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 wintry adventure, from ice skating in the shadow of Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) to sledding and snowshoeing within view of the snowy lakefront. You’ll find lots of reasons to love winter in Chicago.

Go ice skating at a unique rink

Maggie Daley ice rink

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

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. 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. And don’t miss the Sky Rinkat the Peninsula Chicago, the only hotel ice skating rink in the city, perched high above the hustle and bustle of Michigan Avenue.

Sip cocktails on a winter rooftop

IO Godfrey

Stay warm while enjoying Chicago’s acclaimed bar and restaurant scene with cozy fire pits, personal greenhouses, and heated outdoor dining options this winter. Some of the most unforgettable 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.

Enjoy cocktails and curling

Head upstairs to the charming curling rink on the rooftop of The Gwen. The fifth-floor hotel 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 its bustling beer garden with bocce courts in the summer, which transforms 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.

And don’t miss a brand new curling experience in the West Loop. Stone’s Throw at The Emily Hotel includes four Olympic-size courts, hot cocktails, heated yurts, and more.

Go sledding and snowshoeing

Located on parkland surrounding historic Soldier Field (home of Chicago Bears football), the Soldier Field sledding hill features a slope spanning more than 200 feet on a towering hill that makes it a must for thrill-seeking sledders. And the panoramic view of Lake Michigan from the top can’t be beat.

Go snowshoeing on Northerly Island, a human-made 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.

Visit a museum

There’s no shortage of acclaimed cultural institutions in Chicago — and all of them are a great place to warm up during a chilly winter day. A good place to start is the lakefront Museum Campus, home to iconic spots like the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. Also near downtown, you’ll find the Art Institute of Chicago — one of the country’s oldest and largest art museums. Head to Museum Campus South to explore the interactive Griffin Museum of Science and Industry. Or head out into the city’s neighborhoods to discover a treasure trove of cultural heritage museums, art galleries, and other hidden gems.

Catch a show

The exterior of the Cadillac Palace Theatre at night
Cadillac Palace Theatre

Winter is a great time to discover the city’s diverse theatre scenes. Check out what’s playing from Broadway in Chicago, which brings touring productions, hit musicals, and pre-Broadway premieres to Chicago’s historic downtown theatre district. Or see an original production staged at the city’s many Tony Award-winning theatre companies, like the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Goodman Theatre, Court Theatre, and more. If you’re looking for something one of a kind, you’ll love the city’s many neighborhood theatres.

Meet the cold-weather zoo animals

Chicago’s free Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year. In the colder months, admire majestic polar bears, penguins, and snow monkeys as they 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.

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 gardensto explore in and around Chicago.

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 its 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 in the West Loop.

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 experience some of the city’s best shopping destinations (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