Call it the Windy City, the Second City, or Chi-town. Chicago is a world-class city, a town I love, and it’s a place I once called home.

Although Chicago is a great spot to visit any time of year, there is something special about coming here during the holidays. With the storefronts lit up and holiday music filling the air, there’s a palpable buzz that can be felt throughout the entire holiday season. And, despite the sometimes frigid temperatures, Chicago is a popular destination for holiday shoppers and tourists alike.

If you’re heading to Chicago during the holidays, there’s definitely not a shortage of things to do. Luckily, there are also plenty of activities to fit anybody’s budget, but finding the best fit for your family takes a little research. Here’s a short list of the best things to do in Chicago during the holidays to get you started.

Visit the Magnificent Mile

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is a popular tourist attraction no matter the time of year, but it takes on a special significance during the holidays. Shoppers obviously love making their way down Michigan Avenue, hopping from one department store to the next. But even if you don’t intend to shop, you can still enjoy the holiday lights lining the entire Magnificent Mile. As you might expect, the storefronts are decked out in all their holiday glory too. But here’s the best part: It’s totally free!

Just a block off the Magnificent Mile sits another popular holiday spot, the gigantic tree inside Macy’s “Walnut Room.” (For the traditionalists in the room, this store used to be Marshall Fields!) The enormous tree stands about 45-feet high, is adorned with over 3,000 ornaments, and boasts twice as many lights. Again, it doesn’t cost anything to go in, although I’m sure Macy’s wouldn’t mind if you picked up a gift or two while you are there.

Check Out Lincoln Park Zoo

One of my favorite spots in all of Chicago is the Lincoln Park Zoo. Located near the lake in the heart of the city’s North Side, the zoo feels like it’s a million miles away from the city…although you can get some great views of downtown while you’re there. Best of all, the zoo is open every day of the year. Plus, it’s FREE!

During the holiday season, the property transforms into a spectacle they call ZooLights. The holiday festivities include musical light shows, ice sculpture carving, holiday snacks and drinks, as well as visits with Santa. It’s a fun and festive event that the whole family can enjoy.

Head to Millennium Park

Speaking of holiday events in Chicago, don’t miss out on what’s happening at Millennium Park. Here, you’ll find Chicago’s official city Christmas Tree hanging out with the famous (and very shiny) Cloud Gate sculpture affectionately known as “The Bean.”

Of course, that’s not all that’s going on at the park. Be sure to hit the ice by taking part in the free ice skating at the park! This has become a Chicago tradition, with over 100,000 skaters visiting the rink each year. If you bring your own skates, you can skate for free. Rental skates are also available for about $10.

Warm Up at Shedd Aquarium and/or The Field Museum

Let’s face it, Chicago can get really cold during the winter months. There’s no telling when the temps might dip below zero or the next round of “lake effect” snow might blow in. When the weather gets too nippy to enjoy some outdoor fun, it’s good to have some indoor options available.

Of all the things to do in Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum are my two favorites. With over 32,000 sea creatures and a sweet dolphin show to boot, the Shedd Aquarium is a fun place to bring the entire family. Likewise, Chicago’s Field Museum is filled with ancient artifacts from around the world – including a mummy, an impressive Chinese exhibit, and the world’s largest T. Rex skeleton. Both of these attractions are included on the Chicago CityPASS and the all-inclusive Go Chicago Card. I’d highly recommend either for your trip to Chicago!

Spend Some Time at Christkindlmarket

Looking for good food, great drinks, and a Christmas village feel? Every year since 1997, Daly Plaza transforms into Christkindlmarket, Chicago’s largest open air holiday market.

Conceptualized using a 16th century German market as its guide, Christkindlmarket has a distinctive European flair to it. Here, you’ll find traditional German foods (like potato pancakes, sausages, and sauerkraut) as well as drinks (like beer and spiced wine). You can also do a little holiday shopping. You’ll also find dozens of merchants selling Christmas crafts including nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, and more. Again, it’s a great event you can enjoy with the whole family.

Wrapping Up

Even though I no longer live there, I’ll always have a special spot in my heart for Chicago. While it’s a great place to visit any time of year, the Windy City definitely comes alive during the holidays.

With so many things to do, I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful. Enjoy your holidays in Chicago. Until next time, happy traveling!