If you are lucky enough to find yourself in Chicago for the holidays, there’s no shortage of family-friendly events to get you and the kids taking in the sights, sounds and holiday cheer. From holiday trains and zoo lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo to photo ops with Santa, a Christmas market to ice skating with a view of the Chicago skyline, the city offers something for everyone. The only challenge will be deciding where to spend a magical day together!
The Walnut Room at Macy’s
This iconic Chicago landmark is at its best over the holidays, with gorgeous holiday decorations and a lighted 45-foot Great Tree taking center stage. Famous for being the first restaurant ever to open in a department store, eating at the bedazzled Walnut Room has become a holiday tradition cherished by many Chicago (and non-Chicago) families. It’s also a great place to enjoy a festive buffet breakfast to begin your Chicago holiday adventures. Princesses walk around sprinkling kids with fairy dust to help make Christmas wishes come true, and all guests go home with a signature mug to commemorate their special day.
After eating your fill at The Walnut Room, wander over to Daley Plaza and bask in some more holiday cheer at Chicago’s largest outdoor Christmas festival, inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany. You and the kids will enjoy festive music, mouth-watering German treats, hot chocolate and Glühwein while wandering the booths featuring unique, often handmade goods such as Christmas ornaments, artisan jewelry and classic German products like cuckoo clocks, beer steins, nutcrackers and more!
Navy Pier Winter WonderFest
Another classic Chicago destination, Navy Pier turns into a Winter Wonderland, er, Fest, around the holidays! Check a trip to Navy Pier off your Chicago to-do list, and let the kids get their energy out bouncing, sliding, skating and playing at this indoor festival. Featuring 170,000 square feet of attractions, it is host to tons of holiday fun without braving the Chicago cold!
MSI’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
The Museum of Science and Industry is a phenomenal museum to captivate both kids and adults, and it is easy for an entire day to fly by while exploring engaging, hands-on exhibits such as walking through a World War II submarine, watching baby chicks hatch, or getting lost in a mathematical mirror maze. Through January 6, you and your family can also immerse yourselves in global holiday traditions by enjoying their Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light displays, featuring more than 50 trees and displays decorated to represent a variety of traditions and cultures.
Ride the Holiday Train on the “L”
This unique Chicago tradition is hugely popular among children of all ages. Check the schedule carefully because these trains start running around Thanksgiving and it’s easy to miss the train running on the line convenient to you. This train experience is decked out in Holiday regalia complete with Elves handing out candy canes and holiday buttons, and Santa and his elves on the train. A Chicago holiday must!
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is a Chicago destination for families any time of year, but over the holidays it takes on a special magic with its spectacular ZooLights event. During much of December and into January, you can enjoy gorgeous light displays and shows throughout zoo grounds, along with live ice-sculpture carving, carousel and train rides, and of course, special holiday treats to make your meanderings around the live animal exhibits extra merry and bright! And, best of all, entry to the zoo is always free!
The Christmas Train at the Lincoln Park Conservatory
If you’re planning on spending the afternoon in Lincoln Park, do stop by the free conservatory first. Every year, the Lincoln Park Conservatory decks out one section of the green house with Christmas themed decorations. Model steam freight trains and steam engines run through the show house, a miniature village, set against poinsettias and fir trees. Toddlers and preschoolers are enchanted with this attraction and could stay for hours watching the tchoo tchoo run by.
Looking for more holiday events to enjoy around Chicago and its suburbs, or other activities and events to experience with the kids? Check out Upparent.com, a new website gathering parents’ recommendations for the best local activities and events to enjoy as a family, and discover a new family favorite!
Alexandra Fung is a mother of three kids ranging in age from 1 to 11 living in the suburbs of Chicago. She’s also CEO of Upparent, a new website that makes it easy for parents to share recommendations about things to do, places to go and products to try as a family.