Best Things to Do in December in Chicago

Snow Fooling: Some of Chicago's Coolest Events and Activities in December

In the most peculiar of years, there's still a sleigh-full of outdoor events and activities to entertain mind and body.

Consider traditional snow and glow options like Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo; Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo; plus seasonal Instagram worthy opportunities like the breathtaking Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, a drive-through spectacle of color and light. In between dodging ice patches, ornery shoppers and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you can head out to The Forge: Lemont Quarries for ice skating, the largest aerial challenge course in the country, bouldering; walking and running trails, tactical laser tag and AR games. 

Even in 2020, you needn't completely surrender to the sofa. For easy cold weather exercise, head to the ice ribbon at Maggie Daley Park. Charming Andersonville, known for its Swedish roots, has a revised schedule of shopping, dining and virtual entertainment supporting more than 100 local businesses. Or head to River West any Saturday or Sunday to shop the outdoor Winter Market at The Dawson. Many of last year's holiday pop-up bars are shuttered but count on a winsome holiday environment at The Press Room's Christmas pop-up, Miracle on Washington St. which will put a kibosh on your missing the delicious fun of Chicago's Christkindlmarket. History and architecture fans should reserve a spot for private tours of the former McCormick Mansion which closes for good on December 31. 

Sing "ta-ta" to 2020 on a high note!



Charming Andersonville is known for its Swedish roots, unique shopping, destination dining and busy urban corridor, Clark Street. During the holidays, you almost expect Tiny Tim to turn the corner. There's a revised schedule of shopping, dining and virtual entertainment supporting more than 100 local businesses. The 2020 line-up includes annual neighborhood traditions with a COVID-friendly twist along with new events created to celebrate the season safely. Retailers will keep shops open later on various December nights throughout the season specifically for order-ahead curbside pick-up. The Swedish American Museum is currently assessing the feasibility of a COVID-safe St. Lucia Festival of Lights, which would fall on Sunday, December 13 this season. Among the shops in the National Historic District are more than a few antique and vintage stores; candy shops; bookstores; lots of spots featuring clothing and accessories; furniture; music; kitchenware; and foodstuffs.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Andersonville is recognized as the "shop local capital of Chicago," with the largest network of local and independent businesses.

Jacky's expert tip: Participating retailers will use a consistent promotional code AlwaysAndersonville to grant shoppers access to deals, discounts and offers online each Friday in December.

Read more about Andersonville →

Magnificent Mile

It's worth the bundled-up outing as Art on theMart offers winter holiday imagery to the the largest permanent digital art projection on the planet. A 25-story-tall video installation takes over the side of the Merchandise Mart blanketing the historic facade with bold colors and moving images. For the 2020 season, The Joffrey Ballet debuts a moving-image work of art featuring production images from its production of The Nutcracker set to Tchaikovsky's familiar score. The Art Institute of Chicago presents images from two of its current exhibitions, Monet and Chicago, and Bisa Butler: Portraits; and Arts of Life, a nonprofit working with individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities, contributes the artists' bold images, animated together as a video projection. The visuals take place daily beginning at 7 p.m. until Wednesday December 30, 2020.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The brilliant digital works of art projected onto the river facade of theMART at over a million lumens is a free, sensational activity for all.

Jacky's expert tip: No more than 100 people can be on the Riverwalk jetty and all must comply with social distancing regulations and wear masks.

Read more about Art on theMart →

Lincoln Park

Celebrating its 26th season, ZooLights (select dates now through Jan. 3, 2021) transforms Lincoln Park Zoo into a luminous winter wonderland with 2.5 million lights. Kida will go for larger-than-life animal designs and everyone gets a lift from light shows set to holiday music. Work off some pandemic angst by strolling the sprawling grounds Count on socially distant photos with Santa; shopping opportunities; warm spiced wine, craft beer and seasonal snacks; and animals in their outdoor exhibits. Look into optional ticketed experiences: the Enchanted Forest; the Light Maze; pop-up bar Snowy's Spirits & S'more; and others. Tickets start at $5 and must be purchased at the ZooLights web site.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A visit to ZooLights is safe, outdoor, holiday cheer for all ages.

Jacky's expert tip: There are a handful of free days that require advanced reservations: Dec. 9, 17, 21, and 29, 2020.

Read more about ZooLights →


Think you have an exceptional Christmas tree? The Morton Arboretum is the champion of trees and Illumination: Tree Lights at the Arboretum revs it up with an interactive spectacle of color and light through Jan. 3, 2021. Fifty acres of the Arboretum's majestic trees are jazzed up with lights and music along a two-mile-long route reimagined for 2020 as a driving experience. Expect new displays, drive-up concessions and a customized music soundtrack â€" all enjoyed from the safety and comfort of your vehicle. The after-dark, illuminated trail, created just for the Garden, features cheerful songs as well as a spectacular waterfalls of light. There are spectacular laser lights, mirror balls and Crown of Light, created exclusively for The Morton Arboretum by Smithsonian-featured collaborative installation arts collective. Purchase timed tickets in advance online or in-person at the Visitor Center in advance. Tickets will not be sold on-site during the event.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Show your ardor for arbor at the event starring 50 acres of the Arboretum's trees brought to life with LED lights, interactive elements and sound.

Jacky's expert tip: The exhibition stays open later in 2020, until 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, and 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and will be open on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years Eve and New Years Day.

Read more about Morton Arboretum →

Unlike its skating rink neighbor to the west at Millennium Park, the ice skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park weaves and turns through the park making for a more organic, natural experience, plus you're in the heart of downtown Chicago, with the unparalleled skyline as your scenery. Reservations are required to ice skate, whether you bring your own or rent skates, during the 2020 season. The good news is annoying lines, interminable waiting and heaving crowds are eliminated as there are limited spots allowing skaters to safely skate and social distance. Skate rental is $16 or bring your own and skate for $5.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The skating ribbon provides a lively experience as skaters travel a path twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink.

Jacky's expert tip: Don't forget your mask. They are required while skating and in the park during the 2020 season.

Read more about Maggie Daley Park →


Celebrating its 39th year in 2020, Brookfield Zoo's annual Holiday Magic will be held on 24 nights. Don your winter duds to stroll various pathways lit with more than one-million LED lights, including the 600-foot-long Tunnel of Lights synchronized to music. Stand inside a 20-foot-lit orb to snap holiday photos, and take a few of larger-than-life illuminated animal sculptures. Distract from the weirdness of 2020 by playing the Game of Gnomes, a scavenger hunt to 24 enchanting themed gnomes tucked throughout the park. Need to nosh? Outdoor food stands offer seasonal fare from funnel cakes and burgers to spiced wine, beer, and hot chocolate.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Holiday Magic checks off all the festive boxes for an outdoor, socially distanced, spirited, December outing.

Jacky's expert tip: To ensure social distancing, advance admission and parking tickets are required at

Read more about Brookfield Zoo →

Missing the warm spiced nuts and glühwein at the Christkindlmarket this year? The Press Room hosts its first-annual Christmas market: Miracle on Washington St. Open daily from 11 am to 9 pm throughout December, the holiday market offers hand-crafted ornaments; German steins; candles from Edgewater Candles; Italian holiday ceramics; wine and pasta kits; house-made loaves of bread; cocktails to-go; plus candied nuts and sweets. You must purchase tickets for entry via TOCK ( for 90-minute increments to shop the market and allow for proper social distancing and capacity limits. Tickets include entry to the market, a holiday cocktail (spirited and non-alcoholic available) and a patio table reservation to enjoy the special market menu and additional beverages. The beverage menu features hot glühwein, spiked cider, Irish coffee, Old Fashioned and wine by the glass.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Christkindlmarket is kaput for 2020, but the next best experience is the Miracle on Washington St.

Jacky's expert tip: Come hungry for Christkindlmarket-inspired items like raclette grilled cheese, schnitzel sandwiches, bratwurst and sauerkraut, sourdough pretzels, potato pancakes and nutella waffles.

Read more about The Press Room →

The 300-acre adventure park, just 22 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, is welcoming guests for its first-ever winter season. In addition to cozy outdoor dining in your own outdoor globe, you can take on the 3,600 square-foot ice skating rink on the Upper Shelf of The Forge Quarry. Winter presents new challenges at The Forge: the Eight Tower Adventure (the largest aerial challenge course in the country); mountain biking; Bouldering Zone; walking and running trails, tactical laser tag and AR games; and Two Towers Adventure (for 13 and under). Don't miss the holiday light show coordinated with seasonal sounds and grab a spot by the fire pits to sip drinks and nosh bites from The Foundry's new winter menu.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The 300-acre adventure park allows for lots of physical activity as well as private dome dining during the winter.

Jacky's expert tip: Safety protocols include a required reservation system to control the number of people ​in the park at any given time.

Read more about The Forge: Lemont Quarries →

Men, women and children are equally awestruck by the colorful sets, rush of visuals, athletic performers, exciting music and the other-worldly dimension to which you travel in the course of 90-minutes during a Cirque du Soleil show. Take your chance to see "'Twas the Night Before…," for 17 performances only (Nov. 26 - Dec. 5, 2021), before it opens in New York's Madison Square Garden. Cirque du Soleil's first Christmas production is a thrilling spin on the classic story about sharing and friendship. Expect the band of merry performers' familiar humor punctuating acrobatics, memorable larger-than-life characters, skaters and elegant athletes. The 49th original production of Cirque du Soleil is a mix of circus, musicals and a variety show, resulting in a new twist on the 1823 Christmas poem, " A Visit from St. Nicholas" or commonly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore. This story follows a young girl who has become jaded by Christmas then meets the characters from Moore's Christmas poem who help her regain her holiday spirit.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This holiday show with Block Balancing, Hula Hoops, Aerial Hammocks, Hoop Diving and rearranged Christmas music with keep the attention of both grandma and the kids.

Jacky's expert tip: The 2019 Chicago run sold more than 50,000 tickets, completely selling out its 17-show engagement, so snag your seats ASAP.

Read more about "'Twas the Night Before…" by Cirque du Soleil →


Navy Pier launches Light Up the Lake, an indoor, toasty holiday experience, featuring colossal light-sculpture displays, more than 600,000 twinkling lights; a regulation-size Alpine ice rink (bring your own skates, or skates will be available at no extra charge, pending availability), holiday beer garden, kids' train rides to Santa's Village and a gift market. The area's largest indoor light show features massive sculptures with holiday and toy box themes, including a giant Teddy Bear, a deer soaring 25-foot, high, 60-foot light tunnel and 40-foot tree. Purchase seasonal gifts, novelties and treats at the European-style holiday market and visit the Jolly Olde Post Office where you can post a letter to Santa. There's sit-down dining with a holiday-themed menu, signature cocktails, and seasonal brews in Festival Hall as well as grab-and-go meals and snacks throughout the event space. The new event runs from Nov. 26, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022. Hours vary by date and purchase tickets at the Navy Pier web site.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Light Up the Lake incorporates popular attractions of Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest, but eliminates unsafe elements due to pandemic protocols.

Jacky's expert tip: Every ticket comes with a free ride on the Centennial Wheel, and be sure to experience all the free indoor and outdoor attractions which will be decked out for the holidays.

Read more about Light Up the Lake →


Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky