What to do in Chicago in December

By Ashley Friedman

Christmas cheer and more in the Windy City

What to do in Chicago in December

Whether you're visiting Chicago to celebrate Christmas, or simply swinging by the city for a winter getaway, there's plenty to do as the Windy City prepares to ring in the new year. The weather is cold, but the city's energy is lively and invigorating during the holiday season.

Like any major American metropolis, Chicago is busy and crowded during the Christmas season. To avoid lines, beat crowds and make the most of your time, plan in advance. Whenever possible buy tickets to museums and shows ahead of time, and check the websites for the places you're planning to visit in order to ensure they're operating on their regular schedule.

Must-see attractions

  1. Christkindlmarket. Similar to German Christmas markets, this Chicago institution includes vendors selling all sorts of wares, from hand-blown glass ornaments to wooden brushes. Take a stroll through and grab some holiday gifts, or if you'd rather snack your way through, enjoy some spiced wine, sausages, sauerkraut or waffles. The market is annual tradition which means it does get crowded, especially on weekends. To beat the crowds, try going later in the evening on a weeknight.
  2. Christmas Around the World. The Museum of Science puts on an annual Christmas display, featuring trees decorated by different ethnic groups within Chicago's vibrantly diverse community. The trees display various holiday traditions from a variety of cultures, and on weekends, the viewing is accompanied by school choirs singing carols. This is an excellent choice if you're traveling with kids. Singing and dance troupes are sometimes a feature as well, so check the museum's website to peruse the schedule on the day you'd like to visit. 
  3. Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. Nightly ice carving demos, ice skating and hot chocolate are only three of the reasons to visit the zoo at night in December when the trees are wrapped with lights. Take a carousel ride or glide past the illuminated trees on the zoo's train. Special events include evening lectures, a craft beer festival and live music, so be sure to check the calendar before planning your visit. Often the zoo will give free light-viewing glasses to the first 1000 visitors, so be sure to get there early. 

Feel free to skip

  1. Ice skating in Millennium Park. Unless you're a die-hard skater, this outdoor rink in one of Chicago's most popular public spaces is too glutted with tourists to make the trip worthwhile. Skip the crowds at Millennium Park and visit the Chicago Park District's website for details on smaller local rinks.
  2. Willis Tower Skydeck. The views are incredible from the 103rd floor of Chicago's tallest building, but the lines are a nightmare. Instead of waiting for hours for a ride to the top, head over to the Signature Room in the John Hancock Tower. It's eight floors lower in elevation than the Skydeck, but it offers the same panoramic views minus the crowds, plus a delicious cocktail or two. 

About the Author

Ashley Friedman graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and Social Sciences. She has experience writing copy for the websites of creative professionals, and regularly contributes to several blogs covering popular culture, travel, food, and social action.