Inspired by the Christkindlmarket in Nuremberg, Germany, this traditional open-air European holiday market is located right in the heart of Chicago’s Daley Plaza. Browse over 50 vendor booths for one-of-a-kind handmade treasures, including holiday ornaments, nutcrackers, beer steins, wooden and plush toys, and European chocolates while warming up on a traditional cup of Glühwein (hot spiced wine) served in a special collector’s edition Sweet 16 anniversary boot-mug. Dine on German delicacies, such as bratwurst, potato pancakes, and schnitzel. Sun-Thu 11am-8pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm. Nov. 23-Dec. 24. FREE. 50 W. Washington. 312/494-2175.
The city is all aglow this time of year, but nowhere is this truer than at Lincoln Park Zoo where the grounds are illuminated with over two million lights for the seasonal ZooLights extravaganza. Visit the polar bears and penguins while enjoying warm drinks, ice carvings, and visits with Santa. Open Nov 25-27, Dec. 2-4, 9-11, and nightly Dec. 16-Jan. 1. Closed Dec 24 & 25. 5pm-9pm. FREE. 2001 N. Clark. 312/742-2000.
3. Christmas Around the World
The halls are decked, and holiday singers and the sparkle of dozens of decorated trees greets you at the Museum of Science and Industry’s70th annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light. The Museum’s 45-foot Grand Tree takes center stage with more than 30,000 lights and 1,000 ornaments, and is surrounded by more than 50 smaller trees—beautifully decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities to represent various cultures and holiday traditions. Nov 17- Jan 9. Daily 9:30am-4pm. Check museum website for extended hours. Adults $15, seniors $14, children 3-11 $10. 57th and Lake Shore. 773/684-1414.
4. Winter Wonderland
The city’s highest Winter Wonderland returns for its 4th year. Sitting 1,000 feet above the Mag Mile, the John Hancock Observatory is chalk full of holiday fun for the whole family, including visits from Santa every Sat & Sun from noon-4pm. Kids Go FREE every day with adult admission, and families get a FREE photo with Santa every weekend. Nov 1- Dec 31. 9am-11pm. Adults (12+) $15, kids are FREE. Upon entering John Hancock Center, don’t forget to check out the complimentary Winter Wonderland Railroad display – Chicago’s largest model train exhibit. 875 N. Michigan. 888/875-VIEW.
5. Ice Skate at Millennium Park
Lace up your skates for a day of figure-eights at Millennium Park's McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, now in its 11th season. The ice rink is free and open to the public, and skate rental is available for $10. Mon-Thu noon-8pm, Fri noon-10pm, Sat 10am-10pm, Sun 10am-9pm. Michigan and Washington. 312/742-1168.
6. A Christmas Carol
Goodman Theatre's perennial holiday classic A Christmas Carol, consistently included among the Midwest's top-tier holiday events, returns for its 34th season. Nov. 18-Dec. 31. $25-$80. 170 N. Dearborn. 312/443-3800.
7. Afternoon Tea
Celebrate the custom of midday tea in the elegant surroundings of the Palm Court at the Drake Hotel. Their traditional Tea Lobby features live harp music performed 365 days a year and a large selection of Palm Court blended teas served with a selection of finger sandwiches, fruit breads, scones, and French pastries. Open Daily: 1pm-5pm, each seating last approximately one and a half hours. Harpist Performs: Mon-Fri between 2pm-4:30pm, and Sat-Sun between 1pm-5pm. Adults $35, children 4-12 $18. 104 E. Walton. Reservations are recommended, 312/787-2200.
8. Macy’s on State Street
Although the name has changed, the tradition remains the same. From the whimsically decorated State Street windows––which this year showcases the story behind “The Wish Factory”–– to the massive Great Tree rising through multiple stories of the building’s main atrium to the long lines of families waiting for a prime table at the base of the tree in the famous Walnut Room restaurant, this year’s celebration at Macy’s on State Street will give visitors plenty of reasons to believe. 111 N. State. 312/781-1000.
9. Winter WonderFest
Holiday spirits soar at the 11th annual Winter WonderFest celebration at Navy Pier. Featuring stunning décor, awesome rides, slides and attractions, plus an indoor ice-skating rink, Winter WonderFest remains a holiday favorite for the entire family. Find Santa Claus and his toy-making elves at the Family Pavilion Stage and tell Old St. Nick your wish for Christmas! Dec. 2-Jan. 8. Basic Activity Wristband for $15 includes all rides and activities with no ice skate rental. The Premium Wristband for $18 includes all rides and activities plus skate rental. Hours vary. Check website for more information. 600 E. Grand. 312/595-PIER
10. Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker
The world renowned Joffrey Ballet once again transforms the Auditorium Theatre into a winter wonderland full of magical toys and waltzing snowflakes during the annual production of Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker. Dec. 9-27. Tickets are $30-$115. 50 E. Congress Parkway. 800/982-2787.