Chicago Winter: Blissful or Brutal?

You may have missed the Christkindlmarket or Christmas shopping on the Magnificent Mile, but visiting Chicago after Christmas still leaves plenty of fun winter activities to do.

Despite the fact that I hate winter (I just don’t mix well with snow and cold), visiting downtown Chicago during this time is my absolute favorite and something I do every year–with the exception of spending my recent 2 winters abroad.

So what’s so great about visiting Chicago in the wintertime you ask? Yes winters here are brutal, but they’re also beautiful– I like to call them bru-tiful. Here are some of the best things to do during winter in Chicago:

1.) Visit “The Bean”

No trip to Chicago is complete without visiting Cloudgate, also known as “The Bean”. Although this is an activity you can obviously do at any point in the year, the best time to photograph  “The Bean”, as well as the rest of the skyline, is during winter. Chicago winter grey-skies produce the best light quality for great images, plus there’s the beauty of snow!


2.) Ice Skating in Millenium Park

Forget Central Park! Skating downtown Chicago is just as great. Sure, the rink may be smaller, but it’s certainly less crowded. The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink opened in November and will usually stay open until early March–weather permitting of course, but it is Chicago after all. Bring your own skates, or rent a pair for just $10.

Skating as fresh snow falls, while listening to Christmas carols with the “Bean” glistening behind you is a magical experience. So what are you waiting for? Grab some friends or loved ones and hit the ice!


3.) Visiting the Macy’s on State Street

A trip downtown Chicago may not be complete without seeing “The Bean”–but a trip downtown Chicago in winter is never complete without visiting Macy’s. Previously the Marshall Fields flagship store, Macy’s is famous for two winter spectacles– the themed decorative windows lining the perimeter and the Walnut Room inside.

Sitting under the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room is a tradition for many families. The tree stays up until the end of December, so going the days after Christmas gets a little less crowded. Spaces still fill up though, so make sure to arrive early since they do not take reservations!


4.) Shopping on Michigan Avenue

The Magnificent Mile is well-known for shopping. Although you missed shopping for Christmas gifts on Michigan Avenue, you also missed the crazy lines and crowds. Take some time now to enjoy shopping after the holidays, and spend some of those gift cards you got for Christmas.


5.) Enjoying the Christmas Lights

Emporis ranks the Chicago skyline at #4 in the world (right after Hong Kong, New York and Singapore respectively). So seeing the skyline at anytime in pretty, but going during the holidays Chicago sparkles just a bit brighter with all of their Christmas decorations. From big Christmas trees, to string lights lining Michigan Avenue and random light sculptures–there is no shortage of lights in this city. The famous annual Christmas Lighting Ceremony had 10,000 LED bulbs and 18,800 LED mini lights alone.

Next year Chicago boasts the city will become even brighter as they celebrate their 100th Christmas Lighting Ceremony–something I surely wouldn’t miss!


6.) Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo

If you love animals and you love Christmas lights, what better way to celebrate the holidays than by merging the two together. Each holiday season Lincoln Park Zoo holds “Zoo Lights” until January 6th. The zoo will be filled with giant light displays, 3D effects, holiday activities for families, animal encounters and more.

Lincoln Park Zoo may have been getting smaller throughout the years, but it still remains one of the only free zoos in America. So take advantage of that and enjoy this popular winter event!


They say there’s no place like home for the holidays–well I guess that must be true because I do love Chicago around Christmastime!

Have you visited Chicago in the winter? What sort of things did you do during your visit?

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