The idea of visiting Chicago in winter paints a perfectly chilly picture – so chilly you would instantly forget about packing your suitcases. In reality, winter is magical in the Windy City and for this reason, we will give some of the best things to do in Chicago in December before you change your mind.
Chicago is an eclectic and diverse city, full of possibilities for exploration. As an international hub for fun, dining, and nightlife it sure won’t leave you indifferent. Before we dive into that infinite pool of possibilities, let’s see what you can expect weather-wise.
Weather in Chicago in December
Does it get cold in Chicago in December? – It certainly does. But does it mean you should give up on visiting it at that time – not at all!
If you remember the icy winter at the break of 2019, you’d probably shudder to think about going to Chicago. It was so cold that the city’s crews had to set train tracks on fire in order to combat the freezing temperatures and keep the trains running. Luckily, forecasts predict a somewhat milder winter this time around. To be more precise, December will see the average temperatures around 36°F, which is 4 degrees above average.
When it comes to rain and stormy weather, WeatherSpark assures us that “the chance of a wet day over the course of December is decreasing, starting the month at 23% and ending it at 18%.”
All things considered, you should have a great time provided that you stack up on warm clothes and a sound plan for your itinerary.
So let’s see what are the things you can do in Chicago in December.
1. Color Your Visit in a Winter Garden
If you want to dispell the winter cold and add a touch of color to your Chicago visit, you should definitely check the magnificent indoor conservatories and winter gardens. Lincoln Park Conservatory will take you on a botanical journey across flower-filled gardens, the Nature Boardwalk, and the Lincoln Park Zoo.
This is not the end, though. Garfield Park Conservatory sprawls across 2 acres of green space and it’s rightfully nicknamed “the landscape art under glass”. Don’t forget about Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier and Harold Washington Library winter garden – beautifully built glass atriums with thriving greenery and vast spaces to lose yourself in. You’d never guess but there is no admission fee to any of these gardens so it’s a great opportunity to see this side of Chicago if you’re on a budget.
Read more: The Warmest December Beaches in Florida
2. Marvel the Underwater World at Shedd Aquarium
As one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, Shedd Aquarium is justly designated a National Historic Landmark. Not only is it one of the most popular cultural attractions in Chicago but it’s also the place where visitors can admire the aquatic creatures and learn the importance of wildlife conservation.
With over 32 000 animals from all corners of the world, don’t be surprised to come face to face with belugas, giant octopus, jellies, sharks, and penguins. There are regular exhibits, especially in the Abbott Oceanarium, the Caribbean Reef, Polar Play Zone, and in the Amazon Rising. The elaborate program of the aquarium will keep you entertained regardless of how old you are – there are various activities for families, youth, adults, and the youngsters. The aquarium is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
3. Get Classy at the Art Institute of Chicago
This is a no-miss location for anyone with a knack for art. As one of the oldest museums in the states, it has welcomed many significant names, including Van Gogh, Wood, Picasso, Chagall, and many, many more.
At present, you can witness some of Warhol’s biggest accomplishments, appreciate the innovative Bauhaus movement and its works, or marvel the intricate drawings of Rubens and Rembrandt. All of these exhibitions will be taking place until mid-January so the time is on your side. The museum is open daily from 10:30 am to 5 pm although it will work until 8 pm on certain dates.
4. Explore The Museum of Science & Industry
In case you want to get all techy, Chicago has you covered too. The formidable collection of archival media from WWII, naval equipment and armament (including the only German submarine in the US), a coal mine, and science storms are only a tiny piece of what awaits the curious visitors. The best part is that you can take a journey through the museum on the Science Snoozium tour taking place at night on certain dates in December and beyond. The museum is open daily from 9:30 am to 4 pm unless there is a special event, which is frequently the case.
5. Grab a Bite at Every Step of the Way!
Apart from the wind and all that jazz, there is one more thing Chicago is famous for. That’s right – it’s the delicious food. Chicago-style hot dogs, the Italian beef sandwich, Chicago-style pizza, and many other signature dishes deserve an honorable place on this list. After all, is there a better way to explore Chicago in December than with your stomach full?
If you’re a foodie looking for the most delicious deep-dish pizza in Chicago, definitely head for Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, Giordano’s, or Gino’s East although there are a few more restaurants serving this iconic pizza variation. In case you’re after something meatier, go for the mouth-watering Italian beef sandwich or a hot-dog at Roma’s Italian Beef & Sausage, Bob-O’s Hot Dogs, or Mr. Beef and Pizza.
6. Burn Those Calories at an Ice-Skating Park
You can be John Cusack or Kate Beckinsale for one day at one of many ice skating parks across the city. Reviving that famous ‘Serendipity’ scene has never been easier if you’re in Chicago at this time of year.
Millennium Park, McCormick Tribune ice rink, and Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon get all festive and colorful for the holidays. You can rent a pair of ice skates and start twirling away illuminated by city lights.
Read more: Top Snowy Spots around the Globe
7. Go on a Shopping Spree at Woodfield Mall
You can’t really leave Chicago without spending a few dollars at the largest mall in the state of Illinois. Woodfield Mall is home to over 280 individual stores suitable for every wallet. Not to mention the discounts you can get with the holiday season in full swing.
Make sure to grab a bite at the Dining Pavilion, featuring the Cheesecake Factory, Rainforest Cafe, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, and many other bite-worthy options. If you’ve got little ones in tow, you can take them to play area or create long-lasting memory at the exclusive Santa Photo Special that will be held daily until 13 December.
8. Travel the Universe at Adler Planetarium
Get closer to the stars and celestial bodies at Adler Planetarium, located at Museum Campus, just a stone’s throw from Shedd Aquarium. You can take part in numerous featured events or simply enjoy the shows, including traveling to deep space on a ‘Destination Solar System’ tour or getting closer to dwarf planets on the ‘Planet Nine’ tour. The museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
9. Just Enjoy The View
It would be unfair not to mention the only thing to do in Chicago in December that doesn’t require any particular preparation. Of course, it’s the city itself.
Chicago is internationally recognized as the city where architecture stands out as the biggest trademark of all. Take in the famous Chicago Skyline from any of the bridges around Millenium Park, 360 Chicago Observation Deck, or Skydeck Chicago. Don’t forget your camera and prepare yourself to be enthralled by the view.
*Extra Tip: Grab the City PASS and get up to 50% discount on many of the attractions mentioned above.
So, put on your mittens and your scarf because the frosty December in Chicago offers so many things to do and see you will likely forget about the cold in no time.