Three Cool Architectural and Historical Holiday Things to Do


Figuring out how to pass all that free time at the holidays can be daunting. But have no fear, the Chicago Detours staff has created a list of the best holiday things to do around the Windy City.

Chicago holiday things to do
Photo credit: Scott Brownell, Museum of Science and Industry

Christmas Around the World and Holiday Lights at MSI – EXHIBIT

5700 South Lake Shore Drive. – through January 4, 2015

FREE with museum admission

This special exhibit is a 73-year-old Chicago tradition in the historic structure of the Museum of Science and Industry is one of the great holiday things to do in Chicago. A visit to this behemoth building with its historic detail is such an experience. Originally the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the building was faced in limestone for its 1920s conversion into the Museum of Science and Industry. The adaptation retained the Beaux Arts look with columns and ornate ornamentation, which gives the feeling of stepping back in time as you enter. Instead, high-tech exhibits abound, and this special holiday exhibit includes a towering 45-foot holiday tree within a contemporary interior space. For the “Christmas Around the World” exhibit, volunteers from Chicago ethnic communities create more than 50 trees and displays. This year a Disney theme unites the displays Disney-inspired ornaments on the tree, and a special exhibit called “Treasures of Walt Disney Archives.” Go there through January 4, 2015.

Christmas Eve at Rockefeller Chapel – EVENT

5850 South Woodlawn Avenue. – Wednesday, December 24 at 4:00pm


On Christmas Eve the breathtaking architectural space of the Rockefeller Chapel becomes the setting for a traditional candlelit Christmas service. Carols will be sung by the adult and children’s choirs for this University of Chicago institution, along with the congregation joining in.  With its stunning gothic facade, beautiful stained-glass  windows and grandly tall nave, this Neo-gothic structure, funded by John D. Rockefeller and designed by architect Bertram Goodhue, will bring an architectural experience into a religious one.

Interior Walking Tours with Chicago Detours – TOUR

Downtown Chicago – Morning, afternoon and evening tours Wednesday through Monday (check availability)

$26-34+ per person, RESERVATIONS REQUIRED

A great holiday activity with family and friends is to join Chicago Detours on one of our walking tours that stay mostly indoors. Available six days a week, our Loop Interior Architecture Tour is a warm walking tour of Chicago that takes you on a creative route that weaves through buildings and secret short-cuts. The Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour explores Chicago’s entertainment history of prohibition, jazz, theater, vices, and social clubs. This tour also has a very cool architectural element to it, and of course we stop for drinks and appetizers, too. Both walking tours are fun and educational, and make for cool bonding experiences for family and friends looking for holiday things to do in Chicago this winter.

You can also sign up for our annual Holiday Tour of Drinks, Daleys and Dead Guys. We explore the history and traditions of the holiday season in the Second City. The tour includes drink stops at The Walnut Room and Miller’s Pub and delves into stories like the “Christmas Tree Tragedy.”

chicago architectural giftsIf you have a group of eight or more, both these walking tours may be available to be scheduled for around your plans as private group tours.

And p.s. if you need any last-minute holiday gifts, we now have an online store with cool architectural gifts such as the architectural wall art pictured here. We offer holiday gift cards for our public tours in various denominations. Gift cards you can easily get via email for quickest delivery, too!

– Chicago Detours Staff


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
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