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17 Exciting Things to do in Chicago in December [Updated 2023]

Chicago is an exciting city in December, and if you are visiting or hosting friends and family, you're in the right place to experience fantastic events, fun activities, and ample holiday cheer! 

We've compiled a list of some of our favorite things to do in Chicago in December, but first, what's the weather in Chicago in December? It's one of the driest months, with little chance of snow, and if you plan your wardrobe right, it's an excellent time for outdoor festivities. Expect daily average high temperatures of 34F/3C and low temperatures of 20F/-6C. Be prepared to wear layers, including a hat, gloves, warm socks, and a coat. Layers will ensure you stay cozy for outdoor fun and comfortable for indoor activities because you can shed an extra layer.  

There are many fun things to do in Chicago in December, from light shows, holiday delicacies, art installations, shopping, and more. Here's our list of favorites for this festive month!

17 Things to Do in Chicago in December - Updated for 2023

1. Savor Some Holiday Flavors and Magnificent Chicago Views

360 CHICAGO's Sip and View ticket includes an admission ticket to the 94th-floor observation deck and a featured beverage at a special price. Sip and savor the panoramic views at CloudBar - Chicago's bar in the sky, while staying warm and cozy, gazing at the winter wonderland below. The Sip and View ticket is perfect for date night, after a day of shopping, or showing off your city to visitors. CloudBar is open daily from 9 am to 11 pm for all ages, with non-alcoholic beverages and snacks available. Ask us about our holiday cocktails, including Deck the Halls and Holiday Spice specialty cocktails.

2. All Aboard the Chicago Holiday Train!

For 32 years, the Chicago Transit Authority has been spreading joy with a fully decked-out holiday train and bus. The vehicles are decorated with lights and artwork, and Santa greets riders from his sleigh from an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer. The CTA holiday train transfers passengers from A to B, and the employees donate their time and money to assemble and deliver 600 food baskets to local food organizations. Now, that's a reason to take public transportation this December!

3. Be Amazed by Digital Art Projected on Chicago's Famous Merch Mart

The Merchandise Mart, also known as the Merch Mart or Mart, is a famous art déco building built in the 1930s. Back then, it was the largest in the world, with 4 million square feet of retail space. Now, it's home to loads of retail stores and businesses. Its confronting presence towering over the Chicago River makes it the perfect backdrop for digital art projections. This year, holiday classics like the Nutcracker are cast on the building in an incredible ensemble of colorful video and music. Art on the Mart is one of the best things to do in Chicago in December, and it's free! The show runs at 7 pm nightly till December 30th.

4. Grab One-of-a-Kind Gifts at the Yearly Holiday Show at THE MART

Another December activity at the Merch Mart is the yearly Holiday Show. You can grab one-of-a-kind gifts from hundreds of artists, makers, and designers who come together to create the perfect shopping destination for those who love original, hand-made work. This fantastic shopping experience is only open from Dec 7 to 10th, so mark your calendars so you don’t miss it!

5. Explore Christmas Celebrations from All Over the World

Warm up indoors and experience Christmas in 50 different countries/cultures at The Christmas Around the World Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. See how other countries celebrate the holidays and decorate their Christmas Trees at this event that is now 80 years strong. Take advantage of the four-story Grand Tree that dominates the Museum's Rotunda area. Your ticket includes The Holidays of Light, an exhibit that honors light and enlightenment worldwide. See all this with the museum admission. Open from now until Jan 8, 2023.

6. Shop at an Authentic German Christmas Market State-Side

Inhale the aroma of roasted chestnuts, sip on mulled wine, tap your feet to the sounds of caroling, and browse through the most traditional outdoor Christmas market you'll find outside of Europe. The Christkindlmarket Chicago boasts hundreds of vendors of gifts, treats, and delicacies that would be worth a shopping trip to Chicago in December! The market is located at Daley Plaza at 50 W. Washington Street and is open on days and evenings till Christmas Eve.

7. Light Up Your Holidays in a Big Way

One way to brighten your holiday evenings in Chicago is to visit Lightscape, an exhibit at the Chicago Botanical Garden. Stroll through the outdoor gardens for a display of powerful music, fire, light, and color. It's a holiday showcase for all ages. Tickets sell out fast, so book ahead!

8. Ice Skating in Chicago's Glorious Parks

It's the quintessential thing to do during the holidays because it's so darn enjoyable! Strap on some skates and enjoy the scenery at two of Chicago's beloved parks. 

The Ice Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park in the Chicago Loop is a lovely, leisurely skate through a winding path around the park, with fantastic views of the Chicago Skyline. Skating here is popular, so participants need to buy timed tickets. Book ahead! Alternatively, Ice skating at Millenium Park at the McCormick Tribune Plaza is also a popular favorite. Skate on one of the two public ice rinks with views of "The Bean" while you glide and twirl.  Skate rentals are available at both parks if you don't have your own (and you probably didn't bring any in your luggage).

9. Stroll Through Colorful Forests at the Morton Arboretum

Chicago in December is only complete with a visit to the Morton Arboretum for a gorgeous display of color, light, and sound in the trees at Illumination. Explore the 50 acres of forested area to see (and hear) nature from a different perspective. Electric Illumination was a success last year; this adults-only (18+) event features trance and house music synchronized to light displays. This event runs four evenings in December. If you love to get out into nature, this is the place for you!

10. See the Best Views of Chicago's Famous Fireworks

It's the most epic spectacle of color and light casting over the city—The fireworks display from Navy Pier. Get the best views from 94 floors up at 360 CHICAGO. There's a fireworks display every night until Dec 31 at 9 pm.   

Then, Enjoy New Year's from the Highest Cocktail Lounge. Watch the NYE fireworks display and attend the best party —2024 New Year's Eve in the Sky. Tickets include live music featuring DJ Dre Martin, a glass of sparkling wine, unlimited rides on TILT—Chicago's highest thrill ride and more served up at Cloudbar, Chicago's highest cocktail lounge. Get NYE tickets early to get the best price before they sell out! 

11. Be Enchanted by a Candlelight Concert

A Candlelight Concert is always dreamy, but it becomes more magical in December in Chicago. With a handful of holiday concerts, you can embrace the season or pick whichever concert piques your interest! Either way, it’s impossible to go wrong with melodic music by candlelight.

12. Discover a Holiday Pop up shop Like No Other

Welcome to Jack Frost, a holiday pop-up shop that offers an unforgettable outdoor, interactive Christmas event in the heart of Chicago. The festivities pop up at  Fulton Market and feature various activities, from a captivating nighttime light display to a full-sized ice skating rink. Regardless of what you seek this festive season, Jack's offers an unforgettable multi-sensory experience for everyone. Jack Frost's festive experiences are suitable for all ages, and ideal for a corporate holiday party or a seasonal gathering.

13. Enjoy Elegant Igloo Dining at the Award-Winning Godfrey Hotel

Every year around this time, The Godfrey Hotel transforms its rooftop into a festive, heated igloo experience where you can sip on seasonal drinks and eat dinner while escaping the cold. The transparent igloos allow you to wonder at the city’s skyline, giving you the perfect opportunity to enjoy the outdoors while staying warm this December!

14. See the Lincoln Park Zoo in a Different Light

The annual ZooLights display is back! While you enjoy a hot beverage and snack from one of the stands throughout the park, you can stroll through their many displays of lights, see the cold weather animals, enjoy interactive activities, and more! They will also host an Adults Night Out and tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas” if you are looking for extra holiday cheer!

15. Feel Festive at the Museum of Ice Cream’s Pinkmas Celebration

This interactive exhibit is full of activities to help you embrace the season! From their Pinkmas tree forest to a speakeasy, larger-than-life snow globe, and festive crafts, many memorable moments are here. And, of course, don’t forget to jump into their famous pink sprinkle pool!

16. Visit a Sparkling Festival at Rosemont’s Impact Field

The home of the Chicago Dogs baseball team turns into the home of holiday lights, train rides, ice skating, a two-story ice slide, and more during December. Their Sparkle Light Festival houses five different displays of lights, all with a separate theme, for you to walk through. To enjoy the festival to the max, you can purchase the River’s Stadium Club tickets for unlimited tubing, buffet access, and drinks!

17. Meet Buddy the Elf at a Wrigleyville Pop-up Inside Stretch Bar & Grill

Celebrate everybody’s favorite elf this December in Chicago at the Elf pop-up inside the Stretch Bar & Grill. With hundreds of decorative elves scattered throughout the bar, Christmas trees, festive lights, and Buddy’s favorite snacks, it’s like stepping into the world of Elf! You can embrace his favorite food groups (spaghetti with maple syrup, anyone?!) or ramp it up with a 36-ounce beer served in an elf boot. Buddy himself is known to show up between Thursday and Sunday, so keep an eye out!

With loads of fun things to do in Chicago in December, what's there to do the rest of the year? Visit our blog for more tips about things to do in Chicago any time of year.

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