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, free zoo covered in millions of lights, and whimsical holiday parade with both Santa and Mickey Mouse. Here’s your bucket list for the best kid-friendly holiday activities in Chicago for 2019.
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 Friday, Nov. 22 and Saturday, 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.
Ice skating in Millennium Park
Twirl around on the city’s free ice skating rink, right below the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (aka “The Bean”) in snow-covered Millennium Park. There’s no admission, and you can bring your own skates or rent a pair for $13 on weekdays, $15 on weekends and holidays.
City of Chicago Christmas tree in Millennium Park
Kick off the the holidays with the 106th annual lighting of Chicago’s official Christmas tree in Millennium Park. Catch the official tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 22 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.
Wreathing of the lions at Art Institute of Chicago
The 28th annual Wreathing of the Lions takes place on Nov. 29 outside the Art Institute of Chicago. The beloved Chicago tradition is when the 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 that you kids will love.
See a holiday show
Treat your kids to a theatrical experience with one of these family-friendly holiday shows:
- Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Dec. 10 – Dec. 15
- A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre, Nov. 16 – Dec. 29
- Hershel and The Hanukkah Goblins at Strawdog Theatre Company, Dec. 7 – Dec. 28,
- The Nutcracker by Joffrey Ballet at Auditorium Theatre, Nov. 30 – Dec. 29
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.
Holiday windows at Macy’s on State Street
Each winter, Macy’s holiday 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 Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 5, 2020.
Tip: Venture into Macy’s to see the 45-foot Great Tree, decorated with over 1,200 ornaments and 25,000 twinkling lights, in the historic Walnut Room.
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 the charming ice rink inside Farm-in-the-Zoo to glide around among the ponies and goats.
Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier
With tons of (indoor!) holiday-themed fun, this massive indoor holiday playground runs from late November through early January. Kids will love the festive rides, slides, climbing walls, obstacle courses, indoor ice skating, and twinkling forest of more than 500 decorated trees.
Holiday flower show at Lincoln Park Conservatory
The Lincoln Park Conservatory transforms into a winter wonderland for this free, all-ages holiday flower show. Enjoy holiday poinsettias, trees, sparkling lights, and model trains that traverse through the plants from late November through early January.
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, ice-carving demonstrations, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, magic shows, a friendly 41-foot talking tree, costumed characters, and a model train display all December long.
Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden
Wander through an enchanted, illuminated trail during Lightscape from Nov. 22 through Jan. 5 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’s 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, the Winter Solstice Family Hike, and the Gingerbread House Workshop.
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 starting Nov. 22. The festive event includes an ice rink, Santa’s workshop, an interactive light display, Christkindlmarket, 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.