15 free holiday activities for kids in Chicagoland

As great as the holidays are in Chicago, we love the season even more when we can do some festive family activities for free! Start your holiday countdown by crossing off one of these can’t-miss free things to do all around Chicagoland.

Attend a tree lighting ceremony.

When: Through Dec. 6

Where: Various locations in the city and suburbs

There’s something warm about a community coming together in the cold, hot chocolates in hand, holiday music twinkling, waiting for the oohs and aahs as the city or village tree is lit. Here’s a list of tree lighting ceremonies around the Chicago area to see this holiday season.

See Art on theMart.

When: Through Dec. 31

Where: 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago

For the holidays, this digital art installation will display six winter images. There will also be a special New Year’s Eve showing on Dec. 31!

Take a sleigh ride.

When: Nov. 23-Dec. 23, Sundays

Where: Downtown Long Grove

The Victorian buildings of Long Grove are trimmed in lights for the holidays and a covered bridge and cobblestone walkways are lined in luminaries. During the Long Grove Holiday Festivities, there will be costumed carolers, strolling musicians and Santa and Mrs. Claus on weekends. The kicker is the free horse-drawn carriage rides on Sundays.

Walk around Naperville’s Naper Lights.

When: Nov. 26-Dec. 27

Where: Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville

Naperville is your designated suburb to celebrate the holidays, and Naper Lights is a great place to start. Walk through the Naperville Settlement grounds to see all the dazzling lights.

See the twinkling illuminations at ZooLights.

When: Nov. 29-Jan. 5 (select dates)

Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago

Lincoln Park Zoo celebrates the holidays by transforming the zoo into a dazzling winter wonderland. Walk through intricate seasonal and animal displays, which are decorated with more than two million lights. Check out the online schedule for select celebration days, including a holiday market and a tribute to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Take a Chicago holiday tour.

When: Nov. 15, 22, 29 & 30, Dec. 5-7, 12-14 & 19-24

Where: Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., Chicago

Get ready to see the best holiday spots in downtown Chicago. Free Tours by Foot is your tour guide with some stories behind Chicago’s popular holiday traditions. From visiting the Christmas tree at Millennium Park to stopping at the Christkindlmarket, it’s a tour suited for the whole family. Registration is required.

Join the Caroling at Cloud Gate.

When: Nov. 29, Dec. 6. 13 & 20

Where: Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago

As Buddy the Elf says, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Take the whole family out to sing some holiday classics right in front of The Bean. Local Chicago chorus groups lead the caroling in this exciting outdoor concert series.

Drive through a holiday lights show.

When: Nov. 29-Dec. 26

Where: Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Dr., Aurora

Drive-through more than a mile of spectacular lighted displays, many of which are animated and are illuminated by tens of thousands of bulbs. This year’s display features a 10-foot tall singing Christmas tree and four singing reindeer.

Visit a festive farmhouse.

When: Nov. 29-Jan. 6 (except Tuesdays)

Where: Kline Creek Farm, 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago

Discover Victorian holiday traditions and explore the lifestyle of a successful farm family as you tour the farmhouse museum. Learn how the home was a place for work as well as relaxation and how it served as the building block of the rural community. Tours offered on the hour.

Take a Christmas walk.

When: Dec. 6

Where: Downtown Hinsdale, Hinsdale

Take a ride on the 30-foot “Cookies Carousel” along with “Cookies Trackless Train.” Santa will arrive by fire truck at 5 p.m. for the tree lighting at Village Hall. There also will be animated holiday characters, ice carvers, live reindeer, and giveaways.

Enjoy holiday fun at Hyde Park Holly-Day.

When: Dec. 7

Where: Harper Court, 5235 S. Harper Court, Chicago

Spend a day exploring Hyde Park with so many fun holiday happenings. This mostly free event features an ice sculpture carving demonstration, costumed character appearances, a preview performance of The Nutcracker and so much more!

Dance along to The Nutcracker.

When: Dec. 8

Where: Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., Chicago

Your sugarplum fairies and mouse kings can join in on the fun of this holiday classic. On Dec. 2 at the Chicago Cultural Center, members of Ballet Chicago will teach basic ballet positions and later on, dancers of all ages will join the twirling ballerinas in a few performances.

Watch a holiday movie at a theater.

When: Dec. 14

Where: York Theatre, 150 N. York Street, Elmhurst

Enjoy “The Polar Express” on the big screen at York Theatre, then after the movie, stop by Elmhurst City Centre plaza to see the festive holiday display, take photos with Santa, and hear holiday tunes. Visit the Elmhurst History Museum booth to snap a Polar Express picture and pick up a coloring sheet.

Attend a local holiday concert.

When: Dec. 15

Where: Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road, Evanston

The Evanston Children’s Choir returns with its most popular concert of the year. Stop by Alice Millar Chapel to see the kids sing songs celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Take part in a Hanukkah celebration.

When: Dec. 17 & 18

Where: Barnes & Noble, Deerfield & Barnes & Noble Mellody Farm, Vernon Hills

Learn about the Jewish holidays with stories, songs and activities in a storytime especially for children ages 0-2. Older siblings are welcome at both events, one at Barnes & Noble in Deerfield and the other at Barnes & Noble Mellody Farm in Vernon Hills. Resources for celebrating the holidays in your home will be provided.


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This story originally published on ChicagoParent.com on Nov. 18, 2018 and has been updated with the most recent information.

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