By Trent Modglin
This article was written in coordination with Key Magazine
Christmas Around the World exhibit at the Museum of Science & Industry
This popular exhibit began back in 1942 with a single tree. Today, the annual celebration features a four-story Grand Tree that is surrounded by a forest of more than 50 other smaller trees and vibrant displays to represent holiday traditions from around the globe. Live holiday dance and choral performances, more than 30,000 lights and fake snowfalls add to the spirit of the season for visitors.
The MSI is located at 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. The exhibit is open through Jan. 7, 2018. www.MSIChicago.org
For 17th straight year, Navy Pier transforms its Festival Hall to offer families plenty of indoor holiday thrills. From Dec. 1, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018, guests can experience festive décor and a glittering forest of 500 trees and 25,000 ornaments, as well as 170,000 square feet of entertainment for all ages — from the ever-popular Chicago Blackhawks Ice Skating Rink to the Polar Extreme Obstacle Course, 40-foot Cliff Hanger, Polar Ice Peaks Climbing Wall and Arctic Express Train. A new perk this year, included with every ticket purchase, is a ride on the 200-foot Centennial Wheel on Navy Pier.
For more information on the Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest or to purchase tickets in advance, visit www.NavyPier.org
After taking in the 49th annual Macy’s windows (on display until Jan. 8), or the Holiday Traditions Tour, which highlights the traditions of iconic State Street (available every Friday in Nov. and Dec. at 11:30 a.m.), stop by the 17,000-square-foot Walnut Room, a dining experience complete with Austrian chandeliers, Russian wood paneling and — most importantly during the holiday season — a 45-foot Christmas tree that sits directly in the center of the dining room. Don’t forget to try the pot pie, and thank us later.
A fabulous holiday tradition since 1907, the Walnut Room is located on the seventh floor of Macy’s at 111 N. State. www.MacysRestaurants.com
Chicago Christmas Tree
A proud 104-year tradition, this 62-foot Norway spruce will remain illuminated over Millennium Park (Washington and Michigan Ave.) through January 6, 2018.
This annual outdoor market offers traditional German food and drinks, and vendors in this illuminated village sell handmade German ornaments, nutcrackers and cuckoo clocks. The market has been a Chicago tradition since 1996 and is influenced by the Christkindlmarket in Nuremberg, Germany. Admission is free. Christkindlmarket Chicago runs Nov. 17-Dec. 24 at Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington) and Nov. 24-Dec. 24 at the new location at The Park at Wrigley Field. Open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Visit www.Christkindlmarket.com for more information.
Lincoln Park Zoolights
This popular (and free) zoo located in beautiful Lincoln Park decorates its entire property with super bright and colorful lights, adorning everything from the trees to the grass itself. The celebration also includes lights synchronized to holiday music, animal-shaped yard decorations and activities like trains, a Ferris wheel and Undersea Adventure.
ZooLights takes place Nov. 24–26, Dec. 1–3, 8–23, 26–31; Jan. 1–7, 2018 from 4:30-9 p.m. Lincoln Park Zoo is located at 2001 N. Clark St. Visit www.LPZoo.org for more information.
CTA Holiday Train and Bus
This is the 26th year of the CTA Holiday Train — a holiday tradition unique to Chicago. Both the train and bus are in-service vehicles that operate as part of regular service, so space is limited. Photos with Santa are available when exiting at your destination. You can track the whereabouts of Santa using CTA train tracker.
Caroling at Cloud Gate
Bundle up and belt out some holiday classics as local Chicago choral groups lead hundreds of celebrants in song Fridays, Nov. 24-Dec. 15 from 6-7 p.m. Free admission. www.MillenniumPark.org
Chicago Trolley Lights Tour
The Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. ushers in the holiday season with its annual Holiday Lights Tour beginning Nov. 24 and running through Dec. 23. The tour explores many of Chicago’s iconic seasonal landmarks, such as the Christkindmarket, Lincoln Park Zoo Lights and the Macy’s holiday windows. The tour begins at the John Hancock Plaza tree (875 N. Michigan Ave.) and then ventures to Sprinkles Cupcakes for a complimentary cupcake before heading down the Magnificent Mile to begin the tour and take in the thousands of glittering lights. The tour departs at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 24-26, Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 8-23. Tickets for the two-and-a-half hour narrated tour ($18-$49) are available at www.ChicagoTrolley.com
Morton Arboretum’s Illumination
Illumination is an award-winning, outdoor walking tour that covers approximately one mile and winds through 50 acres of the Arboretum’s renowned tree collections brought to life with more than one million lights set to music. Warm up at concession tents and fire pits along the path. Illumination runs through Jan. 1, 2018 and is closed on Mondays (except for Jan. 1), Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are for both a specific date and time, starting at 4:30 p.m. each evening. www.MortonArb.org
Holiday Magic at the Brookfield Zoo
Get into the holiday spirit with more than one million lights covering the trees, fences and animal structures of the Brookfield Zoo. In addition to many indoor exhibits open for viewing favorite animals, guests are encouraged to sing to the animals and participate in “zoo chats.” Also included: carolers, storytellers, magic shows, a laser-light experience, ice-carving demonstrations, costumed characters, a model railroad display and a 41-foot LED talking tree. Brookfield Zoo is located at 8400 W. 31st St. in Brookfield, IL. Holiday Magic runs Dec. 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, and Dec. 26-31. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. with festivities beginning at 4 p.m. www.czs.org/holidaymagic
Holiday tea at the Drake Hotel
Steeped in history, the Palm Court at The Drake Hotel has been serving afternoon tea for close to a century — even the Queen and Princess Diana made royal visits. Enjoy an assortment of 17 French teas and decadent pastries and sandwiches while listening to holiday carolers and a harpist. Reservations for holiday tea run through Jan. 3 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, with seatings every half hour. $49 for adults, $24 for children ages 3-12. (312) 932-4619. The Drake is located at 140 E. Walton. (312) 932-4619. www.TheDrakeHotel.com
Public ice skating
It’s time to lace up your skates and chase your Olympic dreams one last time at one of several fun skating opportunities downtown. The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park runs Nov. 17-March 4. Open Mon-Thu, noon–8 p.m.; Fri, noon-10 p.m.; Sat, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Free admission; skate rental is $12 Mon.-Thurs. and $14 Fri.-Sun. and holidays. www.MillenniumPark.org
Sitting directly in front of Millennium Park and Chicago’s skyline, the newer Maggie Daley Park skating ribbon allows skaters to experience a unique kind of winding ice rink. Located at 337 E. Randolph, the rink is open until March. Open Mon.-Thurs., noon-8 p.m.; Fri., noon-10 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Free admission; skate rental is $12 Mon.-Thurs. and $14 Fri.-Sun. and holidays. www.MaggieDaleyPark.com
The Chicago Blackhawks Ice Skating Rink is a big part of Navy Pier’s popular Winter WonderFest, which runs through Jan. 7. www.NavyPier.com
An exciting new addition to all the renovations at Wrigley Field is The Rink at Winterland at the Park, which is open from Nov. 24-Feb. 15. The historic ballpark is the perfect backdrop for a little skating, and the new Christkindlmarket is next door for a bite to eat, some spiced wine or a little authentic German shopping. www.Christkindlmarket.com
Visits with Santa
At Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, Santa Claus will be on hand at the Claus residence for festive family photo opportunities Dec. 1-24. Free personalized photo ops are available at the Santa House in Millennium Park from Nov. 17-Dec. 17. Visit MillenniumPark.org for times and locations.