The Chicago skyline from the shores of Lake Michigan
Ian Packham

Chicago in January

Winter doesn’t stop Chicagoans getting out and about, and even outdoor events continue to enliven and entertain those living in the city.

Anyone looking to experience the festive season with reduced crowds and cheaper accommodation costs might also look to Chicago in January rather than in December, since many seasonal attractions extend their stay into the first month of the year.

There are plenty of permanent attractions to enjoy too, from the Art Institute of Chicago to Shedd Aquarium. Here’s our guide to the windy city’s top January sights.

Weather in Chicago in January

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It’s fair to say you don’t travel to Chicago in January for the weather! There’s no hiding the fact that it gets very cold in Chicago in January, with average temperatures of just 30°F. With windchill – this is the windy city after all – and with cloud free nights, temperatures can fall as low as 12°F.

However, as those other defenders of cold climates – the Norwegians – say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Woolen items will be your best friends, whether that’s thermal underwear and base layers or thick knitted sweaters, beanies, scarfs and gloves.

A little over 1.5 inches of rain and snow means you’ll want to add a waterproof jacket or umbrella to your packing list, whilst weatherproof shoes or boots comfortable enough to walk in all day are also going to give you a major win over the weather.

Cling on to the Christmas spirit

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January is known to be one of the most depressing times of year, but you can help keep the blues at bay by stretching the Christmas frivolities beyond the New Year’s Eve fireworks above the rides of Navy Pier and into the first week of January.

The city’s official Christmas tree, a Blue Spruce topping out at 50 feet high, remains lit in Millennium Park from 6AM until 11PM daily until January 9. So close you can get the two in the same photograph, Millennium Park is also the location of one of Chicago’s newest landmarks – Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s annual Christmas Around the World exhibition is another attraction which continues into January. A further reason to pay a visit to this phenomenal museum, this seasonal exhibition contains around 50 Christmas trees, each decorated to symbolize festive celebrations around the world. Entrance is included as part of a standard ticket.

Explore the four corners of the world

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It may be missing the crabs of Christmas Island, but Shedd Aquarium should still be high on the list of things to do in Chicago in January for anyone with an interest in our marine habitats. A stone’s throw from Lake Michigan, its location couldn’t be better. Being entirely enclosed, it doesn’t really matter what the weather might be doing either.

In addition to uncovering life below the surface of the Great Lakes, the aquarium does an excellent job at revealing the wonders in all the world’s oceans. Taking a 360° tour of a Caribbean reef populated by turtles and sharks, and Pacific waters with beluga whales, dolphins and sea otters are just a few of a long list of highlights.

As neighbors go, few could be better than the Field Museum. Covering pretty much everything Shedd Aquarium doesn’t, its grand halls hold an apparently endless stream of natural marvels, from the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever discovered – called Sue – to artefacts from the ancient Americas.

For a modern look at the world, head to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Sandwiched between Lake Shore Park and Historic Water Tower, its immense collection is focused on the years from 1945 to the present day. Its asymmetric staircase and views across Lake Michigan are worthy of inclusion in its collection.

Don’t ignore the parks and gardens

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Green spaces aren’t necessarily at their best in the winter months. However, Lincoln Park Conservatory is just one spot with year-round color. This gem of the Victorian age comprises four different halls. The Palm House contains a fiddle-leaf rubber fig put in place in 1891, whilst the Orchid Room boasts hundreds of these tropical blooms. The cooler houses are also bright with the red leaves of Mexican poinsettias as part of the winter show – ending a week into January.

Back in Millennium Park, the bare trees provide a backdrop to McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which has skaters gliding across its surface right through to the spring. Situated on the plaza of the same name, it’s one of America’s biggest inner city rinks, but still dwarfed by the area covered by the skating ribbon which meanders through Maggie Daley Park and is twice the size.

Humboldt Park has a much more residential feel, located amid the neat grid of streets to the west of the trendy Wicker Park neighborhood. At its heart lie a series of lagoons, though its paths are better trod for the architectural and sculptural landmarks dotting the park. These include the Bavarian-style stables and receptory building, acting as the visitor center and Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, as well as two bronze bison at the east entrance of the Formal Gardens.

Head to the heights

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Birthplace of the steel-framed skyscraper, Chicago is known for its high-rise central districts. One of the best ways of getting a bird’s eye view is from the Skydeck observation station on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower.

From almost 1400 feet up, most of the city’s landmarks can be spotted from its windows – and parts of Illinois’ neighboring states too. Outdoing even this is The Ledge, a group of three glass boxes which overhang the sides of the tower. Make sure you’ve got a head for heights before stepping onto their glass floors!

From ground level there’s still plenty to see though, with many of Chicago’s best-known buildings recognizable from movies including Home Alone, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Saving in Chicago in January

Far from being shut down for the winter, Chicagoans seem to bask in the snowy scenes their city sees. And because of the range of winter and seasonal attractions in Chicago in January, you could say the month is actually one of the best times of the year to visit.

Whenever you choose to take your vacation in Chicago, be sure to do it with Go City. Month after month and year after year we’ve provided visitors to cities around the world with incredible savings on admission to top attractions.

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