The holidays are a magical time in the city, especially with kids in tow. There are so many fun things to do with kids in Chicago, and each one is an opportunity to make a lasting holiday memory. Your little ones will be awed by the city’s massive Christmas tree, historic zoo covered in millions of lights, and whimsical holiday parade with both Santa and Mickey Mouse. Here’s your bucket list of the best kid-friendly holiday activities in Chicago.
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a can’t-miss holiday occasion! At the nation’s largest evening holiday celebration, you’ll find family-friendly activities, live shows, and a grand tree-lighting parade down Michigan Avenue.
The celebration kicks off with a tree-lighting ceremony outside the Wrigley Building with festive activities, booths, and photos with Santa. And the main event is the magical evening parade with fabulous floats, giant helium balloons, exciting marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, and more.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
In the winter, the historic Lincoln Park Zoo is covered in more than two million twinkling lights for a breathtaking holiday display. ZooLights is a beloved annual spectacle that covers the outdoor zoo in moving light displays, many of which are set to music. The family-favorite event also includes holiday crafts, pictures with Santa, festive snacks, live ice carving, animal encounters, train rides, a carousel, and so much more. Make sure to get your tickets in advance.
Ice skating in Millennium Park
Chicago’s iconic Millennium Park is a winter wonderland for families, with two unique ice rinks on the lakefront park grounds. First, twirl around on the city’s free ice skating rink, right below the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (aka “The Bean”). You’ll enjoy views of the city skyline covered in snow. Next, head to Maggie Daley Park to glide along the whimsical Skating Ribbon that meanders through frosty pine trees.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
With tons of indoor holiday-themed fun, Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier truly has something for the whole family. The festivities take place inside Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, where kids can visit Santa and enjoy holiday activities. Check out a massive ice rink, interactive light displays, a birch tree maze, and more — all while basking in the glow of more than 600,000 twinkling lights.
The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle
From the creators of the blockbuster Immersive Monet exhibit, The Immersive Nutcracker is taking over LightHouse ArtSpace Chicago for the holiday season. Visitors of all ages will love the breathtaking projections set to the iconic musical score, along with magical special effects, memorable photo opps, and so much more.
Model Trains and Miniature Worlds in Pullman
The historic Pullman neighborhood was built as a planned community for the workers of a luxury railcar company. Now, kids of all ages can try their hand at train building during the Model Trains and Miniature Worlds workshops on Dec. 29. The morning and afternoon workshops will include developing dioramas and scenic elements, building mountains, making a tree, and assembling a building from a kit. Tickets include all supplies and family admission to the RAILROADERS exhibit.
Chicago Christmas tree in Millennium Park
Kick off the holidays with the 109th annual lighting of Chicago’s official Christmas tree in Millennium Park. The towering tree, decked out in thousands of twinkling lights, will shine brightly near the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street Catch the official tree-lighting ceremony complete with carolers and special guests, or see the tree light up every night at sunset.
Tip: You can join the Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along events on select dates through winter.
Wreathing of the lions at Art Institute of Chicago
The annual wreathing of the lions takes place outside the Art Institute of Chicago. This beloved Chicago tradition involves giant holiday wreaths being placed on the monumental lions that flank the museum’s grand entry on Michigan Avenue. And if you’re thinking of visiting the Art Institute, take advantage of free admission opportunities. All children under the age of 14 and Chicago teens age 17 and younger can enjoy complimentary tickets year-round.
See a holiday show
Make unforgettable holiday memories with a trip to one of Chicago’s iconic theatres. And there are plenty of winter and holiday shows for the whole family, from classic Christmas plays to mesmerizing ballets.
- A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre
- Hershel and The Hanukkah Goblins at Strawdog Theatre Company
- The Nutcracker by Joffrey Ballet at Lyric Opera House
Christmas Around The World
Christmas Around the World is an annual holiday celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry. The exhibit features the spectacular Grand Tree, surrounded by more than 50 decorated trees representing Chicago’s diverse international communities and their holiday traditions. You’ll even be showered in indoor “snow.”
Tip: The Museum of Science and Industry is a treasure trove of hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits, so leave plenty of time to explore.
Holiday happenings at Macy’s on State Street
Every winter, Macy’s on State Street transforms its storefront windows into a fantastical holiday world. Combining traditional old-school artistry with gorgeous visual elements, the windows are adorned with intricate and imaginative scenes that fill little ones with wonder.
Tip: Stop for lunch at the historic Walnut Room inside Macy’s to see the 45-foot Great Tree, decorated with over 1,200 ornaments and 25,000 twinkling lights. You might just create a new holiday tradition.
Winterland at Gallagher Way
Celebrate the season at iconic Wrigley Field in Lakeview. Winterland at Gallagher Way is held both inside and outside the ballpark and includes an ice rink (with skating and on-ice bumper cars), an ice slide, rides, Santa’s workshop, a miniature version of Christkindlmarket, and more. Enjoy plenty of family-friendly holiday activities throughout the area, including wreath-making workshops and holiday movie screenings.
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Tucked away in the suburbs just outside of Chicago, Brookfield Zoo is a wondrous place during the holidays with its 41st annual Holiday Magic lights festival.Be mesmerized by colorful, luminous displays featuring more than two million glittering LED lights, plus a full schedule of live entertainment like ice-carving demonstrations, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and more.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
Wander through an enchanted, illuminated trail during Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden. This special after-dark event transforms a one-mile path into a holiday wonderland, complete with a choir of singing trees, a waterfall of cascading light, a soaring cathedral made of thousands of twinkling bulbs, dazzling light shows, and more.
CTA holiday train
Each winter, you can find Santa dashing through the city via the city’s elevated train system. The CTA Holiday Train is one of Chicago’s most unique holiday traditions. An entire ‘L’ train, towing Santa and his sleigh, is decked out with twinkling lights, red bows, and more holiday decor. Step on board and you’ll be greeted by elves handing out candy canes. The train runs from late November to late December; check the CTA website for an updated schedule.
Tip: The CTA Holiday Bus brings the same holiday spirit to bus riders as it travels through Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Illumination at Morton Arboretum
This living outdoor museum hosts a spectacular winter light show each year. Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum features interactive light effects that bring out the natural beauty of the hundreds of towering trees. There are also crackling bonfires with s’mores for the little ones and seasonal drinks for parents. Other family-friendly events at the arboretum include Breakfast with Santa and Supper with St. Nick.
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