There’s no time like Christmas in Chicago. The holiday season is full of twinkling light displays, fun-filled celebrations, holiday markets, and beloved local traditions.

Here are a few favorite holiday events and activities in Chicago.

See the holiday lights

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

It’s not the holidays in Chicago without dazzling light displays around every corner. Check out ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo, when the free zoo is illuminated by more than 2.5 million colorful lights. You can also see Chicago’s most famous streets light up for the holidays during The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival or check out the massive City of Chicago Christmas Tree in Millennium Park.

Explore more: Check out all our favorite spots to see Christmas lights in Chicago.

Lace up some skates

On winter days, lace up your skates and hit one of the city’s charming outdoor ice rinks. Whether it’s the scenic rink at Millennium Park just below Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”), the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, the kid-sized rink just outside Lincoln Park Zoo, or the Gallagher Way rink in Wrigleyville, you can hit the ice in every corner of the city.

Experience the top local traditions

Kick off the holiday season with the official City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting in Millennium Park. That’s also where you can catch Caroling at Cloud Gate on select Fridays in November and December. Just down the street, go see the extravagant Great Tree inside the historic Walnut Room at Macy’s on State Street.

The holidays are also a great time to explore Chicago’s neighborhoods. Attend a holiday sing-a-long at the Music Box Theatre on Southport Avenue or admire the St. Lucia Festival of Lights in Andersonville. Check out a Candlelight Historic House Walk in Pullman or warm up with the Holiday Flower Show at the Garfield Park Conservatory.

Shop charming holiday markets

Christkindlmarket

Experience the magic of an authentic German Christmas market at the always-buzzing Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. This annual, free-admission event features local vendors selling beautiful glass ornaments, wooden cuckoo clocks, hand-knit gloves, hot mulled wine, and other traditional German crafts and treats.

Other top holiday markets include a miniature version of Christkindlmarket in Wrigleyville, the local-artisan-filled Renegade Craft Fair, and the long-running Randolph Street Holiday Market in the West Loop.

Explore more: Shop all the top Chicago holiday markets.

Explore a winter wonderland with the kids

Inside Navy Pier Winter WonderFest
Nick Ulivieri Photography

Chicago is packed with family-friendly winter activities during the holidays. Head to Navy Pier for Winter WonderFest, a massive indoor amusement park filled with carnival rides, giant slides, holiday activities, an indoor ice rink, and more than 500 decorated trees. Or check out Winterland at Gallagher Way, an outdoor festival with ice skating lessons, Santa’s workshop, holiday movies, and more.

Explore more: Check out our guide to kid-friendly holiday activities in Chicago.

Catch a festive show

Don’t miss limited-time holiday shows like Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre, Hershel and The Hanukkah Goblins at Strawdog Theatre Company, The Nutcracker by Joffrey Ballet at Auditorium Theatre, It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! at Stage 773, and more.

Explore a holiday exhibit

Wreathing of the Lions Chicago

Chicago museums love to take part in the holiday fun. The Museum of Science and Industry hosts their annual Christmas Around the World, with 50 elaborately decorated trees that represent holiday traditions from across the globe. Along with the annual Wreathing of the Lions, the Art Institute of Chicago transforms one of their most beloved exhibits, the Thorne Miniature Rooms, with pint-sized festive decorations.

If you’re looking for something under the radar, check out the Christmas Candlelight Tours at Glessner House, where you can learn about the holiday customs from the late 19th century. Get your photo taken with Santa at the Driehaus Museum. Or head to the DuSable Museum of African American History to experience their free Kwanzaa celebrations.

Grab some gifts

Clayton Hauck

Chicago is a shoppers’ paradise, especially during the holidays. Stroll high-end designer showrooms and upscale retail centers along lit-up The Magnificent Mile. Or head to the Loop, where you can hunt for gifts along State Street and check out the holiday windows outside Macy’s on State Street before heading inside for some shopping.

You’ll also find tons of locally owned shops and boutiques in Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods: check out Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park, Clark Street in Andersonville, the Southport Corridor in Lakeview, Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, 18th Street in Pilsen, and all around Hyde Park.

Explore more: Check out our guide to holiday shopping in Chicago.

Embark on a winter tour

Don’t miss any of Chicago’s top holiday sites with a guided tour. Hop aboard Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. for a lights tour along The Magnificent Mile and throughout the Loop. Or jump on a Segway for Absolutely Chicago Segway’s festive Holiday Lights Tour.

You can also see the magical Chicago lights from above with a holiday helicopter tour from Chicago Helicopter Experience or Vertiport Chicago. Even public transit gets into the spirit with Chicago’s annual CTA Holiday Train, featuring super-decorated train cars, holiday music, lights, and Santa himself as the conductor.

Warm up with hot cocoa

“Hotter Chocolate” Bombobar

Stay warm with the city’s best hot chocolate, like a cup of the famous cocoa at Mindy’s HotChocolate by award-winning pastry chef Mindy Segal. Try a cup of Mexican hot chocolate from Kristoffer’s Café & Bakery (also known for their tres leche cake) in Pilsen or XOCO (by celebrity chef Rick Bayless) 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 neighborhood.

Explore more: Check out more of the top spots for hot chocolate in Chicago.