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Winter at Navy Pier: 8 Things to Do

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If you think Navy Pier only shines in the summertime, think again: Chicago’s top family tourist attraction is just as wonderful in the winter. 

From the second you pull into the heated indoor parking lot, you’ll have everything you need for a wintertime all-ages adventure. There’s shopping, Shakespeare, ice skating, snacks and so much more for every member of the family.

Here are eight ways to enjoy Navy Pier during the winter.

1. Celebrate the Season at Winter Wonderfest

It’s Chicago‘s biggest and brightest winter festival — and it’s all indoors. Winter Wonderfest transforms Navy Pier into a snowy wonderland with more than 170,000 square feet packed with entertainment for all ages. There’s an indoor ice rink, climbing wall, a glittering forest of beautifully decorated trees and winter-themed rides galore.

Be sure to check in with Santa Claus, who’s always on site and ready for photo opps. Little ones will enjoy the carousel, train, bouncy house and ball pits. Older kids will want to tube down Chicago‘s warmest sledding  hill, a dual lane 15-foot-high “snowy” hill for tubing. The entire family will love challenging one another to a game of holiday-themed mini-golf or squeezing onto the gigantic rocking chair for a holiday family photo. And don’t forget to decorate a freshly baked sugar cookie with frosting and sprinkles at the cookie cottage.

The Fifth Third Bank Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier takes place in Festival Hall and runs through Jan. 6, 2019. Check out complete calendar of events for more details.

2. Take a Spin on the Centennial Wheel
Navy Pier Chicago
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The famous Centennial Wheel spins year round from its perch at Navy Pier. In the wintertime, getting a birds eye view of the city dusted with snow is nothing short of spectacular. This iconic part of the Chicago skyline soars to heights of nearly 200 feet, offering visitors unparalleled, 360-degree views of Chicago and Lake Michigan.

No matter the season, the enclosed gondolas provide a comfortable, climate-controlled experience and jaw-dropped city views as well as state-of-the-art entertainment systems that narrate the entire experience. Tickets can be purchased online and at the Pier Park box office.

3. Settle in for a Shakespearean Masterpiece
Theater view of The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare
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The Chicago Shakespeare Theater serves as the cultural anchor at the Pier, with three distinct performance spaces: the Jentes Family Courtyard Theater, the Carl and Marilynn Thoma Theater Upstairs, and The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare. The Yard, with mobile audience towers that can be arranged in multiple ways, has become known as one of the most flexible performance spaces in the world.

Every year, Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents epic plays and musicals through its outstanding Subscription Series, world premieres of new works, and magical performances for families. Plan your visit in advance by exploring the season’s offerings and purchasing tickets online or pop into the box office and see if you can catch a same-day show.

4. Set Sail on a Winter Cruise
Odyssey Easter Early Dinner Cruise - Image
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Get cozy on a cruise of sparkling Lake Michigan. Hop aboard one of the ships waiting at Navy Pier and you’ll set sail into the cool blue waters for a one-of-a-kind sightseeing tour. Dig into a seasonal buffet, sip cocktails, dance to live music and soak in the elegant décor.

Both the Odyssey and Mystic Blue offer holiday-themed and New Year’s Eve cruises, complete with fine dining and dancing, that envelop guests in the breathtaking beauty that is Lake Michigan in the winter. Both cruises depart from Navy Pier. For tickets or more information, visit mysticbluecruises.com/chicago and odysseycruises.com/chicago.

5. Play (and Learn!) at the Chicago Children’s Museum
Children's Museum
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There are so many ways to play at Chicago Children’s Museum: Climb a schooner or a life-size fire truck, dig for dino bones, race speedsters down a test track, hide in a tree house, construct a skyscraper, tinker with real tools, fish in a river, make art you can take home and so much more.

Located within Navy Pier, the Chicago Children’s Museum is more than a museum: it’s a space where kids are invited to play and learn on their own terms. Be sure to check out the Skyline exhibit, a National Science Foundation-funded exhibit that explores the engineering, art, and technology that keep Chicago’s tallest buildings standing. Bonus: The Museum is free Thursday evenings, 5 – 8 p.m.

6. Get Lost in a Maze

More than two million visitors have already made their way through Navy Pier’s Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze, Chicago’s only self-paced, full sensory maze experience. You’ll navigate your way through 4,000 square feet of tunnels, mazes, a moving floor, a tunnel of rainbows, a gallery of mirrors and more. Challenge everyone in your family to this fun adventure and see who makes it out first.

7. Catch the Latest Flick at the Navy Pier IMAX
AMC Navy Pier IMAX Theatre
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The Navy Pier IMAX at AMC is nothing short of an incredible, immersive movie going experience. It’s one of the best places in the city to catch the latest flick thanks to the immense size and striking clarity of the towering IMAX screen. Add the deep, sharp sound that lets you feel every vibration and it’s like you’ve become part of the action itself. Visit amctheatres.com for the full schedule of current and upcoming films to his this larger-than-life screen.

8. Wine and Dine on the Pier
Riva Restaurant Chicago
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From a family-friendly food court to fine dining, there’ something for everyone at Navy Pier (even the pickiest of eaters). Navy Pier is focused on celebrating the rich culinary tradition of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods under one roof, and you’re sure to find authentic Chicago food, including favorites such as deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hotdogs, Mexican-American cuisine and more. Here’s just a taste:

  • Giordano’s (deep dish pizza)
  • Billy Goat Tavern (signature cheeseburgers)
  • Bubba Gump (seafood, family friendly)
  • DMK Burger (creative burgers and fries)
  • Harry Caray’s (barbecue and local beers)
  • Riva’s Crab House (fresh seafood and steaks)

Not sure which restaurant to try? Sample some classic Chicago flavors on the Signature Food Tour at Navy Pier. Explore all the delicious dining options on Navy Pier at navypier.org/explore/dining/.

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