The 20 Best Holiday Events in Chicago

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year and we have a list of the best holiday events in Chicago!

Many holiday events and activities in Chicago are going on during November, December, and early January, ranging from tree lighting, holiday lights, holiday shopping, holiday markets, and much more. There is even a holiday stroll and food tour!

Here are some of our favorite festive events, light displays, activities, and favorite traditions for celebrating Christmas in Chicago.

Whether you want to pay a visit to Santa Claus, take a peaceful drive or fun-filled stroll to the light displays, or take in a holiday show, we have got the best Chicago Christmas events covered.

Holiday Events in Chicago You Shouldn’t Miss

Millennium Park

Christmas Tree Lighting

This one of the most cherished holiday events in Chicago because it is the official kickoff of the Christmas season. In Millennium Park, Chicago’s official Christmas tree will illuminate and shine brightly throughout the season at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street from November through January.

  • Address: 201 E Randolph St. – Chicago, IL
  • Date: Friday, November 18
  • Time: 6:00 PM
  • Cost: Free

Maggie Daley Park Ice-Skating Ribbon

Glide through the holiday season at the ice rink, one of the must-visit holiday events in Chicago, offering a magical ice-skating experience with the stunning city skyline as your backdrop.

  • Address: 337 E Randolph St. – Chicago, IL
  • Date: Friday, November 18
  • Time: 6:00 PM
  • Cost: Free

Chicago Parades

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

The Magnificent Mile light festival is considered to be one of the largest holiday Christmas celebrations in the nation, and one of the most captivating holiday events in Chicago.

The crowds will be huge, so arrive early for freebies at the plaza across the street from the Wrigley Building and to get a good spot along the parade route.

The annual Christmas Parade is a tree-lighting procession down Michigan Avenue. It’s one of the most fun things to do with kids in Chicago for Christmas. After the festivities, you can explore Michigan Mile or stop at the world’s largest Starbucks to get cozy next to the fireplace.

The BMO Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a central part of the Chicago Christmas experience.  If you want to be near the action, we have a list of some of the best value hotels in the area.

  • Route: Michigan Ave. from Oak St. to Van Buren – Chicago, IL
  • Date: Saturday, November 19
  • Time: Events begin at 11:00 AM, Preview at 4:00 PM
  • Cost: Free

McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade stands as one of the cherished holiday events in Chicago, captivating spectators with its vibrant procession of giant floats, marching bands, and larger-than-life balloons.

It is held annually on Thanksgiving morning and the grand parade weaves its way through State Street with festive energy and excitement.

Families gather along the parade route, eagerly awaiting the arrival of beloved characters, dazzling performances, and the enchanting sights and sounds that embody the holiday spirit.

If you’re lucky, you can book accommodations on State Street for a view of the parade from your room at the StayPineapple Hotel!

  • Route: State Street from Ida B. Wells Dr. to Randolph – Chicago, IL
  • Date: Thursday, November 24
  • Time: 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM
  • Cost: Free (or purchase VIP tickets)
✅Book the StayPineapple Hotel, the Loop

Chicago Markets

Chicago Christkindlemarket

If you love shopping for ornaments and gifts, noshing on German foods, and kicking off the holiday spirit in a quaint European village, you will love the Chicago Christmas Market!

Kids can join the Kinder Club for Bavarian-inspired activities. Don’t miss the German beers, stuffed gourmet pretzels, and Sweet Castle!

Dates and times vary as there are three locations. Be sure to visit one of the locations to experience the Christkindlmarket in Chicago.

  • Address: 50 W. Washington St., Daley Plaza (one of three locations) – Chicago, IL
  • Date: November thru December
  • Time: 11:00 AM to 8:00 PM
  • Cost: Free

Randolph Street Holiday Market

The Randolph Street Market, home of the Chicago Antique Market, has expanded over the years to include vintage, indie designers, global goods, gourmet foods, and beverages.

The Market is held outdoors from May through September, using the attached private lot and Plumbers Hall on three levels with 300+ vendors, including live music, DJs, food, and drinks.

Between October and April, the Market is indoors only with 125 vendors on three levels, a bar, food, and drinks! The attached parking lot is free.

Regardless of what you want to find, there’s something for everyone!

Buy your ticket online to save, the price at the entrance is $15. They are open every weekend, but the holiday markets are November 12 to 13, and December 17 to 18.

  • Address: 1341 W. Randolph St. – Chicago, IL
  • Hours: Sat to Sun, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Cost: $10

One-of-a-Kind Show

Located in the Merchandise Mart, the showroom is open to the public with everything from accessories to sculptures from talented artists.

At the One-of-a-Kind Show, you’ll find gourmet goods, wines, art galleries, and unique items from emerging artists. It will take about 3 hours to get through the entire floor so wear comfortable shoes!

  • Address: 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza – Chicago, IL
  • Hours: December 1 to 3 (10:00 AM to 7:00 PM), December 4 (10:00 AM to 2:00 PM)
  • Cost: $15
zoolight

Winter Wonderlands

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights Festival

Start a new family tradition with an annual trip to Lincoln Park Zoo for the holiday lights festival. Tickets are available online and admission includes The Enchanted Forest and the Light Maze.

Raise a glass and toast to the holidays at the Zoo, an event that combines the joy of holiday celebrations with a delightful display of lights, making it a unique and enjoyable holiday event in Chicago.

  • Address: 2400 N. Cannon Drive – Chicago, IL
  • Date: November 19–January 1
  • Cost: Mon (free), Tue – Sun ($5)

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo

You’ll experience the magic of over a million lights illuminating all of Brookfield Zoo. You’ll see rows and rows of decorated Christmas trees and don’t miss the carousel.

Be prepared to experience millions of twinkling lights in the glow at one of the most-loved events in Chicago during Christmas season.

Food vendors are open, but we recommend eating before attending to avoid the pricey meals. You may not see a lot of animals but bring your camera for limitless photo opportunities!

  • Address: 8400 31st Street (1st Avenue and 31st Street – north gate), 3300 Golf Rd (main gate) – Brookfield, IL
  • Date: November 25-27; Wednesday through Sunday, November 30, December 1-4, 7-11, 14-18; Monday through Saturday, December 26-31
  • Cost: TBD Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Macy’s State Street Holiday Windows

The windows on State Street make the holidays so magical. The displays sometimes tell a story, so make sure you are going in the right direction. The windows dressings are completed one week before Thanksgiving every year.

Pop inside on the 7th floor for holiday decor and season vignettes or dine at the famous Walnut Room.

  • Address: 111 N. State St. – Chicago, IL
  • Cost: Free

Navy Pier’s Light Up the Lake

Families flock to the pier for this popular holiday festival. Sparkling lights and decorations transform Navy Pier into a winter wonderland. The interior is filled with indoor carnival games, food, and rides.  

These Chicago Christmas activities are mostly geared toward younger kids, but there’s everything from bounce houses to a short zip line. You can also rent skates and glide along the indoor ice rink.

  • Address: 600 E. Grand Ave. – Chicago, IL
  • Date: November 25 to January 7
  • Cost: TBD – Tickets can be purchased online (also look for Groupon deals)

Museum of Science and Industry Christmas Around the World

The Museum of Science & Industry is one institution that Chicago and the surrounding suburbs love very much. The trees are decorated by local organizations and the ornaments reflect the origin of the country.

There are trees representing Europe from countries like Slovenia and Estonia. You’ll also see trees that represent larger countries like China.

Arrive early and spend the day at this amazing museum! Don’t miss the IMAX movies, the coal mine, the U505, and rotating exhibits. Take advantage of savings with a City Pass!

  • Address: 5700 South DuSable Dr. – Chicago, IL
  • Hours: 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM (closed on holidays)
  • Cost: $22 (adult) / $13 (children)

Illumination at Morton Arboretum

In this post, we have more than just holiday events in Chicago!

At the Arboretum, you’ll find a variety of creative light displays like Treemagination where you watch the trees come to life. The trees go through all the changing seasons with the light displays.

You’ll also enjoy the symphony of classical music playing in nature. The path is a 1-mile, so dress for the weather and comfort! Tickets must be reserved for timed entry.

A new late-night experience for adults 18 years and older, Electric Illumination features light displays of synchronized music (eg. trance, progressive house). Hours are limited to 9:30 PM to 11:00 PM on December 16, 23, and 30.

  • Address: 4100 IL-53 – Lisle, IL
  • Hours: Timed entry, latest time is 8:00 PM
  • Cost: $10-$22 (Members) and $16-$27 (Guests)

Lightscape at Chicago Botanical Gardens

Make sure you bring your camera or cell phone so you can take lots of pictures. You won’t want to miss this spectacular show!

There are many different vignettes along the garden pathway filled with colorful, dancing lights all set to some festive holiday music.

At the Regenstein Center, you can purchase food and drinks. There are other outdoor cafes serving drinks.

The Chicago Botanical Gardens are decorated with twinkling lights, and you’ll love the light tunnel. This family-friendly holiday experience will make even Scrooge feel jolly.

  • Address: 1000 Lake Cook Rd. – Glencoe, IL
  • Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
  • Cost: $14-$30 (Members) and $16-$32 (Guests)
art on the mart

Holiday Performances

Art on the Mart

This is an incredibly large art projection show on one of Chicago’s most famous buildings, the Merchandise Mart. Located at 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, the mart is 25 floors tall and stands along the Chicago River.  

Normally scheduled through November, the display is brief, but captivating and interesting. This is that one of the only holiday events in Chicago that showcases art and demonstrates how light can creatively dance across the facade of a building.

The show is best seen on the Chicago Riverwalk, where you can also find restaurants, between Wells and Lake St. There are also good views on Wacker Drive and from the Bridge at the Chicago River, but you won’t be able to hear the accompanying audio.

  • Address: 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza – Chicago, IL
  • Hours: 8:30 PM to 9:00 PM
  • Cost: Free

Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker

The story of “The Nutcracker” is a classic tale and a beloved holiday ballet that has become a cherished tradition and one of the most anticipated holiday events in Chicago.

Set to the iconic score composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, this enchanting production tells the story of Clara, a young girl whose Christmas gift, a nutcracker, comes to life and takes her on a magical journey.

Address: Civic Opera House | 20 Upper Wacker Drive – Chicago, IL

Too Hot to Handel

“Too Hot to Handel” is a unique and electrifying holiday event in Chicago that reimagines George Frideric Handel’s masterpiece, “Messiah.”

I attended twice this performance twice in the past 5 years and enjoyed the exhilarating fusion of genres and styles showcases the rich cultural diversity and vocal talent that makes holiday events in Chicago remarkable. “Too Hot to Handel” is a joyful celebration of music and community, bringing people together to revel in the spirit of the season and the power of music’s universal language.

Address: Chicago Auditorium | 50 E. Ida B. Wells – Chicago, IL

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is a timeless holiday tale that has become synonymous with festive traditions and holiday events in Chicago. Written by Charles Dickens, the play tells the heartwarming story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation from a bitter and selfish miser to a compassionate and generous soul.

Address: Goodman Theater | 170 N. Dearborn – Chicago, IL

Mannheim Steamroller

Mannheim Steamroller is a renowned musical group known for their unique blend of classical music and modern electronic sounds. Their mesmerizing performances have become a staple of holiday events in Chicago, captivating audiences with their signature style.

Address: Rosemont Theater | 5400 River Rd. – Rosemont, IL

Macy’s Walnut Room

Many families have holiday meals in the popular Walnut Room, a Chicago tradition since 1907, within the Macy’s department store, enjoying a gorgeous Christmas tree and holiday windows for a day out on the town. 

Make lunch reservations in advance, they fill quickly!

  • Address: 111 N. State St. – Chicago, IL
  • Time: 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
  • Cost: $30 adults / $20 children

Final Thoughts on the Best Holiday Events in Chicago

If you spent the past couple of years resigned to your couches, now is a great time to take in some of the best holiday events in Chicago!

We hope that your family finds some awesome places to see Christmas lights displays around town this year.

This is a list of the best things to do in Chicago during the holidays so if you have family or friends visiting, they will be in for a treat! After the new year, Chicago continues to celebrate with a plunge into freezing temperatures.

There is a mix of displays & light shows throughout the city & the suburbs, so you may find some near you, and have fun exploring the unique Christmas lights in Chicago!

Happy Holidays!


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