Before spring begins, enjoy one last hurrah. St. Patrick’s Day is once again upon us — green rivers, float-filled parades and all. Forget what you know about its rowdy side: This festive holiday comes with days of activities that are great for kids. Who needs a green beer hangover when you’ve got family fun? Here are our top picks.

photo: kosheahan via flickr

Chicago River Dyeing
In a feat of colossal luster, every year the city colors the Chicago River a bright Kermit green. The longstanding tradition has been going on for decades and watching the dyeing process is a big part of the fun. Boats speed through dropping gallons upon gallons of vegetable dye and churn it all up for an effect that lasts a few precious hours. The best spots to watch the show are from the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the Columbus Drive Bridge and along the banks of the Chicago Riverwalk.

Held March 14 at 9:30 a.m.
Chicago River, between Columbus & Wacker drives

Two Major Parades
Immediately following the river dyeing is Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the City’s official holiday parade. Get in the spirit with a nonstop flow of colorful floats and flags, bagpipe players, Irish dancers and more. If you want more fun, the South Side Irish Parade happens the very next day. The two-hour shindig features more than 90 acts meandering up Western Avenue for a day of festive flair.

Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 14 at noon
Begins in Grant Park, at Columbus and Balbo streets
South Side Irish Parade
March 15 at noon
Held on Western Avenue, between 103rd to 115th streets

PAR2 0259

 photo: Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade / Dean Battaglia

St. Patrick’s Festival at the Irish American Heritage Center
The quintessential St. Paddy’s destination for families is the Irish American Heritage Center on the northwest side. Activities, live music, dance and Irish food happen all month long, but the big draw is the St. Patrick’s Day Festival on March 14. Dress up in green and head over for an arts and crafts fair, a mini Irish market, dancing, food, music, performances by Irish groups and other kinds of family fun. On St. Patrick’s Day proper (March 17), the Center keeps the good times rolling from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. with a holiday fete filled with even more music and dancing.

St. Patrick’s Day Festival
Held March 14 from 1 p.m.-midnight.
Tickets: $15 for adults, free for kids 12 and younger (if purchased by March 12, tickets are $12).
4626 N. Knox Ave.

Trinity Irish Dancers
It wouldn’t be St. Patrick’s Day without a good jig. There’s no better ones than those done by the local troupe Trinity Irish Dancers. Founded by world-renowned Irish dance enthusiast Mark Howard, an England native reared in Chicago, this group has grown to become the largest Irish dance program in the world, with dance centers situated throughout Chicago and Wisconsin. The company offers parent-tot classes, pre-beginner programs and accelerated programs. Dance troupes host regular performances in and around Chicago. You can see them take the stage (and get in on the action yourself) at one of their free open houses taking place March 7 throughout the city and ‘burbs. Check the website for other show dates.

Call 630-415-3382 or go to for info.


photo: Trinity Irish Dancers

St. Patrick’s Day Party at Harry O’Caray’s
Every year, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse embraces its inner Irish and morphs into Harry O’Caray’s for a day. Doors open at a bright and perky 9 a.m., with the restaurant decked out entirely in green. There will be live music, a DJ spinning Irish tunes, and food specials like fish ’n’ chips and Irish cheddar soup. It’s a great stopover before or after the nearby downtown parade.

33 W. Kinzie St.

chicago-st-pat-battaglia photo: Dean Battaglia

St. Patrick’s Day Civic Celebration
There’s no more fitting place to celebrate than the historic church named after the Irish saint. Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago’s West Loop hosts its Civic Celebration on March 14, starting with a mass at 9 a.m. followed by a traditional Irish breakfast in the church hall. Irish music, the Old St. Patrick’s concert choir, step dancers, and a pipe band keep the festive spirit going throughout the day.

Held March 14, starting at 9 a.m.
700 W. Adams St.
The Loop
Reservations are required and can be made by emailing Bridget Carey at or calling 312-831-9355.

St. Patrick’s Day Cruise
A cruise on the green river is just as fun as it sounds. Hop aboard a Shoreline Sightseeing boat at Navy Pier for the annual St. Patrick’s Day cruise, an aquatic tour that traverses all three branches of the (temporarily dyed green) Chicago River. Along the way, you’ll see sights and hear stories about how the Irish helped sculpt Chicago. The boat will be decked out with a buffet of Irish eats, from corned beef and cabbage to bread pudding.

Held March 14 at 10 a.m. & 2 p.m.
Tickets: $49 per person
600 E. Grand Ave.

River cruise, credit Choose Chicago

photo: Shoreline Sightseeing

Little Leprechauns Parent-Child Program
Gather your little leprechauns for a day of stories, crafts and Irish treats courtesy of the Cantigny Park in Wheaton. These St. Patrick’s Day festivities add up to a day of fun in the (hopeful) sun for those ages three to five.

Held March 17, from 10-11 a.m.
Tickets: $10 per child
1s151 N. Winfield Rd.
Register by calling 630-260-8162 or go to

Best Restaurants for Irish Grub
Irish restaurants are often pigeonholed as Guinness-filled watering holes, but Chicago has plenty of kid-friendly spots as well. Here are our favorites.

Chief O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant is worth it for the kids’ menu filled with mini portions of shepherd’s pie and fish ‘n’ chips, plus root beer floats. The pub also features a colossal eat-all-you-want Sunday brunch buffet featuring Irish eggs Benedict, build-your-own ice cream sundaes and chocolate fountains. 3471 N. Elston Ave., 773-583-3066 or

Winston’s Sausage is the spot to pick up corned beef. This longstanding family-run institution on the southwest side originated in 1967 as a place where Irish families could shop for meats reminiscent of their homeland. Nowadays, the shop is as family-focused and Irish-centric as ever, and sells corned beef, Irish sausage, soda bread and other authentic provisions. 4701 W. 63rd St., 773-767-4353 or

Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen has for decades been slinging homey and hulking portions of decadent corned beef to the masses. The nostalgic deli vibe only adds to the family appeal of the space. 1141 S. Jefferson St., 312-939-2855 or

Molly Malone’s in Forest Park serves Irish fare fireside. The kids’ menu contains favorites such as fish ’n’ chips, grilled cheese and buttered pasta. Your whole brood will hanker for bangers ‘n’ mash, shepherd’s pie and bite-sized Reuben fritters. 7652 Madison St., Forest Park, 708-366-8073 or

McGonigal’s Pub in Barrington has mini fish fries for kids, along with plenty of American favorites, and your little ones are sure to want to try your soft pretzels and Irish nachos as well. On St. Patrick’s Day, the pub will feature live Irish music all day long. 105 S. Cook St., Barrington, 847-277-7400 or

It’s dinner and a show at Ballydoyle Pub, an Irish staple in Downers Grove and Aurora. Musicians and Irish dancers regularly light up the on-site stage. Kids can snack on pint-sized versions of American favorites, or share bites off their parents’ plates of corned beef, fish ’n’ chips, and shepherd’s pie. 5157 Main St., Downers Grove, 630-969-0600 or 28 W. New York St., Aurora, 630-844-0400,

How will you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Let us know in the Comments!

— Matt Kirouac