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Holidays in Chicago: What to do with visiting family and friends

Holiday to-dos for every kind of visitor, from the first-timers to the couch potatoes to the culture vultures

  • Mitchell Fain as Crumpet in 'The Santaland Diaries' at Theater Wit
Mitchell Fain as Crumpet in 'The Santaland Diaries' at Theater…
November 25, 2013|By Mick Swasko, @swasko | For RedEye

'Tis the season for Aunt Mary, and host we now our dear friend Harold.

As if the stress of the holidays isn't enough on it's own, you have friends and family in town coming into town and get the added joy of serving as yuletide tour guide to your guests. Before you hit the eggnog and go cross-eyed from Google search results, read on.

Your visitors are likely to fit into one of four distinct groups of guests, and luckily, Chicago has something for all of them. For the first to fifth-time visitors, the cultural connoisseurs to the holiday homebodies, there are plenty of options this year, and we've narrowed them all down.

THE FIRST TIMERS

The Chicago first timer will mistake Trump Tower for the John Hancock as you scurry down Michigan Avenue, but it's the holidays, so you decide to let it slip. It doesn't matter if they're friends or family, these folks are looking for the Chicago Yuletide standards to mark the occasion of visiting the Windy City when it's decked out in lights.

Christkindlmarket
"Frohe Weihnachten." It's how the Germans wish you a Merry Christmas. "Christkindlmarket." It's how the Germans wish Chicago a happy holiday. First-time visitors can get a peek into the heart of downtown Chicago in Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington St.), where the annual market serves up traditional gluhwein (a hot spiced wine from Nurmberg), traditional German food and crafts. Open through Dec. 24. Details: christkindlmarket.com

Macy's Animated Holiday Windows
The windowscapes at this State Street department store (111 N. State St. 312-781-1000) are a Chicago holiday season classic, even if your guests know the iconic exhibit as a Macy's original when you still call it Marshall Field's. This year there are three new window displays, including a Frango Chocolate Factory and a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade tribute featuring good ol' Snoopy. When you've taken in the windows outside, head inside to gawk at the Walnut Room's Great Tree, but instead of waiting for a table, try for a seat at the restaurant's first-come, first-served wine bar. Details: visitmacyschicago.com

ZooLights and ice skating
This year, along with turning on roughly 2 million bulbs as part of their annual lights display that begins Nov. 29, the Lincoln Park Zoo (2001 N. Clark St. 312-742-2000) offers ice skating inside the Farm-in-the-Zoo area. $10 to skate; zoo admission is free. Details: lpzoo.org

THE BEEN THERE, DONE THAT CREW

They're here. Again. And if they've fulfilled their Chicago bucket list, so you're on the hook, because this crowd won't do Navy Pier again. Thank the four stars on the Chicago flag that this city is bigger than the Loop, because you're going to have to spread out to "wow" this bunch.

A new view at The J. Parker
It's not as lofty as the Signature Room at the Hancock, but the 13th story restaurant The J. Parker (1816 N. Clark St. 312-254-4747) atop the Lincoln Hotel in Lincoln Park offers a completely different view of the city. Your veteran visitors can go home bragging they had a chance to eat small bites prepared by "Iron Chef" contestant Paul Virant. The outdoor portion of this rooftop venue is closed, but the 55-seat indoor bar is first-come, first served. Details: jparkerchicago.com

Steak at Chop Shop
If your crew has already done all the usual downtown steakhouses, then let them eat their steak and meet it, too. Head to Chop Shop (2033 W. North Ave. 773-537-4440), a recently opened butcher shop, steakhouse and bar hybrid in Wicker Park. Go for dinner and let them do the cooking (5 p.m.-midnight daily) or visit the meat counter (10 a.m.-9 p.m.) to snag a steak or chops to grill at home. Details: chopshopchi.com

Tour new distillery Rhine Hall
It doesn't matter how many times they've been to Chicago, recently opened brandy and grappa distillery Rhine Hall (2010 W. Fulton St. 312-243-4313) will be new to your guests and probably you, too. For $7 starting Dec. 7, you can take a tour of the space (reserve your spot for 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. tours each Saturday) and taste the spirits on hand, including apple brand and cinnamon-infused apple brandy. Reservations are recommended and tours top out at 20 guests. If you can't book a tour, the tasting room will be open Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 2-7 p.m., but the whole distillery will be closed Nov. 30 and Dec. 26 and 28. Details: rhinehall.com

THE COUCH POTATOES

"Let's just stay in and watch the parade in New York." No. Listen lazies, you're in the greatest city in the world, and you're not spending the holidays on the couch watching "A Christmas Story" on loop. Even if they're tied to your recliner, here are some sure fire bets to get them out and about.

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