Best Things to Do in December in Chicago

Snow fooling: Some of Chicago's coolest events and activities in December

No matter the weather, expect a sleigh-full of outdoor and indoor events and activities to entertain mind and body.

Consider traditional snow and glow options like Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo and the breathtaking Illumination: Tree Lights at the Morton Arboretum, a walking spectacle of color and light. In between dodging ice patches, ornery shoppers and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), head to The Den Theater which has become the hub for notable national stand up acts (and who doesn't need extra laughs in winter)?  Come for the happy challah-days and stay for the latkes and brisket at Chicago's  first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar. Head to Swissotel to see Santa's very own suite filled with 17 themed Christmas trees and enjoy the ideal shot of holiday culture and artistry at Joffrey's colorful rendition of The NutcrackerHarry Potter: Magic at Play offers 30,000 square feet of hands-on interactivity to engage the minds and spirits of adults and children during winter break - nice and toasty indoors. 

We've spent a couple of years completely surrendered to the sofa, so it's time to see the best of Chicago during the holidays. The delicious fun of Christkindlmarket returns in two city locations (plus Aurora in the 'burbs) and Winterland at Gallagher Way extends the holiday experience inside Wrigley Field. Expect a new carousel, the return of Santa’s Workshop, additional market vendors and more food and beverage than ever. 

Sing "ta-ta" to 2022 on a high note!


Gallagher Way offers locals and visitors another reason to visit Wrigleyville when the Cubs hibernate. Winterland returns and for the first time ever, the holiday event expands inside Wrigley Field with additional activities, new interactive experiences and old faves like Santa's Workshop, Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville and the expanded 12,000-square-foot ice rink now located inside the ballpark. Play carnival games, hop onto ice bumper cars, the Wintertube ice slide and the Infield Express train. The ballpark presents The Lodge, a new ski-style lodge featuring beverages and firepits. Admission to Gallagher Way activities, including the Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville and Santa's Workshop is free. Tickets are required to access to the Wrigley Field portion of Winterland (regular entry tickets start at $5 - free for children ages 2 and under). Look into special events such as wreath-making workshops and Breakfast with Santa and Teddy Bear Tea at Hotel Zachary just across the street. Adults may go for the Mistletoe Holiday Pop-Up Bar at Mordecai restaurant and families and groups of friends can hang out at Lumberjack Lodge at Smoke Daddy.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's a family-friendly outing in the throes of December with ice skating, holiday events and good food and drink surrounding the outdoor space.

Jacky's expert tip: Book your own see-through private globe on the terrace at Hotel Zachary, order dinner and sip mulled wine while enjoying views of Winterland at Gallagher Way.

Read more about Winterland at Gallagher Way →

Harry Potter: Magic at Play makes its worldwide debut at Chicago's Water Tower Place this winter. This is not a slap-dash set up to take up some abandoned retail space. Created by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment and Original X Productions, the experience consists of 30,000 square feet of hands-on interactive elements like games, innovative play opportunities and experiential sets. Fans of the books and blockbuster films will be thrilled to practice Quidditch fundamentals; get a first glimpse of Hogwarts™ by boat as a first year would, and enter the castle through a boathouse; traverse the Forbidden Forest; attend a class at Hogwarts; and explore the Potions dungeon, among many other activities. Tickets start at $37.50 for adults and $29.50 for children 9 and under. Who knows? The experience may prompt kids to curl up and re-read the books.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Harry Potter: Magic at Play offers 30,000 square feet of hands-on interactivity to engage the minds and spirits of adults and children during winter break.

Jacky's expert tip: The gift shop offers themed food and beverage including Butterbeer.

Read more about Harry Potter: Magic at Play →

Lincoln Park

Celebrating its 28th season, ZooLights (select dates now through Jan. 1, 2023) 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. Lift spirits and get some easy exercise by strolling the sprawling grounds. There will be new lighting designs on the Main Mall and South Lawn; an enhanced fairy-tale Enchanted Forest; and a gorgeous 18-foot holiday tree at the zoo's Pepper Family Wildlife Center. Count on photos with Santa, shopping opportunities and animals in their outdoor exhibits. Check the web site for special events like sensory-friendly visit times, BrewLights, Adults Night Out: Holidaze! and Zoo Year's Eve.

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

Jacky's expert tip: Tickets are $5 per person Tuesday-Sunday but you can get in free Mondays.

Read more about ZooLights →


Navy Pier presents 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 rent a pair 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. New for 2022: Reflecting Pond - a serene area for relaxing - and Stomp Light Activity in which interactive LED floor pads change color at the touch. 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 are grab-and-go meals and snacks throughout the event space. Hours vary by date, Nov. 25 - Jan. 7. Purchase tickets at the Navy Pier web site.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Light Up the Lake is Chicagoland's largest indoor holiday lights experience.

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 →

Every child (and adult, for that matter) should see at least one ballet and the one that keeps the squirming to a minimum is The Joffrey Ballet's wonderful rendition of The Nutcracker. This year's event is the critically-acclaimed reimagined classic of The Nutcracker by Tony Award®-winning Christopher Wheeldon. The production pays homage to Chicago and opens on Christmas Eve, 1893, as workers from around the world construct the Chicago Columbian World's Exposition. The production features the full Joffrey company, local children's choruses and 102 young dancers from Chicago and the surrounding areas. Lyric Opera Orchestra, provides live musical accompaniment of the beloved Tchaikovsky score. Single tickets start at $36 for performances between Saturday, December 3 and Tuesday, December 27, 2022.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Take the opportunity to dress up and enjoy the ideal shot of holiday culture and artistry at Joffrey's colorful rendition of The Nutcracker.

Jacky's expert tip: Great restaurants near the Lyric include Gibson's Italia, Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres and Alla Vita.

Read more about Joffrey Ballet of Chicago →


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 for its 10th year, just as the Arboretum turns 100. Illumination combines nature, technology and art into a one-of-a-kind holiday experience. This year's event features lighting displays surrounding two of the Human+Nature sculptures; interactive activities; and the new Grand Garden Spectacular, added as part of the Arboretum's Centennial. Bring your little elves or gather friends for adults-only nights that include craft beer and curated music. Electric Illumination, an 18 and older late night event, 9:30-11 p.m., Dec. 16, 23 and 30, adds a DJ-curated mix of Trance and Progressive House music synchronized to the light displays. Purchase tickets in advance online, in-person at the Visitor Center in advance or or on-site each night of Illumination, as tickets remain available. The interactive spectacle of color and light takes place from Nov. 19, 2022 through Jan. 7, 2023.

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: Get your tickets online in advance because many nights sell out, dress for the weather, and wear comfortable walking shoes or boots.

Read more about Morton Arboretum →

If there's a time of year that you need some belly laughs, it's during the holidays and bleak winter months. Let The Den Theatre be your clinic for mood elevation as notable stand-up acts, from Maria Bamford and Mo Amer ("Mo" on Netflix) to Che Durena, Olan Rogers, Brad Williams and Cameron Esposito (ABC's "A Million Little Things") bring their keen observations to Wicker Park. The Den offers distinctive and cutting-edge theater, events, and stand-up year-round in five intimate and unique theaters. Parking can be difficult especially on weekends but public transportation abounds. Plan to have a Holiday Rum Punch or Pumpkin Whiskey Sour at the full-service bar before and after the performance and flood of neuropeptides that comedy provides. Wicker Park is flush with diverse dining options, too.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The comfortable Wicker Park theater has become the hub for notable national stand up acts and who doesn't need extra laughs in winter?

Jacky's expert tip: The Den Theatre and The Den Bar & Lounge are cashless so be sure to bring your cards.

Read more about The Den Theatre →

Swissôtel Chicago welcomes the man in red who has booked the hotel's Presidential Suite to serve as his rock star crib during the holiday season. Local and visiting families and hotel guests can visit the extravagantly decorated Santa Suite filled with 17 themed Christmas trees like a Chicago Style Hot Dog tree with Portillo's garland and a Cloud Gate tree festooned with sparkly ornaments. You can book the Santa Suite (with up to 20 guests) to visit Santa Claus, sip hot cocoa, Champagne and holiday treats then decorate cookies and get into holiday crafts and a visit to Santa's Post Office. Or consider booking an Elf Decorated room that comes with your very own Christmas tree and holiday décor. Reserve your seats at the Pancakes & PJs Breakfast with Santa (Dec. 10 or 11) that includes an extravagant holiday breakfast in the penthouse ballroom, a Bloody Mary and Mimosa Bar, a special visit with Santa and access to the Santa Suite.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: It's an upscale, urban take on a visit with Santa that's dazzling to the senses for all ages.

Jacky's expert tip: Prices vary for holiday room packages, visit to the Santa Suite and other seasonal events. Book online.

Read more about Santa Suite at Swissotel Chicago →


Who says Wrigleyville snoozes all winter? The Graystone Tavern transforms into "8 Crazy Nights" from Nov. 25, 2022 to Jan. 8, 2023 with over 14,000 blue and white lights; Star of David and dreidel ornaments; Mensch on a Bench, a Hanukkah sweater wall, and an 8-foot inflatable dreidel. The city's first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar offers an appealing menu of classic and modern spins on Jewish favorites like matzo ball soup and three flavors of latkes including traditional with sour cream and applesauce, jalapeno cheddar, and salt and vinegar. Warm up with a brisket sandwich or platter or Rabbi's Red Hots - two pancake batter dipped Hebrew National Beef Franks topped with blueberry compote. Boozy jelly donuts make a fine finish but not before you indulge in a Gelt Martini, Mensch Mule or a Hebrew Cold Brew cocktail with Proper 12 Irish Whiskey, Dark Matter Cold Brew, simple syrup, heavy cream and a menorah stenciled on top. Play board and card games like Connect 4 with Hanukkah gelt and Jewish Guess Who in the bar and weatherproofed beer garden,

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Come for the happy challah-days and stay for the latkes and brisket at Chicago's first and only Hanukkah-themed pop-up bar.

Jacky's expert tip: Each week features different events like a Hanukkah Happy Hour Charity and a dreidel spinning tournament, among others.

Read more about Graystone Tavern →

Christkindlmarket Chicago, the most authentic traditional holiday market of its kind outside of Europe, celebrates its 26th anniversary in 2022. Enjoy the German-style outdoor market at two Chicago locations: Daley Plaza and Wrigleyville. Shop for one-of-a-kind hand-blown ornaments, authentic nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and beer steins, toys, home décor, jewelry and apparel. Enticing aromas waft through the market: sausages and sauerkraut, potato pancakes, Schnitzel and burgers. Take a slug of Gluehwein, a traditional German holiday market hot spiced wine, to warm up or laugh at the cold with a hearty German beer. Purchase treats to tote home like cookies, Stollen or baked strudel. The heated Timber Haus will feature different vendors offering items from handmade European trapper and pom hats to gingerbread house kits and traditional holiday cookies. Entertainment includes choirs, carolers, spirited German music and holiday music that'll kick the Grinch right out of your heart.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Christkindlmarket Chicago is the most authentic traditional holiday market of its kind outside of Europe.

Jacky's expert tip: The Wrigleyville location has ice skating, curling and skating lessons, Santa's Workshop, wreath making classes, holiday movie screenings and special programming at Hotel Zachary.

Read more about Christkindlmarket Chicago →


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