The holidays are a magical time in Chicago, especially with kids in tow. Your little ones will be awed by the city’s massive Christmas tree, a free zoo covered in half a million lights, and a whimsical holiday parade with both Santa and Mickie Mouse. Here’s your bucket list for the best kid-friendly holiday activities in Chicago.
1. ‘Twas the night before Christmas at Broadway Playhouse
Tip: After the show, do some holiday shopping along The Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s famous shopping district.
2. Ice Skating in Millennium Park
Twirl around on the city’s free ice skating rink in snow-covered Millennium Park. There’s no admission, and you can bring your own skates or rent a pair for $12 on weekdays, $14 on weekends and holidays.
Tip: Take a fun selfie in the reflective, curving surface of Chicago’s top attraction, Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) right next to the ice rink.
3. Christmas Around The World
This annual celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry showcases a spectacular 45-foot Grand Tree, surrounded by 50 decorated trees representing Chicago’s diverse international communities and their holiday traditions. You’ll even be showered in indoor “snow.” The exhibit runs from November through January.
Tip: The Museum of Science and Industry is a treasure trove of hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits, so leave plenty of time to explore.
4. Hershel and The Hanukkah Goblins
This classic children’s holiday book comes to life on stage in Strawdog Theatre Company’s fun adaptation. The family-friendly production and uses live music to tell the story of Hershel of Ostropol and his adventures over the eight nights of Hannukkah. Tickets start at $10 and family discounts are available.
Tip: Strawdog Theatre Company has programming geared toward younger audiences and families all year long.
5. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
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. Best of all for the kids in tow? Minnie and Mickey lead the parade! The festival is held Nov. 22 – 23, 2019 and the parade kicks off Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Tip: After the parade, stick around to catch a fireworks show over the Chicago River.
6. City of Chicago Christmas tree in Millennium Park
Kick off the the holidays with the 105th annual lighting of Chicago’s official Christmas tree in Millennium Park. Catch the official tree-lighting ceremony in November complete with carolers and special guests, or see the tree light up every night at sunset through January.
Tip: You can join in some Caroling at Cloud Gate on select dates in November and December.
7. Holiday windows at Macy’s on State Street
Each winter, Macy’s storefront windows transform into a fantastical holiday world. Combining traditional old-school artistry with gorgeous visual elements, the windows are adorned with imaginative scenes that fill little ones with wonder from November to January.
Tip: Venture into the warmth of Macy’s to see the 45-foot Great Tree, decorated with over 1200 ornaments and 25,000 twinkling lights, in the Walnut Room.
8. Zoolights At Lincoln Park Zoo
In the winter, Lincoln Park Zoo is covered in more than two million twinkling lights for a breathtaking holiday display. The free festival includes holiday crafts, pictures with Santa, live ice carving, enjoy animal encounters, ride a train, and a carousel — and so much more. This festive event takes place late November through early January.
Tip: Head over to neighboring Farm-in-the-Zoo for a little ice-skating among the ponies and goats.
9. Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier
With rides, slides, and ice skating to icicle lights, and towering holiday trees, this massive indoor holiday playground runs from late November through early January.
Tip: The list of things to do at Navy Pier is endless, particularly when it comes to kid-friendly activities. Check out all the free events and public programs.
10. Kwanzaa Market
Get unique holiday gifts at this eclectic market hosted by Africa International House. This year’s Pre-Kwanzaa Marketplace will feature handmade gift items, gift-making workshops, children’s activities, food, and more. The market is held at the Harris Park District in December.
11. Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier
The Children’s Museum offers fun all year round, but especially over the holidays. Escape the chilly winter weather in this wonderland of interactive exhibits, exciting activities, and themed play areas.
Tip: The Children’s Museum has a fun gift shop, filled with games, books, and toys that make great holiday gifts.
12. Breakfast with Santa at Shedd Aquarium
Enjoy breakfast with Santa, a mug of hot chocolate, The Polar Express 4-D experience, and more surprises on select dates throughout December.
13. Holiday flower show at Lincoln Park Conservatory
The Lincoln Park Conservatory transforms into a Winter Wonderland for this free, all-ages show. Enjoy holiday poinsettias, trees, sparkling lights, and model trains that traverse through the plants from late November through early January.
Tip: The Lincoln Park Conservatory stands beside the Lincoln Park Zoo, and is a stone’s throw from Farm-in-the-Zoo and its ice-skating rink. You can spend a whole day having fun with the kids right here!
14. Wreathing of the lions at Art Institute of Chicago
This beloved Chicago tradition takes place in November outside the Art Institute of Chicago, where giant holiday wreaths are placed on the museum’s monumental lions that flank its grand entry on Michigan Avenue. As a bonus, you and the kids can warm up with complimentary hot chocolate and live music.
Tip: Head inside the museum to see the Thorne Miniature Rooms, featuring 68 tiny rooms with historical furnishings and festive decorations.
15. Holiday magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo is a magical place during the holidays, with a full schedule of live entertainment: singing to the animals, professional ice-carving demonstrations, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, magic shows, a friendly 38-foot talking tree, costumed characters, and a model train display all December long.
Tip: In addition to all the activities, Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic is one of the largest light shows around, with over one-million twinkling bulbs illuminating the zoo grounds.
16. Wonderland Express & Hanukkah Concert at Chicago Botanic Garden
The Chicago Botanic Garden definitely knows how to put the “wonder” in “wonderland.” The Wonderland Express features toy trains that wind their way through plantings, onto overhead bridges, and past more than 80 miniature recreations of Chicago’s most famous buildings and landmarks. Best of all? Indoor snow!
You can also attend the annual Hanukkah concert featuring the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. The group will perform festive songs in two one-hour shows at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets, $20 in advance and $23 day of, go on sale to the public Nov. 12.
Tip: There’s more to Wonderland Express than trains. Check for caroling, movie days, holiday markets, and wreath sales on select dates.
17. 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: As a complement to the festive trains, the CTA Holiday Bus brings the same holiday spirit to bus riders as it travels through Chicago’s neighborhoods.
18. Winterland at Gallagher Way
Celebrate the season outside iconic Wrigley Field. Winterland at Gallagher Way will take over the area in front of the ballpark, including an ice rink, Santa’s workshop, an interactive light display and more. There will be plenty of family-friendly holiday activities throughout the area, including breakfast with Santa, a teddy bear tea, wreath making, and holiday movie screenings.