Festive Things to do in Chicago for the Holidays | Hotel EMC2, Autograph Collection

Festive Things to do in Chicago for the Holidays

Twinkling lights, hot cocoa, and warm scarves all signal that a colder season is approaching and that the holidays are right around the corner. It’s a festive time of year, and there’s no better place to celebrate it than in the heart of Chicago. There are so many Chicago holiday events and activities to help you feel the holiday spirit, but which ones are worth your time? We’ve compiled a list of all the best things to do in Chicago during the 2019 holiday season.

The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

This festival is jam-packed with family-friendly activities and even has two surprise guestsMickey and Minnie Mouse. The day before the parade, there are activities like cheesecake decorating and photos with Santa Claus, plus free treats from Garrett Popcorn Shops. During the parade, Grand Marshals Mickey and Minnie Mouse from Walt Disney World will illuminate more than one million lights on 250 trees along Michigan Avenue. After the parade, you’ll have a chance to see a firework show over the Chicago River at North Michigan Avenue. 

Festivities begin on Friday, November 22 at Pioneer Court and then continue until Saturday, November 23 on North Michigan Avenue. The parade route travels on Michigan Avenue to Wacker Drive. 

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade

What’s a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than a parade with giant balloon figures, snazzy marching bands, and elaborately decorated floats? This holiday activity starts bright and early on Thanksgiving Day and is perfect for the whole family, especially those who want to create a fun holiday tradition. The energy of the parade will help you work up your appetite for a big plate of turkey later in the day.  

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade takes place this year on November 28th starting at 8 a.m. The parade starts on State Street and travels from Congress to Randolph. 

Shopping on Magnificent Mile

If you like to shop till you drop, then you’ll love the stores along Michigan Avenue, otherwise known as Magnificent Mile. Magnificent Mile boasts more than 460 retailers including popular brands, department stores, and designer labels. While you’re shopping, don’t forget to look for some of Chicago’s historic landmarks; there are over 50 located along the Magnificent Mile.

Since Black Friday is near, you could choose to shop that day to find great deals. If you prefer to shop when there are fewer crowds, then you could shop another day for holiday gifts and souvenirs for your family members and friends.


When you walk into the Christkindlmarket, you’ll smell roasted nuts, freshly baked pretzels, sizzling bratwurst, and hot spiced wine. It’s an authentic German-style Christkindlmarket experience, modeled after the original in Nuremberg, Germany. You’ll be able to browse booths from vendors with products from around the world, as well as view performances and listen to German-inspired music. 

Chicago’s Christkindlmarket takes place from November 15th to December 24th at Daley Plaza. 


Imagine standing in the glow of 2.5 million lights. That’s exactly the experience you’ll get when you go to Lincoln Park’s ZooLights. This one-of-a-kind holiday experience offers a free family-oriented celebration in Chicago’s well known Lincoln Park. Along with luminous displays, there are also seasonal activities like photos with Santa and live ice-sculpture carving. 

ZooLights start on November 29th and continue on varying dates until January 5th in Lincoln Park Zoo. 

City of Chicago Christmas Tree Lighting

Every year, the city of Chicago decorates a giant Christmas tree with sparkling lights and colorful ornaments and puts it up on display in Millennium Park. You can enjoy the glittering tree set against Chicago’s sparkling skyline, as well as the sights at Millennium Park. 

You’ll be able to view the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on November 22nd at 6 p.m. this year. The tree will remain lit through January 6, 2020. Santa Claus will also make an appearance and there will be music to listen to during the program. 

Christmas Around the World

If you prefer to view a giant Christmas tree inside where it’s warm, instead of outside in the cold, then you should visit the Museum of Science and Industry’s tree display, known as Christmas around the World. The exhibition features a four-story Grand Tree, surrounded by a forest of more than 50 trees and displays that are decorated to represent the holiday traditions from cultures around the world. 

The exhibition begins on November 14th and lasts until January 5th, so you have the entire holiday season to enjoy it. 

Ice skating in Millennium Park

Strap on a pair of ice skates, because it’s skating season! The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park opens when the weather gets colder and provides a fun activity for any number of people, from a large group of people to just two. You can spend your time skating with iconic views of the Chicago skyline and City of Chicago Christmas Tree. 

The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink usually opens in November and stays open until March, weather permitting. Ice skate rentals are available at the rink. For those who are novice ice skaters, there are free skating lessons on certain days an hour before the rink opens. 

You can make your holidays a lasting memory with this list of Chicago holiday events and activities. These are some of the best things to do in Chicago in December, so even if you don’t have time on your trip to complete all of these items, you’ll still have a successful holiday season if you can check a few of them off of the list. 

Need a place to stay this holiday season? Book your reservation now.