Christmas in Chicago

Travel advisor Tammy Kiefer smiling in a restaurant.
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Tammy Kiefer

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  • Illinois

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Curator’s statement

It's that time of year again – the most magical time of year! As the snowflakes fall and the holiday lights twinkle, the city of Chicago transforms into a winter wonderland. From the festive decorations to the cheerful spirit, there's no better place to celebrate the holiday season than in Chicago.

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Where to stay in Chicago

The Drake

Upscale hotel built in a landmark building from 1920 with lake views and traditional rooms.

The Gwen, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Michigan Avenue Chicago

On Magnificent Mile, this Art Deco gem blends Old World glamour with modern touches like a rooftop bar, gratis hot drinks and use of the hotel bikes.

The Langham, Chicago

A Chicago icon set apart by its Mies van der Rohe-designed building, Chicago River and city views, and sleek mid-century style.

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Things to do in Chicago

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Winter Wonderland Festival at Navy Pier

There's no better way to kick off your magical Christmas journey in Chicago than at the Winter Wonderland Festival at Navy Pier. This annual event transforms the iconic pier into a wonderland of holiday lights, decorated trees and festive music. You can take a ride on the Ferris wheel, snap a photo with Santa or go ice-skating on the outdoor rink. And don't forget to grab a hot chocolate to keep you warm as you take in all the festive sights.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Experience the holiday magic at the Lincoln Park Zoo with their annual ZooLights celebration. The zoo is transformed into a twinkling wonderland with over 2.5 million lights, holiday displays and ice carvings. And the best part? Admission is free! Bundle up and take a stroll through the illuminated zoo with a cup of hot cocoa in hand. You may even spot some of your favorite animals dressed in their winter best.

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

The Museum of Science and Industry gets a festive makeover during the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights exhibit. Explore over 50 decorated trees representing cultures from around the world, as well as a grand holiday display in the Rotunda. There are also live performances and hands-on activities for all ages. This is a holiday tradition you won't want to miss.

Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier

Navy Pier makes the list again with their Winter Wonderfest event. This indoor winter wonderland features an ice skating rink, rides, games and festive decorations. There's even a chance to meet Santa and his elves at the North Pole Workshop. And for the thrill-seekers, don't miss the Polar Extreme, a 40-foot-tall high-speed slide.

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

Breathtaking lights and immersive soundscapes come together at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Lightscape exhibit. This one-mile-long illuminated trail leads you through the gorgeous gardens, illuminated with colorful projections and twinkling lights. Enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season as you wander through this enchanting display.

Christkindlmarket

Experience a taste of traditional German holiday markets right in the heart of Chicago at the Christkindlmarket. Stroll through the festive outdoor market and peruse the unique wooden huts filled with handmade gifts, ornaments and traditional German treats. And don't forget to try a warm cup of Glühwein (mulled wine) or a soft pretzel while you're there.

A Magic Cirque Christmas

Chicago's famous Navy Pier plays host to a magical holiday show, A Magic Cirque Christmas. This spectacular performance combines stunning illusions, acrobatics, and circus acts with holiday music and festive costumes. It's a show suitable for the whole family and will leave you feeling in awe of the magical holiday season.

The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle

Experience the classic holiday tale, The Nutcracker, in a whole new way at The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle. This interactive experience allows you to step inside the Nutcracker story and explore the enchanted Land of Sweets. With stunning visuals, live performances and interactive elements, this is sure to be a holiday memory you won't forget.

The Magnificent Mile Lights

The Magnificent Mile, Chicago's famous shopping district, becomes even more magical during the holiday season. Take a stroll down Michigan Avenue and take in the twinkling lights and decorations. Make sure to stop by the iconic Chicago Water Tower and the John Hancock Building, which are both lit up in festive colors.

Skating at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink or Maggie Daley Park

No winter in Chicago is complete without some ice skating. Head to Millennium Park and skate away at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, right in front of the iconic Bean sculpture.

Places to eat & drink in Chicago

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The Walnut Room: Located inside Macy's on State Street, The Walnut Room is a Chicago tradition during the holidays. The elegant restaurant features a giant Christmas tree in the middle of the dining room and serves up classic American dishes with a festive twist.

Cindy's: For a unique dining experience with amazing views of Millennium Park and the city skyline, head to Cindy's. Their rooftop location is transformed into a winter wonderland during Christmas and they also offer special holiday menus.

Signature Room at the 95th: For a fancy Christmas dinner with breathtaking views, make a reservation at the Signature Room at the 95th. Located on the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building, this restaurant offers spectacular 360-degree views of the city and Lake Michigan.

The Gage: With its cozy atmosphere and hearty dishes, The Gage is the perfect place to warm up during a chilly Chicago winter. During Christmas, this restaurant transforms into a festive retreat with wreaths, lights and a towering Christmas tree. Enjoy their delicious Scottish salmon or lamb shank while taking in the festive ambiance.

Chicago Pizza Tours Holiday Lights Tour: Why settle for just one decorated restaurant when you can visit multiple ones in one night? The Chicago Pizza Tours Holiday Lights Tour takes you on a festive journey, featuring some of the city's most decorated restaurants and their holiday-themed dishes. Plus, you get to try Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza along the way. Talk about a win-win!

The Berghoff Restaurant: This historic German restaurant has been a staple in Chicago since 1898 and is known for its festive decorations during Christmas. With their annual holiday tree lighting ceremony, live music and traditional holiday dishes like gingerbread schnitzel and mulled wine, The Berghoff is a must-visit during the holiday season.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Alexandra Vigilante Chamberlin guide, A Local’s Guide: Discover Dining and More in Chicago.

Travel advisor Tammy Kiefer smiling in a restaurant.

Travel Advisor

Tammy Kiefer

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Chicago.