10 Things to Do Indoors in Chicago This Winter
In the depths of winter, when temperatures dip to the single digits and snowplows roam, it's logical to dream of elsewhere. But where to go? Hear us out: Chicago. Yes, in the winter. Though it's mighty chilly, the city opens its arms (and doors) with plenty to do right here, right now.
Consider, for example, the pleasure of wiling away an afternoon in a local bookshop. "There is nothing quite like the warm glow of a cozy bookstore at the height of a Chicago winter," says Kaitlynn Cassady of Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Hyde Park. "Stepping into this quiet space, the harsh winter melts away as other worlds await within the pages of a new book."
Other worlds await around Chicago too. Whether you're discovering a tropical paradise, gathering friends for minigolf or seeking solace in soaking pools, the city's indoor activities offer enchanting retreats from dreary skies. So go ahead and book that off-season trip to the Windy City—when the weather outside is frightful, it's quite delightful inside.
1. Snap Selfies for the 'Gram
Joyous and interactive, Color Factory is a series of immersive installations on the lower level of the Willis Tower. The exhibit explodes not only in color, but also in fun—and sweet—surprises. (Hint: One involves a ball pit.) Through its collaborations with locala nd national artists, the museum unleashes a rainbow of experiences that will dispel even the gloomiest of days.
2. Dip Into the Tropics
Stepping out of the cold into the cocoon of Garfield Park Conservatory hits all the senses—in the most glorious way. Flowers perfume the humid air, a waterfall cascades into a lagoon, and cacti stand sentry. Paths wind through 2 acres of indoor gardens, including a room that transports visitors back in time—think ferns, swamps and rocks. It's a lovely (and warm) place to get lost.
3. Explore an Arts Hub
Located downtown, the Chicago Cultural Center offers a smorgasbord of free activities, including concerts, exhibitions, and an interactive space with books, art supplies and more. Join a free tour to learn about the historic building and don't miss the opportunity to stand beneath the world's largest stained-glass Tiffany dome, a shimmering gem of 30,000 glass pieces.
4. Take a Swing
A summer vacation activity finds a year-round home at Big Mini Putt Club, where a nine-hole minigolf course meanders through a former garment building in Wicker Park. The owners designed and built the course themselves, testing out prototypes in a basement workshop before opening day. Strategically placed barrels serve as drink holders; we recommend an on-brand cocktail, liket he Torrey Pineapple Margarita or the Slice It S'more.
5. Dine Under a Glass Ceiling
Towering trees, huge windows and a burbling fountain in a dramatic atrium make the Gold Coast's sumptuous 3 Arts Club Cafe feel like a hidden oasis. Situated inside the luxury home furnishings store RH Chicago, the restaurant whisks diners to a dreamy land of lobster rolls, prosciutto and cheese boards, and irresistible truffled fries.
Related: Top Things to Do in Chicago
6. Brave the Elements for a Book Crawl
A trio of bookstores creates an ideal winter escape in Hyde Park. Start at Powell's Books Chicago, a repository of used books and out-of-print tomes. Then head four blocks west to 57th Street Books, an inviting redbrick building with a cheery children's section, along with fiction, cookbooks and mysteries. Next up and slightly south is The Seminary Co-op, stocked with academic titles.
7. Plan an Immersive, Artistic Night Out
Whim, a project of theater company Stage 773, is a new cocktail lounge and artistic experiment in Lakeview that leans into its theatrical roots. Order a playful drink, like a cotton-candy-topped punchor a campfire s'mores cocktail served with a marshmallow-roasting torch, before kicking back in the glittery Enchanted Forest to catch live music ora drag show.
8. Find Rest and Relaxation
Between the dry air and blustery wind, winter wreaks havoc on skin. But AIRE Ancient Baths in River West offers a remedy—many remedies, in fact. Thermal baths. Steam baths. Salt baths. You can even soak in red wine. Candles softly illuminate the space and lend a quiet wonder to this rejuvenating haven, where argan oil massages and floral body mask treatments invite guests to stay awhile.
9. Fly South
Butterflies of every hue alight on the flowers, trees and, yes, humans who visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park. More than 1,000 of these delicate creatures are joined by bird species in the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, where a daily 2 p.m. release party celebrates the first flights of newly emerged butterflies and moths.
10. Shuffle Your Way to Paradise
The Miami vibes run strong at Wicker Park's Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club. From the flamingo wallpaper to palm trees and piña coladas, this game bar brings the sunshine inside. Shuffleboard newbie? No problem. Servers double as pros and a five-minute lesson will have you ready to play in a jiffy.
More to Do Indoors: Explore Chicago's Museums
Here's what's on show at Chicago's big museums.
Learn about holiday traditions at the Museum of Science and Industry's Christmas Around the World November 16–January 4.
Art Institute of Chicago will show more than 250 African sculptures in The Language of Beauty in African Art November 20–February 27.
See artists exploring identity in Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s–Today at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago November 19–April 23.