You don’t need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of culture and fun in Chicago. Here are 10 free things to do in Chicago this December, including holiday celebrations, outdoor activities, exhibits, concerts, and more.

1. Go for a spin on an outdoor ice rink

Ice skaters at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park.

All month long

Lace up your skates and go for a spin at one of the two ice skating rinks in Millennium Park. Check out the McCormick Tribune rink in the shadow of the iconic “The Bean” statue, or the Skating Ribbon, which loops around nearby Maggie Daley Park. Admission is free, skate rentals are available.

Check out these upcoming ice skating events:

2. Hear a free concert with a historic backdrop

Dec. 1 and 6

This month, catch two free shows at the South Short Cultural Center, a stunning lakeside venue known for being a local and national landmark (and the site of the Obama’s wedding reception).

During Side by Side on Sunday, Dec. 1, students and amateur musicians of all ages come together with the acclaimed Chicago Philharmonic for a free performance. Past participants have ranged in age from 7 – 87 and come from all over the city of Chicago and the surrounding areas.

And don’t miss the chance to hear live Chicago-style jazz during the Jazz City Concert on Friday, Dec. 6. This free concert series, which began in 1997, brings people together from across the city to listen to Chicago’s top jazz musicians.

3. Tour the historic Auditorium Theatre

Auditorium Theatre

Dec. 9

Celebrate the Auditorium Theatre‘s 130th birthday with an evening of fun events. The theatre will be marking the milestone with free tours of the stunning space, a photo booth, popcorn, activities, and even a free drink at the bar when you register online. Plus, enter for a chance to win free tickets to an upcoming performance.

4. Walk through a Christmas market

Lantern Parade at Christkindlmarket
Photo by Eric James Walsh

Through Dec. 24

Chicago’s Christkindlmarket is an annual, free-admission holiday market that takes over Daley Plaza each year. Wander through the charming rows of vendor stalls selling potato pancakes, hot pretzels, roasted nuts, and hot mulled wine in ultra-cute boot mugs. The market is now open and runs through Dec. 24.

5. Visit a Chicago museum

Photo by Clayton Hauck for Choose Chicago / FCB

Various dates in December

Many of Chicago’s most popular museums are offering free admission days this December. Illinois residents get free admission to the following museums:

Check out our list of free museum days for more upcoming no admission days.

6. Be awed by a one-of-a-kind light show

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Select dates throughout December 

If you’ve never experienced Zoolights, it’s time to check this off your Christmas in Chicago bucket list item. The show takes place at Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest and last free zoos in the country. While winter animals play in their habitats, the sprawling lakefront zoo is decked out in 2.5 million glittering lights. See the luminous display and enjoy holiday activities like live ice-carving demos, photos with Santa, strolling carolers, and more.

7. Explore the Chicago Cultural Center

Wednesday – Saturday

Get an inside look at one of Chicago’s most beloved architectural gems. The free building tours delve into the fascinating history of the landmark Chicago Cultural Center, offered year round on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 1:15 p.m.

Plus, check out these free holiday events at the Chicago Cultural Center:

8. Go caroling next to The Bean

Caroling at Cloud Gate

Dec. 6, 13 & 20

Caroling at Cloud Gate is a beloved Chicago tradition. Come bundle up and belt it out with some of the city’s best local choirs. Just grab a free songbook and follow along.

Check out this year’s Caroling at Cloud Gate schedule:

  • Mark Hubbard and The Voices (Dec. 6)
  • Chicago Children’s Choir (Dec. 13)
  • Wicker Park Choral Singers (Dec. 20)

9. See a family-friendly Hanukkah show

Dec. 5

A new stage adaptation of the classic children’s holiday book is the latest work from Strawdog’s series for families and young audiences. The free show uses live music to tell the fantastical story of Hershel of Ostropol who defeated a series of goblins over the eight nights of Hanukkah. This free event is presented as a part of the City of Chicago’s Year of Chicago Theatre.

10. Celebrate New Years with the whole family

Dec. 31

Kids can’t make it till midnight? Lincoln Park Cultural Center is throwing a New Year’s Eve at Noon celebration for party-goers of all ages. The afternoon bash includes balloons, music, crafts, and a big countdown to the “noon year”. The free party kicks off at 10:30 a.m. at the historic Lincoln Park Cultural Center.

Bonus! Explore the future of architecture

Chicago Archiecture Biennial

All month long

It’s the final days of the Chicago Architecture Biennial at the Chicago Cultural Center, which features tons of free exhibits, performances, events, and talks. The largest exhibition of its kind in North America, the Biennial explores how architecture shapes our communities, cities, and environments.

Check out some free Biennial events at the Chicago Cultural Center: