The Big City Blog: From Christkindlmarket to Macy’s windows and Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderfest, here are the best Christmas and holiday activities around Chicago
By Trent Modglin
The following blog was created in conjunction with KeyMagazineChicago.com
This annual outdoor market in Daley Plaza offers traditional German food and drinks, and vendors in this quaint, illuminated village sell handmade 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. 16-Dec. 24 Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 50 W. Washington. Christkindlmarket.com
Lincoln Park Zoolights
This popular (and free) zoo located in beautiful Lincoln Park decorates its entire property with a mind-boggling 2.5 million 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 light maze, Ferris wheel and Sea Explorer 5D. ZooLights takes place Nov. 23-25, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Dec. 7–23, Dec. 26-Jan. 6 from 4:30-9 p.m. 2200 N. Cannon. LPZoo.org
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 exhibit is open through Jan. 6, 2019. 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. MSIChicago.org
After taking in the 50th annual Macy’s holiday windows (on display until Jan. 5) or the Holiday Traditions Tour, which highlights the traditions of iconic State Street, stop by the 17,000-square-foot Walnut Room, a dining experience on the seventh floor complete with Austrian chandeliers, Russian wood paneling and — most importantly during the holiday season — a 45-foot Christmas tree with 15,000 lights that sits directly in the center of the dining room. The pot pie and a glass of wine in this spot come recommended. And get a chance to meet Santa on the fifth floor right up through Christmas Eve. 111 N. State. VisitMacysChicago.com
Chicago Trolley Lights Tour
The Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. ushers in the holiday season with its annual Holiday Lights Tour beginning Nov. 23 and running through Dec. 23. The tour begins at the John Hancock Plaza tree (875 N. Michigan Ave.), showing off the thousands of glittering lights throughout the Magnificent Mile and makes two stops where you can hop off to explore the Christkindmarket downtown and ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. Complimentary with each ticket is a pair of ZooLights 3D glasses and a bag of hot cocoa caramel crisp from Garrett Popcorn. Advanced registration is highly recommended for this narrated two-and-a-half tour. Departs Mon.-Thurs. at 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and Fri.-Sun. at 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 23-25 and 30, Dec. 1-2 and Dec. 7-23. Adults: $32, kids: $20). ChicagoTrolley.com
Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier
For 18th straight year, Navy Pier transforms its Festival Hall to offer families plenty of indoor holiday thrills. From Nov. 30, 2018-Jan. 6, 2019, 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. Tickets available at NavyPier.org
Chicago Christmas Tree
A proud 105-year tradition, this 60-foot Norway spruce will remain illuminated over Millennium Park (Washington and Michigan Ave.) through January 6, 2019.
CTA Holiday Train and Bus
This is the 27th 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 at “the bean” in Millennium Park every Friday from Nov. 23-Dec. 14 as well as Wednesday, Dec. 12 from 6-7 p.m. Free admission. MillenniumPark.org
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 French teas and decadent pastries and sandwiches while listening to holiday carolers and a harpist. Seating available every half hour between 1-4:30 p.m. Nov. 1-9, 12-16 and 19-22 and every half hour between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 10-11, 17-18 and Nov. 23-Jan. 13. $52 for adults, $25 for children ages 3-12. 140 E. Walton. (312) 932-4619. TheDrakeHotel.com
Carriage rides downtown
Want to take in the lights of Michigan Avenue, get a narrated tour or perhaps a ride from dinner to the theatre in a uniquely stylish way? Traditional horse-drawn carriage rides and a variety of horse-drawn narrated tours are available at Water Tower Park (806 N. Michigan Ave.) from Chicago Horse & Carriage (ChicagoCarriage.com), Great Lakes Horse & Carriage (GreatLakesHorseAndCarriage.com) and Antique Coach and Carriage (AntiqueCoach-Carriage.com).
Gray Line holiday bus tour
Leap into the holiday spirit with Gray Line’s Chicago Holiday Lights Tour, which includes quick stops for Lincoln Park ZooLights and Christkindlmarket, as well as great views of the Mag Mile, Macy’s iconic holiday windows and Chicago’s Christmas tree in Millennium Park. Tickets start at just $28, and boarding happens outside of the Palmer House Hilton at 17 E. Monroe. 312-251-3100. GrayLineChicago.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, 2019 and is closed on Mondays (except for Dec. 31), Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets are for both a specific date and time, starting at 4:30 p.m. each evening. 4100 Illinois Route 53 in suburban Lisle. 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. Now in its 37th year, Holiday Magic runs Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 and 26-31. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. with festivities beginning at 4 p.m. 8400 W. 31st St. in suburban Brookfield. CZS.org/holidaymagic
Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Garden
Head north to the beautiful Chicago Botanic Garden for their annual Wonderland Express, a holiday exhibit featuring model trains, magical indoor snow and meticulously created miniature Chicago landmarks. Carolers and ice carvings only add to the fun. Runs Nov. 23-Jan. 6. 1000 Lake Cook Road in suburban Glencoe. ChicagoBotanic.org