Places to go; people to see. You’re buzzing around town like a regular holiday busy bee. Don’t forget to pencil in time to leave the hive for family entertainment. We’ve made it easy by rounding up ideas that range from holiday lights at the zoo to dancers in tights at the ballet.
Illumination: Tree of Lights
Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum returns with more lights, sights and sounds that will transform a Chicago-area wintertime walk in the woods into a colorful, inspiring experience like no other. Brand new experiences this year including dazzling lighting effects where a series of glowing orbs create a glittering vista. Visitors can sing to the trees to activate LED lights that rain down like shiny strands of tinsel. Fri.-Sun., 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Morton Arboretum. $17-$20/adults; $11-$13/children. All ages. Event details.
Up, Up, Up! Get a Birds-Eye View of Holiday Lights
Buckle up and take your holiday lights enjoyment to all new heights with a birds-eye view from 1,200 feet above the crowd. New this year, Chicago Helicopter Experience, a helicopter touring company with a heliport in Bridgeport, is offering guests sky-high views of Chicago’s magnificent light displays. The pilot gives a guided-tour of the lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, Millennium Park and the Chicago skyline, which is breathtaking no matter the time of year but exponentially so during the holidays. Fri.-Sun., 5:30 pm.-9:30 p.m. Chicago Helicopter Experience. $178/person. All ages. Event details.
Take a Peek Inside Santa’s Suite at Swissôtel
From Dec. 3 to December 24, hotel guests and the general public alike can tour the 41st-floor Santa Suite, featuring several Christmas trees, a table set for Santa Claus and his reindeer, and a gift for the children on his “nice list.” Every child who visits the Swissôtel Chicago Santa Suite will receive a keepsake ornament. On December 12 (11 a.m.-5:30 p.m.) & 19 (1 p.m.-4 p.m.), Santa himself will be making a special appearance to take photographs with visitors. Fri., 3 p.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Swissôtel. Free. All ages. Event details.
A Dazzling Holiday Trolley Ride
The coolest way to watch the winking and blinking of holiday lights is by trolley. Hook up with Chicago Trolley Co. for its annual Holiday Lights Tour. The lightly narrated two-and-a-half-hour adventure shows the best of Chicago’s holiday lights and stops at Lincoln Park Zoo’s Zoolights show. Sights on the tour include The Magnificent Mile, Macy’s holiday windows, Christkindlmarket, the John Hancock and Daley Plaza trees, Millennium Park and more. Fri. & Sat., 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m. & 7 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. & 6 p.m. Departs from the John Hancock Observatory. $29/adults; $19/children. Event details.
3rd Annual Santa Saturdays at The Driehaus Museum
Create holiday memories with the entire family! For two Saturdays “our house” will be filled with fun and time-honored seasonal traditions. Throughout the morning, Chicago’s own Aunt Holly will tell lively stories and sing songs. Enjoy festive treats and create holiday art projects and take home a complimentary family portrait taken in the elegantly decorated historic Ballroom. And don’t forget to visit Santa Claus in order to share your dearest wish! Sat., 1 p.m.-4 p.m. The Driehaus Museum. Free. All ages. Event details.
Gingerbread Cookie Decorating at Waldorf Astoria
Waldorf has brought back their tempting hot chocolate menu with four flavors to savor: traditional, peppermint, sundae and s’more (available in the Lobby Lounge and through room service). While their warming the taste buds, guests of the hotel can stop into Balsan for complimentary cookie decorating for ages 3-12. Be sure to call ahead to reserve your spot! Sat., 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Balsan at Waldorf Astoria Chicago. Free. Ages 3-12. Event details.
It’s a Small World of Christmas Magic
It’s an international winter wonderland at Christmas Around the World. The fam is going to be enchanted by the trees and displays that are decorated to represent the rich multicultural heritage of Chicago. Of course, the crown jewel will be the The Grand Tree with 30,000 twinkling lights, sparkly ornaments and all of the trimmings. The kiddos can get into the holiday spirit while they sing along to holiday classics and play in flurries of snow that fall every half hour. Daily, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Museum of Science and Industry. Free with admission (non-residents: $18/adults, $11/children 3-11; residents: $15/adults, $10/children 3-11). All ages. Event details.
A Detective Game with Cat-titude
This interactive spy story provides the purrr-fect opportunity to show your little ones the mystery and excitement of live theatre. With the promise of pie and the smell of a rat close by, gather clues to help Three Little Kittens find their missing mittens and make new discoveries before Mother Cat comes slinking home. Now through Jan. 3, varied showtimes. Emerald City’s Little Theatre. $15; $8/children 1 & under. Ages 0-5. Event details.
It’s a Wonderful Santaland Miracle, Nut Cracking Christmas Story… Jews Welcome!
Spend time with family and friends amidst a fun flurry of excitement that combines dozens of the world’s most beloved holiday stories in one festivous, cheeky, exciting show! Back by popular demand, audiences are taken on a seasonal adventure with singing, dancing, stories, interactive games and non-holiday specific eggnog. Fri., 8:15 p.m.; Sat. 5 p.m., Sun., 3:15 p.m. Stage 773. $15-25. Ages 7 & up. Event details.
Watch ZooLights Illuminate the Night’s Sky
One of the nation’s only free-admission zoos flips the holiday switch with ZooLights. With the light displays throughout the grounds your fam can stroll through for holiday crafts, take photos with Santa, enjoy food and drinks, watch ice carving demos, partake in carousel rides and go-’rounds on the new Lionel Train Adventure, all while admiring the explosion of multi-colored lights. Fri.-Sun., 4:30 p.m.-9 pm. Lincoln Park Zoo. Free. All ages. Event details.
Resolutions for Nature at Peggy Notebaert
Visit the Nature Museum and write and design your own resolution on an ornament. Not only will this be displayed in the Museum’s Resolution Tree featured prominently in the front lobby, but guests can create a duplicate ornament to hang on their tree at home. Share your nature-focused resolution on social media using the hashtag #ResolutionForNature. Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Peggy Notebaert Museum. $9/adults; $6/ages 3-12. All ages. Event details.
It’s a Wonderful Life, the Musical!
From the moment you walk through the doors, you will be transported back to the “Golden Age of Radio” and experience the story of George Bailey like never before. In addition to the heart-warming story performed, the production includes 1940s-style commercials from actual local sponsors, holiday carols, telegrams from the audience read live on stage, and the “Soldier Spotlight,” when American Blues Theater honors a serviceman or servicewoman. After the show, the entire audience is invited to join the cast and crew for milk and cookies. Fri.-Sun., various showtimes. Greenhouse Theater Center. $19-$49. All ages. Event details.
Magic Tree House: A Night in New Orleans
Take your kids to a musical and watch beloved Magic Tree House characters, Jack and Annie, venture through the tuneful streets of 1915 New Orleans, where they discover 14-year-old Louis Armstrong and must set him on the trumpeting path to become the “King of Jazz.” This triumphant tale explores a world where possibilities are endless and stirs the soul of the Jazz Age. Sun., 1 p.m. Apollo Theater. Tickets start at $15. Ages 5 & up. Event details.
Giggle Your Way Into the Holidays with Potted Potter
Potted Potter – The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books (and a real life game of Quidditch) into seventy hilarious minutes. Even if you don not know the difference between a horcrux and a Hufflepuff, Potted Potter will make you roar with laughter. And if your a FOH (friend of Harry), this is can’t miss entertainment. Fri.-Sun., various showtimes. Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower. $36.95-$66.95. All ages. Event details.
Ice Skating with a View
Take a spin on the ice with a magnificent view at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park. Once again this year, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events will present Winter Workouts with FREE skating lessons, Fri.-Sun., one hour before the rink opens. Fri., noon-10 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 10 p.m.-9 p.m. Millennium Park. Free skating, $12/skate rental. All ages. Event details.
A Winter Thrill Fill at Navy Pier
Get your thrill fill at Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, which has rides for all ages. New attractions this year include the Polar Extreme, a double-sided inflatable slide and obstacle course, interactive Arctic Peaks Climbing Walls and an expanded, more challenging Winter Rules mini golf course sure to offer an additional layer of friendly competition and frozen holiday fun. Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; -Sun., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Navy Pier. General admission is $9 online & $10 walk-up; Activity ticket $23 online & $25 walk-up. All ages. Event details.
Let the Joffrey Ballet Take Your Breath Away
The question isn’t if you are going to see the 28th annual, and final, presentation of Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker. It’s when. This epic smash replaces the traditional European setting with a 19th-century American home. It features the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet dancers, elegant costumes, an extravagant set by Oliver Smith, local children’s choruses, 118 young dancers and a giant Mother Ginger puppet by Kermit Love. Fri.-Sun., various showtimes. The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. $32-$136. All ages. Event details.
Bundle up for this outdoor market that brings the cherished German and European tradition of the Christkindesmarkt in Germany, which began in 1545, to Chicago and adds a heap of local charm. Head to Daley Plaza, where you’ll see the market’s signature wooden cabins topped with festive red-and-white-striped canopies, each packed with handmade gifts, food and drinks from around the world and many are run by native German speakers. Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Daley Plaza. Free. All ages. Event details.
A Christmas Story: The Musical
“You’ll shoot your eye out” is one of the most recognizable lines in movie history and now you can experience Ralphie’s desperation to receive the coveted Red Ryder BB Gun acted out on stage. The kids will eat up the energetic music that ranges from gentle ballads to show-stopping numbers. Sit back and let the imagery take you back to an easier time we often long for and enjoy a show with a beautiful message: family, friendship, love – the holidays are nothing without them. Fri., Sat. & Sun., various showtimes. Paramount Theatre. $41-$56. All ages. Event details.
Enjoy Lights, Ice Carving and Carols at Holiday Magic
Celebrate Holiday Magic at Chicagoland’s largest lights festival featuring one million twinkling LED lights illuminating Brookfield Zoo’s walkways. This year’s festival will feature nearly 550 trees decorated by local community organizations and corporations, singing to the animals, professional ice carving demonstrations, Zoo Chats, photo opps with animals, live entertainment, a model railroad display, a 41-foot talking tree and more! New this year: Polar Lights, an interactive light extravaganza with accompanying music which allows zoogoers to activate and control the color and shape of 30 moving lights. Sat. & Sun., 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Brookfield Zoo. Free with admission ($16.95/adults; $11.95/children 3-11 & seniors 65 & over; free for ages 2 & under). All ages. Event details.
Run! Jump! Fly! Adventures in Action
Kohl Children’s Museum is out to show kids that exercise is fun with their newest exhibit, Run! Jump! Fly! Adventures in Action. Visitors will engage in five different exercise simulations that include surfing, snowboarding, kung fu and rock climbing – all in a fun and immersive environment. Fri. & Sat., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. Kohl Children’s Museum. $11; free for children 1 & under. Ages 0-8. Event details.
Hunt for Gnomes and Build Them Sweet Homes
Gnomes are invading Morton Arboretum for a game of hide-and-seek in the Children’s Garden. Can you find them all? Search for them throughout the week and then come back on the weekend to continue the hunt and create a keepsake, light-up gnome home of your own. Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Morton Arboretum. Hunt is free with general admission; home building is $7/member, $10/non-member. All ages. Event details.
It’s Not Rosemont . . . It’s Frozemont!
Winter has had quite a magical effect on Rosemont. In fact, MB Financial Park has turned into a wonderland of fun, complete with tubing, ice skating, brilliant lights and more. At the center of “Frozemont” is the four-story Polar Peak tubing hill — the grade is steep and the ride is thrilling. (There is a kiddie slope for those that don’t need as much adrenaline.) Nearby, the NHL-sized ice rink is surrounded by glittering lights and has skate rentals available for $8. Make sure you mark your calendars for the ice carving competition on Dec. 12, 2 p.m.-5 p.m.! Dec. 11-Jan. 31. MB Financial Park. Skating is free, tubing is $3/run. All ages. Event details.
Holiday Bricktacular at LEGOLAND® Discovery Center
Step into an indoor winter wonderland bursting with LEGO bricks! Young brick fans are invited to LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Chicago’s annual Holiday Bricktacular to participate in heaps of holly jolly fun. Fri., noon-7 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Included with admission. Ages 3-10. Event details.
Let us in on your weekend plans in the Comments below!