It may be all about the Kringle mingle in smaller towns but in a world class city like Chicago, there's plenty of happy whatever holiday you celebrate.
There are certainly traditional snow and glow options from Zoo Lights at one of the only free admission zoos left in the nation to the natural seasonal stunners at Lincoln Park Conservatory's Instragram worthy Holiday Flower Show where it's warm (and also free). In between dodging ice patches, ornery shoppers and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you can pop into one of the local venues offering wholesome fun (i.e. Seinfeld trivia, bingo and board games) enlivened by adult beverages, yummy bites and even free live music performed by artists on Rolling Stone's "watch" lists.
Check any winter listicle and you'll be scolded about surrendering to the sofa. For easy cold weather exercise, choose among the burgeoning number of ice rinks or join a group hike peppered with corny jokes and stops at seasonal sites like tours offered through Bobby's Bike Hikes.
Say "ta-ta" to 2017 laughing all the way.
We already know that people from all over the planet come to Chicago to steep in the incredible architecture - primarily in summer. Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB), the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America, opens our wintry eyes to the continuous creativity and innovation in architecture. More than 141 practitioners from 20 countries have been addressing the 2017 theme "Make New History" and you have a few more weeks to get in on the discussion with architects and artists making impact today. The main exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center is free and runs through through Jan. 7, 2018. Anchor sites include the DePaul Art Museum; the National Museum of Puerto Rican Art and Culture; and the Hyde Park Art Center.
You'll be a regular Annie Leibovitz snapping pix of family and friends with the dazzling Holiday Flower Show as your background. Open through Jan. 7, 2018, the Lincoln Park Conservatory's annual show features an old-fashioned steam engine, freight train and trolley snaking through a miniature village set in a field of vivid red, graceful white and soft pink poinsettias. The wee village is dotted with natural willow, spruce and birch woods and features a variety of Chicago-style bungalows and well-known buildings such Chicago Theatre and Water Tower Place. Even better is that admission to the Holiday Flower Show is free. Located northeast of the Lincoln Zoo, the conservatory is a haven of flora and fauna year round and the humid environs are especially welcome in winter.
If you're a fan of Stranger Things, the "upside down" may frighten you but Commons Club Upside Down Tea, is all play, no pouncing aliens. Virgin Hotels Chicago offers a strictly non-traditional take on afternoon tea service available every weekend in the hotel's second floor bar and gathering space called the Commons Club. The teas are boozy, the atmosphere is relaxed and the the twists are cheeky - expect a themed menu and DJs spinning while you sip. In addition to inventive tea-based cocktails using Rare Tea Cellar teas and a variety of spirits and champagne served in teapots and teacups, you can add on a delicious spread of sweet and savory tea bites created by chef Moosah Reaume. Upside Down Tea service is available every Saturday and Sunday from 1-4pm; pricing ranges from $35-$80 and reservations are encouraged.
Explore the city's iconic seasonal landmarks, such as the Macy's Holiday Windows, Christkindlmarket and Lincoln Park ZooLights for an easy way to take in the magic of the holidays. Just get yourself and your crew to the John Hancock Plaza Tree (875 N. Michigan Avenue), and board a festively-named and decked out trolley. The first stop is at Sprinkles Cupcakes for a complimentary handcrafted cupcake to nosh as you careen down the Magnificent Mile and its glittering lights and scurrying shoppers. Throughout the 2 � hour lightly narrated tour, you'll breeze by Macy's Holiday Windows and make stops at the German-inspired Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza and Lincoln Park's ZooLights. The Holiday Lights Tour runs through Dec. 23 and costs $29 for adults, $18 for children. Visitors might like the Holiday Lights Tour + 3-Day Hop On Hop Off Ticket for $49/adult and $25/child.
During the holidays, it's all hike (no bike) but you'll get fueled by distinctive bites during "Holiday Hike: Season Sampling Walking and Food Tour." You'll see the seasonal sights that make Chicago special: Christkindlmarket, Millennium Park's Christmas Tree, State Street, Marshall Fields's Walnut Room and others, noshing treats along the way. Expect German fare, hot cider, the original brownie which was invented at The Palmer House at the behest of Bertha Palmer, seasonal craft beer and Chicago-style pizza. The walking tour runs through New Year's Eve and is works for all ages and fitness levels. "Holiday Hike: Season Sampling Walking and Food Tour" departs from the Chicago Cultural Center.
The Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art on Northwestern University's campus nails its aim to be a "dynamic, imaginative and innovative" institution with the winter exhibit, "William Blake and the Age of Aquarius." Unrecognized during his lifetime, the English painter and poet's influence is vast among contemporary poets, songwriters, filmmakers, writers and artists. Walt Whitman, Alan Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs are just some of the artists who claim Blake as inspiration. See how Blake's art and ideas were consumed by American visual artists from the end of World War II through the 1960s. The last section of the exhibit is all about Blake's famous phrase "the Doors of Perception" from which the band, The Doors, purportedly took its name. The exhibit runs through March 11, 2018 and admission is free.
Hotels can boast stellar restaurants, services, views and beds but only The Peninsula has bragging rights about its ice skating rink. Open for its sixth season, the 2,100 sq ft hybrid rink is perched above the Magnificent MiIe on "The Terrace," a cool setting indeed. It's a polar palooza of visuals with Chicago's unparalleled architecture and twinkling lights to gaze upon while doing sit spins on the the rink that is tucked into a pine tree filled scene dotted with snowflake lighting and seasonal tunes floating in the chilly air. The skating rink's outdoor menu offers hot beverages and snacks like hot chocolate and cider, Money collected including skate rental ($15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under) is donated to two Chicago children's charities: Lurie Children's Hospital and Hephzibah Children's Association. Call before to ask the Concierge for the hours the rink is open that day.
Expect an over-the-top celebration of holiday cheer that includes comfort, joy and lots of laughs during Happy's, the latest installment of the The Chicago Athletic Association hotel's "mini-bar" series. Programming includes DJ nights, karaoke, trivia, bingo, live music, board games, a re-gift live auction, gingerbread house contest and even Dog Night when your four legged family member accompanies while you enjoy beverages and they snack on homemade treats from the pastry team. Activities takes place in The Tank on the hotel's ground floor open from 5 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and from noon-7 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 30. Bring your little elves any Sunday when family-friendly programming takes place: adults enjoy beer, wine or festive cocktails and the kids have some holiday fun including a visit from Santa.
Through Jan. 7, 2018, you can light up your winter life at Lincoln Park Zoo, the country's oldest free public zoo, and enter a visual wonderland - the 22nd annual ZooLights. The free, family-friendly holiday event plugs in two million lights every night at dusk, including colossal lighted animal and seasonal displays. There will be holiday crafts and other activities, live ice-sculpture carving, visits with Santa and sweet surprises. Sip warm spiced wine and frosty lager then experience the carousel, train, ferris wheel, light maze, or the Undersea Adventure and Polar Journey. Check in for an inexpensive New Year's Eve with complimentary festive hats, horns and party favors. Zoo Lights takes place 4:30–9 p.m. Dec. 8–23, 26–31; Jan. 1–7, 2018.
It's not just the cold that keeps us holed up in the crib during winter. A night out costs serious coin but not if you make it to Haymarket Pub and Brewery's weekly Thursday night Americana Concert Series. You'll be treated to tunes by some of the best up- and-coming and established artists (two each week), with no cover charge. Revisit your college days when the weekend began on Thursday and indulge in a concert curated for music lovers for free while enjoying some of Chicago's best craft beer and made-from-scratch food. Many of the artists are on Rolling Stone's "new artist to watch" list and others have hundreds of thousands Spotify followers. The Dec. 21 line up includes Keller & Cole and Cass Cwik. On Dec. 28, it's Kevin Gordon, a well-known name in Americana whose songs have been recorded by Lucinda Williams and Keith Richards. The January roster is just as stellar. Did we mention that it's free?