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Chicago at Christmas


Magnificent Mile
Magnificent Mile, Chicago

The Great Tree
The Great Tree in the Walnut Room of Macy's

Elaborate Window DisplaysThe Elaborate Window Displays outside of Field's (Dec 2005)

Decorations in Water Tower Place
Decorations in Water Tower Place

Chicago's Frozen Streets
Chicago's Frozen Streets

Dailey Center Plaza
Dailey Center Plaza

Christkindlmarket
Christkindlmarket

Authentic German Treats at Christkindlmarket
Authentic German Treats at Christkindlmarket

Shopping at Christkindlmarket
Shopping at Christkindlmarket

Chicago's Water Tower
Chicago's Water Tower

The View from the Peninsula Chicago
The View from the Peninsula Chicago

TWO DAYS IN CHICAGO
No one knows how to celebrate Christmas better than Midwesterners and there's no better treat than to be in Chicago before the holidays. Visitors flock from all over the world for the opportunity to dine at the base of the Great Tree in the famed Walnut Room of Macy's, walk the frigid State Street to view Macy's animated window displays, sip Glogg at Christkindlmarket in Daley Center Plaza, and view more than 50 beautifully decorated trees and crèches at the Museum of Science and Industry's Christmas Around the World & Holidays of Light.

But what if you only have two days to experience it all? Here's our guide to the best activities and the oasis in the center of it all.

WHERE TO STAY

The Peninsula Chicago
It's no surprise that Travel + Leisure's "World's Best Awards 2004" rated The Peninsula Number 1 in Chicago, and Mobil has awarded them their Five-Star rating in 2006 for the fifth consecutive year. Conveniently located at the corner of East Superior and North Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago's Magnificent Mile, they're kitty-corner from Chicago's Water Tower Place shopping center and neighbors to Ralph Lauren, Tiffany's, Neimann-Marcus, and American Girl.

Guest rooms are equipped with exquisite amenities such as a high-tech system that allows guests to control room features with the touch of a button. (Choose the evening light setting to avoid stubbing your toe in the middle of the night.) Marble bathrooms, electronic gadgets, flat-screen television, and extra-plush bathrobes are standard. We could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Afternoon Tea is served to a backdrop of live string music in the Lobby, as is Sunday brunch and the weekend favorite, "Chocolate at the Pen" chocolate bar. Light snacks or a Gentleman's Tea can be enjoyed in the bar before a roaring fireplace, or casual dining at Pierrot Gourmet is the ticket for a quick bite to eat. If you have something more formal in mind, Shanghai Terrace offers inspired Asian Cuisine and Avenues, recipient of perfect scores from each of Chicago's three major publications, serves contemporary cuisine from an exhibition kitchen.

The Mobil Travel Guide was right on when they stated, "The Peninsula Chicago is one of the most perfect hotel experiences a traveler can expect in this country."
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HOW TO GET AROUND

Ditch the rental car and opt for a taxi, as it is an easier and cheaper way to get around. The city is also very walkable and easy to navigate.


WHAT TO DO

So now that you know where to stay, you're going to have to make some difficult choices on how to spend those two days. Here are some ideas.

DAY ONE

Macy's Window Displays
Every year Field's eleven windows on State Street were elegantly decked out with animated characters. In 2006, Macy's, the new owner of the historic Marshall Field's & Co., promised to carry on the tradition. Begin the day viewing the windows, then duck inside to get a glimpse of the Great Tree in the Walnut Room. If you plan to have lunch, you'll need to join the others in line to put your name on the list. Arrive extra early, as the wait can be up to three hours.
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Christkindlmarket
From Macy's, walk a block to Dailey Center Plaza for this annual event, the largest holiday décor and ornament exhibit in Chicago. Vendors from Europe and America offer traditional German products, food, and entertainment.
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McCormick Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park
Stop along the way to warm up, then grab a taxi to Millennium Park for some traditional ice skating.
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Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula
No doubt it's tradition to dine at the base of the Great Tree in the Walnut Room of Macy's, but why not bypass the crowds, pick up a snack at Christkindlmarket and get back in time for a late Afternoon Tea? (The food is equally exquisite.) If you get hungry again later, Pierrot Gourmet is open until 9:00 pm most days, or room service is available 24 hours.
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Zoolights
Pick up a taxi for the two mile drive to the Lincoln Park Zoo, where you'll see an outdoor holiday display of sparking lights and nocturnal views of animals in seven habitats. View a laser light show and ice carving, decorate cookies, get your photo taken with Santa, ride the carousel and make holiday crafts.
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Take in a Holiday Performance
If you have something a little warmer in mind, attend one of the numerous performances going on for the season.


DAY TWO

You're going to have to make some choices here, and they'll be made in large part on whether you have the kids with you. In addition to the suggestions below, you'll want to duck into the American Girl, Ralph Lauren and Water Tower Place to see the holiday decorations.

Soldier Field Sledding Hill
Why not experience a traditional Midwestern snow sport? Pick up a couple of plastic saucers and head down the hill for some of the cheapest thrills of your life!
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Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light
This Chicago icon goes all out for the season. More than 50 trees displaying holiday customs from around the world deck the halls of the museum. On weekends, performers entertain visitors with dancing, music, and storytelling.
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Gingerbread Fantasy Factory
The kids can "make," "bake," and "decorate" pretend cookie creations and boogie to the Gingerbread Man song.
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Neptune's Holiday Kingdom
King Neptune holds court with all of his subjects in Phelps Auditorium. The kids can create ornaments and participate in dance lessons.
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Holiday Flower Show
See familiar and unusual varieties of Christmas trees and plants: poinsettias, begonias and other holiday greenery.
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Winter Flower & Train Show
An old-fashioned steam engine, freight train and trolley wind their way through a tiny village set in a field of poinsettias. The village features a variety of Chicago landmarks.
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Winter WonderFest
Hundreds of lavishly embellished trees, sparkling lights and winter decorations transform Navy Pier into a winter wonderland. Santa and his elves may be found in Santa's Holiday Village, at the ready to listen attentively to all of the good little boys and girls. An ice skating rink, in-line skating rink, large-scale inflatable games, a bungee run and slides provide tons of fun.
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Magnificent Mile Lights
Thank goodness it gets dark early, because the beautiful Magnificent Mile is stunningly lit with more than one million lights along Michigan Avenue. The Magnificent Mile extends along the northern part of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Lake Shore Drive.
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