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
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:
- Ice rink DJ nights at Millennium Park (Dec. 6 & 20)
- Free ice skating lessons at Millennium Park (weekends and select holidays)
- Holiday Skate with Santa at Maggie Daley (Dec. 14)
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. See the official city Christmas tree
All month long
The official Chicago Christmas tree stands proudly in Millennium Park, where it will light up every night throughout December. Stop by to marvel at the glittering 55-foot spruce set against the Chicago skyline before checking out the ice rinks or caroling at Cloud Gate.
4. Walk through a Christmas market
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
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:
- Adler Planetarium (Dec. 2 – 3, 7, 12 – 13)
- Shedd Aquarium (Dec. 4)
- Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (Dec. 5)
- Illinois Holocaust Museum (Dec. 10)
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
Select dates throughout December
If you’ve never experience 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 Culture Center
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
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
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
Bonus! Explore the future of architecture
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: