do at Christmas in Chicago with your family. It’s such a magical time of year and a good time to spend time together as a family exploring all the best Christmas events.
Have a Wonderful Holiday Season!
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