The holidays are a magical time in the city, especially with little ones 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. The whole family will be awed by the city’s massive Christmas tree, historic zoo covered in millions of lights, and whimsical holiday parade starring both Santa and Mickey Mouse. Here’s your bucket list of the best kid-friendly holiday activities and events in Chicago.

The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

The Wintrust Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is a can’t-miss holiday occasion. The nation’s largest evening holiday celebration, the cherished annual event includes family-friendly activities, live performances, and a spectacular fireworks display over the Chicago River. The main event is the magical evening parade with festive floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, and more. It all leads up to the dazzling moment when more than one million bulbs illuminate the trees along iconic Michigan Avenue.

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 lakefront zoo in moving light displays choreographed to festive music. The family-favorite event also includes holiday crafts, pictures with Santa, snacks, live ice carving, animal encounters, train rides, a carousel, and so much more. Make sure to get your tickets in advance.

Christmas Around The World

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light is an annual holiday celebration at the Griffin 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 Griffin Museum of Science and Industry is a treasure trove of hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits, so leave plenty of time to explore.

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’s grounds. First, twirl around on the city’s iconic Millennium Park ice skating rink, nestled 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

Light Up the Lake Navy Pier
Light Up the Lake Navy Pier

With tons of holiday-themed fun,Light Up the Lake atNavy Pier truly has something for the whole family. This indoor/outdoor winter wonderland will include glittering light displays, a lakeside ice skating rink, cozy outdoor fire pits, live performances, artisan markets, art displays, craft workshops, axe throwing, and more. Plus, the Pier is debuting a new winter fireworks show, held every Saturday evening.

Chicago Christmas Tree in Millennium Park

Kick off the holidays with the 110th annual lighting of the official Chicago Christmas Tree in Millennium Park, complete with music, special guests, and fireworks. The towering tree, decked out in thousands of twinkling lights, will be sure to wow kids of all ages. Catch it shining brightly near the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street from November through January.

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Winterland at Gallagher Way
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, including wreath-making workshops, a menorah lighting, and holiday movie screenings.

Wreathing of the Lions at Art Institute of Chicago

The annual wreathing of the lions has taken place outside the Art Institute of Chicago for more than 30 years. 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.

Holiday shows and performances

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.

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. Previous year’s themes have included Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Paddington Bear, The Nutcracker, and beyond.

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.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo, photo courtesy CZS-BrookfieldZoo

Tucked away in the suburbs just outside of Chicago, Brookfield Zoo is a wondrous place during its long-running Holiday Magic light 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, carolers, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and more.

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

Lightscape Chicago Botanic

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

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum
Illumination: Tree Lights 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 include Breakfast with Santa and Supper with St. Nick.

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