The Chicago Botanic Garden is the gem of the North Shore. It’s sprawling campus delights the senses with displays of color and nature unseen anywhere else in the area. As the temperature falls don’t write off this natural wonder as a nice weather activity, the winter dress only enhances the gardens beauty (and there is plenty to do indoors to keep you warm!)
If lights glistening under freshly fallen snow does not delight you don’t fret just head to the greenhouses and be wrapped in the warmth of the holidays and the tropics! Bursting with poinsettia’s and holiday displays you can spend a warm afternoon in the fragrant greenhouses and enjoying the handmade wreaths on display.
The star of the gardens in the winter, especially for children, is Wonderland Express. Part model railroad display, part light show, all magic! My children can’t wait for this every year. In fact they refer to the garden as Wonderland year round! This year, two new miniature replicas will be added: the Maggie Daley Park Skating Ribbon, as part of the Millennium Park display in the Joutras Gallery, and the new home of the Writer’s Theatre in Glencoe. Also keep a keen eye out for the gardens superstar flowers, Spike and Alice, I hear that miniature versions can be seen in the display!
Wonderland Express is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Friday, November 27, through Thursday, December 17, and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.from Friday, December 18, through Sunday, January 3, 2016, so visitors can enjoy the lights longer and have dinner in the Garden View Café.
Additional tickets for Wonderland Express are required, prices are $12 adults and $10 children 3 to 12, children 2 and younger are free. Tuesdays are half-price.
The Chicago Botanic Garden hosts many holiday events in and around Wonderland Express, some events include:
- Caroling – November 27 – 29, and December 5 10:00 a.m. – noon
- Ice Sculptures Satrudays December 19 and 26 11:00 a.m. – noon and 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.
- Family Drop-in Activities (weekends)
Family drop-in activities are located in Burnstein Hall or the Linnaeus Room, located just outside the display (near the bathrooms). When we visited last year the kids got to build natural bird feeders, color, play with winter birds and in a sensory bin with snow. Activities will vary week to week.
In addition to the above holiday activities that are included in your admission ticket the garden is hosting several specially tickets events to celebrate the holidays. These all require advance ticket purchases but promise exceptional evenings and smaller (less crowded) viewing of Wonderland Express and the greenhouses.
- December 6 11:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. Hanukkah Concert. Enjoy a lively performance from the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band in the Alsdorf Auditorium then visit the Wonderland Express exhibition. Advance tickets are $15; day-of tickets are $20. Children 2 and younger are free.
- December 9 6:00 p.m. Holiday Cheers! Seasonal Tasting at Wonderland Express. Get into the holiday spirit with tastings of spirits, wines and winter brews—many locally produced (21 and over). Tickets are $30 in advance $33 day of.
- December 12 2:00 or 4:00 p.m. Christmas Concert. Enjoy traditional holiday musical favorites in the Alsdorf Auditorium, then experience the Wonderland Express exhibition. Advance tickets are $17; day-of tickets are $20. Children 2 and younger are free.
- December 19 and 20 multiple times available – Breakfast with Santa. Ticket price includes parking, a buffet meal, a visit with Santa and access to Wonderland Express. Tickets are $35 for adults and $27 for children ages 3 to 12 years.
- December 21 11:00 a.m. or 1:00 p..m Hot Chocolate with Mrs. Claus. Enjoy hot chocolate, cookies, a visit with Mrs. Claus and the Wonderland Express exhibition. Advance tickets are $17; day-of tickets are $20. Children 2 and younger are free.
Make sure to add this magical time o your holiday schedule. To save money check out the Winter Family Fun Pack. Available daily (except Tuesday which is half price day) you can save up to 30% on the price of tickets. Winter Family Fun packs are limited in quantity and valid November 27, 2015 – January 3, 2016. The $60 fee includes parking for one car and admission into Wonderland Express for five people.
The Chicago Botanic Gardens is open daily. Admission is free, but parking is $25 per vehicle. For easier entry, purchase your parking in advance.follow For discounts on parking, contact your library for a Museum Pass.
Disclosure: I am an ambassador for the garden and my family has received a membership in exchange for me sharing updates, events, and activities at the garden. All thoughts and opinions are my own