Photo courtesy of Navy Pier.

Chicago’s Navy Pier is mainly known for its outdoor appeal, but come December, the party moves inside when 17,000 square feet of interior space is transformed into a magical winter wonderland filled with glistening lights, merry music and holiday activities for the entire family. This year the event runs from December 5, 2014, to January 11, 2015.

During the day, the festival is perfect for even the littlest holiday revelers thanks to the Winter Wonderfest Jr. area filled with bounce houses and tinsel tunnels. The Kris Kringle Carousel will besot the preschool set as will the Reindeer Express train ride through Santa’s workshop. Elementary school-aged kids will beg to ride the indoor Ferris wheel over and over between decorating and devouring freshly baked goods at the Cookie Cottage. Older children can take off on the Wind Glider, a breath-taking journey akin to hang gliding or try out their figure skating moves on the indoor ice rink. And families of all ages will relish the entertainment at the Winter WonderStage where comedy, dance and magic shows dazzle.

New attractions this year include:

  • A dual lane, 15-foot high “snow” tubing hill
  • A toboggan tunnel roller sled ride
  • Winter-themed miniature golf
  • A life-sized snow globe for photo ops

All of this holiday fun, however, comes at a price. Although admission is free and enjoying the ambiance is gratis, partaking in most of the main attractions requires a wristband, which start at $15 per attendee. The festival has partnered with Groupon to offer a half-price deal in the past, and while Navy Pier is mum on whether there will be a similar deal for 2014, prospective attendees should keep their eyes peeled just in case. And always buy tickets online which are cheaper than purchasing on site.


Want to experience the fest without the lines? Go early in the season or after the New Year. Attendance generally ramps up the weekend before Christmas and winds down after January 5 when school is back in session. Field trip groups tend to descend on Winter Wonderfest mid-morning through early afternoon, so try a mid-afternoon arrival on weekdays for the thinnest crowds.

While you’re in Chicago, check out these free things to do in Chicago with kids.