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Things to Do for Thanksgiving in Chicago

Updated: December 22, 2023
 By Mel

Chicago Holiday If you are spending your November  here in the Second City- you’ve made an excellent choice!  There are so many fun Thanksgiving and Holiday activities and events to celebrate and warm up your spirits in addition to our special winter tours:

Check out our Chicago Visitors Guide, with budget advice, travel guides, and information about local Chicago attractions

 Magnificent Mile Light Festival

The kicks of the Holiday season here in Chicago.  It is a full-day of family-friendly activities beginning in Pioneer Court off of Michigan Avenue across from the Tribune Tower.  Enjoy face painting, activities, goodies, and live music onstage.  The event ends with a festive tree-lighting parade.  Suddenly, Michigan Avenue turning into a glittering wonderland!

Info: The event takes place around N. Michigan Ave. on Friday, November 16, 2018 from 5pm through Saturday November 17, 2018.

Thanksgiving Day Parade

One of Chicagoans favorite traditions is attending the Thanksgiving Day Parade which is held on State Street!  Come and see Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald in the lineup while tapping your feet to the carols of marching bands.  This parade is the only one in Chicago to feature gigantic inflatable helium balloons.  The best balloon is obviously the Turkey though Peter the Penguin is pretty cute too.

Info: The parade takes place on Thursday, November 22, 2018 from 8-11am in Downtown Chicago on State Street (from Congress to Randolph).

Fun fact:  This parade began in 1930s as a way to boost the economy and the spirits of locals during the Great Depression.  Now over 400,000 spectators watch the parade!  I plan to be one of them!

Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza

Christkindlmarket is a festival inspired by the original festival in Nuremberg, Germany which dates back to 1545.  Since 1996 this Christmas market in Chicago, warms the hearts and features lots of German goodies.  You can indulge in spiced wine, German beers, desserts, sausages, and potato pancakes.  There are many vendors selling festive goods like ornaments, nutcrackers, and toys.  Santa is nearby in his own little cottage in the Plaza.

Info: The Christkindlmarket is open 11am-8pm (or till 9pm on weekends) starting November 16 until December 24, 2018 It is located at Daley Plaza (Randolph & Dearborn); nearest CTA stops are Lake (red), and Washington/Dearborn (blue).

Marshall Field’s Christmas Windows

November 1, 2018 - January 5, 2019Chicago Holiday

Two blocks away from the Christkindlmarket, Marshall Field’s (a.k.a. Macy’s on State Street) has been delighting Chicagoans for decades with their festive holiday window displays.  This tradition started over a century ago in 1897!  Talk about a special holiday tradition!  The windows tell a story as you walk from one end to another.  We advise going inside to warm up by saying hello to the Kris Kringle up on the 7th floor in Santaland or enjoying a meal with the family in the Walnut Room.

Info: Closest CTA stops are Lake (red) and Randolph/Wabash.

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier

While you are at Navy Pier, check out Winterwonderfest.  This event is perfect for a family with young kids but be warned:  You have to LOVE the holidays and you should describe yourself as “festive”because this event is like Christmas exploding!  (you have to LIKE hearing holiday music before Thanksgiving.) There are fun games, rides, an indoor ferris wheel, giant blow up slides, and an indoor ice skating rink.

Info: Winter WonderFest is located in Festival Hall at Navy Pier and starts November 30, 2018 to January 6, 2019 (not open on Christmas Day).

Activity Pass- $23 online/$25 walk-up: includes admission and access to dozens of activities, including Chicago Blackhawks Ice Skating Rink with skate rental. Height and other restrictions may apply.

Mini Pass – $10 online and walk-up: includes admission into Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest and access to the following rides/activities (height restrictions apply): Jingle Jym Junior, Kringle Carousel, Arctic Express Train Ride, Mini Golf, and photo ops.

Infant Pass – Free admission for those 36″ inches and under plus access to Jingle Jym Junior and Arctic Express.

Holiday Inspired Theatre and Ballet

There are so many theatre that perform holiday entertainment.  Joffrey Ballet performs a breath-taking performance of “The Nutcracker.”The world-famous Goodman Theatre has been producing “A Christmas Carol”for the past 34 years.  The Chicago Theatre will have performances of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”.  You can even check out a creative non-ballet version of “The Nutcracker”at the House Theatre, which is a Chicago-based storefront theatre.

Info: Try and get your half-price tickets here.

 Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry is filled with wonders!  During the holidays you can experience the 73rd annual Christmas Around the World which features more than 50 trees that are decorated to reflect different cultures.  You can also enjoy the many multicultural performances as well as the Holidays of Light which is a multicultural display of other holidays during November 15, 2018 till January 6, 2019.  Plus, you can watch baby chicks being born!

Info: The museum is located at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, and open from 9:30am-4pm.

Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Every year the Lincoln Park Zoo celebrates the holidays by decorating the zoo with strings of lights and festive displays.  The zoo really gets in the spirit with giant snow globes, family crafts, ice skating, and ice carving demonstrations.  Plus, you can grab a unique photo with Santa!

Info: Admission to the zoo is free. Zoolights starts on Friday November 23, 2018 and will take place Fri-Sun until Dec. 2, and nightly Dec 7-Jan 6, 2019 (except Christmas Eve and Day).

The Art Institute- Holiday Thorne Rooms

One of our favorite exhibits at the Art Institute is the Thorne Room.  This room is a display of 68 miniature rooms that replicated different time periods and cultures built in 1931 by Mrs. James Ward Thorne.  During the holidays, several of the rooms are decked out in holiday decor!  Teeny, tiny menorahs and mistletoe!

Info: This beloved tradition takes place Nov. 17 – Jan. 8, 2019 in Gallery 11.

Millennium Park Ice skating

After you check out Cloud Gate a.k.a. the “Bean”, you can go ice skating!  You can rent skates or B.Y.O.S. (Bring your own skates).  Admission is free.  If you need to warm up, head over to the restaurant Park Grill for some hot cocoa.  You don’t even have to take off your skates with the rubber mats laid out for skating visitors.  The best part about ice skating in Millennium Park is getting to enjoy the backdrop of the gorgeous building along Michigan Avenue.

Info: The ice rink will open mid November and stay open till early March (weather permitting).

  ++Enjoy your holiday season and don't miss out on our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours of Chicago.++

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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: December 22nd, 2023
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