If there’s just one thing that makes the bitter cold of a Chicago winter just a smidgen better, it’s just how gorgeous she is all decked out for the holidays. We’ve scoured the city to find the best events to lift your holiday spirits and fill the Insta feeds with smiles abound. Leave your grinch-y feelings at home and get out there and explore these memory-making gems with the littles.
photo: Morton Arboretum Illumination: Tree Lights fire pits
(1) Illumination: 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. Hot cocoa kept piping hot in food tents and fire pits offer opportunities to warm your piggies and stop for family giggle-chats along the path. More info.
(2) It’s not a Midwest winter unless you’ve bruised your tailbone in the rink at least once. Might as well bite it with a great city view at Millennium Park’s ice skating rink, all prepped and ready for your figure 8 family date. More info.
photo: Christkindlmarkt via Maria Chambers
(3) The granddaddy of all holiday markets is a must-do at some point in your parenting career: Christkindlmarkt. Bundle up and enjoy this outdoor market that brings cherished German traditions to Chicago’s Loop and Gallagher Way, and adds a heap of local charm. 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. Shop, eat, enjoy free entertainment, repeat—and be sure to say “guten tag” to Santa Claus. More info.
(4) Lincoln Park Zoo and its lakefront locale dazzles all day everyday, but most definitely during the holidays when it’s decked out in ZooLights. Your fam can stroll through the twinkling winter wonderland created by over 2.5 million lights, take photos with Santa, enjoy food and drinks, watch ice carving demos, partake in carousel rides and go-’rounds on the Lionel Train Adventure. More info.
(5) Wander into a festive world of wonder and light at Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lightscape. Along a mile-long path, the night comes alive with color, imagination, and sound, from a playful choir of singing trees to a spectacular waterfall of light. At times, you’ll find yourself in the center of it all — stepping inside a cathedral of golden light, walking down an avenue of luminous linden trees, moving through colorful ribbons of light. More info.
(6) If you like your lights with a side of thrill, get your fill at Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderfest, which has rides for all ages. Being Chicago’s biggest and best indoor winter playground, it features 170,000 square feet filled with rides, giant slides, Chicago Blackhawks indoor ice skating rink and holiday decor that is sure to ignite your holiday spirit. More info.
(7) With over 1 million twinkling LED lights, Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic is Chicagoland’s largest lights festival. Not only that, but it’s most likely the only place you’ll encounter a 41-foot talking tree. Besides the chatty evergreen, you’ll find a train display, carolers, ice carvers zoo chats and the indoor exhibits remain open for viewing of (and singing to) animals. More info.
(8) If you prefer to get your holiday dose of lights done in a single shot, hook up with Chicago Trolley Co. for their annual Holiday Lights Tour. The lightly narrated two-and-a-half-hour adventure cruises you past the Mag Mile, Macy’s holiday windows, Christkindlmarket, the 875 N. Michigan (previously known as the John Hancock building) and Daley Plaza trees, Millennium Park and makes a stop at Lincoln Park’s ZooLights. Wham, bam, check “show kids pretty lights” off the to-dos. More info.
(9) What began in 1942 as a single tree, is now an international winter wonderland at Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light. The family is going to be enchanted by the trees and displays that are decorated to represent the rich multicultural heritage of Chicago. The crown jewel will be the floor-to-dome Grand Tree with 30,000 twinkling lights, sparkly ornaments and all of the trimmings. More info.
(10) Take the family for a magical and memorable experience that will feel just like a visit to the North Pole amid thousands of twinkling lights, festive holiday decorations and merry holiday music. At Blackberry Farm’s Holiday Express, take a ride on the train for a charming tour around scenic Lake Gregory and hop on a hay wagon ride, too. In the historic pioneer village, you’ll find crafts, a reindeer food bar, readings of holiday classics in the one-room schoolhouse and a special visit with Santa. More info.
— Maria Chambers