Museum of Science and Industry Chicago - Christmas Trees Around the World

My favorite things to do in Chicago at Christmas.

It’s Christmas in Chicago…sort of. I mean, Christmas is this week, but just a couple of weeks ago people were wearing shorts — shorts — in the middle of December. So it hasn’t really felt like a typical, freezing, magical Chicago winter. Sure, it’s been getting colder. And, sure, it’s snowed a tiny bit, here and there. But there have been no negative degree days, no signs of a snowpocalypse. Not yet at least. And, personally, I haven’t really done any of my favorite things to do in Chicago at Christmas. You know, those things that are so quintessential to the holiday, that surround you in lights and merriment holiday cheer. So that holiday feeling, that Christmas spirit, that joy, hasn’t really hit me.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love the mild winter so far. I don’t really like the cold, don’t really like having to wear thirty layers just to take out the garbage, and spend most of the chilly months in hibernation. I also don’t look forward to the higher heating bills, especially since I can’t really get my windows to close all the way… So, I’ll take the mild temperature. But it just hasn’t really felt like Christmas yet.

I always do one or two of the best Christmas things to do in Chicago. But, in reality, Christmas always sneaks up on me. I always say I’m going to catch the Nutcracker at the Joffrey, sing at a do-it-yourself Messiah, walk through the Zoo lights at Lincoln Park Zoo, or go ice skating at one of the many parks hosting a rink. And I never do.

This year was no exception and it took all my might just to trim my (tiny silver) Christmas tree and wrap all my presents.

Small Silver Christmas Tree with teal ornaments.
My small silver Christmas tree. I put it up every year I have a place to live…(Also — sneak peek at my dining room!)


Christmas presents under my tree.
All my presents are bought and wrapped! How are you doing with Christmas shopping???


This year, between stress and bronchitis and myriad of other things, I’ve done nothing for the holidays and certainly none of the classic things to do in Chicago for Christmas.

It’s OK, though, there’s always next year and the next. And I can reflect on some of my favorite things to do for Christmas in Chicago, some of the things I’ve done in past years, some of the things I’ll surely do again and that you should too, if you’re ever in the city in December. Because whether you live in the city or suburbs or are visiting from far away, spending Christmas in Chicago should be on everyone’s winter bucket list.



My favorite things to do in Chicago at Christmas:


Christmas Around the World at The Museum of Science and Industry

Every year The Museum of Science and Industry presents Christmas Around the World, a hall full of Christmas trees decorated for countries around the world. The Museum of Science and Industry Christmas trees have always been one of my favorite things to do in Chicago during Christmas. I guess it’s ironic because I loved the globally-themed trees well before I loved to travel. But now that travel is pretty much my life I love them even more. I went to see the display last winter and it was fun seeing all the trees decorated for all the countries I’ve been to and all the others I want to go to someday. Even if they’re maybe not the most authentic decorations, and even if the country isn’t known for celebrating Christmas…



CTA Holiday Train

The CTA Holiday train, AKA the Santa train, is a big deal in Chicago. Each winter they decorate one El train in holiday decor: wrapped seats, special holiday ads, lights, candy canes, elves, and a special spot for Santa’s sleigh. The Chicago CTA Christmas train runs all the normal train routes, with special schedules for each line and pauses for a while at the last or first stop so people (children, mostly…) can visit with Santa. It’s a fun experience to catch and whether you want your picture with Santa or just want to get home from work it’s a must have item on your list of Chicago Christmas things to do. (I’m still not sure if they just decorate a train every year or if there’s a special train that’s kept in storage the other eleven months, but it tends to smell more like candy canes and less like piss than a normal train…)



Christkindlmarket — Chicago’s Christmas Market

Christkindlmarket is Chicago’s German Christmas market held at Daley Plaza each December. Little huts are set up from which you can buy ornaments and holiday knick knacks, from which you can get potato pancakes or sausages or goulash, from which you can get little boots full of glühwein or hot chocolate. The Chicago Christmas market is right downtown so it’s a fun stop to take a break for lunch or to meet friends after work or for a break from Christmas shopping on State Street.



Chicago Christmas-Themed Bars

Every winter, Chicago bars and restaurants transform into holiday wonderlands complete with extravagant decorations and libations. Christmas pop ups pop up all around the city, but a large cluster can be found in Wrigleyville. After the Cubs season ends, Wrigleyville bars hit a slump so they take advantage of the off-season to become winter destinations. Bars like Santa Baby, Elf’d Up, and Christmas Club go all out when it comes to Christmas decor. You can find Christmas bars outside of Wrigley as well, restaurants and bars throughout the city dress up for the holidays.



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These are some of my favorite things to do in Chicago at Christmas....what are yours?

Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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