The city seems to sparkle a bit more around this time of year. As Chicago’s Bank®, we’ve put together a list of “must-do’s” for anyone who finds themselves in the city this holiday season. There are so many seasonal traditions that make this area unique. Plan ahead as each event has its own COVID-19 protocols. Let’s go!
This is a classic destination for both locals and tourists alike, and no doubt you will hear many Chicagoans refer to it with fondness. It’s a traditional German Christmas market set up in Daley Plaza that exudes all the charm and coziness of a small European village. International and local vendors in painted stalls sell everything from authentic wooden toys to roasting chestnuts. A bucket list “must” is to purchase this year’s souvenir mug and sip their tasty mulled wine, known as Glühwein, as you peruse the market. Oh, and did we mention admission is free?
The Christkindlmarket Market, put on by a subsidiary of the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest, has become so popular there is also a location in Wrigleyville. No matter which one you visit, it’s a great outing for families and groups to enjoy. It’s open daily through December 24.
There are some tried-and-true Chicago classics to see each year at several locations downtown and outside the city. Every spot is walkable and accessible by public transportation. During your journey, you’ll hear the Salvation Army bell-ringers collecting money on many street corners and see horse-drawn carriages offering rides through the streets. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells during this mini-tour.
A mile-long path where visitors can walk along multi-sensory light installations created by artists from across the globe. Check their website for ticket information and COVID protocols. Select dates from November 12, 2021 to January 2, 2022.
The Wrigley Building’s tree
This gleaming white 1924 Spanish colonial revival building is a symbol of Chicago. It only makes sense, then, that this river-facing terra cotta structure at 400 N. Michigan Ave. would feature a tried and true classic. Under the famous architecture of the Wrigley Building stands its 30-foot Christmas tree, complete with a big red bow on top.
New this year, this indoor, temperature-controlled attraction features light-sculpture displays made with more than 600,000 lights, a holiday beer garden, an ice rink, train rides for children, Santa’s Village, and a gift market. A ride on the Centennial Wheel is included with your admission ticket. Light Up the Lake runs through January 2, 2022. Check their website for ticket information and COVID protocols.
The beloved pair of copper lions in front of the museum are Chicago-famous. In keeping with the season, they are decked in their best with two giant Christmas wreaths around their necks. It’s a familiar site for locals, but fun for everyone to see up close. Only when you stand next to the statues do you realize the magnitude of the wreaths’ size. It’s another great photo op incorporating Chicago sites with unique holiday touches.
This zoo on the city’s north side is free and hosts a stunning display of 2.5 million holiday lights that draws big crowds. It’s a great choice for families, with hundreds of life-size displays and photos with Santa. If you’re an animal lover or if you have little kids, this is a nice option in a contained outdoor space with limited capacity this season.
Check the calendar for more information, specific event dates, and COVID protocols. ZooLights runs through January 2, 2022.
The official Chicago Christmas tree is on display in Millennium Park, across from Cloud Gate, also known affectionately as “the Bean.” Locals may recall a time when the tree was displayed in Daley Plaza, but it has since moved to this more visible spot. This year's tree is a 51-foot blue spruce tree from Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, donated by the Benavides family. The tree is up through January 9, 2022.
A favorite Chicago tradition will catch you by surprise and leave you entranced. It’s the CTA holiday L train! Featuring a live Santa in a sled on an open-air flat L car, the six-car train is a sight to behold. Look for hand poles wrapped with ribbon, holiday tunes, and lights galore. Running every holiday weekend and select weekdays on all L lines, it’s a fun idea to brighten the rides of all train riders. Holiday trains run through December 22. Check the CTA website for schedules and COVID protocols.