Ice flows on the Chicago River in December
Ian Packham

Why you should visit Chicago in December

There’s nothing more seasonal than a frozen river or steady snowfall. And these are things Chicago in December has in droves.

If you’re looking for the full festive experience, there are few US destinations that come close. By day you can take in the city’s wealth of cultural attractions. Then by night there’s a long list of special events that use the hours of darkness to bring even more sparkle to what could otherwise be a very drab end to the year.

Here are five very good reasons why you should visit Chicago in December.

1. Family-friendly holiday activities

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You certainly won’t be worrying how you’re going to entertain the kids if you travel to Chicago in December. Alongside Centennial Wheel and the other rides of Navy Pier, the Christmas period sees this entertainment complex welcome Light Up the Lake.

Although festive lights play a big part, this December spectacle brings together a gift market, ice rink and visits to Santa all under one roof. Children can enjoy a turn on its trains, whilst adults might instead like a little R & R at the holiday beer garden.

The same location also boasts Chicago Children’s Museum, which is less a traditional museum and more a place for children from babies up to develop and discover the world around them.

If that’s high on the itinerary, then another Chicago attraction to check out is Lincoln Park Zoo, whose global A to Z of animals starts at aardvarks from the plains of Africa and ends with yellow-spotted river turtles from the Amazon rainforest.

2. Festive cheer around every corner

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Commuting may not sound like something to do during your Christmas vacation, but with Chicago Transport Authority’s Holiday Train in service from the end of November through to the Christmas shutdown, you may want to change your mind.

Carriages of this metro train are decorated inside and out – with the exterior garlanded in lights, making an after dark trip a must. But that’s not all, Santa waves to users from his position behind his reindeer – an all for a good cause.

Lighting displays aren’t hard to find in Chicago during December, with Morton Arboretum just one potential attraction getting in on the act. Far from the standard Christmas lights you might expect, 50 acres of trees are illuminated not just in light, but also color and sound.

Closer to downtown, you only need to take in a short part of the Magnificent Mile to discover an area of the city ablaze with seasonal lighting displays. One of the city’s major shopping destinations, with almost 500 stores to choose from, you’ll also find storefronts attempting to out compete each other with the wow factor.

3. Evening events to warm heart, soul and fingers

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Evenings aren’t hard to fill with delights. A great place to start (and maybe end) any evening in Chicago in December is the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Open daily from mid-November until Christmas Eve, this German-themed market of roughly 40 individual stalls is the biggest in the US. Meet up with friends or simply peruse the stalls in search of unique Christmas gifts, splendid souvenirs and a long list of edible treats, from currywurst to cookies.

Lovers of culture and tradition might also want to seek out the city’s theatre spaces. Adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol have now been staged for half a century, whilst ballets to look out for include Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, set on Christmas Eve.

As elsewhere, New Year’s Eve is all about midnight fireworks, launching from barges at the end of Navy Pier. Grab a ticket for the Resolution Gala at the pier’s Grand Ballroom and you’ll be able to enjoy the spectacle with a glass of champagne in hand. Alternatively, the display is visible from much of Chicago’s shoreline on Lake Michigan as well as from special midnight dinner cruises.

4. World class museum collections

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Occupying the only structure still in existence from the 1893 World Columbian Exposition (or World’s Fair), the Museum of Science and Industry has a range of artefacts and objects relating to scientific discovery. In December, it also hosts its celebration of Christmas around the world – something it has been doing since 1942.

Today it includes around 50 Christmas trees decorated by volunteers to represent seasonal traditions around the world as well as incorporating non-Christian winter festivals such as Hannukah.

Further north, the Field Museum is one for those fascinated by the wider world. Amongst its most popular exhibits are Máximo – the largest dinosaur ever found – and the DNA Discovery Center, where windows reveal real-life scientists working to map out the genetic codes of a whole range of species.

5. Unforgettable snowy scenes

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Chicago in December regularly sees snow accumulate to about 2.5 inches – enough to create a wonderful wintry blanket without bringing things to a shuddering stop. Millennium Park, a westward extension of Grant Park, typifies scenes across the city whilst also hosting one of its main outdoor ice rinks.

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink is a good size and also watched over by a modern Chicago icon – the reflective ‘bean’ sculpture by Anish Kapoor officially entitled Cloud Gate.

For dreamy vistas from higher up, look no further than the Willis Tower. Still known to many locals by its original name of the Sears Tower, the 60 second elevator ride takes you to the ear-popping height of 1353 feet. The tower’s 103rd floor Skydeck observation deck provides unrivalled views of the city by day and night, taking in sights such as the Magnificent Mile and Lake Michigan. On a clear day, views extend across four different states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Save on admission in Chicago in December

Anyone who loves their winters cold and snowy is sure to adore Chicago in December. Not only is the weather worthy of a Christmas movie, but there are a huge array of special attractions and events to look out for, from seasonal lights to New Year’s fireworks.

Travel to Chicago with Go City and you’ll get massive savings on many of the city’s top-rated attractions too. Let’s face it, you don’t have to be Scrooge to love a bargain, making Go City a no brainer!

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