People love visiting Chicago for any number of reasons – the food, the art, the museum scene. But did you know that Chicago is also home to some signature festivals and events that locals and visitors alike can enjoy? For those of you who delight in a good public event, you’ll find no shortage of festivals ranging from the culinary to the musical. A few events are free, some are modestly-priced, and then there are a few that are worth the investment. Most if not all events are kid-friendly, and every one is guaranteed to show you a good time.
If you love nothing more than to bury your nose in a good book, then check out the Printer’s Row Lit Fest. Looking for a new piece of art to really tie the room together? Both Gold Coast and Old Town have famous art fairs that are worth checking out for a great find. For the gardeners out there, the Chicago Flower and Garden Show is an expansive display of horticultural techniques and products. Foodies and casual munchers alike won’t want to miss the fan favorite Taste of Chicago.
Or, if you prefer music, the Gospel Music Festival, the Blues Festival and the Jazz Festival are all smart choices. On the other hand, if you’re going to be in town for a while, the Ravinia Festival spans all kinds of musical genres and actually lasts over several weeks. Hoping to enjoy a bit of international flair? Check out Venetian Night or the holiday-time Christkindlmarket. There are also a few signature events that the whole city gathers around, like the State Street Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Chicago Marathon, and the Magnificent Mile® Lights Festival. Then there’s the iconic Chicago Marathon, and the unbeatable St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago, both of which events delight visitors to no end. Whatever style of festival or event suits you, you’ll find something to enjoy in Chicago.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular festivals across the city, separated by time of year.
Spring & Summer
Ravinia Festival: Hosted in Highland Park, this eclectic music festival includes everything from big name pop and country starts to classically-trained musicians. It’s a non-profit festival with modest ticket prices.
Gospel Music Festival: Held in late May, this festival celebrates the birth of this legendary musical genre with concerts featuring the top gospel artists in the country, from traditional to contemporary.
Printer’s Row Lit Fest: In June this popular family-friendly event features a massive book fair, live talks and events, and plenty of family activities and games. This event honors the literary heritage of the neighborhood.
Gold Coast Art Fair: Actually located in Grant Park, this summer festival features live demonstrations, amazing artwork from multiple genres, live music and entertainment, food for purchase, and lots of stuff to keep the kids busy.
Blues Festival: The largest free blues festival in the country, this signature three-day event honors the birthplace of one of America’s most distinctive musical genres with performances by famous blues musicians and some new voices, too.
Old Town Art Fair: A bit more high-end than the Gold Coast offering, this historic fair features 250 nationally-acclaimed artists, a delightful garden walk, live music, a food court, and a place for the kids to play.
Taste of Chicago: A perennially popular event, this ticket-based sampling festival allows visitors to enjoy a bite from dozens of top restaurants alongside culinary demonstrations, chef talks, and live music.
Venetian Night: This grand event includes a parade of illuminated vessels sailing past Navy Pier, a fireworks display, live music, and optional cruises that let you see the show from out on the water.
Air & Water Show: A free event held in August, this festival highlights the talents of America’s civilian and military pilots as they zip through the air. Enjoy this beach-front event with the whole family.
Jazz Festival: Scattered in various venues across town, the Chicago Jazz Festival honors this iconic musical genre with performances by artists from across the country. See some famous names, and enjoy some up-and-comers.
Fall & Winter
Chicago Marathon: Nearly a million cheering fans gather to watch the brave runners as they fight through the 26.2-mile course that winds throughout the city. Cheer on a friend or family member this October!
State Street Thanksgiving Day Parade: A family favorite for generations, this Thanksgiving Day Parade features floats, balloons, live music and dancing, performances by school groups, and much more. Arrive early for a good spot.
Magnificent Mile® Lights Festival: See the Magnificent Mile shine just in time for the holidays. Enjoy dance performances, balloons, and kid-friendly activities in the two days leading up to the illumination of the city Christmas Tree.
Christkindlmarket: This German-inspired festival offers drinks and food, plus dozens of stalls featuring authentic, hand-crafted gifts and souvenirs. It’s the perfect place for a unique holiday gift.
Chicago Boat, RV, & Sail Show: Held annually in January, this affordable exposition showcases the top boats and RVs available on the market. It’s fun to browse, and helpful for those looking for their next summertime investment.
Chicago Auto Show: The country’s largest auto show, this February event highlights new vehicles from auto makers domestic and international. You can see the latest models for sale, as well as the unique vehicles for show only.
Chicago Flower & Garden Show: Located on Navy Pier, this beautiful event showcases a selection of plants ranging from native flowers to exotic blooms. You can also enjoy horticultural talks and tips, gardening demonstrations, and family events.
St. Patrick’s Day: The Chicago River literally turns green on this iconic Chicago holiday. Enjoy a parade, drink and dining special throughout the city, and a general atmosphere of cheer and good will.