Chicago Museums with Great Holiday and Winter Themed Exhibits

Chicago offers a myriad of festive and fun activities if you find yourself in our beautiful city during the holiday season with your family. Whether you happen to love museums or simply need a break from the cold, you should know that many Chicago museums put on special holiday or winter-themed exhibits this time of year. Here are three our family enjoyed recently:

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
Take your family on an exciting “trip around the world” by visiting this beautiful exhibit at the Museum of Science of Industry which is a long standing Chicago holiday tradition. The Museum’s main floor displays more than fifty 12-foot trees beautifully decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities representing their diverse culture and holiday traditions. This custom began for local families in 1942 as a United Nations Day salute to the Allies during World War II, and in its first year, only a dozen trees lined the Museum’s halls. Now the exhibit has grown into a forest of dazzling trees and homemade displays, created by dedicated volunteers.

From the United States to Guatemala, Norway to Italy and India to China, our family marveled at beautifully trimmed trees, each covered with colorful and culturally specific decorations and accompanied by a short description of its countries’ distinctive holiday traditions. What a great opportunity to learn about different holiday customs from around the world! We were especially excited to find a Christmas tree from Slovenia, the country of my origin. I can attest that the decorations were authentic and the Slovene holiday traditions were described accurately.

Christmas Around the World exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry
A Guatemalan Christmas tree, part of the Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

On the weekends and select weekdays, the museum’s visitors can also enjoy performances of various ethnic dance and choral groups on the Holiday Stage. We saw beautiful dancing from Belize accompanied by a narration of this country’s holiday customs.

Snow Much Fun
Not everything has to be holiday related when it comes to colder months. When the weather gets too chilly for playing outside, you can take your family to the Chicago Children’s Museum to have “winter fun” at the Snow Much Fun exhibit. No mittens, hats or scarves required! The exhibit is mostly targeted at younger kids, but my 10-year old had a blast starting a friendly “snowball” battle with his sister and several newly made friends using fluffy faux snowballs, which are provided in different sizes and ample quantities. Beside throwing “snowballs,” your kids will have fun building an “ice” fortress, twirling, gliding and spinning in their socks on Chicago’s coolest “ice” rink or dressing snow people with fun hats and shimmering fabrics. Of course, the rest of the museum offers all kinds of fun as well.

Snow Much Fun Exhibit at the Chicago Children's Museum
No hats, mittens or scarves required to enjoy the Snow Much Fun Exhibit at the Chicago Children’s Museum.

Winter Sky and World’s Largest Snowglobe
For another memorable experience, perhaps best suited to older kids and teens, bring your family to the Adler Planetarium to explore the spectacular sights of the winter night sky in the Winter Sky Live. This live show uses the power of real-time digital graphics technology to create an accurate scientific simulation of the current night’s sky. As we were told by the Adler’s astronomer during our recent visit, “Winter is one of the best times to observe the night sky due to longer nights and less moisture in the air.” Our family enjoyed viewing and learning about different seasonal constellations, visible solar system objects (watch out for those icy comets!) and, nature’s most impressive light show, the Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights.

Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Studying our galaxy after visiting the Winter Sky Live exhibit at the Adler Planetarium.

There’s more. Ever wondered what it would be like inside a snow globe? During the Season of Wonder (November 15 through January 5), the planetarium’s Grainger Sky Theater transforms into The World’s Largest Snow Globe after every regular show. The 70-foot-tall virtual snow globe allows the audience to have a truly unique Chicago winter experience by featuring scenes of many iconic Chicago locations such as the Millennium Park, the Wrigley Building or the Magnificent Mile. Before heading out, I recommend you check the planetarium website for exact times as show times change daily.

More Inspiration:

Know Before You Go

  • Chicago’s nickname is “The Windy City.”
  • Make sure to visit Millennium Park so that you can see the world-famous Bean!
  • Avoid visiting in the winter if you aren’t a fan of cold weather! The weather warms up around May.

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Vera H. Are you interested in traveling to Chicago? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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