St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday beloved by many, but it’s particularly special to Chicagoans. As a city with a vibrant Irish heritage—and an even more enthusiastic Irish-American population—Chicago is the perfect place to celebrate St. Paddy’s. From dyeing their iconic river a vivid green to holding one of the best St. Paddy’s parades in the country, Chicago goes all out for this holiday. Here’s a guide to what to do, where to go, and how to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. So put on your best, brightest green outfit and get ready to celebrate.
Dyeing of the Chicago river
Each year on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, the city of Chicago dyes its famous river a lush bright green. This is a cherished tradition dating back over 50 years and is one of the highlights of any celebration. Every year spectators from across the city and around the country line the bridges and riverwalk to watch the barges release the dye into the water and see the river slowly turn an emerald green. They use organic dyes that are safe for the environment; as a result, the color only lasts for about five hours. The dyeing begins at 9 am, so get to the river early in the day if you want to see the color in its full glory.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
One of the largest St. Paddy’s Day parades in the country, Chicago’s version of an Irish American classic, is legendary. This downtown celebration traverses Columbus Drive, heading north from Balbo to Monroe. Columbus Drive divides Millennium Park and Grant Park in half, so the parade route is a really scenic one. The parade usually begins at noon, so arrive early to grab a good spot. You’ll enjoy plenty of green, white, and orange outfits, Irish step dancers, marching bands, elaborately decorated floats, and even bagpipers (of course!).
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Other St Patrick's Day events in Chicago
There are plenty of other things to do in Chicago to celebrate your favorite holiday. Check out a few of these local events & activities to make the most of your time in the Windy City.
- St. Patrick’s Festival at the Irish American Heritage Center: Held after the parade, this family-friendly event offers traditional and contemporary dance performances alongside tasty food and drink. A good option for those traveling with kids.
- South Side Irish Parade: Another great family-centric event, this smaller but no less enthusiastic parade begins at noon on the Sunday nearest St. Paddy’s Day, setting off from 103rd Street & Western Avenue.
- Shoreline Cruises Architecture River Cruise: While this architecture cruise also runs regularly on days the river isn’t green, the cruises today are especially popular. Get up close to the emerald waters and snap those perfect Instagram shots while learning all about the city’s built environment.
- Leprechaun Leap: This popular race offers 5k or 8k courses along the gorgeous Lake Michigan waterfront. It’s a beloved tradition among runners for nearly 20 years now, and attract participants from all over. Dress in costume for the most fun!
- Hop-on Hop-off Chicago City Tour: See more of the city with a hop-on hop-off tour from Big Bus. Take advantage of their local expertise to get some advice on what else to do to celebrate, and get around the city easily.
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Places to eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day in Chicago
One of most people’s favorite things about St. Patrick’s Day is the opportunity to enjoy delicious Irish food and a pint or two of plain (aka, Guinness). Scope out these bars and restaurants while you’re in town for the holiday. Many other places will have special events, some requiring advance ticket purchase, so these aren’t your only options by any means. If you’re traveling with an adults-only group, you may also want to consider a pub crawl through River North (Division Street is a popular place). Remember, bars in Chicago stay open very late if you need an excuse to keep the festivities going.
- Kerryman Irish Bar & Restaurant: This River North mainstay is perfect for those looking to enjoy traditional Irish fare with a bit of a modern update.
- D4 Irish Pub & Café: Think Irish food with some modern American flair thrown in: fish and chips or corned beef and hash, plus avocado toast and lobster mac n’ cheese.
- Lady Gregory’s: An Andersonville legend, Lady Gregory’s is a must-visit destination for the whiskey connoisseur. With more than 300 options to choose from, you should definitely also take advantage of their full dining menu to balance it all out.
- The Galway Arms: Found just west of Lincoln Park (right near the zoo), Galway Arms has been voted “Best Irish Pub” for four years running. Enjoy its cozy historical vibe and scrumptious authentic cuisine.
- The Grafton Pub & Grill: Located in Lincoln Square, this traditional Irish pub features tasty burgers with an extensive whiskey menu. They’re always good for some Irish-American music, too.
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Tips for Booking St. Patrick’s Day Hotels
If you do intend to make St. Paddy’s in Chicago a part of your next getaway, be sure to plan in advance. Hotels book up fast, and crowds are thick around the riverfront and parade route. Check out our logistical tips for a smoother vacation.
- Because St. Patrick’s Day is such a big holiday for the city of Chicago, many hotels will run specials around this time of year. Book early to take advantage of discounted rates or special deals.
- If you are a member of a hotel’s reward program, it might be a good idea to cash in some points now. You can reserve in advance and pay less than you would otherwise.
- As soon as you know your plan, try to book the hotel. And even if you aren’t sure, book your hotel room at a refundable rate that you can always alter later if necessary.
- Aggregate sites like Trivago, Hotels.com, and Expedia can be good resources for finding affordable hotels. Keep in mind, though, that some sites may require that you pay for the full price of the hotel upfront.
- Look for hotels outside the immediate downtown area. While you probably want to stay in the Loop to be near the parade and other Chicago attractions, you don’t need to stay right off Millennium Park to be close. River North or Lincoln Park are great neighborhoods to find hotels that won’t be as full.
Save on St. Paddy’s Day Activities in Chicago
So come on out to Chicago to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day the way it should be celebrated—with lots of good cheer and plenty of beer. If you plan on incorporating some sightseeing into your festivities, a Go Chicago pass is a smart option to help you save money on full-price admission to attractions.
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