Christmas in Chicago
Chicago is an action-packed, family-friendly city any time of the year, but during the holiday season, it transforms into a glittering urban landscape teeming with so many winter activities, it’s hard to know what to do first. Here’s a list of top tours and attractions to add a little joy to your world.
Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Holiday Lights Tour
For an overview of Chicago’s most dazzling light displays, hop aboard a festive red trolley at the landmark skyscraper formerly known as the John Hancock Center. The 2.5-hour tour wends past the profusion of twinkling lights on Michigan Avenue (aka “The Magnificent Mile”), the city’s prime shopping district, and offers a glimpse of the swanky Gold Coast neighborhood where the streets are lined with historic mansions decked out in their holiday finery. After the tour, passengers often return to their favorite attractions for a closer look. Presale tickets are available at www.chicagotrolley.com. Limited tickets are available the day of the tour.
Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
The annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival is one of the biggest and brightest nighttime holiday events in the country. Grand marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead a tree-lighting parade with dozens of floats down Michigan Avenue. The festivities culminate in a spectacular fireworks show over the Chicago River. The festival kicks off Nov. 22, and the parade is Nov. 23. www.themagnificentmile.com/lights-festival.
Do you have a Christmas list longer than Santa’s beard? Forget fighting the hordes of mall shoppers and head to the German-themed Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza where you’ll zip through that list faster than you can say, “Bah, Humbug!” Dozens of vendors offer everything from cuckoo clocks and nutcrackers to decorative beer steins.
Follow your nose to abundant German holiday delicacies, such as roasted nuts, heart-shaped gingerbread cookies, marzipan and stolen. Wash it all down with a mug of Gluhwein, a spiced wine. Nov. 15-Dec. 24, www.christkindlmarket.com.
Ice Skating in Millennium Park
There’s something exhilarating about feeling Old Man Winter’s breath on your face as you glide across the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park, a perfect vantage point for taking in the luminous city skyline. Whether you’re performing skillful jumps or just trying to avoid crashing on your backside, you’ll likely catch a distorted glimpse of yourself in the mirror-like surface of Cloud Gate, the iconic public sculpture locals call “The Bean.” Ice skate rentals are available as well as free ice-skating lessons offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday one hour before the rink opens. November-March, www.millenniumparkfoundation.org.
Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier
Baby, it’s cold outside, so Navy Pier brings the fun indoors with Winter Wonderfest. In the summer, this amusement park on Lake Michigan is a hub of outdoor family entertainment, but when Jack Frost starts his nipping, it transforms into a wintry indoor playground featuring a carousel, inflatable slides, a Ferris Wheel and an ice-skating rink. Dec. 6 through the beginning of January, www.navypier.org/winter-wonderfest.
Christmas around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry
What began during WWII with a single Christmas tree decorated to show solidarity with the United Nations has grown into a virtual indoor forest of 50 trees representing holiday customs far and wide. Towering above them all is the 45-foot-tall Grand Tree in the copper-domed rotunda where surprise “snow” showers delight visitors. Performances featuring traditional songs and dances of various cultures enhance the spirit of global unity. Nov. 14-Jan. 5, www.msichicago.org.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Know a little one that wants a pony for Christmas? Tell her it won’t fit in Santa’s sleigh, and take her to the annual ZooLights event at Lincoln Park Zoo instead. Surrounded by camels, bears and monkeys, she will soon forget the pony. A glowing, rainbow-hued tunnel is a portal to whimsical, illuminated sculptures of zoo animals, Christmas carolers and a holiday market. ZooLights is from 4:30-9 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday Nov. 29-Dec. 1, Dec. 6-8, Dec. 13-15, and nightly Dec. 16-Jan. 5 (excluding Dec. 24 and 25), www.lpzoo.org.
Tea at the Peninsula Chicago
A holiday tea at the Peninsula Chicago, one of the city’s top luxury hotels, is an elegant and delicious way to celebrate the season. Children who enjoy hosting pretend tea parties for dolls and stuffed animals will be wowed by the real thing, savoring sugary treats as they take in a sparkling 20-foot-tall Christmas tree. And there’s plenty to tempt grown-up palates, too. A lavish English tea menu includes smoked salmon tea sandwiches and warm scones. There’s even a chance to sample ruby chocolate, a new kind of chocolate with a rosy hue unveiled by Swiss chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut in 2017. Nov. 29-Dec. 31, www.peninsula.com.
Tracey Teo is a writer living in Evansville, Indiana.