Chicago is about an hour and a half drive from where I live, and I like to go downtown with my family during the Christmas season. Sometimes we go before Christmas; other times we go just after Christmas. Here are some of the highlights that we have enjoyed and look forward to again this year:
When we go downtown Chicago at Christmas time, Macy’s Department Store is usually our first stop. There is a Starbucks in one corner of the store – coffee or hot chocolate is our first fuel for the day. We make a quick walk through the store, admiring the decorations and often, the designer bags or other luxuries. If we plan to eat at the Walnut Room, we make a trip up the elevator to the seventh floor to pick up a pager.
We usually take the escalators back down, stopping to shop if something catches our eye. We always have to take a detour through the Christmas shop. We view the Tiffany ceiling on our way out to see the windows.
The windows change every year, although it is not uncommon for the designers to use some parts for a couple years. My favorite theme was from a few years back, when the windows featured letters to Santa from children all over the world.
Christkindlmarket is the traditional German market held in Daley Plaza from the Friday before Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Just 20 years old, the market is now the largest in the United States. I especially love the hand-painted glass Christmas ornaments available in several shops. The market offers food and candy vendors in addition to sellers of a variety of gifts and ornaments.
The Walnut Room
If we’ve arrived in Chicago early enough, we may be able to get in to the Walnut Room for lunch. The Walnut Room is on the seventh floor of Macy’s and features dining tables surrounding a two-story tall Christmas tree. We’ve eaten there several times, always requesting a table close to the tree. The atmosphere is unequaled and the food is great.
Holy Name Cathedral
Another place worth visiting is Holy Name Cathedral. The cathedral was built after the Church of the Holy Name and the Cathedral of Saint Mary were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Holy Name Cathedral was dedicated in 1875. It was built in the Gothic revival style. It is a beautiful place to visit even if you do not attend a service.
The church building is 233 feet long and seats 2000 people. A noticeable feature inside the church is the resurrection crucifix, designed by Ivo Demetz, that is suspended over the altar. There is a large 71-stop organ at the west end of the church and a smaller one in the south chancel.
Cardinal Blase Joseph Cupich was installed in November of 2014 as a bishop. He became a cardinal in 2016.
Midnight mass is held on Christmas Eve each year. The (also televised) service is a beautiful way to begin the Christmas celebration. If you are interested in attending the service, be aware that you need to order tickets ahead of time.
North Michigan Avenue
In the afternoon, we might walk or take a taxi to North Michigan Avenue for a bit of shopping. Although we do mostly window shopping, occasionally we find something we “need.” The avenue is lined with lighted trees – a beautiful sight.
Some years we have ascended to the observatory of the John Hancock tower, now known as 360 Chicago. The observatory has windows all the way around so there is a full view of the city along the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s fun to watch the sun set and see the lights come on from this viewpoint.
If we’ve eaten lunch at the Walnut Room, we will want to find something different for dinner. We could eat German sausages at Christkindlmarkt, hot dogs at Portillo’s or Chicago Pizza at Giordano’s. We like eating at The Berghoff, a German restaurant established in Chicago in 1898. We’ve also enjoyed Italian food at Eataly or Vapiano. There are too many choices to list them all here.
Millennium Park and “The Bean”
If we have time and the weather is agreeable, we will visit Millennium Park and see Cloud Gate, also known as “The Bean.” The sculpture is a delight in daylight or at night. Ice skating is available in the park for no charge if you bring your own skates.
At the edge of the park, the wreathed lions guard the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago, always worth a visit.
These are just some of the highlights of Christmas in Chicago. You can spend a day or more, depending on how much you’d like to see.
What city do you live closest to – Chicago? Or somewhere else? Do you visit at Christmas? Tell us about your favorite spots in the comments below.