Even with the chilly weather, Chicago is bustling with winter excitement, from festive performances and displays, to themed tours and celebrations, to indoor and outdoor activities. With everything that's going on, it's tough to know where to start. Here are some tips on must-see events and entertaining tours to help you get a jump start on your winter tour in Chicago.Festive Performances and Exhibits
Chicago is known as a theater town, with five Tony Award®-winning theaters and hundreds of acclaimed performances under its belt. The winter season brings wonderful new shows to town, as well as some treasured favorites that are not to be missed.
A classic winter performance enjoyed by locals and visitors alike is Joffrey Ballet's rendition of The Nutcracker, a grand production set to the world-renowned score by Tchaikovsky (Dec. 6-28; group discounts for 10 or more). The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Welcome Yule! is a heartwarming holiday event that features cherished carols and new arrangements, as well as sing-alongs and traditional tunes like "Christmas in Chicago" (Select dates in Dec.).
The Broadway Playhouse will host Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The MusicalTM this holiday seasons, bringing the original animated television special to life on stage (Nov 14-Dec. 29). Another option is Elf the Musical at Cadillac Palace Theatre, the modern day Christmas tale of Buddy, an orphan child raised by elves who journeys to New York to find his birth father (Nov. 26-Dec. 15).
The Chicago museums also like to get in on the holiday action with special exhibits and events. The Shedd Aquarium welcomes back its multi-species aquatic show, A Holiday Fantasea, held in the Abbott Oceanarium. It features white-sided dolphins, belugas, sea lions and penguins, all showing off their natural behaviors to a festive soundtrack from around the world. The Shedd is also showing the Polar Express 4-D feature, which engages all the senses through effects, such as airbursts, seat buzzers and spouts of water (Nov. 29-Dec.28).
The Museum of Science and Industry will celebrate the season once again with its Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibits. This tradition, dating back to 1942, features a 45-foot Grand Tree at the center of the museum Rotunda, surrounded by more than 50 smaller trees decorated to represent different cultures (Nov. 14-Jan. 5, 2014).Winter Tours
The cold-weather months make walking and biking around Chicago a little difficult, but there are still plenty of tours that let your tour group explore the city while staying warm at the same time. Chicago's Finest Tours has a whole collection of tours designed specifically for winter that take groups through Chicago's heated Pedway while a guide tells captivating stories of the city's history (Nov. 1-May 31).
There are a variety of seasonally themed tours that explore holiday happenings in Chicago, such as Holiday in the City from About Tours and Windy City Yuletide Spectacular from Accenting Chicago (Nov.-Dec.). Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. also offers a Holiday Lights Tour that takes you past Macy's on State Street's holiday windows and other stops as you venture from Christkindlmarket to the Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Warm up with a nice mug of hot cocoa-or three-with Chicago Chocolate Tours, which offers guided tours and tastings at select chocolate shops, bakeries and cafés around Chicago (Year-round).Events and Activities
Despite the cool air, there are still plenty of outdoor places to enjoy Chicago. The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park opens in November and stays open through March, and provides groups non-stop skating fun. Get some fresh air and exercise with a snowshoe adventure at Northerly Island, one of the best-kept secrets in Chicago.
Sledding is also a great winter activity. Head on over to Soldier Field Sledding Hill, which sits on 30 acres of parkland surrounding the stadium and features a 220-foot slope. For something a little more relaxing, take a nice carriage ride through the lighted streets. Tours are available through Chicago Horse & Carriage, LTD, and Antique Coach & Carriage Company.
While your group is in town, make sure they check out some of the festive events going on around Chicago. The BMO Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival (Nov. 23) is a celebration featuring live concerts, a parade, a fireworks finale and more than a million lights on 200 trees. Head over to Daley Plaza to see the lighting of the iconic Christmas Tree for its 100th anniversary (Nov. 26). Now in its 18th year, the Christkindlmarket has become a major Chicago attraction. The German market runs from Nov. 26-Dec. 24 and features traditional fare, goods and classic German cuisine (Local tip: Try the hot spiced wine, called Glühwein, it comes in a souvenir boot-shaped mug). Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier includes an indoor ice rink, rides, an indoor Ferris wheel and much more (Dec. 6-Jan. 12, 2014).