Celebrate the Holidays in Chicago: Great Happenings

Running now through January 7, 2024, Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Garden (located in Glencoe, Chicago’s North Shore) returns for its fifth season with an illuminated outdoor trail dazzling with brand new installations from around the world and beloved returning favorites such as the Winter Cathedral and a reimagined version of the Fire Garden.New works from international artists include Lilies, from UK artist Jigantics (illuminated 5-foot lilies float elegantly on water, providing a mesmerizing view from the bridge above and igniting a sense of warmth and excitement), Night Lights, from French artist TILT (delicate lamp-shaped lights that extend nearly 19 feet high amplify a cozy atmosphere with a display of soft ambient colors) and Sea of Light, from UK artist Ithaca (thousands of individually controlled balls of LED light make Evening Island sparkle and dance their way to a bespoke soundtrack in multiple patterns and colors). Tickets sell out quickly so it is recommended to book your time and date in advance; advance tickets for adults (non-members) begin at $34 and children (ages 3-12) at $19. 

The Christkindlmarket celebrates its 27th season at Daley Plaza, its fifth year at Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville, and its second time at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.  This year, Christkindlmarket is introducing its first ceramic beer stein with a holiday-themed design ($20), as well as location-specific $8 souvenir mugs with unique designs at each market (for example: the Chicago mug shows off downtown landmarks like the City Hall building and Daley Plaza’s Picasso sculpture while the Wrigleyville mug shows off Hotel Zachary, the intersection sign of Clark & Addison, and much more.) These mugs are hotly anticipated collector’s items for locals who have turned Christkindlmarket into a holiday tradition since 1996. Modeled after the 16th-century holiday markets in Germany, the free-admission outdoor bazaar is a hub for traditional German fare, delightful warm beverages and handcrafted gifts for purchase, and charming holiday vibes the entire family can enjoy. And now in its third year, another popular favorite is back – the annual Christkindlmarkt ornament, hand-painted and glass blown in Europe, portraying a market scene with holiday elements on its ice blue background ($41 at all info booths).

  • Admission to the market is free but food, beverages, and handcrafted gifts all must be purchased. All markets open on November 17; Aurora and Chicago locations close on December 24 and Wrigleyville on December 31. 

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light at the Museum of Science and Industry (running through January 7, 2024) is a beloved annual tradition that began in 1942 with a single tree. Today the Museum features a four-story floor-to-dome Grand Tree, surrounded by more than 50 trees and displays decorated by volunteers to represent holiday traditions from cultures around the world.

This year the museum will also be celebrating the wonders of snow, with an exhibition in the Lower Court featuring intricate photographs of snowflakes taken by Caltech physicist Ken Libbrecht.

Illumination: Tree Lights at The Morton Arboretum (Though January 6, 2024) invites visitors to celebrate the holidays and marvel at how light transforms a magnificent landscape. Journey along a 1-mile paved walking path (that is fully ADA compliant for guests with limited mobility), amid festive music and lighting effects, explore exciting new features and immersive installations. Afterwards, warm up by a cracking fire and roast marshmallows for s’mores, or stop in one of the concession tents for a snack and beverage. Ginkgo Restaurant in the Visitor Center will serve dinner guests view the display’s finale on Meadow Lake. The Arboretum Store will also be open for holiday shopping; gifts include a special temperature-activated, color-changing ceramic mug that will be available for purchase during all Illumination dates. Tickets start at $28 per person for nonmembers. 

People ice skating at the McCormick Tribune Plaza Ice Rink in Chicago’s Millennium Park; December 2021.

The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park offers ice skating all winter, through March, weather permitting.  Admission is free, but online reservations are required and skate rentals are available. You’ll be surrounded by the downtown skyline, with magical Christmas lights from the City of Chicago Christmas tree reflected in ‘The Bean’ / Cloud Gate sculpture. OR, head over to Maggie Daley Park, right next to Millennium Park, to the picturesque Skating Ribbon that meanders around snow-dusted pine trees and whimsical play spaces. The path is twice the length of a lap around a traditional skating rink. 

The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle (November 24 – December 31, 2023) at Lighthouse Artspace Chicago brings cutting-edge technology to meet the artistry of ballet dancers. This mesmerizing 30-minute immersive experience, set to Tchailkovsky’s music, weaves the classic tale of Marie and her toy nutcracker. Join them, on their magical adventure through the Land of Sweets, brought to life by renowned ballet dancers and innovative projection mapping technology. Pricing begins at $29.99 per person. 

  • While you’re here… Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago is bringing a new pop-up bar experience, Bar Humbug, to reign in the holiday season. The ArtSpace will be transformed into a winter wonderland with wall-to-wall holiday scenes. A lot like traditional German beer halls, there will be long tables and plush banquettes for groups to gather. Bar Humbug will present live musicians and DJs playing the holiday classics. Guests must be 21 to enter.

ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ will include new and exciting LED light displays,  photo ops, and interactive programming including a never-before-seen garden-themed light show on the zoo’s South Lawn. Festive photo ops will dot the zoo, as well as costumed characters and Victorian carolers on select nights. Food and beverages including festive cocktails and hot cocoa will be available at Edie Levy’s Landmark Café. Snowy’s Sprits & S’more and various snack stations around the zoo. Check the calendar for special events such as sensory-friendly nights, a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration, and adults-only evenings. General admission ZooLights tickets are $7 per person. Tickets on Fridays, Saturdays, Thanksgiving Eve (Nov. 22), and New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) are $10 per person. As part of the zoo’s ongoing commitment to accessibility, general admission is FREE on Mondays. Ticket sales from ZooLights directly support the zoo’s world-class animal care, global conservation efforts, and innovative learning programs and help keep the zoo free to the public 365 days a year. ZooLights will run through January 7, 2024. 

For more information on Chicago holiday happenings, visit Choose Chicago.

Spooky Halloween Events in the Windy City

When it comes to Halloween this season, Chicago has it covered– ghostly pub tours, a chance to walk the streets where the city’s first serial killer (or at least the first we know about) once roamed, re-enactments of Victorian era seances, and a chance to explore the city with noted author. podcaster, and host of Mysterious Chicago Tours Adam Selzer at the Lincoln Park Zoo. These are just a few of the many spooky events happening in Chicago this Halloween season.

Ever read Devil in the White City, the bestselling book by Erik Larson about H.H. Holmes? Now walk in his footsteps with Chicago Ghost Tours with Free Tours by Foot (Adults-only tour departs 3×4 times per week at 6:00 p.m.; check scheduling and pay as you will), a two hour, 1-mile walking tour takes guests through downtown Chicago. Fittingly it begins when the sun is setting, the perfect time to hear some of the most gruesome and creepy Chicago stories about the Everleigh Club, the 1900’s Red Light district, and about downtown prison breaks.

For Those Who Dare: Other Spooky Opportunities Abound.

Consider these:

Chicago Ghost Tour Pub Crawl by Nightly Spirits (Attendees must be 21+; tickets start at $30 per person; purchase of alcohol not included or required).

 The Nightly Spirits Lincoln Park Haunted Pub Tour explores some of the most haunted pubs, alleys, and buildings. Stand a few feet away from where Dillinger met his end, catch a whiff of flowers as the unseen lavender lady passes by, enjoy a drink in an antique store where each item has a story of its own, and get a true glimpse of the prohibition lifestyle. Start your tour at the haunted Lincoln Station Bar while your costumed guide creeps you out with stories of murdered gangsters, local lore, and old owners that won’t vacate the nearby buildings!

Then take the 2.5-hour walking journey exploring the Lincoln Park area to meet the spirits that haunt the locals at  favorite local haunts! The tour encompases up to 3 haunted bars*–and that’s a good thing as you’ll need plenty of liquid courage (available for purchase) to face the ghostly residents of the Windy City.

Ghost Tours at the Auditorium Theatre (Tours through November 22, Sundays, Mondays & Wednesdays at 12:00 p.m., Thursdays at 6:00 p.m.; tickets start at $15 per person).

Step into the spooky world of the supernatural this October and November for this special Halloween edition of the Auditorium Theatre’s National Landmark Backstage Tours. In addition to learning about the unique architecture and history of this storied Chicago building, tours will also discover the haunted, goosebumps-inducing past. Watch your step, a 134-year-old building is bound to have a few ghosts, including a persistent disembodied whistling in the stage door alley, specters that appear and disappear in the seats at night, the ghost of a man whose funeral was held on the Auditorium’s stage, and more. The Auditorium Theatre, designed by famed architects Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, opened on December 9, 1889, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975. ‘Spirited’ Thursday evening tours also include access to a cash bar.  The spooky- but not scary- tour is appropriate for all ages. Come in costume on October 29 for a special Halloween ghost tour that includes candy for kids of all ages.

Haunted History Tours at Lincoln Park Zoo (Tours run Tuesdays and Wednesdays through October at 7:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., $35 per person, must be 16+).

Join Adam Selzer, author, podcaster, and host of Mysterious Chicago Tours, for spine-tingling walkabouts that dig into the zoo’s cemetery roots and locations from throughout its allegedly haunted history.

Jane Addams Hull-House Museum Evening Ghost Tours (Select tours on Fridays October 20 and 27, at 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; $10 per person, recommended for ages 16+).

From its inception, the Hull-House Settlement was a center of urban legends and supernatural stories, as Chicago’s neighborhoods kept whispers alive about its supposed unearthly inhabitants. Today, Hull-House is a favorite stop on Chicago ghost tours and it is often hailed as one of the most haunted places in the country.

While they are spooky and fun, these stories stem from important conversations about religious beliefs and social norms, as well as the collective consciousness of the Hull-House neighborhood. For many, Chicago was a place of great hardship, plagued by a history of tragic events that left countless ghost stories in their wake, including those of Hull-House’s infamous Devil Baby and resident Lady in White. Guests will be led through the house by a Museum Educator and will have the opportunity to learn all about Hull-House’s haunted history. 

Night of 1,000 Jack-o-Lanterns at Chicago Botanic Garden (October 18–22  6:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.; tickets start at $19/$21 per adult, $13/$15 per child (age 3-12).

Monstrous vibes meet crisp fall evenings at Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns, where artist-carved pumpkins light your way through the Garden after dark. You’ll find costumed entertainers and live carving demos along our paved path, as well as seasonal light fare and drinks for purchase. 

Northalsted Halloween Parade (October 31, 2023; 6:30 p.m. -10:00 p.m. FREE to attend).


Join the vibrant and lively Halloween parade in Northalsted, complete with creative costumes and lively participants. The free parade is a spectacle of sights, frights & spooky mayhem concluding with an Awards Show, live performance & dance party. Gear up with Northalsted’s series of Halloween events throughout the month of October including Parade after parties and contests, the Lakeview Halloween Pup Crawl, Trick or Treat, and more.

The Séance Experience at Chicago’s Congress Plaza Hotel (Saturdays through October 28; tickets start at $25 per person).

The Séance Experience is coming to Chicago and will be conducting their popular live re-creations of authentic Victorian Era dark Séances at the Congress Plaza Hotel, said by many to be the most haunted place in city and one of the most haunted hotels in America! Noted sightings at the historic hotel include the likes of former hotel residents: Al Capone, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Houdini among others. The séances are slated at the historic downtown Chicago hotel in an area not usually opened to the public. Authentically re-created exactly as conducted in the 1800’s, séances are scheduled inside an actual room built in 1893 using antique séance artifacts also dating from the 1800’s.

For more Chicago events, visit Choose Chicago.