A Guide to Chicago Winter Festivals
As we bundle up for winter in Chicago, it’s hard to not reminisce about summer festival season. Those were free and easy days, filled with sun, Hawaiian t-shirts, and great music at Lollapalooza, Riot Fest, and countless neighborhood festivals. But even though winter nixes many outdoor celebrations, there are plenty of indoor festivals here in the city to keep things festive during the cold.
Winter Chamber Music Festival
January 12-28: Northwestern University
Evanston’s Northwestern University invites classical music aficionados to enjoy a prestigious lineup of quartets, ensembles, and soloists. The Winter Chamber Music Festival spans three weekends, with discounts on tickets available for seeing multiple performances.
Tomorrow Never Knows (TNK)
January 17–21: Multiple Venues
TNK has kept winter in Chicago interesting for over a decade. Spanning over five days, the festival features nationally touring acts, local bands, and comedians at venues including Schubas, Lincoln Hall, Metro, Smart Bar, and The Hideout. Headliners include Destroyer, Hinds, Diane Coffee, and No Age, and more TBA.
“Cash for Kids” Johnny Cash Festival
January 20: Irish American Heritage Center
Join the Irish American Heritage Center in Irving Park in Chicago. Headlining is Hayden Thompson, a Rockabilly Hall of Fame Member and an artist with Sun Records — which, as country music fans will know, was the record label to first record Johnny Cash. Catch several more foot-stomping groups that night like Chicago favorite The Waco Brothers and Nashville’s Flying Buffalos. Admission is $20 at the door and $15 if bought in advance. All proceeds benefit the Gompers Park Athletic Association for youth baseball and softball programs, so dust off your cowboy boots and mark your calendar.
Chicago Ale Fest
January 20: Navy Pier
Head to Navy Pier in Streeterville to celebrate America’s best craft beer at the Chicago Ale Fest. Separated into two sessions, the Chicago Ale Fest features over 150 craft beers and local food trucks. Buy your tickets in advance - which range from $49 to $75 - for early entry.
January 27: Dank Haus German American Cultural Center
The Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce host its annual Winter Brew at Dank Haus German American Cultural Center. Throughout the festival, breweries from across Chicago will present their best brews, some offering limited release beers. Ticket prices have not been announced yet.
Uppers & Downers Festival
February 24: Thalia Hall
This festival features all things beer, coffee, and coffee beer. In two sessions, flavor curators from Good Beer Hunting and a World Barista Champion, Stephen Morrissey, present coffee and beer collaborations sure to keep you buzzing in Pilsen’s Thalia Hall. Head to their website to see the full session schedules.
Holiday Markets and Events
November 17 - December 24: Multiple Locations
A Chicago tradition since 1996, this market is a holiday destination in the city. Visit their three locations in Naperville, the Loop, and Wrigleyville. Each market features local vendors, traditional German food & drink, and holiday entertainment. The Christkindlmarket is open daily and admission is free.
Randolph Street Market Holiday Market
December 16-17: Plumbers Hall
The locally popular Randolph Street Market once again brings their market indoors this winter. Perks of this indoor holiday market include free gift wrapping, free parking, and free delivery in the West Loop area. General admission is $10 and students pay $5.
November 24–26; December 1–3, 8–23, 26–31; January 1–7, 2018: Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park’s ZooLights run from November to January, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to check out the festivities. Enjoy warm spiced wine and holiday snacks while viewing 3D light displays, live ice carving, and musical light shows. Admission is free.
December 1- January 7: Navy Pier
Stay warm and still celebrate winter at this indoor festive carnival. Located in Streeterville’s Navy Pier, the Winter WonderFest runs for over a month and features attractions like a toboggan tunnel, winter mini golf, and a 15-foot sledding hill. Admission ranges from $12 to $27 for individuals, with ticket packages available.
Renegade Craft Holiday Fair
December 2-3: Bridgeport Arts Center
Support independent makers at the Renegade Craft Fair, located at the Bridgeport Arts Center in Bridgeport. This fair includes DIY workshops, festive food and drink, and plenty of handmade gifts for purchase. Admission to the fair is free.
Logan Square Indoor Farmers Market
November 5- March 25: Emporium Logan Square
Emporium Arcade Bar in Logan Square is the new home for this neighborhood farmers market. Because the space is a bar, you’ll need to bring your ID. The Logan Square Indoor Farmers’ Market is every Sunday and also features performances from local musicians.