The Best Christmas Pop-Ups in Chicago

Published on December 7, 2023

Even as the temperature plummets, Chicago comes alive in December thanks to the many pop-up events that can be found throughout the city. We’ve gone through the list and found our favorites. Check the websites for full details regarding tickets and times of operation.  Go to the eATLAS Adventures page to see all of our scavenger hunts & guided tours.

By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)

The granddaddy of all Christmas pop-ups is the Christkindlmarket. Inspired by the outdoor winter markets found all over Germany, the Christkindlmarket features booths with gifts from all over the world and Eastern European food. In recent years, it’s branched out from its original location in Daley Plaza to add markets at Wrigley Field (where it’s part of Winterland at Gallagher Way) and Aurora. Be sure to get your souvenir mug filled with hot chocolate, cider, or glühwein.

Another Chicago holiday tradition is ZooLights, where the Lincoln Park Zoo is brightened by more than 2.5 million lights on its paths. Visitors can enjoy hot chocolate and ride a 65-foot Ferris wheel, and you may even see an ice sculpture made before your eyes. Zoolights is free on Mondays (although reservations are required), $7 on other weeknights and $10 on the weekends.

Reindeer Games takes over Headquarters Beercade in River North for the season. Guests can immerse themselves in a colorful, Instagram-friendly environment and enjoy wintry cocktails like a Snowball Fight and a Partridge in a Pear Tree while playing vintage arcade games and pinball machines.

In Fulton Market, Jack Frost offers outdoor ice skating, winter bumper cars, axe throwing, plenty of drinks and photo opportunities in a two-acre space with more than 1 million lights. All ages are welcome, but you have to be 18 or over for axe throwing. Tickets for the experience range from $18 to $34.

Head all the way downtown to Streeterville, where Timothy O’Toole’s is throwing its annual Timmy’s Tinseltown in its Back Bar, with a special holiday food and drink menu. Timmy’s Tinseltown is open on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons.

LondonHouse’s 22nd floor bar has turned into Rudolph’s Rooftop, where you can sip hot or cold holiday cocktails while enjoying one of the best views of the Chicago skyline around. Groups of up to six people can reserve a private igloo that requires menu coordination with the staff.

For the 11th year, Lisle’s Morton Arboretum is putting on its Illumination: Tree Lights spectacular, where colorful light displays are projected onto the trees in ways that enhance their beauty. On Friday nights beginning at 9:30PM, the lights become synchronized to dance music for adults 18 years and older.

Similarly, Lightscape at the Chicago Botanic Gardens returns with art installations from around the world. In addition to favorites like the striking Winter Cathedral and the Sea of Light, there are newer pieces like the Electric Ribbon Tunnel and—for the first time—the garden’s Evening Island is part of the 1.3-mile path. 

In December, many bars along Clark St. in Wrigleyville transform for the holidays, with festive décor and plenty of food and drink specials. You can get infused with the Christmas spirit—and other spirits—at the newly renamed Santa’s Workshop at Old Crow Smokehouse, Christmas Club, Mistletoe, Grinch Stole Christmas, Elf’d Up, Jingle Junkie, and Santa Baby Bar. There’s even a Hanukkah pop-up, 8 Crazy Nights.

If your baseball loyalties prevent you from going to Wrigleyville, Parking Lot A of Guaranteed Rate Field is home to Light of Christmas. The drive-thru experience allows you to stay warm inside your car as you’re surrounded by lights that are synched to classic holiday tunes.

On the first floor of the historic Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, The Tank has been converted into Happy’s Holiday Pop-Up Bar. The décor, complete with wood-paneled walls and frosted glass, is kitschy and makes you feel like you’re celebrating the holidays in a North Pole rec room. Happy’s is open Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Krampus, the mythical Eastern European demon-goat who scares naughty children into being nice, is celebrated at DMen Tap in Avondale. The bar has partnered with Revolution Brewing to create the exclusive Fist of Krampus red ale, and, if you prefer mulled wine, you can get DMen’s glühwein in a boot-shaped souvenir mug.

The Lincoln Park location of Brando’s Speakeasy is celebrating the Evanston-based movie Mean Girls this year. The karaoke bar is wishing everybody a “Merry Fetch-mas” at its Jingle Bell Rock Xmas Pop-Up Experience, with a nightly Winter Talent Show and five holiday cocktails, plus ugly sweater contests and surprise visits from Santa.

Bounce Sporting Club in River North is forgoing red and green this year at Pink Wonderland. Organizers are promising an “amazingly over-the-top pink Christmas experience” with photo ops and live DJs, plus a 90-minute cocktail workshop that allows you to invent your own pink drink. Tickets range from $20-40.

Speaking of pink, the pop-up at Logan Square’s retro Pink Squirrel is called Tinseltown. In addition to its 10 Christmas-y boozy milkshakes, shots, and cocktails, Tinseltown has gingerbread house-making kits and two duckpin bowling lanes that require reservations.

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