(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

If coming to Chicago for Thanksgiving Weekend, the city may surprise you. Back when Carl Sandburg published his “Chicago” poem in 1914, he described it as “husky” and the “city of the big shoulders.” The nickname stuck. Today, a bit over a century later, the city is known for its festivals, arts, parades, parks and restaurants. Tip: Downtown Chicago is Thanksgiving Weekend Central. It’s where everyone goes (think thousands) for traditional holiday events even if they started earlier in November. Given the weekend’s traffic and crowds, take a bus down if staying within the city limits, or take a commuter train if in the suburbs. If you’re staying downtown, the best option is to walk to everything.
Choose Chicago
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Randolph St.
Macy’s Department Store Lower Level
111 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 744-3316

Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism bureau, has terrific website links for planning ahead and two good walk-in Visitor Centers. The centers, one at the Chicago Cultural Center and the other a block away at Macy’s On State, have brochures, interactive kiosks and knowledgeable people. No matter which one you use, you will probably want to go over to the other location because both are inside Chicago destinations. The Cultural Center, a block-long building on Michigan Avenue stretching between Randolph and Washington Streets, has two awesome domes including the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome. The Visitor Center is at the Randolph Street entrance, but also go the the Washington Street side to gape at ceiling and stairway mosaics and literary icons. By the way, Thanksgiving Weekend meshes perfectly with the Cultural Center’s mega exhibit: Chicago Architecture Biennial.

(Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Macy's)

(Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images for Macy’s)

Tree And Windows At Macy’s On State

Young and old have been pressing noses and fingertips against the huge store’s State Street windows to see animated holiday stories for many generations. They did so when the store was Marshall Field’s and still do so now that it is Macy’s. Unveiled in early November and continuing through early January, the windows outside and the Great Tree inside are an annual treat often reserved for Thanksgiving Weekend. The base of the Great Tree is in the Walnut Room, a historic dining room said to be among the country’s longest, continuing restaurants. Visitors can see the tree, but eating here during the holidays is such a generational tradition that lines are long. An option if using the Visitor Center at Macy’s is to first see if numbers are being given at the Walnut Room and then return later.

McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade

Lots of holiday events begin early and mid-November but the big, turkey (50-foot balloons) parade is Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 26. It steps off at 8 a.m. at State and Congress (previously Parkway) Streets and continues up State to Randolph Street by 11 a.m. Even though it is Thanksgiving morning and families know the day is going to be devoted to eating, the parade draws thousands of watchers. Go early to snag a prime spot by the viewing stands and stage in front of Macy’s. This is where dancers, the casts from shows in town and other parade participants are sure to stop to perform. Pull out the phone or camera to capture the giant helium balloons of cartoon characters and equestrian riders. Naturally, Ronald McDonald will be there.

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Christkindlmarket Chicago
50 W. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 494-2175

Yummy aromas and tempting gifts fill Daley Plaza when Christkindlemarket Chicago takes over the block between Dearborn and Clark Streets on Washington Street, Nov. 20 through Dec. 24. It’s the place to go for traditional German and European goodies from bratwurst, pretzels and potato pancakes to crepes, strudel and roasted nuts. Wash them down with beer or gluhwin (mulled wine). But its likely you won’t leave without finding some gifts such as carved nutcrackers, toys, a stein or holiday decorations. A European holiday market started mid-sixteenth century in Nuremburg, the Chicago version arrived in 1996, then made Daley Plaza its home in 1997. Its a good destination after the Thanksgiving Parade because the market will be open that day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. But it also works throughout the Thanksgiving Weekend because daily hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., extended to 9 p.m. Saturdays.

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink
Millennium Park
201 E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 742-5224

Work off Thanksgiving dinner by skating at Millennium Park with Chicago’s skyline in the background. Take a break with hot chocolate from the Park Grill Cafe that sits along side the rink. A bonus is walking around Millennium Park to see its famed Cloud Gate (The Bean) and other sculptures in the park. The park and rink are easy to find on Michigan Avenue from Randolph to Monroe Streets, across from the Chicago Cultural Center. Open mid-November to early March, the rink is free. Skate rental is $12. This is a popular destination during Thanksgiving Weekend and through the December holidays. The rink is typically open afternoons and evenings during the week and from mid-morning to evening on weekends.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.