The crisp air and glittering lights make for a magical holiday season in Chicago, but after the halls are decked and the champagne is gone, wintry reality sets in. We can take a page from our friends in Denmark — also no strangers to long, gray winters — and learn that the best way to get through winter is to embrace it. You’ve no doubt heard of hygge (pronounced hoo-guh), the Danish idea of taking the opportunity to unwind and savor the moments spent with friends. While hygge can be at any time doing any activity — as long as it’s relished and thoughtful — the Americanized version of hygge has become synonymous with infusing the season with cozy comforts and warmth.
Here are some of the best ways to stave off winter blues with fun, cozy places to visit, energy-boosting activities, and snug fireplaces to warm yourself by.
- Ice skating. Whether it’s beneath the shiny Cloud Gate (aka the Bean) or around the winding ribbon at Maggie Daley Park, near the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, or at any of the pop-up rinks around city and suburban parks, lace up your skates and do your gold medal best trying to raise your body heat while perfecting your double axel.
- Hunker down around the hearth. If your studio apartment doesn’t have a fireplace, don’t worry! Several local pubs and stores double-down on the cozy atmosphere with flickering firesides, the perfect setting for book reading, casual conversation, or writing out your gift list. We’re partial to sipping a cocktail fireside at Scofflaw in Logan Square or gathered around a feast with friends at Frontier.
- Read a book! When people talk of hygge, they often bring up another cozy concept from neighbors to the north: Jolabokaflod or “book flood.” According to Icelandic tradition, on the night before Christmas, Icelanders gift each other books, then hunker down under their warm quilts, and indulge in a night of book reading (communally or in peaceful solitude). The Book Cellar, Volumes, or any of Chicago’s indie bookstores are perfect places to while away a snowy afternoon.
- Share a cuppa. A companion to the hygge concept is fika, a Swedish twist on a coffee break. Though don’t confuse this for a quick run to Starbucks. Fika is more about taking a few moments in your day to catch-up with a friend, to socialize and connect with someone, to let the warm beverage help spread warm wishes. If coffee isn’t your thing, consider the more traditional and regal practice of a formal afternoon tea. Many Chicago hotels offer tea service, ranging from the stately program at the Drake Hotel to the more modern version at SoHo House. Whether you enjoy your fika with a biscotti or finger sandwiches, the point is to savor your company as well as your beverage.
- Take a winter walk. When the temperature drops, layer up your warmest clothes and enjoy the natural beauty of winter. Fresh snow, glistening icicles, crisp air… a brisk walk can heighten all of your senses, and help reframe this season in a more thoughtful, purposeful way. Consider strolling through a new neighborhood or seeking out street art and murals, with colors that pop against the winter whites and grays.
- Warm up with whiskey. Whiskey (spelled the Irish and American way, whisky is the Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese way) is a hearty spirit that warms you up from the inside. When paired with other seasonal flavors, like anise, orange, bitters, or cider, or just straight, smooth sipping drink, whiskey can feel like you’re wearing a sweater on the inside. To get a handle on the wide range, and styles of whiskey (or whisky, or bourbon…), visit Koval Distillery for a whiskey tasting with knowledgeable staff.
- Winter sports. Yes, there’s skiing and sledding but you’ll have to road trip to Wisconsin or Michigan for ski slopes or find a golf course for some easy sledding. So use the season to try your hand at other fun winter activities more close to home. Curling requires little athletic talent to start and when paired with the beers at Kaiser Tiger, you won’t notice the cold. You can also rent snowshoes from the Chicago Park District and trek around Northerly Island, or head out to the Cook County Forest Preserves and Morton Arboretum for cross-country skiing along well-maintained trails.
- Outdoor dining. The pandemic shutdown forced businesses to get creative with how they could serve their customers and maintain space. For the hospitality industry, the igloo (or the yurt, or the individual greenhouse, etc..) saved the day. Many restaurants now have some version of heated outdoor dining for the winter, but our favorites include the rooftops or terraces of hotels with prime real estate. Plush options include I|O Godfrey, whose rooftop terrace is dotted with swanky firepits and blanket-festooned enclosed igloos for small parties and bottle service. The Gwen Hotel decks out its rooftop terrace bar with firepits, heat lamps, and a curling lane so you can enjoy your cocktails among a sparkling city view.
Remember: when it comes to Chicago winters, we want to thrive, not just survive. Bundle up, call a friend, sip something warm, and enjoy what you can of the winter wonderland.