The winter break is a great opportunity to take advantage of all Chicago has to offer. Warm up in one of the city’s botanical gardens, browse for unique holiday gifts (and craft brews) at a locally sourced market, check out some live music, visit one of the city’s lesser-known museums, or get out of town altogether and discover the art, food, and museums of nearby Milwaukee.
Holiday events: Waveland Bowl’s Hanukkah celebration Lights and Strikes promises champagne, cocktails and, of course, bowling (Dec. 7). Traditional Christmas spirit abounds at the Christkindlmarket (through Dec. 24) and Millennium Park’s Caroling at the Cloud Gate. For something more irreverent, A Q Brother’s Christmas Carol sends up Dickens’ classic tale as “the ghosts of Hip-hop Past, Present, and Future lead Scrooge on a journey of rhythm, rhyme, and redemption”. The Lincoln Park ZooLights, seemingly more excessive each year, runs through Jan. 3.
Shopping: Looking for unique holiday gifts? The organizers of Dose Market have curated the best local food, fashion, and more for Holidose (Dec. 13). Sauced Night Market at Logan Square’s Emporium Arcade promises shopping with a side of craft beer (Dec. 15).
Art & culture: Take advantage of your student discount at the Art Institute (where the Thorne miniature rooms are currently decorated for Christmas, the Chinese New Year, and Hanukkah). Admission is free at University of Chicago’s SMART Museum of Art and the newly opened, contemporary art spot the Stony Island Arts Bank. Along with the largest, most complete T. Rex ever found and an impressive collection of mummies, the Field Museum is now hosting The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great.
Activities: Warm up with tropical palms and orchids at the (free!) Lincoln Park Conservatory, or catch the Green Line to the Garfield Park Conservatory for their Solarise: a sea of all colors exhibit. If the cold doesn’t faze you, join the ice skaters at Millennium Park.
Film: Adler After Dark is hosting an unofficial Star Wars: the force awakens movie release party (Dec. 17). The Music Box Theatre is showing several Christmas-themed films (including National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and a sing-along White Christmas).
New Year’s Eve and beyond: Chicago is amping up its New Year’s celebration this year with Chi-town rising, featuring three stages of live music and a big fireworks display along the Chicago River (Dec. 31). The Tomorrow Never Knows music fest will include rising talent at a variety of local venues (Jan. 13-17).
Need a break from Chicago? Milwaukee is a quick and easy train or car ride away and offers plenty of attractions for a day-trip or weekend. The famed Milwaukee Art Museum, open after a recent renovation, is just minutes away from an array of shops, art galleries, and restaurants in the walkable Historic Third Ward neighborhood. The Harley Davidson Museum tells the story of America’s iconic motorcycle and includes an impressive gallery of bikes. And, of course, a visit to Brew City isn’t complete without a brewery tour—take your pick. There are 14 Amtrak trains daily between Chicago and Milwaukee; click here for the full schedule and ticket options.