Best Chicago Winter Events
Seasonal travelTrip inspirationFamily friendlyHistory, art and culture
Casey Makovich

Best Things to Do in Chicago in Winter (Indoor & Outdoor)

If there's one city that's mastered being able to handle copious amounts of snow while providing plenty of opportunities for fun, it's Chicago. If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago in Winter, check out our list of some of the best holiday activities and attractions to help you plan a fun-filled vacation itinerary.

Save on Winter Attraction Admission

Regular admission to a number of these attractions is included on the Go Chicago pass. Choose as you go from dozens of top attractions and save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate. See all available Chicago passes, attractions & prices. Please note, some of these special Winter events may be separately ticketed and not included on the Go Chicago pass.

LEGOLAND® Discovery Center - Holiday Bricktacular

Image of Boy, Child, Male, Person, Baby, When: Dates Vary. Check the website for more details LEGOLAND® Discovery Center is hosting their annual Holiday Bricktacular featuring big-time festive fun, including...

  • Winter Wonderland in MINILAND covered in snow
  • Take part in a scavenger hunt
  • LEGO® Santa's Grotto where you can take a picture with a life-size LEGO® Santa and Snowman
  • A chance to learn how to make LEGO® ornaments
  • A workshop at the Master Model Academy where you can learn how to build a LEGO® gift

Getting in: LEGOLAND® Discovery Center tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass and holiday events and activities are included with admission unless otherwise noted.

Brookfield Zoo - Holiday Magic

Image of Adult, Female, Person, Woman, Toy, Baby, Hat, Necklace, Lighting, Image credit: Chicago Zoological Society.
When: Dates Vary. Check out Chicagoland's largest and longest-running lights festival, the Polar Lights Show in its 36th year, with over 1 million lights at the Brookfield Zoo. Other holiday highlights include Wild Encounters, photo ops with the animals (alpaca, llama, reindeer, and Animal Ambassadors), Dolphins in Action, photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, Singing to the Animals, special Zoo Chats, and more. Getting in: Brookfield Zoo tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card and holiday events and activities are included with admission unless otherwise noted.

Art Institute of Chicago Special Holiday Events

Image of Lion, Mammal, Accessories, Christmas, Christmas Decorations, Festival, Ornament, The Art Institute of Chicago offers a number of special holiday-themed events and performances, including:

  • Holiday Choir Concerts
  • Open Lecture: The Neapolitan Crèche
  • Member Lecture: Holiday Thorne Rooms
  • Annual Holiday Treasure Hunt and Tea Party (Dates Vary)
  • Decorate Your Own Gingerbread House (Dates & Times Vary)
  • Holiday Small Plates at the Museum Cafe (Dates & Times Vary, reservations recommended)

Getting in: Art Institute of Chicago tickets are included with the Go Chicago Card. Select holiday events are included with regular admission; consult website for full details.

Ice Skating at McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

Where: Millennium Park When: Dates & Times Vary - weather-pending For skating with a view of the Chicago skyline, head to the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park. The ice skating rink is a holiday favorite among locals. Its convenient location makes it easy to find and its popularity makes it the place to be in the winter. It's open through March, so if you want to skip the holiday crowds, there's plenty of time to head there after the new year. Getting in: Check online for hours and more information. The rink, which is free and open to the public, draws more than 100,000 skaters each year. Skate rental is available for between $13-15.

Maggie Daley Park

Image of City, Urban, Metropolis, Cityscape, Downtown, Nature, Night, Outdoors, Handbag, Lighting, Road, Street, Photo credit: Maggie Daley Park's Official Facebook Page
When: Mid-November - First Week of March The Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon rink features a skating path that weaves through Maggie Daley Park and features views of the city skyline to make for a unique ice skating experience. The path itself is about twice the length of a lap around a traditional ice-skating rink. You'll also find places to enjoy hot chocolate for when you've finished skating, or for those of you who are just watching. Getting in: Check online for more information.

Lincoln Park Zoo & Zoo Lights

Image of Adult, Female, Person, Woman, Lighting, Handbag, Male, Man, When: Dates & Times Vary. Check out their schedule on their website. Head to the Lincoln Park Zoo for a festive family tradition in Chicago. Enjoy bright illuminations and fun holiday season activities. It's a great place to take the kids or to stroll around as adults to really revel in the holiday spirit. Getting in: Admission to the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights is free!

Go to a Museum

Image of Indoors, Museum, Pants, Shoe, Adult, Female, Person, Woman, Boy, Child, Male, Bag, Handbag, Jeans, Bride, Image credit: The Field Museum
Whether you're a fan of the sciences or the art world, Chicago has a world-class museum scene with lots of options for museum-goers to choose from. Head to Chicago's museum campus to check off three famous Chicago museums in one go. Explore marine life at the Shedd Aquarium, head to America's first planetarium to learn about all things space, and then stop by The Field Museum to examine natural phenomenons and Earth's history. For a taste of Chicago's fine arts scene, head to the Art Institute of Chicago, consistently ranked the top museum in America, the Museum of Contemporary Art for a look at art and the industry as a whole, or check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation to get an in-depth look and understanding of Chicago's cutting-edge architecture industry.

Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier

When: Dates & Times Vary. The much anticipated Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest features endless indoor seasonal winter fun with over 24 rides, slides, and even an indoor skating rink. Along with rides and activities, visitors can also expect lots of live entertainment and festive foods. Attractions at Wonderfest include:

  • Arctic Ice Skating Rink: lined with Christmas trees, banners, and white lights, this festive rink attracts visitors throughout the season.
  • Extreme Ice Trail Ropes Course: maneuver your way across beams, staircases, and platforms while making your way through a course that stretches 27.5 feet in the air. Remember to dress appropriately--no heels, skirts, or dresses allowed.
  • Ferris Wheel: get a view of Winter Wonderfest from the top of the 50-foot high indoor Ferris Wheel.
  • Zero Gravity: brave riders will be held to the wall by the force of gravity as the ride spins faster and faster, finally lifting riders into the air at a 45-degree angle as it continues to spin.
  • Polar Extreme: race through a frozen tundra to escape via a slide on the other side of this course.
  • Ice Peaks Climbing Wall: lace up your gym shoes and test your upper body strength on this interactive climbing wall.

Other popular attractions include the Cliff Hanger, Kringle Carousel, the Snowy Summit Climbing Wall, Lighthouse, the Reindeer Express Train Ride, and several slides and obstacle courses. Getting in: check online for more information and to save on tickets in advance.

Tour the Chicago Theatre

Image of Indoors, Theater, Auditorium, Hall, Lamp, Fans of the performing arts will also enjoy going on a behind-the-scenes, historic tour of the famous Chicago Theatre. You'll get to know the ins and outs and the rich history of the very stage that has hosted stars such as Dolly Parton, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and more since its opening in 1921. Getting In: Chicago Theatre Tour tickets are included with the Go Chicago pass.

Go Shopping

Image of Adult, Female, Person, Woman, The Magnificent Mile, which runs along Michigan Avenue, is Chicago's most diverse shopping destination with everything from upscale boutiques to outlet stores. You'll find big mall names like Nordstrom, Tiffany, Gap, Ralph Lauren, and more, including indoor shopping complexes at Water Tower Place and 900 North Michigan Shops. Traveling with kids? Consider checking out American Girl Place, which is as much a tourist destination as it is a shopping destination. Located right in Water Tower Place on North Michigan Avenue, it's a fun place to bring the kids to shop, dine, or partake in afternoon tea. Head to the Chicago Loop for more shopping, including the famous Macy's on State Street, recognized as a National Historic Landmark (as the former Marshall Field's), where Go Chicago pass holders get an exclusive savings of 15% off their purchase. Plan to eat lunch or dinner at The Walnut Room in Macy's, the first restaurant in a department store.

Remember to Save on Attraction Admission

So there you have it. Our list of a few things to do in Chicago in the winter, including holiday events, other seasonal activities in December, January, and more. Remember, many of these options are included on the Go Chicago pass, where you can save up to 55% on combined admission vs paying at the gate. Please note, the Winter events taking place at some of these attractions may be separately ticketed and not included with the Go Chicago pass. We hope you plan to add a few of these fun options to your winter vacation itinerary.

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