This is our complete December guide on weather, what to wear, Christmas activities to pursue, and the best things to do written by our Chicago resident. During this month, you can travel to the Windy City fully prepared while getting into the holiday spirit.
While Chicago is really special and worth visiting throughout the month and around Christmas, there are some important things you need to keep in mind before visiting.
Find everything you need to know in this unique December guide!
Is December a Good Time?
With fun holiday events to attend December is a very good time to visit Chicago. The city features chilly, occasionally snowy weather and many exciting things to do. At the beginning of the month, crowds and hotel rates are lower. As the month continues, crowds increase, especially right before Christmas eve.
Chicago in December weather is on the colder side, with an average high temperature of 37°F (3°C). While there is a possibility of snow, the weather is generally drier in December. That means December is still a great month to enjoy outdoor activities.
The beginning of the month offers warmer temperatures with an average high of 43°F. As the month continues, the average high temperature drops to 34°F.
Wind: If the wind comes off Lake Michigan, the wind-chill factory affects the perceived temperature. A very cold December day coupled with the winds from the lake may knock your socks off.
The temperatures stay pretty constant throughout the days in December. Early mornings at the beginning of December stay around the mid-30s. Toward the end of December, the morning temperatures drop to the mid-20s.
💡 If you are getting too cold even with thick clothes, you can duck in and out of stores to keep yourself warm. Otherwise, a taxi always works as a last resort.
Average high temperatures in December:
- Early December: 43°F (6°C)
- Mid-December: 39°F (4°C)
- Late December: 34°F (1°C)
Typical temperature progression during a day in September:
- Morning: 36°F (2°C)
- Afternoon: 40°F (4°C)
- Late Evening: 37°F (3°C)
The warmest temperatures are found between 12 pm and 4 pm each day. Outdoor activities are best during this time, as the sun will make the temperature feel warmer. Evening activities will require layers and thick coats.
December has on average the lowest amount of sunshine in Chicago. Sunlight averages 9 hours and 11 minutes a day. The shortest days are between December 18 and 24.
Sunset occurs around 4:20 PM and sunrise around 7:10 AM. Keep the shorter amount of sunlight in mind when planning to photograph anything outside.
As the temperature drops, the likelihood of snow increases. Throughout the month, the average snowfall increases from 1” to 2.7” at the end of the month. There are usually about 2-3 days of snowfall during this month.
On most days in December, there is no snowfall. However, typically, there will be some snow at some point during the month. And while it usually only snows a few days in December, there’s still a chance for a white Christmas when visiting.
Snow removal: Even if there is more snow than usual in December, they usually clear it quickly afterward.
In general January and February have the most snow in Chicago, not December.
What to Wear
As December temperatures in Chicago are chillier, you’ll want to wear a heavier jacket or coat. Additional layers like Long Johns, leggings, long-sleeved shirts and warm boots are ideal for visiting during this month. Pack a warm hat and gloves for the cold mornings and evenings.
💡 In December everyone needs to bring a winter coat, sweaters, gloves, scarf, and a hat in Chicago. A good idea is thin socks that go under warm ones. Layered clothing is most suitable because indoors is often overheated.
Shopping: Most large stores have a coat check so you don’t have to carry your winter jacket around in the stores. You can also check in your shopping bags, which is very convenient.
The early mornings are chilly until the temperature starts rising at about 9 am. Because of this, you should wear extra layers, including a hat, gloves, and leggings/tights or Long Johns under jeans.
While the evening temperatures are not as cold, the absence of the sun makes the evenings feel chillier. If you’re planning to be out for the whole day and into the evening, make sure to wear or bring the above layers.
Boots or closed-toed shoes that rise above the ankles are a great option, as they will help keep the wind from hitting your skin directly and keep you warm.
During the daytime, you’ll find the warmest temperatures. On warmer days, fewer layers can be worn. At the beginning of December, you can skip the leggings, hat, and gloves during daytime excursions.
Toward the end of December, you’ll want to wear snow boots and consider wearing under layers like Long Johns even during the day. If a day is particularly windy, consider wearing a hat and gloves as it will make the temperature feel colder.
What to Wear List / Packing List
- Thick winter coat (necessary for walking around the city)
- Long underwear/long sleeve undershirt
- Jeans/thick pants
- Thicker sweaters
- Waterproof boots or comfortable shoes that rise over the ankles
- Long, thick socks (or two pairs of thinner socks)
- Hats, gloves, scarf
Crowds and Hotel Rates
In Chicago, crowds in December are the lowest at the beginning of the month. As the holidays arrive at the end of the month, it’s getting busy and the crowds increase significantly. During this time, more people visit their families in the city, and tourists are traveling to see the holiday lights.
Hotel and flight rates are also lower because of lower crowds at the beginning of the month. Toward the end of the month, rates increase to reflect more people visiting for the holiday season. If you plan on traveling during this time, book your tickets far in advance to avoid the higher prices.
Our hotel tips for December with some of the best locations, so you can walk to the most intriguing places:
Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park
The staff is super friendly, our beds were very comfortable, everything was 100% clean and its location is perfect for a December visit: It is only 1 block away from Millennium Park and Navy Pier. You can walk easily to so many hot spots. Also, close to Lake Michigan beach (20 minutes walk).
Trump International Hotel & Tower
This hotel offers spectacular views from every room! The view of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, or the city skyline is iconic. It’s simply the best location when visiting in December. Very convenient to join a hop-on/off bus tour, walk along the river or to the Navy Pier, walk to various restaurants and so many other area attractions. The rooms are luxurious, and spacious, with everything you need.
Home2 Suites By Hilton | Budget Tip
This is our favorite budget hotel in Chicago, especially for December! This is another hotel with an excellent location: It is located in Chicago’s River North district, a short walk from the Magnificent Mile’s (Mag Mile), shops, and restaurants. The Navy Pier, downtown, and the Chicago Loop are less than 15 minutes away. Another thing we loved when we stayed there: You can prepare your own food in the room.
There are many fun holiday events to attend while visiting Chicago in December, with many being free. Exploring the Lincoln Park Zoo when it’s decorated with Christmas lights is a favorite activity. You can also visit the Chicago Christmas Tree in Millennium Park, with holiday music playing in the background.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, here are a few of the top December events to check out.
- When: November 19 – December 24
- Where: 50 W Washington Street
- Price: Free
Christkindlmarket is one of our favorite events that occur in Chicago. This German holiday market features everything from handmade ornaments to delicious German food, festive music, Christmas lights, and warm hot chocolate.
It’s a great place to go holiday shopping or browse artisan-made items.
Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier
- When: November – January
- Where: Festival Hall at Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
- Price: $15 per person
This event at Navy Pier provides a great alternative to outdoor activity when the temperatures are too low. Light Up the Lake at Navy Pier includes an indoor ice-skating rink, Christmas music, a train for children to ride, a beer garden, and a visit with Santa.
Tickets include a ride on the temperature-controlled Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier.
Serenity: Winter Flower Show
- When: November 24
- Where: 300 North Central Park Avenue, Chicago, IL 60624
- Price: Free
Head to the Winter Flower Show if you need a break from the chilly weather and snow. This indoor display features blooming flowers with pleasant aromatics. The show is free and ideal for families who want to attend a unique winter event.
NYE Fireworks at Navy Pier
- When: December 31
- Where: Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
- Price: Free
Navy Pier is well-known for the impressive firework displays that it puts on throughout the year. On NYE, there is an especially magnificent show that occurs.
You can watch these fireworks from rooftop restaurants at Navy Pier. These fireworks are also shown on NBC 5 if the weather is too cold to brave.
More Things to Do
There are numerous fantastic things to do in Chicago, especially in December! Here are a few options you can choose from, including indoor activities for colder days.
Viewing Christmas Lights
Chicago is wonderful in December and really lights up for Christmas and you can experience the city’s best holiday light displays. Many places are decorated with millions of sparkling bulbs from November throughout December. You can find them find indoors and outdoor at many locations.
The most popular one is at Lincoln Park Zoo: The iconic ZooLights display is a must-see. Our list with the city’s most sparkling Christmas lights to get you and your loved ones into the holiday spirit:
- Lincoln Park Zoo: ZooLights
- Museum of Science and Industry
- Chicago Botanic Garden: Lightscape
- Art on theMart
- Magnificent Mile
- Navy Pier: Light up the Lake (see our tip in the ‘Events’)
- Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon: Wonderful Christmas lights east of Millennium Park
- Aurora Festival of Lights
Ice Skating in Maggie Daley Park
- When: November – February
- Where: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
- Price: $16-$22 per person with skate rental (depending on entry day)
Ice skating in Maggie Daley Park is another excellent family activity. The ribbon is the more recent of the two most popular skating locations in downtown Chicago. Double-check the skating direction before heading onto the ice – employees who will guide you before you reach the ice.
Tickets can be purchased online or in person. Keep in mind that tickets purchased at the venue will be more expensive than those purchased beforehand. For more information, take a look here: Magige Daley Park.
Museum of Science and Industry
- When: Year-round | Great in December
- Where: 213 W Institute Pl, Chicago, IL 60610
- Price: $10 entry fee
The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is fun to explore science on a cooler day in March! This is a year-round science study paradise, but particularly during the Chicago winters! With so many interactive exhibits and unique experiences, exploring the museum might take more than one day. So, it will definitely keep you entertained and educated on one or more unpleasant March days.
Field Museum of Natural History
- When: Year-round | Great in December
- Where: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
- Price: $26 ticket
The Field Museum of Natural History is worth visiting year-round, but especially in March. It holds over 35 world-renowned natural history exhibitions. Explore the subterranean life in the Underground Adventure exhibit.
Experience the gemstones in the Hall of Gems and one of the largest collections of Chinese jade in North America in the Hall of Jades. Check out the Ice Age mammoth hunters and the temples of the Aztecs. Finally, visit the Dinosaur Hall Evolving Planet exhibit
360 Observation Deck
- When: Open throughout the year
- Where: 875 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
- Price: $30 per person
If you spend only a few days in Chicago in March, the 360 Observation Deck is a must-visit. Soaring 1,000 feet over Chicago’s legendary Michigan Avenue, 360 is one of the city’s most impressive attractions.
Tickets to skip the line for a faster entry: 360 Observation Deck – Skip the Ticket Desk.
The Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour
- When: Year-round
- Where: 177 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601
- Price: $18 per person
The Chicago Theatre Marquee is an iconic location with elaborate architecture and lavish details. This movie theater was the original “movie palace” built in the US. Famous performers like Aretha Franklin and Duke Ellington have performed at this theater.
Take a one-hour tour to see the theater’s grandeur and behind-the-scenes areas like the dressing rooms.
Tickets and more information can be found here: The Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour.
Navy Pier Centennial Wheel
- When: Year-round
- Where: 600 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60611
- Price: $19.62 per person for standard entry, $30.52 per person for express entry
The Centennial Wheel is one of the most iconic activities in Chicago. This 200-foot Ferris wheel offers incredible panoramic views of the Chicago skyline, Lake Michigan, and Navy Pier. Each car is temperature-controlled so it’s a fantastic experience even on a cold December afternoon.
The standard tickets are great for times when there are fewer crowds. During more crowded periods like weekends, you can purchase express tickets to jump to the front of the line. If you have children under the age of 2, they can ride for free.
Tickets and more information can be found here: Chicago: Navy Pier Centennial Wheel Regular & Express Ticket.
Art Institute Tour
If you’ve never experienced the Art Institute in Chicago, we highly recommend visiting this location, primarily via tour. You’ll be able to recognize this famous building by the green lions that “guard” the exterior, which is also the meeting point for the tour.
Inside, you’ll be guided through sections of the museum that are filled with paintings, sculptures, and other mediums by the likes of Picasso and Rembrandt. Purchase tickets and find additional details here: Art Institute Tour.
- When: Year-round
- Where: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
- Price: $115.54 per person
Walking by Lake Michigan
During the winter, walking by the lake is an excellent way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Multiple routes can be taken; however, we’ve found walking near Navy Pier on the beach offers stunning views. Ensure to bundle up to avoid a chill, especially during nighttime walks.
- When: November through March
- Where: Lakefront trail off Fullerton Avenue
- Price: Free