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What to do in December in Chicago

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This post covers the best things to do in Chicago this December, including, free, family-friendly, as well as nighttime activities, all updated for 2022.


TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN DECEMBER

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

Chicago is a sports-loving town. During December, you can have fun at a baseball, hockey, or soccer game. See below for more details.  

For a list of all sporting events happening this month, check this list.

Football

Hockey

Basketball

Other Sporting Events

The Legends of Basketball Showcase takes place on December 17th at the United Center in Chicago.


2. Go to a Concert

The Chicago area is home to many music venues, from giant spaces to intimate bars. 

Here are just a few of the concerts happening in December of 2022. 

For a special holiday concert, Ghosts of Christmas Eve, you can find the Trans-Siberian Orchtestra at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont. There will be two shows on December 21st.

Manheim Steamroller will be appearing at the Rosemont Theatre as well on December 17th for a special Christmas concert.


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.

Free Chicago Walking Tours

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! 

During the holiday season, there will be plenty of Christmas classics to enjoy.

To see a full calendar of all shows or to buy tickets for shows, click here.

Here are just a few of the many shows happening in December 2022:

Whether you want to see a show that takes you away to a magical universe, one that celebrates the holidays, or one that entertains your kids, there are plenty of shows to choose from 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. Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry

While you are already at the Museum of Science and Industry checking out the many great exhibits- check out the special 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 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 alternative weekend performances, making this a festive forest you will not want to miss.

You can catch the festivities from November 17th, 2022 - January 2rd, 2023.  


7. Run a Holiday Race

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

The Santa Hustle takes place at Soldier Field on December 3rd. The race includes a 5K for adults as well as a kids-dash.

Expect to see folks dressed up as Santa, reindeer, elves, Christmas Trees, and holiday related costumes. It's truly fun for the whole family.

The Chicago Jingle Bell Run raises money for the Arthritis Foundation. Folks dress in holiday costume and "spread good cheer for the cause".

This 5K run starts at the Chicago History Museum and takes place on December 10th.

For something a bit less serious, the Illinois Brewery has a Winter Dash 0.5K race. It takes place at Spiteful Crewing & Empirical Brewing on December 4th.

There is free craft beer on offer, and the chance to win door prizes. There are also games and goodie giveaways.


7. Attend a Food or Drink Festival

Eating & drinking in Chicago is always a perfect activity for a visitor who wants to truly act like a local. 

There are several events happening in December 2022.

Here are just a few examples:


8. Christkindlmarket

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

This beloved Chicago tradition is free to explore every December, while stopping by to peruse the traditional German and European ornaments, crafts, food, and drinks. 

The Grand Opening ceremony will incorporate a word from Christkind, the namesake of the market. 

It will be held at two locations within Chicago (and in Aurora, about an hour outside of Chicago):

For those who can't make it to either of the events, there will be a chance to buy from vendors online.


9. Lincoln Park Zoolights

The Lincoln Park Zoo lights up at night with millions of holiday lights!

Beyond elaborate light displays, you will discover live ice carving, festive music, train rides, food, and even Santa Claus himself.

The shows runs from:

  • November 19th to 24th
  • November 26th to 30th
  • December 1st
  • December 3rd to 15th
  • December 17th to 23rd
  • December 26th to 31st
  • January 1st to 2nd

The Zoolights festival is just one of the many great things to do with your kids in Chicago this December.


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.


Christmas Caroling at the Bean 

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.

This event will take place at Millennium Park, Cloud Gate on:

  • Fridays: TBA 2022
  • Sunday: TBA 2022

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

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


FREE THINGS TO DO IN DECEMBER

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.


Renegade Craft Fair

Get your holiday shopping done at this festive craft fair at the Renegade Craft Fair at Revel Fulton Market from December 17th - 18th, 2022.

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


Celebrate New Years 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.


THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT IN DECEMBER

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.


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 3rd 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.


Art on the Mart

Art on the Mart will be in full swing in December! 

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

The projections go up around 7:30 & 8:00 each night. For a list of locations, check the Art on the Mart page.


FAMILY-FRIENDLY ACTIVITIES IN DECEMBER

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.


Enjoy Winter WonderFest

Navy Pier’s Festival Hall transforms into an indoor holiday theme park called Winter WonderFest

They have music, skating, carnival rides, and entertainment. Children shorter than 3 feet are free.

This is a great event for families with little kiddos!

NOTE: This event has yet to be confirmed for 2022.


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!

NOTE: Sadly, due to a staffing shortage, this event will not take place in 2022. It is hoped that it returns in 2023.


Light Show in the Garden 

Head a stretch north to the Chicago Botanic Garden to see “The night comes alive with color, imagination, and sound, from a playful choir of singing trees to a spectacular waterfall of light” at new event Lightscape. 

You walk on a one-mile path that includes extravagantly-lit trees and structures. 

This light show is available from November 11th, 2022 - January 8th, 2022.


Do it Yourself Nutcracker

Kids and adults of all ages are invited to Indian Boundary Park on December 17th, 2022.

Everyone is invited join student dancers in putting on the holiday classic The Nutcracker.

Note: attendees should wear tights, slippers, and their "holiday finest".


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About The Author

Mel

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 9th, 2022
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