So Christmas is over, and now comes months of cold without the holiday cheer. Assuming you’re not into ice fishing, skiing or otherwise freezing your tush off, rejoice, there is more to do! I’m not going to mention the obvious Chicago landmarks, so don’t look for the Art Institute, SkyDeck or other obvious tourist destinations here. I’ve complied my own list of unique, indoor Chicago activities to pass the rest of winter. Read on, then go forth and explore the Windy City (safely indoors)!
Get cultured with a few classes!
If you haven’t visited any of the cultural centers in Chicago, now is the time! You’ll find several throughout the city, but here are my two personal favorites.
Irish American Heritage Center
The Irish American Heritage Center is perhaps best known for its St. Patrick’s Day activities, or its annual summer festival. However, it’s a hopping spot year round. The center offers all kinds of classes, such as Gaelic language, painting, genealogy, quilting, educational lectures and more! After filling your head with new knowledge, head into their pub, the Fifth Province, for live Irish music and, of course, plenty of libations.
Japanese Cultural Center
Alternatively, head to the other side of the world at the Japanese Cultural Center. Located at 1016 Belmont, the center offers at least a dozen different martial arts and self defense classes, all from Japanese styles and traditions. What better way to fulfill those ‘get fit’ New Years’ resolutions? They have even more Japanese language classes, from teen level to advanced. You’ll also find manga art classes, tea ceremonies and more. Check out their schedule for full details.
Dream of Warm Italy…while at Eataly
A foodie heaven, that’s Eataly! An Italian company, headquartered near Torino, Eataly is grocery store, winery, food court, restaurants, cooking classes and more, all stuffed into three levels on Ohio Street.
I first found it when I came back from Sardinia. Searching for spaghetti al nero di seppia, squid ink pasta a common dish on the Italian island, Eataly’s online store popped up. They carry it! No surprise, as they stock countless Italian imports, including regional wines you won’t find at your local liquor store.
Their food court includes a Nutella counter, and their full service restaurants upstairs serve a variety of Italian cuisine.
Check their events schedule, they have classes throughout the week. From wine tasting to hands on cooking classes, they’ve got you covered.
Cider Summit Chicago
In its 8th annual year, Chicago Cider Summit is held at the Navy Pier Grand Ballroom every February. It’s grown to a large event, with over 50 cider producers from around the world. The Great Lakes region is home to a number of fantastic cideries. The summit includes not only these, but ciders from across the country and around the world.
Grab your tickets in advance for one of the two time slots on February 22 this year. Enjoy 16 tastings with a general admission, or 20 with the VIP ticket. The summit offers a couple food vendors as well.
It’s one of the few downtown events I mark my calendar for (and the only reason you’ll catch me at Navy Pier!). I’ve attended since it’s opening year in Chicago- the same year I moved here! It’s a great chance to try a variety of ciders, and you’ll have beautiful views of Lake Michigan from the ballroom.
Drifter Speakeasy and Burlesque
The Drifter is the real deal. Speakeasies are scattered though out Chicago, thanks to its gangster heritage. However, The Drifter sits within the confines of a real Prohibition era speakeasy. Formerly hidden by a grocery store, The Drifter now lies beneath the Green Door Tavern.
Head to the back of the tavern and downstairs, where you’ll find a bookcase. Swing it open to a dimly light, exclusive space. The speakeasy only seats 37 people, so arrive early or expect to wait.
The cocktail menu changes daily, featuring unique, strong drinks, printed on tarot cards. Small bites are also available, all quite tasty! While you sip your artistic cocktail, enjoy a variety show throughout the evening. You never know quite what you’ll see, anything from a exotic dancer to a fire breather.
Oriental Institute Museum
Located at the University of Chicago, this museum is as unexpected as it is stunning. Home to mummies, Bronze age pottery, Nubian statues and a 40 ton, 3,000 year old Assyrian lamassu (winged bull), the Oriental Institute has preserved these Middle Eastern treasures since its founding in 1919.
The museum is comprised of nine galleries, each dedicated to a region or time frame. Spend an hour or two browsing the free museum, and then check out the gift shop with hieroglyphic dictionaries, artifact inspired jewelry and other unique items. The institute also offers $10 guided tours (book in advance through their site) or request a $5 audio guide onsite.
One expects rare objects or high profile items at huge museums such as the Field, or even more so at the British Museum, the Louvre and so on. The Oriental Institute is small, but holds stunning treasures. Don’t overlook this incredible museum!
Concert at Rockefeller Chapel
Steps away from the Oriental Institute, the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel will transport you back in time, across the Atlantic, with its medieval European feel. Built in 1928, it actually looks as though it belongs at Oxford or Cambridge, rather than Chicago!
Pick up a pamphlet in the atrium for detailed history and admire the architecture and design. It’s free to visit, and the chapel is generally open Tuesday through Sunday.
The chapel holds regular events, from choral performances to organ concerts. The chapel’s organ is also played regularly every Sunday. Perhaps most impressive is the carillon, and the university bills it as the largest single instrument in the world. For a closer look, visit the chapel during the semester at 11:30 am or 4:30 pm to climb the tower and experience a carillon recital up close.
If classical music isn’t your forte, the chapel also offers Gentle Yoga every Tuesday at 5:30pm.
Tour the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Just outside Chicago proper in Oak Park sits the former home and studio of world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you’ve spent any time around Chicagoland, you’ll have encountered something of his- the Rookery, the Robie House, and further north, Taliesin. It’s actually fun when you realize how much he left in Chicago and Wisconsin. Did you know there’s a small, beautiful cabin he designed, available for rent in Mirror Lake State Park?
Anyway, back to the matter at hand- his home. Tours are available daily from 10am-4pm, and last an hour. He bought the house in 1889 but by his departure in 1909, it was utterly transformed. Learn a bit about him on the tour, and admire the unique ingenuity that make his Prairie Style so recognizable.
My two favorites: the hallway built around a tree, and the octagonal studio, supported entirely by chains!
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust also offers walking tours throughout Oak Park, home to a number of other houses he designed. I’d save that for summer though!
Read a Classic then Tour Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace
Literally just around the corner from Wright’s house, sits the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway. Born here in 1899, he lived in Oak Park until leaving for World War I.
Take some time to read one of Hemingway’s classics (perhaps the Old Man and the Sea to warm up?) and then tour the historic home. During the winter, tours are offered Friday-Sunday.
Having visited Hemingway’s home in Key West, I was intrigued to learn he grew up in Oak Park. It seems everyone, but me, goes from Chicago to Florida, not the other way around!