Looking for fun things to during the Christmas holiday season in Chicago with kids? Below are the best family Christmas activities in Chicago that are guaranteed to get the whole family into the holiday spirit!
You can find more even more things to do for both kids and adults during Christmas in Chicago here.
Christmas Activities in Chicago For Kids
Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival will celebrate 32 years with a live parade (the largest nighttime parade in the US) when one million lights are illuminated on the trees along The Magnificent Mile. The parade is on Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to Wacker Drive. The parade is very popular and draws over a million spectators so line up early for the best spot.
When: Saturday, November 18, 2023. You can find a schedule of events here.
Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
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The Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry annual celebration began in 1942 and features a four-story, floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 holiday trees, each decorated to represent a different country.
Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637
When: November 18, 2023 – January 7, 2024. There will be a day-long Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Lights Tree Lighting Festival celebration on Saturday, November 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: Included in regular museum entry. Click here to purchase a skip the line ticket.
THE POLAR EXPRESS Train Ride
The THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride is a re-creation of the classic children’s story by Chris Van Allsburg on board a real train. Passengers are served hot chocolate and a treat by dancing chefs, enjoy a reading of the book, and receive the first gift of Christmas after Santa boards the train to greet families. Performers engage passengers in caroling and fun holiday activities on the return trip to Union Station. The train ride lasts an hour and passengers are encouraged to wear pajamas.
2023 is the train ride’s first full-season return since the pandemic. It was cancelled in 2020 and 2022. It only ran for a short period of time in 2021 (when we had the chance to do it with my kids) before it was cancelled for the rest of the season.
Where: Train leaves and returns from Chicago Union Station at 500 W Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60606.
When: Select dates and times from December 3, 2023 to January 1, 2024. Tickets are on sale now and popular dates and times sell out quickly.
Cost: Pricing varies by date. Lap infants under the age of two ride for free with an adult guardian. Visit their website for pricing and to buy tickets in advance.
Winterland at Gallagher Way
Winterland at Gallagher Way (3635 N Clark St) is back with family-friendly festivities at Gallagher Way and inside iconic Wrigley Field. In addition to admiring the outdoor lights, activities include kid friendly rides and games as well as the Gallagher Ice Rink.
Gallagher Way will also be home to the Wrigleyville location of Christkindlmarket (an authentic German-style outdoor market) until December 31. After Winterland, you can stop by Christkindlmarket to pick up ornaments or holiday gifts and enjoy various food and warm drinks including hot chocolate.
When: November 21, 2023 – January 7, 2024
Cost: Admission to Gallagher Way activities and the Christkindlmarket is free and does not require tickets. Tickets are required for admission to the Wrigley Field portion of Winterland. Early bird admission and attraction tickets are now available for purchase on the website here.
The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party
The Beatrix Potter Holiday Tea Party is a fun activity for little kids. Four adorable Beatrix Potter favorites come to life in this interactive trunk and puppet show, complete with original music. After the show, head to the lobby to play with the puppets, take pictures with the cast, and join a communal tea party featuring a festive spread of holiday treats. The show is suitable for all ages but it is best for toddlers and younger kids (ages 2 to 6).
When: November 4-December 24, 2023 (select dates)
Where: Chicago Children’s Theatre, 100 S. Racine Ave. in the West Loop
Cost: Tickets range from $45.25 – $55.25 (including fees), and are on sale now at chicagochildrenstheatre.org.
Ride the CTA Holiday Train and Bus
The CTA Holiday Train is a holiday tradition unique to Chicago. As the train pulls into each station, Santa waves to riders from his sleigh on an open-air flatcar carrying his reindeer and decorated holiday trees. Each car of the train is wrapped with holiday and seasonal images. Thousands of twinkling lights outline the shape of the train and windows, with even more lights running across the tops of the cars.
The CTA Holiday Bus is 60-foot bus turned into a winter wonderland with holiday music playing and Santa waving and from the roof-hatch of the bus. The exterior of the bus features Chicago’s skyline one snowy evening with “Ralphie the Reindeer” leading the way, his nose aglow and Santa’s sleigh in tow. Festive strings of lights outline the bus and its windows, along with sparkling snowflakes that light-up at night.
When: The CTA Holiday Train will be running from Friday, November 24 to Thursday, December 21. The CTA Holiday bus will be running from Tuesday, November 28 to Friday, December 22. Check transitchicago.com/holidayfleet for exact routes and times.
Cost: Regular CTA fare. See transitchicago.com for prices.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
The reimagined Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier is the largest indoor and outdoor holiday experience in Chicago. Activities include outdoor ice skating and axe throwing.
Where: Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
When: November 24 to December 31, 2023.
Cost: There are both free and ticketed activities.
ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ at Lincoln Park Zoo is a family-friendly holiday event in the zoo. Zoolights features hundreds of luminous LED displays and seasonal experiences, all under the glow of millions of lights.
When: November 17, 2023–January 7, 2024
Cost: Tickets are $7 on most weeknights and $10 on Fridays, Saturdays and premium dates. Free admission on Mondays.
Walk the Illuminated Light Trail at Lightscape
Lightscape is an after-dark, illuminated trail with thousands of twinkling lights at the Chicago Botanic Garden (1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL). Despite the name, the garden is technically not in Chicago and is located in the suburbs (about a 30 minute drive from the city). Book early – tickets have sold out the last few years.
When: November 10, 2023 – January 7, 2024 (select dates).
Cost: Mon-member ticket prices start at $34 and $19 for kids 3-12 if purchased in advance. Children 2 and under are free. See https://www.chicagobotanic.org/lightscape for full prices and to purchase tickets in advance.
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum
Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum (4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, IL) is another great light show in the suburbs. This one-of-a-kind, interactive spectacle of color, light, and sound that has been delighting audiences since 2013. Stroll along a 1-mile paved walking path amid festive music and lighting effects that highlight the beauty of trees in winter.
When: November 18, 2023–January 6, 2024 (select days)
Cost: Tickets prices vary with discounts for members. They offer plan-ahead pricing so ticket prices may increase in the future. See their website for more information and to purchase tickets in advance.
As you can see there are many family friendly things to do in Chicago during Christmas and the holiday season.