From raucous pub crawls to lively parades to family-friendly festivals, there is no doubt about it: There's nothing quite like St. Patrick's Day in Chicago. It's a holiday when the Irish taverns are packed, jovial crowds jam the city streets and the Chicago River sparkles brilliant shades of emerald green.
Throughout the month, both locals and visitors alike go green all across town in celebration of Irish culture and tradition. There's no shortage of stuff to do over this spirited holiday—browse the list of 2013 St. Patrick's Day events below.
DYEING OF THE CHICAGO RIVER
- Saturday, March 16 at 10:45am
- Chicago River, at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive
In what might be the city's most famous St. Patrick's Day ritual, 45 pounds of eco-friendly vegetable dye are poured into the Chicago River to turn it emerald green for the occasion. Actually, at first glance, the dye appears orange on the river's surface—but don't panic. Thanks to a little leprechaun magic (or, well, science), the hue transforms and seeps in until the whole river is a bright, beautiful green.
The dyeing of the river remains a beloved tradition for many generations of Chicagoans (it dates back over 50 years ago) and draws nearly 400,000 spectators downtown looking to catch a glimpse before taking in the parade that follows.
The Chicago River keeps its coloring for about five hours only, so don't miss out.
The best viewing spots this year? The east side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the west side of the Columbus Drive Bridge, and along the banks of the Chicago Riverwalk between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive. The revelry starts early so be sure to arrive before 10am to beat some of the crowds. And for a unique viewpoint, just a block down where there's a slight bend of the Chicago River stands the Trump International Hotel & Tower, where you can overlook all the festivities from the comforts of their signature bar.
DOWNTOWN ST. PATRICK'S DAY PARADE
- Saturday, March 16 at 12pm
- Grant Park along Columbus Drive, from Balbo to Monroe Drive
What's a holiday without a parade? How about one of the largest St. Patrick's Day parades in the country? Downtown Chicago's official St. Patrick's Day Parade is just that. Rain or shine, it begins on Columbus Drive and moves north through Grant Park for roughly three hours, beginning at Balbo Drive and ending at Monroe Drive.
Don your best green outfit—or a kilt if you dare—and embrace all Chicago has to offer for those Irish at heart. Plan on seeing plenty of colorful floats waving their green/white/orange flags high, troops of Irish step dancers in their requisite curls, booming marching bands and bagpipers, and, of course, many a novelty t-shirt.
Helpful hint: Take public transportation for a quick, easy and economical way into downtown. Also for more spacious spectator spots, consider staking out closer to where the parade starts, where the southeast side sees lighter crowds.
SHORELINE SIGHTSEEING ST. PATRICK'S DAY CRUISE
- Saturday, March 16 at 10am or 2pm
- Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Avenue
- Tickets $49/person
All aboard! Cruise the green Chicago waters on a 90-minute tour that explores all three branches of the river. In between enchanting city sights and stories about how the Irish helped shape Chicago, you'll enjoy a traditional Irish buffet that includes classics like corned beef and cabbage, and bread pudding. Toast the day with a Guinness or Irish coffee, and you've got a lovely end to your stint at sea.
Shoreline Sightseeing's annual St. Patrick's Day Cruise always sells out so check early for availability and purchase tickets at shorelinesightseeing.com.
SPIRIT OF CHICAGO ST. PATRICK'S DAY CRUISE
- Sunday, March 17 at 6pm
- Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Avenue
- Tickets $41.95/child, $69.90/adult
There will be a sea of green aboard the Spirit of Chicago dinner cruise this St. Patrick's Day holiday. Take to the waters of Lake Michigan on a scenic 2.5-hour boat ride. Enjoy the Grande Buffet, music and dancing with the city skyline as your backdrop.
Read more and make ticket reservations at spiritofchicago.com.
ST. PATRICK'S DAY CELEBRATION AT NAVY PIER
- Sunday, March 17 at 12pm
- Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Avenue
Join Navy Pier after the downtown parade for an exciting afternoon of Irish dance by Trinity Irish Dancers followed by live music at the Family Pavilion Stage. The dance troupe takes to the stage at 12pm, 12:30pm, 1pm and 1:30pm.
NEIGHBORHOOD FESTIVALS & EVENTS
South Side Irish Parade: On March 10, an old favorite returns to Chicago's South Side with a focus on family and Irish heritage. The Beverly neighborhood parade steps off at 11:30am on Western Avenue and runs from 103rd to 115th Street.
Northwest Side Irish Parade: Enjoy the newest of the annual parades when this fun-filled community event steps off at 12pm on March 17 at Raven Street and Northwest Highway near William J. Onahan School in the Norwood Park neighborhood.
Chicago Irish Film Festival:
Culture buffs wanting a head-start on the festivities should check out this six-day showcase March 1-6, a cinematic celebration of new Irish films, insightful documentaries and highly anticipated shorts held at the AMC River East and the Society for Arts.
The Chieftains: The Chieftains, the popular Grammy® Award winning Irish folk band, appears at Symphony Center March 1 for an 8pm performance with Paddy Moloney and special guests. Start your St. Patrick's Day celebration early with Ireland's musical ambassadors.
Siamsa na nGael: Celtic Celebration: Siamsa na nGael has become a well-known and anticipated event in Chicago, celebrating St. Patrick's Day by presenting unique, world-class Celtic entertainment from local and international artists. This extraordinary evening March 11 will include inspirational songs, dance and stories brought to life by the Metropolis Symphony Orchestra, Old St. Patrick's Choir, Trinity Irish Dancers and much more.
Gaelic Storm: House of Blues Chicago welcomes the Celtic rock group Gaelic Storm for two nights of empowering anthems and traditional ballads March 15-16.
GREEN GRUB & IRISH PUBS
Visitors staying in the Loop don't have to venture far to find some of Chicago's best Irish pubs. The Kerryman, Poag Mahone's, Timothy O'Toole's, Fadó Irish Pub, Kitty O'Shea's and Emerald Loop are some downtown favorites.
Throughout the neighborhoods, popular bars will celebrate into the night, such as Temple Bar in Lakeview, Mrs. Murphy's & Sons Irish Bistro in North Center and The Abbey, home to live music, good food and an annual all-day St. Patrick's Day festival of their own.
Two Irish-owned restaurants are sure to please St. Patrick's Day appetites: The Gage on South Michigan Avenue offers a contemporary American menu of Irish classics with a twist, while the Irish Oak features traditional St. Patrick's Day pub fare and great Irish brews on tap.