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. 

Music

Courtesy of Northwestern

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.

Courtesy of TNK Fest

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.

Courtesy of Pinterest

“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. 

Beer Festivals

Courtesy of Chicago Ale Fest

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.

Courtesy of Lincoln Square

Winter Brew

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.

Courtesy of Sprudge

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

The Christkindlmarket

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.

By Eric Clarke / Courtesy of Randolph Street Market

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.

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ZooLights

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. 

Winter WonderFest

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. 

Courtesy of Original Santa Con

Chicago SantaCon

December 2: The Loop 

Put on a Santa suit and join this massive holiday bar crawl in the Loop. Chicago SantaCon is free and no registration is required - just drink responsibly and spread Christmas cheer. You can find the full SantaCon schedule on the official site.

Courtesy of Renegade Craft

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.

Courtesy of the Chicago Reader

Made in Chicago Market

December 3: Plumbers Hall

Another great opportunity for holiday shopping, the Made in Chicago Market showcases the best handmade goods in the city. You can find this market in Plumbers Hall in the West Loop. Both parking and admission are free.

Farmers Markets

Courtesy of 61Market / Instagram

61st Street Farmers Market

November - April 2018: Experimental Station 

This farmers market sets up shop in Woodlawn during winter. In addition to fresh produce, 61st Street Farmers Market also offers live music, chef demos, and a “Market School” lecture series on Saturdays. 

Courtesy of Green City Market

Green City Market

November - April 2018: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Green City Market starts “indoor season” at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park, starting in November. Each Saturday’s market has plenty of vendors and local products to choose from. 

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.

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