From crisp fall days with gem-toned leaves to twinkling holiday lights turning the city into a wondrous snow globe scene, Chicago is glorious this time of year. For things to do in Chicago over winter, read on! Annual seasonal traditions, outdoor ice skating, winter tours and more make it a perfect destination for all ages.
Here are the absolute winter musts in Chicago:
Kick Back on a Carriage Ride
A favorite thing to do in Chicago in the winter season is to take in the holiday lights snuggled under a blanket — take a ride via antique horse-drawn carriage. Find the horses lined all along The Magnificent Mile near historic Water Tower Place, near North Michigan Avenue and Chicago Avenue.
Lace up Some Blades
On shimmering winter days, Chicagoans love gliding around one of the city's many outdoor ice rinks. Whether it's the outdoor rink at Millennium Park (pictured above), the new skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, neighborhood rinks sponsored by the Chicago Park District, the rink outside the big red barn at Lincoln Park Zoo or the winter wonderland known as the rooftop Sky Rink at The Peninsula Hotel, there's a skating experience to suit every taste.
Grab Some Gifts
Chicago is a shoppers' paradise. In fact, the city was just named the No. 2 shopping destination in the country by Travel + Leisure. Stroll high-end boutiques and mega shopping malls along The Magnificent Mile. Admire the extravagant holiday window displays in the Loop at Macy's on State Street.
Or head to neighborhoods like Lincoln Square, Andersonville, the Southport Corridor in Lakeview or Wicker Park/Bucktown for rows of funky shops and festive atmosphere.
Explore with the Kids
The city is packed with family-friendly fall and winter activities. Don a free pair of 3-D glasses to fully experience ZooLights (pictured above) at Lincoln Park Zoo.
Head to Navy Pier for Winter WonderFest, a massive indoor amusement park of bouncy houses, climbing structures and even a skating rink.
Stroll the authentic German Christkindlmarket (pictured below) at Daley Plaza to buy beautiful glass ornaments and sip cocoa.
Gaze at the sparkling Millennium Park Christmas Tree or the over-the-top tree that nearly touches the Walnut Room ceiling at Macy's on State Street (say hi to Santa while you're there).
Watch the Art Institute of Chicago lions get their traditional evergreen wreaths at the annual ceremony. Or warm up those vocal chords with Caroling at Cloud Gate (aka "The Bean") in Millennium Park.
In Chicago's neighborhoods, attend a sing-a-long at the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue or admire the St. Lucia Festival of Lights in Andersonville.
Make your reservations for Chicago Restaurant Week (Jan. 27-Feb. 9, 2017; pictured above) to indulge in special prix fixe menus around the city. Or celebrate the city's world-class theater scene with discounted Chicago Theatre Week (Feb. 9-19, 2017) tickets.
Experience the splendor of Chinese New Year (Feb. 2017) celebrations throughout Chicago with vibrant parades, cultural performances and authentic food. Ring in 2017 in Chicago at a citywide New Year's Eve celebration, Chi-Town Rising (Dec. 31, 2016).
For soul-warming meals, grab a table at Trencherman (New American) in Wicker Park, Big Jones (Southern favorites) in Andersonville, Sapori Trattoria (Italian) in Lincoln Park or Honey Butter Fried Chicken (comfort food) in Avondale.
Theatergoers make annual pilgrimages to shows like Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker (pictured above), Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol and The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit.
Stroll Our Museums
Experience Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry, with some 50 trees decorated to represent different countries and holiday traditions. Take in the Freedom, Resistance and The Journey Toward Equality exhibit at The DuSable Museum of African American History. Or revel in the winter night sky with a show at the Adler Planetarium.
Embark on a Winter Tour
What better way to see Chicago's magical holiday lights than by a guided tour? Hop aboard Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. for a tour of lights along The Magnificent Mile, as well as Daley Plaza, John Hancock, Macy's and more. Jump on a Segway for Absolutely Chicago Segway's festive Holiday Lights Tour.
Or, see the lights from thousands of feet in the air via a helicopter tour with Chicago Helicopter Experience. Even public transit gets into the spirit with its annual CTA Holiday Train, featuring decorated train cars, holiday music and lights as well as Santa himself as the conductor.
Find more things to do and Chicago itinerary ideas for your visit, or pick a neighborhood and start exploring.