From twinkling holiday lights along Michigan Avenue to ice skaters twirling around Millennium Park, Chicago is magical this time of year. It’s also jam-packed with unique seasonal traditions, with holiday markets, sweet treats, and exciting events you’ll want to add to your winter bucket list.

Here are a few favorite winter traditions in Chicago:

Lace up some skates

On shimmering winter days, Chicagoans love gliding around one of the city’s many free 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 rooftop skating at The Peninsula Hotel, you can hit the ice in every corner of the city.

Grab some gifts

Clayton Hauck

Chicago is a shoppers’ paradise, especially during the holidays. Stroll high-end designer showrooms and mega shopping malls along The Magnificent Mile, where you can admire the extravagant holiday window displays in the Loop at Macy’s on State Street.

Or head to neighborhoods like Lincoln SquareAndersonville, the Southport Corridor in Lakeview, or Wicker Park/Bucktown to find eclectic boutiques housing handmade and artisan goods for a truly one-of-a-kind gift.

Explore with the kids

Lincoln Park Zoo ZooLights

The city is packed with family-friendly winter activities. Wander through ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo, a breathtaking display of more than two million holiday lights.

Next, head to Navy Pier for Winter WonderFest, a massive indoor amusement park of bouncy houses, climbing structures, and even a skating rink. Explore more kid-friendly holiday activities  in Chicago.

Hit the local favorites


Stroll the authentic German Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza to buy beautiful glass ornaments, handmade cuckoo clocks, and more Old World Crafts. Or just enjoy German fare and sip cocoa or mulled wine.

Gaze at the sparkling Millennium Park Christmas Tree or the Great tree in the historic Walnut Room ceiling at Macy’s on State Street (say hi to Santa while you’re there).

Watch the Art Institute of Chicago lions get their traditional evergreen decor at the annual wreathing ceremony. Or warm up those vocal chords with Caroling at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park.

In 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.

Dinner and a show

James M. Nederlander Theatre

Make your reservations for Chicago Restaurant Week to indulge in special prix fixe menus at some of the city’s best restaurants. And celebrate the Chicago’s world-class theater scene with discounted Chicago Theatre Week tickets.

Cultural celebrations

Experience the splendor of Chinese New Year celebrations throughout Chicago with vibrant parades, traditional performances, and authentic food.

Winter cravings

“Hotter Chocolate” Bombobar

Warm up with the city’s most over-the-top creations, like a cup of the famous cocoa at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate or the Instagram-worthy cups at a BomboBar, a popular walk-up window in the West Loop neighborhood.

Festive shows

Don’t miss limited-time holiday shows like Joffrey Ballet’s The NutcrackerGoodman Theatre’s A Christmas Carol, and T’was the Night Before Christmas at Broadway Playhouse.

Stroll our museums

Wreathing of the Lions Chicago

Experience Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry, with 50 trees decorated to represent different countries and holiday traditions. At the Art Institute’s Thorne Miniature Rooms, the tiny rooms have been decked out in pint-sized festive decorations.

Embark on a winter tour

What better way to see Chicago’s magical holiday lights than with a guided tour? Hop aboard Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. for a tour of lights along The Magnificent Mile, as well as Daley Plaza, Macy’s, and more. Jump on a Segway for Absolutely Chicago Segway’s festive Holiday Lights Tour.

Or see the lights from thousands of feet in the air. Take a holiday light helicopter tour with Chicago Helicopter Experience or Vertiport Chicago. Even public transit gets into the spirit with its annual CTA Holiday Train, featuring decorated train cars, holiday music, lights, and Santa himself as the conductor.