Chicago at Christmastime is A Favorite Family Tradition
In our family we love all holidays and we love traditions. Just about every holiday at our house comes with a family tradition; as quirky as green milk with our cereal on St. Patrick’s Day to the more traditional Easter egg hunt on Easter morning.
When the Christmas season rolls around our family traditions raise to a new level.
We take an annual holiday light cruise around town, make chocolate covered pretzels and dozens of other goodies, visit Santa, enjoy an elaborate advent calendar, and have fondue for dinner on Christmas Eve.
The list could go on and on, but kicking off the Christmas season with a family trip to Chicago is hands down my favorite family tradition. My husband and I have been doing is since before we had kids.
After living in the windy city for a few years the trip back is now even more special. It’s become a family favorite trip.
How to Share the Magic of Chicago at Christmas With Your Kids
Just thinking about walking down Michigan Avenue after dark with the holiday lights glowing, street performers playing a Christmas song on a saxophone, the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers, lighted garlands and trees everywhere and store windows decorated to the max for the season gets me giddy for Christmas.
Below I’ve shared my family’s top five Chicago at Christmas activities. Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. Chicago offers so many options that as long as you’re with your family, you are sure to have fun and make some amazing memories!
The Five Things you MUST DO if You Visit Chicago at Christmas
1 – Visit the Zoolights At Lincoln Park Zoo (Free)
The Lincoln Park Zoo becomes a holiday winter wonderland as it lights up with over 2.5 million Christmas lights! It’s truly a sight to see. The display includes ice sculptures, lighted tunnels, character displays and a musical light show.
Zoolights is my kids’ favorite Christmas in Chicago activity.
Also, all the animal exhibits are open and we’ve found the animals to be very active in the evening.
2 – Skate the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park
Located on Michigan Avenue in the heart of downtown Chicago, this skating experience is one your family will remember!
Surrounded by beautiful holiday decorations and skyscrapers there’s just something magical about it.
Be sure to take a family photo on the rink with “The Bean” in the background! Bring your own skates and skate for free. If you don’t want to hassle with that you can also rent skates there.
3 – Explore Christmas Around The World at the Museum of Science and Industry
This annual exhibit runs from mid-November through January. The showcase is a 45ft floor to ceiling, Grand Tree surrounded by 50 smaller trees representing Chicago’s diversity, and showcasing their holiday traditions.
The museum is amazing, with tons of kid-friendly exhibits, so plan to spend the better part of a day exploring the museum! We love it here because there are a ton of hands on opportunities for the kids.
4 – Oooh and Ahhh at the Holiday Windows at Macy’s on State Street (FREE)
Mid-November through January the Macy’s storefront windows are transformed into a magical holiday display with elaborate and imaginative themed windows. Our family loves to check out each one and then we vote on the winner!
5 – Have Lunch at the Walnut Room in Macy’s
Head into Macy’s to warm up and have lunch at the foot of the beautifully decorated 45 foot tree, with over 25,000 lights. It’s spectacular!
Eating lunch in the Walnut Room gets me in the holiday spirit every time.
Honorable Mentions – 2 More Great Ideas for Chicago at Christmas
Shop the Christkindlmarket (FREE)
Looking for a one of a kind gift? This is your destination. Christkindlmarket is a huge outdoor market offering treasures of all kinds, from handmade ornaments to food vendors. Be sure to find the Kinder Club; they offer activities, prizes and entertainment specifically for children.
Ride the CTA Holiday Train
Unique to Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority offers the CTA Holiday Train. Opt for a ride aboard the city’s elevated train known as the “L” and you may just find Santa or one of his elves handing out candy canes. Not to mention, select train cars will be decorated to the max with holiday lights and Santa may even be driving!
Date Specific Events in Chicago That are Worth the Trip
Below is a list of events that are date specific and worth planning your trip around.
- The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival FREE (November 22 – 23, 2019)
- Thanksgiving Day Parade FREE (November 28, 2019)
- Breakfast with Santa at Shedd Aquarium – (Purchase tickets in advance if possible.)
- Christmas Tree Ship FREE (December 6 – 7, 2019)
Trains let you Travel to Chicago With Ease
No need to worry about traffic, parking, bathroom breaks or snow covered roads. Opt to take the Amtrak or South Shore to Chicago. Not only is it stress free – it’s fun!
Be Prepared For the Windy City
Chicago can be bitter cold. A lot of the Christmas actives are outside. Don’t forget to pack warm coats, mittens and hats. If you have younger children in strollers, blankets are always a good idea too.
Despite the potentially frigid temperatures the stores and street will still be busy. Family events may be busy as well. We find if we plan for extra time to get places and go into it knowing that there will be crowds, we end up a lot happier.
I hope your family falls in love with the magic of Chicago at Christmas the way my family has!
I’d love to hear what other West Michigan families love about Chicago at Christmas!