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Things to do in Chicago

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Things to do in Chicago | Top Attractions Travel Guide 

There's more great music being played any night of the week in Chicago than you could ever listen to, even if you had a entire year to spare. You can also catch plenty of live rock, by everyone from garage bands to 1960's- revival groups. From Coldplay concerts to a Steppenwolf drama, Chicago is a city that turns out in droves for great big-time shows.

Holiday Things in & around Chicago 

An ongoing series of informational entries

10 guaranteed holiday memory-makers for Chicago kids

January 15, 2017

by Cheryl Eugenio

December 15, 2016 4:20 PM

It's the best time of the year to spend time with loved ones, and lucky for us, the Chicago area has plenty of holiday experiences that offer fun, memorable experiences for years to come. Read on for our favorite guaranteed memory-makers. Happy holidays to you and your family!

Be mesmerized by twinkling lights

Experience the magic of millions of lights with your family and a few of your favorite animals at either Lincoln Park Zoo's ZooLights or Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic. If you prefer a more interactive experience, Morton Arboretum's Illumination is a must-see.

Head to the sky

For an experience you'll never forget, take the family on a magical Holiday Lights Chicago Helicopter Tour over the city's skyline and lakefront. Be wowed by the glittering views of Michigan Avenue lights, Millennium Park lights and those of the North Shore.

Cut down your own Christmas tree

If you haven't found your perfect tree, get to it! Chop your own tree at Richardson's Tree Farm where you can choose from more than 90,000 trees on 75 acres. You’ll also find fresh fudge and free coffee and cocoa daily in the heated barn with wreaths, garlands and other festive decorations. On weekends, the farm even offers tractor-drawn wagon rides.

Visit Santa, the Chicago way

What do you get when you combine trains and Santa? A heck of a memorable experience! Hop on Santa's Magical Trolley Express for a trolley ride through either Naperville or Evanston to the final destination of Santa’s workshop for games, hot cocoa and cookies and visits with the jolly old man. Good news if you don’t want the fun to stop – tickets include admission to either DuPage Children’s Museum or Little Beans Café in Evanston. Find more fun train rides here.

Hop on the trolley

Cruising through downtown Chicago at night is always magical, but it's even better in the comfort of a trolley where you don't have to worry about driving or traffic. The Chicago Trolley whisks passengers around the best of the city's holiday scenes for the Holiday Lights Tour with stops at ZooLights and Christkindlmarket. Plus, you’ll walk away with a Sprinkles cupcake.

See trees from around the world

My family always makes sure to visit the Museum of Science and Industry's Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Light every year, which features 50 festively decorated trees, plus MSI’s giant tree gracing the rotunda. It’s always fun trying to find your favorite tree and even more fun when you make it for the annual snow show.

Catch a show

There is nothing like a holiday show to warm your spirit. The gorgeous Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet is a classic. But if you have young kids--with short attention spans--the Nutcracker at the Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences offers a unique musical spin. Check out a few more of our favorite picks here.

Grab your skates

Head to the Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park for picture-perfect views of the city skyline. Don’t forget to make stops for hot chocolate! Swing on by Millennium Park afterwards for more photo opportunities.

Take in a magical sleigh ride

Bundle up and get ready to snuggle with the family and experience a sleigh ride like no other. At Go Sleigh in Harvard, take in the quiet winter wonderland while being pulled by Belgian draft horses on your sleigh.

Get away from it all

One of our favorite ways to enjoy the holidays is spending quality time together away from the pressures of everyday life. The Abbey Resort in Lake Geneva is a quick getaway and offers plenty of holiday activities such as ice skating, crafts and visits with Santa.

Family outdoor fun Theater Winter Holidays Museums Holiday Happenings

Uniquely Chicago holiday traditions your family will love keeping

February 14, 2017

by Lori Orlinsky

December 6, 2016 10:25 PM

Between shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating, traveling and checking the box on holiday mandatories, the holidays can be a hectic time of the year for busy moms. By the end of the season, we've spent so much time and energy worrying about accomplishing everything on our never-ending to-do lists that we often lose sight of what really matters—making memories together as a family.

We're lucky to live in a city that offers so many options for holiday fun—there's plenty to see, do and eat in Chicago that you can't find anywhere else. This year, take a step back from the hustle and bustle of the season and try something new with your family that you can look forward to every year.

Here is a list of our favorite ‘uniquely Chicago' holiday happenings:


Modeled after the famous Nuremberg Christmas market in 1545, Christkindlmarket gives visitors the chance to experience authentic German traditions without leaving Chicago.

Shop unique handmade trinkets (cuckoo clocks, beer steins, ornaments) from more than 60 vendors—many of whom flew in from Germany. Nosh on German delicacies like schnitzel, brats and potato pancakes and warm up with some glühwein, hot spiced wine that comes a cup shaped like a boot. Live music and dance performances take place on select days.

Free; through Dec. 24; Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., Chicago.

The Walnut Room

A beloved Chicago staple since 1907, The Walnut Room provides the perfect backdrop to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. The restaurant combines traditional elegance (wood paneling imported from Russia, Austrian chandeliers) with the warmth of the holidays, as guests dine around a 50-foot Christmas tree. Make sure to try a piece of the famous Mrs. Hering's Chicken Pot Pie, a dish that dates back to 1890. Reservations are not accepted, but while you wait for a table, catch a glimpse of the animated window scenes featuring DreamWorks' Trolls, and pick up a box of Frango Mints, a Chicago confectionary that's been around since the original Marshall Field's.

Holiday hours through Jan. 2; Macy's, 111 N. State St., 7th Floor, Chicago.

Skating Ribbon at Maggie Daley Park

At a quarter mile long, this unique venue looks like a lazy river of ice. Twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink, the ribbon—which also features changes in elevation—can hold up to 700 skaters at once. As you skate your way around the ribbon (with stopping points for hot chocolate), you'll be immersed in breathtaking views of the Chicago skyline.

Free (skate and locker rental additional); through March; Maggie Daley Park, 337 E. Randolph St., Chicago

CTA Holiday Train

Oh what fun it is to ride (or spot) the CTA Holiday Train! Adorned with colorful lights, strands of garland and holiday imagery, this six-car train embodies the spirit of the season. Inside, Santa's helpers spread the holiday cheer by passing out candy canes and serenading passengers. As the holiday train pulls into each station, catch a glimpse of Santa as he waves to boarding passengers from his sleigh.

Normal CTA fares apply; the Holiday Train will travel all L lines through Dec. 23

Horwich Chanukah Bash

The magic of Hanukkah wouldn't be complete without deep fried potato pancakes, otherwise known as latkes. Join the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center in Rogers Park for an annual Hanukkah celebration centered around this favorite holiday dish. The event features Hanukkah crafts, music and a latke bar, complete with all the fixings (applesauce, sour cream).

$25 per family; Dec. 18; Bernard Horwich JCC, 3003 W. Touhy, Chicago

Caroling at Cloud Gate

No two events are ever the same, as a different local choir group leads Friday evening caroling at The Bean each week. Bundle up for this part-concert, part-sing-along featuring everyone's favorite seasonal tunes.

Free; 6 p.m. Fridays through Dec. 23, Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago.

Wonderland Express at Chicago Botanic Garden

Boasting one of the most intricate model train shows, the Chicago Botanic Garden showcases a miniature version of the city. The 10,000-square-foot indoor model train show weaves through Chicago's most iconic landmarks (Soldier Field, Marina City, the Art Institute)—all of which are handcrafted using natural elements like pinecones, bark and gourds. Wonderland Express also features a light show, greenhouse extravaganza and display of one-of-a-kind wreaths.

$10 kids 3 and up, $13 adults; through Jan. 2; 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Nearly 2 million glittering lights shaped into holiday- and animal-inspired displays transform the zoo into the ultimate winter wonderland! Take in musical light shows, animal encounters and hop aboard the Endangered Species Carousel and Lionel Train Adventure. The kiddos will enjoy holiday crafts, photos with Santa, live ice sculpture carving and more.

Free; Dec. 2-4, 9-23, 26-31 and Jan. 1; 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago

Sauganash Holiday Lights

Crank up the holiday tunes and take a 15-20 minute drive through the far northwest corner of the city, where the whole family will “ooohh”and “ahhhh” at dozens of houses decked out in twinkling lights. A must-see is the Noonen family Christmas tree (6601 N. LeRoy Ave.) that stands three stories high and goes through the roof of the house.

Free; about Dec. 1-Jan. 1; Devon Avenue just west of the Edens Expressway

Noon Year's Eve Party at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Let the little ones experience the excitement of ringing in the New Year without staying up past bedtime! Raise a glass of apple juice and count down to a balloon drop at noon at this green-themed celebration. This family-friendly event includes lunch, a dance party, eco-friendly party crafts, games and access to all exhibits. $10 kids 2 and up, $25 adults; 11 a.m. Dec. 31; 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago

Winter Chicago Family Holidays Holiday Happenings

Around Chicago 

March 15, 2017

by Shannan Younger

November 2, 2017 11:30 PM

There are many reasons to be thankful this month, including living in a great community with fantastic holiday activities for families. To keep your little turkeys giggling instead of grumbling, check out these fun activities in and around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Everyone loves a parade!

The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been winding through the streets of Chicago on Turkey Day since it was first staged in 1934 to lift spirits during the Great Depression. Decades later, the parade is still spreading smiles to viewers of all ages, both those who see it in person and those who watch the live television broadcast on WGN.

More than 100 units, including balloons, marching bands, equestrian units and floats, join in the parade that travels about one mile down State Street, from Congress Parkway to Randolph Street.

Get your kids giving

Put the giving into this year’s Thanksgiving when you and your family join the Basket Brigade, which assembles and delivers Thanksgiving baskets to thousands of families in need. The Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago will meet at the Streamwood Park District Community Center at 9 a.m. on Nov. 18. Children are welcome to volunteer and there is also a kids’ room where they can color pages and write notes that get put in the baskets.

“We are strong believers in getting them involved and developing a giving heart at a young age,” says Brian Walsh, founder of the Basket Brigade of Suburban Chicago. There is also a Basket Brigade in Chicago.

Other organizations where kids can volunteer that help get food to those in need year-round include Feed My Starving Children, with locations in Schaumburg, Libertyville and Aurora, and the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which holds Kids Day once a month when kids 5-13 may volunteer.

Pre-feast family fun run

There are a lot of turkey trots and fun runs that allow you to feel the burn before you binge on turkey and pie (see page 70). Check out the Turkey Trot 5K in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, which also features the Plymouth Rock Ramble, a race for the tiniest turkeys 2-12. Kids are divided into age groups. Those between ages 2-4 will run 50 yards, kids 5-6 will run a quarter mile and kids 7-12 will run a half mile.

If you have kids looking to log more mileage, the Naperville Noon Lions Turkey Trot 5K has age groups for kids ages 10-14 and for those 9 and under. They also allow running strollers and walkers on the course that begins and ends at Naperville Central High School. If you’re looking to cut down on time in the kitchen, a pancake breakfast in the cafeteria is provided to participants at the end of the race.

Get cookin’

Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to get kids cooking and involved in preparing the family feast. The folks at The Kids’ Table, a cooking school in Chicago that offers classes for kids and families, are expressing their gratitude for friends with Friendsgiving-themed celebrations for toddlers to teens. Recipes might include dishes like Thanksgiving Burgers, Corn Potato Chowder, Root Veggie Mash, Rustic Apple Pie and Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. And since they are vegetarians, all the classes and celebrations will be turkey friendly!

“Getting kids involved in the kitchen gives them ownership over the meal and can transform cooking from a chore to a fun family activity. Cooking and sharing a meal together is a wonderful way to practice giving and gratitude—perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday but also any time of the year,” says Elena Marre, founder of The Kids’ Table.

Holiday Happenings Thanksgiving outdoor fun

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Chicago may have steaks, hot dogs and pizza aplenty, but audiences hungry for classical music will likely go wanting. Not because Chicago doesn't have an orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is considered one of the best in the country, but because tickets are very notoriously difficult to get hold of, scooped up by season-ticket holders.Please check the (CSO) website to see what's being performed for the next time you're in town.  

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