You don’t need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of fun things to do all around the city. Here are 10 of our favorite free events and activities this month in Chicago, including exciting cultural celebrations, free museum days, holiday adventures, and so much more. Start planning your budget-friendly Chicago adventures for December 2022.
1. Admire an iconic New Year’s Eve fireworks show
Ring in the new year on the waterfront with a festive atmosphere and mesmerizing fireworks at the stroke of midnight. Head to Navy Pier to watch the midnightNew Year’s Eve fireworks display against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and the lit-up skyline. The spectacular display can be seen along the lakefront, but the best views are from Navy Pier itself. Admission to the Pier is free.
2. Explore Christkindlmarket
Christkindlmarket is back! The beloved Chicago tradition turns the downtown Daley Plaza into a bustling holiday market, filling the air with the scent of roasted nuts, fresh pretzels, and hot spiced wine. Admission is free to come in and peruse artisan goods, imported German gifts, and handmade holiday decorations. You can even catch cultural activities and family-friendly events. The market closes for the season on Dec. 24.
3. Discover Kwanzaa traditions
Learn about cultural practices and celebrate the season during this free Kwanzaa Observance Program at the DuSable Black History Museum on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. The event is designed to bring families together and honor traditions with a drum call, marketplace, children’s storytime, and more. Afterward, take some time to explore the DuSable’s many engaging exhibits on Black history.
4. Go ice skating in Millennium Park
Nothing says “winter in Chicago” like gliding around on one of the city’s magical ice skating rinks. One favorite spot is the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, which is open for its 21st season from Nov. 18 until March 5. This free-admission rink in Millennium Park is nestled in the shadow of Cloud Gate, known as “The Bean,” and the glimmering lights of Michigan Avenue. Note that free online reservations are required, and skate rentals are available for a fee.
5. Be dazzled by the official Christmas Tree
For more than 100 years, the city of Chicago has celebrated the holiday season by prominently displaying the official Christmas Tree in Millennium Park. Situated close to the intersection of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue, the impressive 55-foot Colorado Blue Spruce is decked out with thousands of twinkling lights. The tree will stay up through Jan. 9, 2022.
6. Bask in the glow of ZooLights
More than one million lights make up the mesmerizing displays at ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. This year’s family-friendly holiday event, set in the city’s historic lakefront zoo, includes brand-new light shows, photos with Santa, and live entertainment. Tickets are $5 online, but admission is free every Monday in December. ZooLights ends on Jan. 1.
7. See the world’s largest video art show
Art on theMART is a can’t-miss Chicago experience. The free shows light up the Chicago Riverwalk with stunning light displays every evening at 7:30 and 8 p.m. Grab a spot near the water and enjoy vivid projections. This winter, the program has partnered with Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet to bring The Nutcracker to life on a grand scale, as well as local designers and educators to present Chicago Design Through the Decades. Catch these mesmerizing seasonal shows through Dec. 30.
8. Enjoy a free museum day
Spend an afternoon wandering through a Chicago museum, where you can dive into fascinating history, provocative contemporary art, and galaxies far, far away. Here are the upcoming free museum days in Chicago this month:
You can also visit one of the city’s always-free museums, like the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Hyde Park Art Center. And check out free museum days throughout the year.
9. See a winter flower show
Named the best garden in North America, Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush wonderland of plant life from all over the world. At the conservatory’s Winter Flower Show exhibit, admire the illusion of a snow-covered garden full of sweet alyssum flowers, fragrant geraniums, poinsettias, and more through Jan. 8. The conservatory is free; donations are accepted.
You can also swing by the Lincoln Park Conservatory for its spectacular winter flower show, Sugar Plum, which runs until Jan. 7. The display highlights enchanting scenes inspired by The Nutcracker and colorful blooms like purple heart spiderwort and pink poinsettias. Admission to the show is free, but reservations are required.
10. Explore a new neighborhood
Whether it’s you’re a first-time visitor or a long-time resident, there’s always something new to discover in Chicago. Get to know a new neighborhood on a free Chicago Greeter tour, led by a friendly local who will show you each neighborhood’s landmarks, hot spots, and hidden gems.
For example, experience an urban melting pot in West Ridge, featuring plenty of international grocers and authentic restaurants. Become immersed in the historic communities of Washington Park and Woodlawn, which are home to a lively art scene, must-try eateries, and an abundance of landmarks. Or take a cultural journey with an immersive visit to the historic Chinatown neighborhood.