The holiday season in Chicago is made for memories, from annual traditions to once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Whether taking in a lights display or sipping a hot chocolate after an afternoon of ice skating, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
We’ve rounded up some of the season’s highlights; for more information, just click on the links provided.
November & December
Dates vary: Millennium Park, Loop
Millennium Park will be a hub of activity this holiday season:
— Check out Chicago's official Christmas tree, a 55-foot blue spruce, through Jan. 9
— On Friday evenings, join sing-alongs, Nov. 25-Dec. 16.
— Ice skating is open, weather permitting, through March 5, both at Millennium Park and the nearby Maggie Daley Park's ribbon.
While you’re downtown, swing by the Art Institute for a photo op with the museum's famous bedecked lions and catch the holiday window display at Macy’s State Street store.
Through Dec. 20: CTA Holiday Train
Santa, his reindeer and elves will commute through Chicago on a decked-out train, stopping at rail stations between Nov. 25 and Dec. 20. The train is scheduled to travel first on the Green Line, followed by the Orange and Brown Lines, then Red and Purple Lines, Pink Line, Blue Line and finally the Yellow Line.
Its companion, the CTA Holiday Bus, will pop up on a variety of routes between Nov. 29 and Dec. 23.
Dec. 9 to Dec. 24: Music Box Christmas Sing-a-Long, Lakeview
For nearly 40 years, the Music Box Theatre has been screening the holiday classics “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas,” with a twist. Before the curtain rises, the house organist leads moviegoers through a catalog of treasured Christmas carols. Fa-la-la-la-la.
Through Dec. 24: Christkindlmarket, Daley Plaza and Aurora locations
Through Dec. 31: Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville, Lakeview
Modeled after Germany’s traditional outdoor holiday markets, Christkindlmarket offers a taste of Europe in the Midwest. The Aurora location is new this year. In Wrigleyville, visitors can pop over to the adjacent (ticketed) Winterland at Wrigley Field.
Through Dec. 25: ChiTown Movies Holiday Favorites, Pilsen
Load up the car and head to the ChiTown Movies drive-in to catch “Home Alone,” “Elf,” “Christmas Vacation” and more on the big screen. If ChiTown’s lineup is any indication, yes, Virginia, “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie.
Through Dec. 31: Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield
The zoo’s miles of lights and illuminated animal sculptures have been delighting visitors for more than 40 years. Additional features include a skating rink.
Through Dec. 29: Kohlights at Kohl Children's Museum, Glenview
Dubbed “mesmertastic,” the museum’s interactive display of light and color is a children's holiday wonderland. Displays include Lollipop Light Lane and the 360-degree Field of Beams.
The Nutcracker 2021 from Art on theMART on Vimeo.
Through Dec. 30: The Nutcracker, Art on the Mart, Merchandise Mart
View scenes from the Joffrey Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” projected onto the massive canvas of the Merchandise Mart.
Through Jan. 8, 2023: Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park
Enjoy a dazzling display of lights in the heart of Chicago, now extended through Jan. 8. Festivities also include ice carvings, photos with Santa and strolling carolers. New this year are a Chicago skyline display and a 165-foot-long Grand Light Tunnel. Admission is free on Mondays.
Through Jan. 1, 2023: Let It Shine Light Show
No need to worry about finding parking at Let It Shine — the show’s a drive-thru. There are two locations — one in Northbrook and one in Schaumburg — though the set-up for each is distinct from the other.
Through Jan. 1, 2023: Sparkle Light Festival at Impact Field, Rosemont
The Sparkle experience includes illuminated villages, a kids’ zone, two-story ice slide and free rides on the Holly Trolly.
Through Jan. 7, 2023: Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum, Lisle
Stroll along a mile-long path of trees lit up to show off their winter beauty, accompanied by the sound of festive music. New this year is Electric Illumination, a late-night experience for adults 18 and older, set to trance and progressive house music, with synchronized light displays (Dec. 16, 23 and 30 only).
Through Jan. 7, 2023: Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
Navy Pier does holiday lights like no other — indoors. Highlights of the experience include a forest maze of more than 100 lighted trees, skating rink and train ride through Santa’s village for the youngsters.
Through Jan. 8, 2023: Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe
The illuminated 1.25-mile path leads visitors through enchanting light installations, including a fire garden and perennial fan favorite, the Winter Cathedral.
Through Jan. 8. 2023: Amaze Light Festival at Odyssey Fun World, Tinley Park
The Amaze experience includes a million twinkling lights, a holiday market, food trucks, music, a stage show and more.
Through Jan. 8, 2023: Christmas Around the World, Museum of Science and Industry, Hyde Park
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the museum’s beloved tradition, which began with a single tree in 1942 and has now grown to 50 trees, decked to represent the holiday traditions of countries and cultures around the globe.
Through Jan. 8, 2023: Winter Flower Show at Garfield Park Conservatory, Garfield Park
This year’s theme is “Snow Day!,” with flowers arranged to create the illusion of a snow-covered garden. The centerpiece will be a 12-foot-tall tree made of more than 200 white poinsettia plants.
The Winter Flower Show at Lincoln Park Conservatory is open through Jan. 7, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. The theme is "Sugar Plum," with music from "The Nutcracker" enhancing the experience.
Opportunities to shop local and support local artists and makers:
State Street Market, Loop, Nov. 18-Dec. 18.
Chicago Artisan Market, Ravenswood, Nov. 26-27.
One of a Kind, Merchandise Mart, Dec. 1-4.
Winter Market, Andersonville, Dec. 2-4.
Winterglow Holiday Market & Beer Garden at the Salt Shed, Goose Island, Dec. 2-4; Dec. 9-11.
Holiday Uprising Market, Beverly Arts Center, Dec. 3.
Chicago Art Department Holiday Market, Pilsen, Dec. 9.
Dank Haus Weihnachtsmarkt, Lincoln Square, Dec. 10.
Chicago Art Girls Holiday Pop-up, North Center, Dec. 10-11.
Chicago Artisan Market, Fulton Market, Dec. 11.
Holiday Market at The Plant, Back of the Yards, Dec. 11.
Renegade Craft Fair, West Loop, Dec. 17-18.
Randolph Street Holiday Market, West Loop, Dec. 17-18.
Events listed are subject to change. We recommend double-checking times and locations before you head out the door.