Chicagoans will always tell you there is no time to be in the city like Summertime & they just tolerate the winter… I BEG TO DIFFER. There is no time better than December in Chicago. There are endless activities & options throughout our cities 77 neighborhoods, but in an effort to keep it short & sweet, I have chosen my top 11 things to do during December in Chicago & I hope you can fit them into this crazy holiday season.
- Christkindlmarket – Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545, the Christkindlmarket Chicago brings a cherished German and European tradition with international flair and local charm to Chicago. Different from the magnificent mile, the vendors at this open-air market offer unique & classic items that can’t be found elsewhere. My favorite booths to visit: Beer & Spiced Wine tent obviously (don’t forget to get the souvenir mug!), German Steins & Souvenirs, Dinkel’s Bakery for some strudel, & Frank’s Ornament House for glass blown ornaments.
- Christmas Around the World at MSI – The Museum of Science & Industry is an often overlooked tourist attraction, but people don’t know what they are missing! Located in the beautiful Hyde Park neighborhood, just steps away from Lake Michigan & minutes from downtown Chicago, MSI has one of my FAVORITE Christmas exhibits, Christmas around the World. More than 50 trees & displays to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the world & one magnificent, floor to ceiling 4 story tree.
- ZooLights – Hosted by Lincoln Park Zoo, ZooLights is a family favorite activity with musical light shows, carolers, live ice-sculture carvings, adult beverages, & more. A fun, free event that I make sure to attend year after year. Make sure to pick a warm(er) night as it can get pretty chilly strolling around the zoo at night – or go in & check out the exhibits; my favorites are the Africa Experience (specifically Mr. Hippo) & the Primate House.
- Butch McGuires – A well-known restaurant & bar in the Gold Coast, Butch McGuires provides a spectacular holiday experience. With over 45,000 lights, a 2 tier model train, wonderful Christmas displays, & ‘Christmas in your Mouth’ shots.. December in Chicago is not complete without this quintessential holiday visit IMO.
- Christmas shows – Full disclosure: I have NOT seen any holiday shows, but I plan to because Chicago has some of the best shows & world-class actors. The shows on my list are A Christmas Carol & The Nutcracker.
- Ice Skating at Millennium park / Maggie Daley Ribbon – Just below The Bean sits Millennium Park’s McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Admission is free & skate rental is available for a nominal fee. Just east of the park is the new Maggie Daley Ribbon. Unlike a traditional rink, the Ribbon provides an unconventional skating experience that is really fun. Both have the gorgeous, sweeping Chicago skyline in background & are a must visit – perfect for date night!
- Ride the Polar Express – If you love the Polar Express like I do, then you will definitely want to check this out. A magical one-hour trip through the tunnels, rail yards, and neighborhoods along the Chicago River set to the sound track of Polar Express. You’ll be able to punch your golden ticket before hot chocolate & cookies are served by dancing chefs.
- Winter Wonderfest – For those who have children, or are a child at heart, this is a great activity for some family friendly fun. I remember going to this when it first opened & it truly was an incredible experience & memory I will always cherish. Visit with Santa, ride the rides & giant slides, indoor ice skating, and holiday decor that will be sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
- Holiday Flower Show at Lincoln Park Conservatory – For a warmer activity, stop by the Lincoln Park Conservatory to check out the holiday flower show! The conservatory is a favorite of mine year around, but this holiday season they will be featuring poinsettias, trees, sparkling lights, and a model trains that traverse through the plantings. This year will feature photos from 1940s through 1960s, celebrating memories of holidays past.
- Music Box Christmas Sing-A-Long – Music Box Theater is a vintage movie theater in Southport Corridor & has been hosting a Christmas Sing-A-Long for the past 35 years. It is such a fun, unconventional, & old-fashioned Christmas experience I am always recommending to people who want to get away from the hectic downtown tourist attractions. You walk into the theater & have the usual movie theater offerings like popcorn & candy, but also a full bar to aid in your singing abilities. Once seated you are welcomed by Santa Claus himself who leads the audience in singing some cherished Christmas carols with the lyrics projected onto the screen. Be sure to come ready to sing & if you’re seeing a It’s A Wonderful Life, don’t forget your jingle bells!
- Millers Pub – Years ago my boyfriend & I were at the Christkindlmarket & en route to the Christmas Tree in Millennium park, but it was FREEZING & my hand was in a cast from breaking it the night before (long story) so I begged him to let us go inside somewhere to warm up. We stopped in Millers Pub & have made the visit a tradition ever since. We grabbed two seats at the bar & ordered their infamous ‘Tom & Jerry’. What’s a Tom & Jerry you ask? The drink starts with a carefully prepared batter made from eggs, sugar, cream of tartar, vanilla extract & ‘enough spices to fill a Christmas stocking’, including cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, & allspice. The batter traditionally lives in a punch bowl, ladled into mugs, add rum & brandy, then pour in hot water or milk, and stir quickly; the egg whites will rise to give the drink a foamy crown. If that doesn’t spark your interest, they have other warm holiday drinks & as well as an impressive cocktail & spirits list.
As always, Chicago is full of amazing ways to spend this holiday season; these are just my tried & true suggestions. Am I missing a favorite of yours? Let me know how you plan to spend your time this season.