Home Travel Chicago at Christmas – what is there to see and do

Chicago at Christmas – what is there to see and do

by Clarence D. Staley
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Chicago Skydeck

I’m in my own personal snow globe. I’m 1,353ft up at Skydeck, atop Willis Tower, what for a quarter of a century was the world’s tallest building. I’m also 4ft out from the side in a glass box, The Ledge, in the middle of a cloud and it’s snowing a storm.

Winter here in Chicago is a wonderland. When the cloud parts I can see white dappled skyscraper roofs and a wealth of twinkling Christmas lights, the chilly waters of lake Michigan stretching into the distance.

The Christkindlmarket

And they do Christmas properly here. The Christkindlmarket on Daley Plaza is a frenzy of gluwein drinking, pretzel eating and ornament buying, a world of wooden huts that would do Europe proud. In fact it’s run in conjunction with Nuremburg whose market dates back to the 16th century; this one has been ho-ho-hoing for nearly a quarter of a century and you’ll even find German stallholders.

The previous evening Christmas was up and running with the official lighting, amid a crowd of thousands, of the city Christmas tree in Millennium Park, a 60-footer, donated by one of dozens of families who contest the right to have their own tree chopped down to cheer the city. The ceremony was hosted by Miguel Cervantes, star of the city’s production of the musical Hamilton, and involved Cozi Zuehlsdorff, star of Disney’s new Freaky Friday TV movie, alongside mayor Rahm Emanuel, once a bigwig in Bill Clinton’s presidential team. Nearby there’s jollity as crowds in mittens and mufflers tackle the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon, an oval track running through the trees.

The Magnificent Mile

Next night is even more Christmassy with thousands lining Michigan Avenue, known as the Magnificent Mile for its extravagant shops, for an hour-long parade involving those massive floating balloon characters, the biggest school bands you’ve ever seen, dozens of floats and, of course Santa. It ends with trees along the mile erupting into light before the skyscrapers act as a mirror backdrop to a firework spectacular.

Museum of Science and Industry

At the Museum of Science and Industry (proud owner of a captured German U-boat) a four-storey tree sits inside the vast building, with 50-plus trees highlighting cultures from around the world – the Philippines gets coconut and bamboo while England is crowns, photos of the royals and, mistakenly, Union Jacks.

Four Seasons hotel

Christmas is everywhere, not least the elegant Four Seasons hotel (with the city’s highest rooms, on the 46th floor), sitting above Bloomingdale’s department store and the other shops of 900 North Michigan, a posh mall which has its own tree-lighting spectacular with wine and fizz, and where brand new Aster Hall gives the food courts a private members’ club air with 16 boutique offerings serving local produce, from seafood to hotdogs, smoked meats to chocolate.

Chicago shopping and restaurants

Near the banks of the Chicago River, department store Macy’s, with its grandiose Tiffany’s ceiling, is an exquisite place to shop at any time of year but in winter the Walnut Room, a magnificent dining hall dating from 1905, the country’s first department store restaurant, is a treat. Its 45ft tree towers over the Great Tree Buffet (running into January), where for $25.95 (about £20) I can tuck into as much lobster bisque, cider-glazed turkey (and much more) as I want.

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