There’s nothing like autumn in Chicago, when the Midwest landscape glows with crimson and gold foliage and the temps cool down for perfect sweater outfits. Fall festivals and Halloween parades are very big, as are seasonal pop-ups and park leaf peeping, so you never have to wonder about what to do in Chicago in the fall. Check out these budget-friendly tips on the best things to do in Chicago during the fall.
First things first, though: Chi-town has a well-deserved reputation for bone-chilling cold weather. But don’t worry: fall still offers relatively mild temps ranging from the high 40s to the 50s Fahrenheit. Dress in layers, with sweaters, hoodies, light jackets, and boots for the most comfort during autumn in Chicago.
Explore Chicago Fall Festivals and Holiday Events
Fall Fest at Lincoln Park Zoo
Head to one of the only free big city zoos in the country and view live pumpkin carvers, stilt walkers, a pumpkin patch, and of course, lots of animals. The festival runs from late September through late October every year.
Island Party Hut Fall Fest on the Riverwalk
Jump on a hayride, roam a pumpkin patch and sip fall cocktails with the Chicago River as a scenic backdrop at Island Party Hut’s Fall Fest. The event also includes live music and games, with tickets starting at $5, every Saturday from late September to late October.
Lincoln Square Ravenswood Apple Fest
Absorb the excitement of the Midwest’s bounty at this beloved neighborhood fest. Sample a range of apple-inspired dishes and ciders while listening to live music and shopping at vendors with fall products. The two-day fest is usually scheduled during the last weekend of September and admission is free with a $5 suggested donation.
Festival del Arte Popular
In the city’s Pilsen neighborhood, browse through the intricate designs of Mexican artisans from Oaxaca, Chiapas, Puebla, and Guerrero during the National Museum of Mexican Art’s annual free festival of folk art. Artist demonstrations and early holiday finds are the hallmark of this fest, held every day in mid-October.
Open House Chicago
Chicago’s legendary architecture takes center stage during this free festival hosted by the Chicago Architecture Center every October. Visitors can explore 170 sites in over 20 neighborhoods during one of the largest events of its kind in the world.
Arts in the Dark
Prepare to be dazzled by innovative floats, creative costumes, puppets, music, and dance during this annual parade that marches down State Street in the heart of the Chicago Loop. The parade is typically scheduled on the third Saturday in October from 6-8 p.m.
Northalsted Halloween Parade
This iconic parade in the historic Boystown neighborhood features elaborate costumes, eye-popping displays, and live music way beyond the usual kiddie-focused event. Kicking off on Halloween night at 6:30 p.m. at Halsted & Belmont, this parade is one of Chicago’s signature Halloween experiences.
Dia de los Muertos Xicago
The National Museum of Mexican Art transforms into a beautiful community display of offrendas, or altars to remember loved ones who have passed on. Live musical performances, sugar skull workshops, and a massive illuminated offrenda outside of the museum are all part of the festivities at the end of October. The exhibit “Dia de los Muertos, Living Presence,” is also on display in the museum’s main gallery. Admission is always free at the museum.
Pumpkin Party at Gallagher Way
Both big and little kids flock to this seasonal pop-up that supplies free pumpkins, candy stations, strolling balloon artists and magic shows, photo ops, and live music from the Old Town School of Folk Music on the third Saturday in October.
Chicago Ghost Tours
The Windy City is pretty haunted, so commune with the spirits on Free Tours By Foot’s two-hour ghost tour. The walking tour visits famous haunted spots like the Congress Hotel and the old red-light district.
Leaf Peeping in the Parks
Chicago boasts lots of green spaces all over the city so stroll through a few of these parks to soak up colorful fall foliage.
The 2.7-mile, elevated Bloomingdale Trail winds through four Chicago parks and neighborhoods, providing up-close treetop views of the changing fall colors.
A manmade peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan and displays some of the best Chicago skyline views in the city, the 40-acre park allows you to enjoy vibrant foliage with the lake as a spectacular backdrop.
Lincoln (Abraham) Park
Probably one of the most popular spots to see fall foliage, the massive grounds of Lincoln Park include the North Pond Nature Sanctuary, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebart Nature Museum, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, all filled with lush plants and trees covered in autumnal hues.
Garden of the Phoenix
Tucked behind the Museum of Science & Industry, Garden of the Phoenix boasts a secluded Japanese Garden complete with stone paths, a lagoon, a waterfall, and Japanese Maple trees for an unexpected fall experience.
Burnham Nature Sanctuary
Wander through the nature trail lined with cottonwood and ash trees popping with red and copper leaves, and enjoy the rows of fall wildflowers that still bloom at this park, which also features a butterfly meadow.
Enjoy Seasonal Themed Pop-Ups
Fall inspires many Chicago pop-ups decked out in spooky or autumn décor, so try out these one-of-a-kind seasonal adventures.
JoJo’s Shake Bar Pumpkin Patch Patio
Revel in the whimsey of hundreds of pumpkins, hay bales, and enormous, over-the-top milkshakes at JoJo’s Shake Bar pumpkin patch patio pop-up. Sip on the signature pumpkin patch shake and nibble on gourmet caramel apples and pumpkin pies while scoring non-stop photo ops. The eatery also hosts special workshops like the Basic Witch Mixology Class. Activities run through the first week of November.
Sweet Dreams the Halloween Experience
Rizzo’s Bar and Inn hosts an indoor/outdoor Halloween pop-up dedicated to 25 classic horror movies including Nightmare on Elm Street, Candy Man, and Friday the 13th in a sprawling, 20,000-foot space. Tickets start at $10 and include a drink; the pop-up lasts through Halloween.
The Haunted Arcade at Replay Lincoln Park
Climb into the Mystery Machine and help Scooby-Doo and the gang solve the murders at the haunted arcade. This pop-up highlights photo ops, Scooby-themed cocktails, and free arcade games. There is no cover charge and the festivities run through Halloween.
Make HI Chicago Hostel your headquarters for your fall adventures in Chicago. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago and steps away from public transportation and landmarks like Millennium Park, the property supplies affordable rooms and a stylish guest lounge with a pool table.