Things to do in December in Chicago

This post is about things to do in December in Chicago.  December brings in winter weather, but also lots of holiday cheer!  There are many festive traditions and cozy events to take advantage of this December in the Windy City!

Below you will find our top 10 suggestions as well as a list of family-friendly activities, night time activities, and free options so you can maintain your holiday budget!

Top Ten Things to Do in December

This month brings in a packed calendar of festive events to keep you warm and entertained!  Below we have included some of our favorite traditions, but for a complete guide to December in Chicago look here.

The Santa Hustle
December 2nd 
Soldier Field 

Put on your best Santa Claus outfit and join thousands of your best friends as you run the 5K Santa Hustle. You will find candy, cookies, and Christmas music all along the course as you make your way with the Santa hat, beard, shirt, and candy cane socks that are included with your race entry. Proceeds from this race benefit the American Cancer Society.

A Christmas Carol
The Goodman Theater 

This has been a Chicago holiday tradition for the past 40 years! For decades, this show has been entertaining audiences of all ages as they follow the story of Ebenezer Scrooge as he learns the true meaning of Christmas through traveling to Christmas past, present, and future. Tickets prices and show times vary, but see the December calendar here.

Christmas Caroling at the Bean
Chicago in DecemberMillenium Park

Bundle up to join the crowds at Caroling at Cloud Gate (the Bean). This Friday night tradition is part sing along, part concert, as local choral groups will lead the hundreds of participants in song.

November 24th – January 7th 
Lincoln Park Zoo: 2001 N Clark St

The Lincoln Park Zoo lights up at night with millions of holiday lights! Be one of the first 1000 people through the gates to receive special glasses to view the lights through. Beyond elaborate light displays, you will discover live ice carving, festive music, train rides, an ice skating rink, food, and even Santa Claus himself, until his return to the North Pole on December 23rd.  So bundle up, grab a hot beverage, and enjoy one of the city’s favorite holiday traditions.

November 16th – December 24th 
Daley Plaza 

Based off of the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, Germany that was founded in 1545, The Christkindlmarket has grown to be the largest Christmas market in the United States and brings in over a million guests from all across the country. This beloved Chicago tradition is free to explore while stopping by to peruse the traditional German and European ornaments, crafts, food, and drinks.  Be sure to keep an eye out for Christkind, the namesake of the market, as she makes appearances throughout the month.  This fairy-like being dressed in gold and white robes with a crown is the gift-bearer to most children in German-speaking countries.

The Nutcracker
Joffery Ballet 

The Joffery Ballet presents The Nutcracker.  This beautiful performance brings you back to the 1893 World’s Fair hosted in Chicago, as one of the famous sculptures holds a Christmas party and receives a surprise guest.  This stunning show includes brilliant costumes, scenery, and a grand retelling of this holiday classic.  

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights
Museum of Science and Industry 

This holiday tradition started in 1942 with a single tree.  Today it has been transformed into a forest of over 50 Christmas trees that surround one grand 4 stories Christmas tree. The forest of trees is decorated by volunteers to represent how other cultures across the world celebrate the holidays and show the diversity present here in Chicago. There are school performances during the week, and weekend performances, making this a festive forest you will not want to miss.   

CTA Holiday Train

Hunt down the CTA Holiday Train! For the past 26 years, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has had a Christmas Train that makes it way on different train lines throughout the city. 

This tradition started out as a food run to bring food baskets to various charitable agencies throughout Chicago.  Since then it has transformed into something much larger! While still maintaining its original purpose, the Holiday Train also brings holiday cheer as the cars are decked out in lights and decorations, with Santa’s elves passing out candy canes and seasons greetings.  Santa’s sleigh is also aboard the Holiday Train. 

Be sure to check out the schedule to see when the train will be at a station near you!

New Year’s Eve Fireworks
Navy Pier 

Ring in the New Year in the city with one of the best fireworks displays of the year!  Whether you are celebrating at the Resolution Gala at Navy Pier or just taking in the display from the shoreline, this is a beautiful display to mark the start of 2019.


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Night Activities: 

Many of our Top Ten activities are perfect for the evening hours, but below are some other suggestions to fill in your evenings during the month of December. Read our post about the Top Ten Things to Do in Chicago at Night for more ideas.  

Ice Skating 

Chicago in DecemberIce Skating under the festive holiday lights is a great way to spend the evening.  You have a couple of options for ice skating in Chicago. 

There is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Right underneath the Christmas tree and the Bean makes this a festive spot, and you can warm up with some hot chocolate served right next to the rink. 

Across the bridge in Maggie Daley Park, you will find the Skating Ribbon.  Surrounding the rock wall and with the skyline in the background, this is a “skating through the alpines” experience.  For both rinks, skating is free and rentals are $12 on weekdays, $14 on weekends.

Take an Evening Holiday Tour

Want to learn more about the holiday traditions that were formed in Chicago or have shaped the city during this time of celebration?  Come enjoy our pay-what-you-like Holiday Tour.  Offered at various times and days thought out the week, this is a festive experience for the whole family.

Adler After Dark
December 21st 
General Admission Tickets: $20 in advance, 25 at the door 

This monthly tradition returns on December 21st.  Guests 21+ can enjoy the planetarium after hours with drinks and unlimited entertainment.  Escape the cold this month with tropical drinks and some space adventure.

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Family-Friendly Activities:

Many of our Top Ten are great activities for children, especially the Zoolights and Christmas Around the World. Check out our post about Family Friendly Activities in Chicago.  Below you will find a couple other options to keep your children entertained this month!

Holiday Treasure Hunt and Tea Party
December 9th, 10:45am-2:30pm 
The Art Institute 

For the 36th year, the Art Institute provides this family fun event. This event includes interactive activities and a chance to learn about select pieces of art. Don’t forget to stop by the Tea Party for refreshments and live entertainment.

Winter WonderFest
Navy Pier 

Enjoy this indoor festive playground as it returns for the 18th year! The Festival Hall at Navy Pier is transformed into a Winter Wonderland with carnival rides and activities.  Get your picture with Santa and decorate some Christmas cookies!

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Free Activities:

There are many free activities to take advantage of in Chicago, during every season of the year.  Many of our Top Ten are also free to explore, but below you will find a couple of other free options this month. Check out our comprehensive post about the Top Free Things to Do in Chicago.

Holiday Flower Show
Lincoln Park Conservatory

Visit the Lincoln Park Conservatory to see this Winter Wonderland.  This space is transformed with poinsettias, trees, sparkling lights, and model trains that wind through the conservatory.

Renegade Craft Fair
December 1-2nd
Bridgeport Arts Center

Get your holiday shopping done at this festive craft fair.  Featuring over 100 vendors selling handmade arts, crafts, DIY items accompanied by festive music, food, and drinks.

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