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What to do in December in Chicago

Updated: September 28, 2023
 By Mel

This post covers the best things to do in Chicago this December, including, free, family-friendly, as well as nighttime activities, all updated for 2023.


December is a fun and festive time to visit Chicago!

Check out the suggestions below for a variety of activities, including sports, theatre, music, and of course, holiday activities!

For some of the more popular things to do in Chicago, read the following posts:

1. Go to a Sporting Event

While December can be chilly, cheering on your teams will keep you and your friends and family warm.

A number of teams will be playing home games this time of year.




Click here to see more sports events taking place in Chicago in December. 

2. Go to a Concert

If you are a music lover or a fan, be sure to check out a concert while in Chicago. 

There are many venues in the Chicago area from giant spaces to intimate bars. 

Rock/Pop Concerts

Opera/Classical Concerts

Holiday Concerts

Click here to see more Chicago area concerts happening in December.

3. Go on a Sightseeing Tour

The best way to learn about a new city is on a sightseeing tour! Join our history-loving Chicago-adoring tour guides on foot.

We offer pay-what-you-like walking tours every day of the week in the Windy City.

During December, catch our seasonal Chicago Holiday Tour to get in the holiday spirit or join our Chicago Pedway Tour to experience the indoor paths that run under the city.

If you’d prefer to enjoy a bus tour, we have a great comparison of Chicago’s best.

From hop-on-hop-off buses to dedicated tours, you’ll find one to suit you here.

4. Go to the Theater

Chicago is home to many many regional theatres, small black box spaces, and Broadway Tour houses. There is something for everyone. 


Dance/Performance Art


Holiday Shows

Check here for even more events in the Chicago area in December.

Pro-tip: Check out our self-guided theatre tour to admire the exterior of some of the oldest movie palaces in the downtown Loop.

5. Visit Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry

If you are visiting the Museum of Science and Industry you might want to check out their holiday exhibition.

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 massive four-story Christmas tree.

The trees are decorated by volunteers to represent how other cultures across the world celebrate the holidays and show the diversity present in Chicago.

You can catch the festivities from November 2023 - January 2024.

7. Run a Holiday Race

There will be several races in the Chicago area in December, a few of them holiday themed:

Santa Hustle | December 2nd

This race takes place at Soldier Field and includes both a 5K for adults and a kids-dash.

Expect to see folks dressed up as Santa, reindeer, elves, Christmas Trees, and other holiday related costumes.

It's truly fun for the whole family.

Chicago Jingle Bell Run | December 9th

This 5K run starts at the Chicago History Museum.

Folks are invite to walk, run, or stoll the course while dressed up in holiday costume

The run raises money for the Arthritis Foundation.

Holiday Winter Dash Beer Run | December 3rd

The annual winter 0.5K run starts at Midwest Coast Brewing & Goose Isalnd.

The race is untimed and meant to be fun for all levels of participants. Beer will be waiting for you at the finish line.

Proceeds go to local non-profits.

7. Experience Chicago's Holiday Lights

Chicago has a number of holiday light events and installations that are sure to put you in the holiday spirit.

Beyond elaborate light displays made of thousands of twinkling lights, you might find live ice carving, festive music, train rides, food, and even Santa Claus himself.

A few of the larger events include:

  • Zoolights | | Lincoln Park Zoo | November 17th, 2023 - January 7th, 2024
  • Lightscape | | Chicago Botanic Garden | November 10th, 2023 - January 7th, 2024
  • Illumination: Tree Lights | The Morton Arboretum | November 18th, 2023 - January 6th, 2024
  • Light up the Lake | Navy Pier | late November 2023 - late January 2024

One of Chicago's more extravagant light displays is their New Year's fireworks. Some of the best places from which to see the fireworks are:

8. Visit the Christkindlmarket

Based on the Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, the Christkindlmarket has grown to be the largest Christmas market in the United States.

A visit to this family-friendly holiday market, ranked number 3 in the world, has become a holiday tradition for many.

Peruse and purchase traditional German and European ornaments, crafts, food, and drinks.

Kids can collect a free Kinder Club passport that has riddles and on-site activities.

This holiday market be held at two locations within Chicago (and in Aurora, about an hour outside of Chicago):

For more information, visit the Christkindlemarket website.

9. Go Caroling at the Bean 

Bundle up to join the crowds for 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.

For more ideas to enjoy Christmas during Chicago, check out our holiday post

NOTE: This event may be cancelled for 2023 due to construction in Grainger Plaza, where the Cloud Gate sits.

If you're looking for other things to do in the evenings, take a look at our nighttime activities section below.

10.  See More for Less with a Chicago City Pass

Many of Chicago’s biggest attractions have entry fees.

While you do pay for a tourist discount pass, it can give you a bulk discount and free admission into some interesting tours and museums, saving you up to 55%.

They can also save you time with skip-the-ticket-line privileges.

Each Chicago tourist discount pass includes a variety of fun activities and attractions.

Here are a few examples of what you can visit with a tourist pass, for a discount or for free.

For more details, make sure to read our full post covering Chicago tourist passes.

If you're already planning to get one of the travel passes, you can purchase one here: Chicago City Pass | All Inclusive GoCity Pass | The Explorer GoCity Pass.

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.


Chicago offers many free activities to enjoy including some we have mentioned above. Here you can find events, fairs, and other fun ideas.

Check out our post about the top free things to do in Chicago.

Take In Art on the Mart

Starting November 19th, Art on the Mart will be in full swing! 

Head to the Riverwalk at sunset to see an amazing art projection on the Merchandise Mart Building (a building so large, it has its own zip code!) 

The projections go up around 7:30 - 8:30 each night from September 14 to December 30th.

For a list of locations, check the Art on the Mart page

Attend an Event at the Chicago Cultural Center

Tour this stunning building, known for its Tiffany stained glass dome, or attend one of the many free events taking place weekly.Celebrate New Year's with Free Fireworks

Head to Navy Pier for free Fireworks on New Year’s Eve at midnight.  There will be music, food, and fun for the whole family.

And, if you'd like to attend the Navy Pier Aon Grand Ballroom event, you can purchase tickets here.

Stroll the Riverwalk

While December is crisp, the view of the lights reflecting on the Chicago River will be lovely! Maybe grab a coffee from Big Shoulders coffee before taking in the sites. 

This beautiful stretch will bring you below the busy streets and right along the river’s edge.

The view of the buildings that line the Chicago River makes the crisp walk worth it!

If you want to learn more about the river and the buildings along it, join our pay-what-you-like Riverwalk and History Tour.

For even more free activities, see our post on the top free things to do in Chicago.


Many of our top ten activities are perfect for the evening hours, such as seeing a sporting event, going to the theater or attending a concert.

Below are some more ideas. Be sure to read our post about the top things to do in Chicago at night for even more suggestions.

Take a Night Tour

Looking to see a different side of Chicago? Try our seasonal Holiday Tour in the evening when the lights are glittering!

Also, several bus tours operate night versions of their day tours.

Attend The Nutcracker Ballet

The Joffery Ballet presents a unique and perfectly Chicago version of the Nutcracker, which takes place during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair.  It is definitely worth watching!

This production begins on December 2nd and runs through December 27th.

Go out for a Cozy Cocktail

Chicago has a number of speakeasies, fitting for the mobster history of the Windy City.

If you’re looking for more than just atmosphere and want to find one of the best Craft Beers, we can make sure you find a local pint.

Be sure to check out our post on top things to do in Chicago at night for even more suggestions.

Go Ice Skating

From mid-November to mid-March, whenever the weather permits, Millennium Park hosts the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which is free and open to the public.

If you bring your own skates, you won’t have to spend a dime to skate outdoors, well into the night, in the beautiful downtown under the lights.

Find out more about ice skating in Chicago in our post


Below you will find several great options to keep your children entertained this month, including parks, museums, and theater!

Be sure to check out our post about family-friendly activities in Chicago for a more complete guide.

Visit the Renegade Craft Fair

The fair is free to enter and features over 100 vendors selling handmade arts, crafts, DIY items accompanied by festive music, food, and drinks. 

The Renegade Craft Fair at Revel Fulton Market runs from December 16th - 17th.

Ride the Polar Express 

Take the whole family on the Polar Express!  Chicago’s metro train is transformed into a wintery magical experience. 

You can drink cocoa and enjoy a yummy cookie during the hour train ride that ends with meeting Santa and his elves!

Rides start on December 3rd, 2023 and continue through January 1st, 2024.

Have Fun at Gallagher Way

This Gallgher Way Winterland event is held both inside and outside Wrigley Field.

Kids will enjoy sakting, ice slides, a Santa's workshop, holiday movie screenings, and much more.

Visit the Gallagher Way events page for dates and times.


About The Author


Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!
Updated: September 28th, 2023
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