Chicago’s location along the shores of Lake Michigan means that the city suffers from what’s known as “lake effect” weather, which is a nice way of saying that it gets cold here. Really cold. Like oh-my-god-I-think-my-eyeballs-just-froze cold. Add in the wind-chill factor, which can take the temperature down another 10-15 degrees, and it’s easy to see why there are far fewer tourists in Chicago during the winter months than summer.
But, those who do brave the cold and visit from December to March will find that there are plenty of wonderful activities to enjoy here all winter long.
Free Ice-skating in Millennium Park
The McCormick Tribune ice rink at Millennium Park is open from at least noon to 8pm (with extended hours on weekend) from late-November through mid-March. Wannabe Peggy Flemings can twirl their way around the ice for free on their own skates or for $10 with rental skates available at the rink.
Chicago Winter Dance takes place for several weeks every February and offers free ice-skating lessons on Saturdays and Sundays and free dance parties on Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm to 11pm. Before each dance party, professional dancers will conduct lessons in dance styles ranging from Latin, Cajun and Tango to Swing and Ballroom styles. The full schedule of lessons can be found online.
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Chicago’s annual Restaurant Week takes place every year in late February. Top restaurants from around the city design special three-course lunch and dinner menus priced at $22 for lunch and $32 for dinner. It’s the perfect time to splurge on a place you might otherwise not be able to afford, or to try a new spot with little risk.
Museum Free Days
Not only are Chicago’s museums nice and toasty inside while it’s freezing cold outside, but most of them offer free days throughout the months of January and February. In fact, museums like the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Art Institute and Museum of Science and Industry offer so many free days throughout these months that if you schedule your visit just right, you could enjoy free admission to a different museum every day for a week!
The Lincoln Park Zoo, the largest free zoo in the US, is open year round. While spring and fall are the best times to see active animals, winter may be the most beautiful time to visit as that’s when the whole zoo is lit up with thousands of twinkling lights. From late November to early January, the zoo hosts Zoo Lights, a festival of light and color when the zoo is open late (from 5pm to 9pm) and decorated with beautiful light displays.
It’s almost easy to forget the chill in the air during the excitement of the Christmas season. From mid-November through December, Chicago comes alive with the holiday spirit. Macy’s puts up elaborate window displays, the Daley Plaza Christkindlmarkt serves warming mulled wine and hearty German foods, and it’s even common to spot Santa Claus riding the rails on a special holiday el train.
Photo by mreioval