Winter is one of the most magical times of the year in Chicago, when snow gives the city an added sparkle. Embrace the season and set off on a wintery adventure, from ice skating in the shadow of The Bean to sledding and snowshoeing within view of the snowy lakefront. You’ll find there are lots of reasons to love winter in Chicago.

Go ice skating at a unique rink

Maggie Daley ice rink

Looking for the ultimate winter in Chicago experience? The iconic ice rink in Millennium Park is a bucket list spot to take a spin on your skates. You’ll be surrounded with breathtaking winter views of Chicago, including bustling Michigan Avenue, the downtown skyline, and a snow-dusted Cloud Gate aka “The Bean.”

Nearby, strap on a pair of skates and glide through a winter wonderland along the curvy Skating Ribbon that meanders through scenic Maggie Daley Park. The winding path, which is twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink, passes by pine trees and a rock climbing wall (open during warm weather). Skates are available for rental. These rinks are open from November through early March, weather permitting.

Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon
Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon

In Hyde Park, head to the Midway Plaisance Ice Rink on the University of Chicago campus. Fun fact: the rink stands on the exact spot where the first-ever Ferris Wheel was erected for the 1893 World’s Fair. A bonus is the warming center, where you can duck in and shake off winter’s chill before heading back out to the rink for more skating.

Enjoy cocktails and curling

Head upstairs to the charming curling rink on the rooftop of the The Gwen Hotel. The fifth-floor rooftop features an iceless curling rink, where guests can play this classic winter sport while enjoying a signature curling cocktail. The rooftop terrace is also decked out with fire pits, where diners can cozy up and enjoy the full food and drink menu.

Kaiser Tiger is known for their bustling beer garden with bocce courts in the summer, which transform into outdoor curling rinks in the winter. The cold-weather beer garden features infrared heaters to keep you cozy between rounds, plus boozy hot chocolates and warm cocktails.

Go sledding and snowshoeing

Located on parkland surrounding historic Soldier Field (home of Chicago Bears football), the Soldier Field Sledding Hill features a 33-foot slope that makes it a must for thrill-seeking sledders. The Chicago Park District pumps out faux snow when there isn’t enough of the real stuff, ensuring that the sledding hill is always white and fluffy. And the panoramic view of Lake Michigan from the top can’t be beat.

Go snowshoeing on Northerly Island, a manmade peninsula located just east of Soldier Field that juts out into the waters of Lake Michigan. Whoosh along winding nature trails, where you can catch a glimpse of winter birds and views of the stunning Chicago skyline. Don’t miss the free Polar Adventure Days, when visitors can make nature-inspired winter crafts and encounter Siberian huskies, wolves, and birds of prey.

Meet the cold-weather zoo animals

Chicago’s free Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year. In the colder months, you can watch polar bears, penguins, and snow monkeys play outside. Many of the animals move indoors during the winter, so warm up inside the animal houses, where you can watch penguins, gorillas, and more.

Snap a snowy selfie with The Bean

Taking a picture with the Bean

Millennium Park is even more magical in the winter. This is where you’ll find one of Chicago’s most iconic sights: Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”. Take off your gloves to snap a selfie in its reflective surface, then head down the steps to skate on the park’s free ice skating rink. Check out more ways to experience Millennium Park in the winter.

Sip cocktails on a winter rooftop

Igloos at IO Godfrey
Photo by Kailley Lindman

Stay warm (while enjoying Chicago’s acclaimed bar and restaurant scene) with cozy fire pits, personal greenhouses, and more heated outdoor dining options this winter. Some of the most unique experiences include a rooftop ice skating rink, a winter wonderland themed pop-up, and personal igloos that make you feel like you’re in an enchanted snow globe. Grab a reservation at these all-seasons rooftops.

Visit a stunning indoor garden

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Matthew Barrett/Chicago Park District

Get inside and warm up at one of Chicago’s free indoor botanic gardens and conservatories. The Lincoln Park Conservatory is a free experience in historic Lincoln Park, with multiple rooms dedicated to exotic flora and flowers. And the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest conservatories in the nation, occupying two acres of lush greenhouse space. Find more indoor gardens.

Warm up with hot cocoa

Bombobar hot chocolate
Photo Credit: Morgan Scofes, DineAmic Hospitality

Chicago has plenty of spots to indulge in a cup of cocoa. Head to Katherine Anne Confections to try their decadent drinking chocolate or try a mug of Mexican hot chocolate from Kristoffer’s Café & Bakery in Pilsen or XOCO in River North. And don’t miss the over-the-top, Instagram-worthy cups at BomboBar, a popular walk-up window with locations in the West Loop and River North.

Explore more: Check out more of the top spots for hot chocolate in Chicago.

Admire the frozen lake

One of the best things about the chilly weather? When Lake Michigan freezes over and makes for some epic views. Head to the Lakefront Trail for an up-close look and a picture-perfect angle of the skyline. Plus, you can easily pop into some of the city’s best shopping (like The Magnificent Mile) and cool museums (like the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the Adler Planetarium, or the Museum of Science and Industry) to warm up before you continue your winter exploration.

Free things to do in Chicago in winter

Outdoor things to do in Chicago in winter

Indoor things to do in Chicago in winter