The holidays are a magical time in the city, especially with kids in tow. There are so many fun things to do with kids in Chicago, and each one is an opportunity to make a lasting holiday memory. Your little ones will be awed by the city’s massive Christmas tree, historic zoo covered in millions of lights, and whimsical holiday parade with both Santa and Mickey Mouse. Here’s your bucket list for the best kid-friendly holiday activities in Chicago.

The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

The Magnificent Miles Lights Festival is a can’t-miss holiday occasion! At the nation’s largest evening holiday celebration, you’ll find family-friendly activities, live shows and a grand tree-lighting parade down Michigan Avenue.

The celebration kicks off on Friday, Nov. 19 with a tree-lighting ceremony outside the Wrigley Building. There will be family activities, booths, and photos with Santa beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20. And the main event is the magical evening parade with fabulous floats, giant helium balloons, exciting marching bands, celebrities, musical performances, Minnie and Mickey, and more.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

In the winter, historic Lincoln Park Zoo is covered in more than two million twinkling lights for a breathtaking holiday display. ZooLights is a beloved annual spectacle that covers the outdoor zoo in moving light displays, many of which are set to music. The family-favorite event also includes holiday crafts, pictures with Santa, festive snacks,  live ice carving, animal encounters, train rides, a carousel — and so much more. This year’s event takes place Nov. 19, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022. Make sure to get your tickets in advance.

Ice skating in Millennium Park

Chicago’s iconic Millennium Park is a winter wonderland for families, who can enjoy two unique ice rinks on the lakefront park grounds. First, twirl around on the city’s free ice skating rink, right below the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (aka “The Bean”). You’ll enjoy views of the city skyline covered in snow. Next, head to Maggie Daley Park to glide along the whimsical Skating Ribbon that meanders through frosty pine trees.

Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier

Inside Navy Pier Winter WonderFest
Nick Ulivieri Photography

With tons of (indoor!) holiday-themed fun, Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier truly has something for the whole family. Check out a massive ice rink, a holiday beer garden, train rides for kids, Santa’s Village, and a gift market — all while basking in the glow of more than 600,000 twinkling lights. A ride on the climate controlled Centennial Wheel is included with your ticket. The event runs from Nov. 26, 2021 through Jan. 2, 2022.

Chicago Christmas tree in Millennium Park

Kick off the holidays with the 108th annual lighting of Chicago’s official Christmas tree in Millennium Park. The towering tree, decked out in thousands of twinkling lights, will shine brightly near the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street Catch the official tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 19, 2021 complete with carolers and special guests, or see the tree light up every night at sunset through Jan. 9, 2022.

Tip: You can join in the Millennium Park Holiday Sing-Along on Fridays at 6 p.m. from Nov. 26 – Dec. 17, 2021.

Wreathing of the lions at Art Institute of Chicago

The annual Wreathing of the Lions takes place outside the Art Institute of Chicago. The beloved Chicago tradition is when the giant holiday wreaths are placed on the museum’s monumental lions that flank its grand entry on Michigan Avenue. As a bonus, you and the kids can warm up with complimentary hot chocolate and live music.

See a holiday show

Make unforgettable holiday memories with a trip to one of Chicago’s iconic theatres. And there are plenty of winter and holiday shows for the whole family, from classic Christmas plays to mesmerizing ballets.

Christmas Around The World

Christmas Around the World is an annual holiday celebration at the Museum of Science and Industry. The exhibits showcases a spectacular Grand Tree, surrounded by 50 decorated trees representing Chicago’s diverse international communities and their holiday traditions. You’ll even be showered in indoor “snow.” The exhibit runs from Nov. 17, 2021 through January 2022.

Tip: The Museum of Science and Industry is a treasure trove of hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits, so leave plenty of time to explore.

Holiday happenings at Macy’s on State Street

Each winter, Macy’s on State Street transforms their storefront windows into a fantastical holiday world. Combining traditional old-school artistry with gorgeous visual elements, the windows are adorned with intricate and imaginative scenes that fill little ones with wonder.

Tip: Stop for lunch at the historic Walnut Room inside Macy’s to see the 45-foot Great Tree, decorated with over 1,200 ornaments and 25,000 twinkling lights. You might just create a new holiday tradition.

Winterland at Gallagher Way

Winterland at Gallagher Way
Winterland at Gallagher Way

Celebrate the season outside iconic Wrigley Field. Winterland at Gallagher Way will take over the area in front of the ballpark starting Nov. 19, 2021. The festive event includes an ice rink (with skating, curling, and even on-ice bumper cars), Santa’s workshop, Hanukkah celebrations, a miniature version of Christkindlmarket, and more. There will be plenty of family-friendly holiday activities throughout the area, including breakfast with Santa, a teddy bear tea, wreath making, and holiday movie screenings.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo is a wondrous place during the holidays during the 40th annual Holiday Magic. The event includes full schedule of live entertainment: singing to the animals, ice-carving demonstrations, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, magic shows, a friendly 41-foot talking tree, costumed characters, and a model train display. The event runs on select dates from Nov. 26 through Dec. 31, 2021. Advanced tickets are required.

Lightscape at Chicago Botanic Garden

Lightscape Chicago Botanic

Wander through an enchanted, illuminated trail during Lightscape from Nov. 12 through Jan. 2 at Chicago Botanic Garden. This special after-dark event transforms a one-mile path into a holiday wonderland, complete with a choir of singing trees, a waterfall of cascading light, a soaring cathedral made of thousands of twinkling bulbs, dazzling light shows, and more.

CTA holiday train

Each winter, you can find Santa dashing through the city via the city’s elevated train system. The CTA Holiday Train is one of Chicago’s most unique holiday traditions. An entire ‘L’ train, towing Santa and his sleigh, is decked out with twinkling lights, red bows, and more holiday decor. Step on board and you’ll be greeted by elves handing out candy canes. The train runs from late November to late December; check the CTA website for an updated schedule.

Tip: The CTA Holiday Bus brings the same holiday spirit to bus riders as it travels through Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Illumination at Morton Arboretum

Trees lit up at Morton Arboretum
Morton Arboretum Illuminations 2016

This living, outdoor museum hosts a spectacular winter light show each year. Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum features interactive light effects that bring out the natural beauty of the hundreds of towering trees. There’s also crackling bonfires with s’mores for the little ones and seasonal drinks for parents. Other family-friendly events at the arboretum include Breakfast with Santa, the Winter Solstice Family Hike, and the Gingerbread House Workshop.

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