For many North Shore families, a weekend at a Chicago hotel is a treasured holiday tradition. Whether you’re planning a holiday shopping spree, a romantic New Year’s weekend, a winter break family getaway (sans the expensive airplane tickets), or simply a break from all the holiday madness, we’ve visited Chicago’s top hotels to help you find the one that’s right for you this season. Cue the Christmas carols!
Best Hotel for a Holiday Brunch: The Peninsula
Quite possibly the most extravagant brunch in Chicago, The Peninsula’s multiculti brunch features American breakfast standards, such as omelettes made-to-order, carved meat stations, French pastry stations, a sushi station, and even a dim sum station. Brunch is held in the sun-drenched Lobby Restaurant, featuring 20-foot floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a landscaped courtyard (during the holiday season, it’s decorated with oversized ornaments). A violin quartet, stationed in the restaurant’s minstrel gallery, adds an elegant touch. peninsula.com
Chocolate lovers alert. The hotel’s “Chocolate at the Pen” experience, offered every Friday and Saturday night, features an amazing array of chocolate desserts, delicious chocolate martinis, and live jazz music. It’s the perfect excuse to skip dinner and go straight to the dessert!
A room with a view. The hotel’s grand Jade Suite features incredible wrap-around views of the lake and the city, not to mention a huge living room, dining room, kitchenette, to-die-for master suite, and second bedroom suite. You’ll never want to leave!
Location, location. Giordano’s Pizza is right next door—perfect for feeding the kids before you head out to dinner à deux.
Starry nights. The Peninsula Chicago is a favorite among visiting celebs, so chances for a star sighting are especially good. Recent visitors have included Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp.
Best Hotel to Enjoy Christmas Dinner: Four Seasons Hotel
Leave the Christmas goose and trimmings to the luxurious Four Seasons Chicago, where Santa and Mrs. Claus wisely park themselves every year. Start with complimentary roasted chestnuts by the fire (available from 5 to 7 p.m. daily from November 23 through December 30), then move on to the hotel’s over-the-top holiday buffet, featuring everything from a sushi station to a seafood station, carved meats of every kind to desserts that double as works of art. There’s even an entire buffet dedicated to the kids. Be sure to pack swimsuits, so the kids can swim in the famous Home Alone pool the next day—and you can work off dinner. fourseasons.com/chicagofs/
Shop ‘til you drop. The Shops at 900 North Michigan are a mere elevator ride away, allowing you to take advantage of post-holiday sales without lugging a coat along.
Cookies and milk. The Four Seasons goes out of their way to accommodate kids, offering kids shampoo and robes in the bathrooms and evening cookies and milk service. There’s also a Bedtime Stories Butler, on call to read holiday stories to children, and the Hot Chocolate Doc, a mobile hot chocolate bar that serves up steamy in-room sips, with spirit-infused options for adults.
Dog days. You can bring the family dog along, as long as he/she weighs no more than 15 pounds.
Signature spa treatment. Rejuvenate dull winter skin with the Maui sugar scrub and Hawaiian honey therapy, a body wrap of Lehua honey, Maui cane sugar, and Hawaiian kukui nut oils.
Best Hotel for the Francophile: Hotel Sofitel
If you’re in need of a little European elegance this holiday season and tickets to Paris are out of the question, look no further than Hotel Sofitel Water Tower. Located in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, this international hotel will make your stay feel like a jaunt through France. From the cheery “Bonjours!” from the staff to the bilingual guests found in the lobby, it’s hard to believe such a place exists only a short car ride away. sofitel.com
Where it’s at! Nestled two blocks in from North Michigan Avenue and one block from Rush Street, enjoy all the attractions the famous streets offer, while still being able to escape the holiday hustle and bustle.
Degustation. If you’re looking for a fabulous dinner while downtown, look no further than the lobby. Hotel Sofitel’s own Café des Architectes boasts a plethora of re-imagined French cuisine; pair each course with carefully chosen wine and you’re in for a delicious and cultural treat. After dinner, head over to Le Bar, also located in the lobby, for a lively nightcap.
Window watching. Although still relatively new to Chicago (Hotel Sofitel was built in 2002), the hotel already holds the reputation of offering some of the best views of our fair city.
Parlez-vous françias? Even in its grandeur, Hotel Sofitel feels like a chic, French boutique hotel. From the multicultural guests and bilingual staff (who encourage you to practice your French, si vous voulez) to the francophone newspapers offered in Hotel Sofitel’s library, the experience adds a unique flair to your downtown stay.
Best Hotel to Mix Business with Pleasure: The Swissôtel
With a 38,000-square-foot event center and newly refurbished lobby, it’s apparent that The Swissôtel knows how to get down to business. The triangular glass structure designed by noted Chicago architect Harry Weese boasts sweeping views of both Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. But, just because the hotel can handle a crowd, doesn’t mean it has to include serious business. In fact, the only U.S. location of The Swissôtel brand boasts a bevy of activities for families. Conveniently located between Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park, The Swissôtel is perfectly situated at the epicenter of Chicago’s downtown. swissotelchicago.com
VIK. Also known as Very Important Kid, this program offered to smaller guests includes a welcome packet complete with crayons, activity books, and four tickets to a Chicago museum of their choice.
More leg room. Ideally, during the holidays, we’d all like to relax and step away from work responsibilities, but if that can’t be the case, don’t worry! The Swissôtel offers executive suites that include large desks and work areas, while still offering all of the amenities and comforts of their regular suites.
A menu must. Fried avocado gets top billing at The Swissôtel’s Amuse restaurant. But if you’re looking for something a little more hearty, look no further than the lobby; the hotel is home to The Palm steakhouse as well.
Swim in the sky. After a long day spent at the museums, it’s only fair to relax poolside, in the sky, of course. Situated on the 42nd floor, The Swissôtel’s pool offers jaw-dropping panoramic views of our fair city.
Best Hotel to Impress: Trump International Hotel & Tower
With its sleek lobby, luxurious rooms, decadent fine dining, and rooms with 10-foot floor-to-ceiling windows featuring breathtaking views of the Chicago River and the Wrigley Building Clocktower, the Trump International Hotel & Tower was designed to impress. As the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, it manages to trump the competition, even in the City of Big Shoulders. trumphotelcollection.com/chicago
Just for you. Amenities include personal butler service, 24-hour in-room dining, valet indoor parking, overnight laundry and dry cleaning, and an extensive pillow menu (down, hypoallergenic, back sleeper, etc.) to ensure a restful night’s sleep.
Kidding around. If leaving the kids at home is not an option, take advantage of the Trump’s “Kids in the City” package, which includes your choice of Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, or board games in your room, and the option of milk and cookies before bed. Almost any movie can be procured from the hotel’s impressive movie library.
Signature spa treatment. For the ultimate evening of relaxation, head to the hotel’s 23,000-square-foot spa for a couples Soul to Soul Massage, which incorporates healing botanical oils to balance and purify the skin. To give your face a boost, indulge in the Trump Results facial, which features Kate Somerville’s Anti-Aging Dermal Booster to repair and rehydrate the skin.
Best Hotel for Fashionistas: Park Hyatt Chicago
If Carrie Bradshaw had visited Chicago during a Sex and the City episode, she surely would have stayed at the very chic and very understated Park Hyatt Chicago, which conveniently houses Giorgio Armani, Marlowe, and Bottega Veneta—with Ralph Lauren and Neiman Marcus right across the street. The quietly luxurious hotel recently unveiled its 1,400-square-foot Bottega Veneta suite, which features furniture from the Bottega Veneta Home Collection, employs the design house’s neutral palette, and incorporates personal touches from lead designer Tomas Maier. No doubt, Carrie would have adored this fashionable suite overlooking Lake Michigan, the perfect place to unwind after a day of serious shopping. parkchicago.hyatt.com
Sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. NoMI Kitchen, which stands for North Michigan, offers a variety of fresh, ingredient-driven cuisine, but the standout here is clearly the sushi, which was the breakfast of choice for most diners on a recent morning visit. But, if you’re up for a calorie splurge, the pancakes are to-die-for (as are the views).
Sit back and relax. Rooms are equipped with Eames chairs and oversized soaking tubs with views of the Chicago skyline. Allergy sufferers will be thrilled to know that hypoallergenic rooms are available.
Rock star treatment. Forget the taxi—the Park Hyatt offers a courtesy car in the form of a chauffeur-driven BMW, perfect for red carpet arrivals.
Spa heaven. The minute you walk into NoMI Spa, the alluring smell alone tells you you’re in for something very special. Whether you opt for a relaxing massage or the spa’s signature Hydrafacial ($170), an amazingly effective noninvasive skin-resurfacing treatment previously offered only at medical spas and plastic-surgery offices, the full-sensory experience ends with soothing tea and a delicious spa bite, courtesy of NoMI’s chef.
Best Hotel for a Glimpse of Chicago History: InterContinental Hotel
With the perfect balance of modern amenities and historic charm, the InterContinental is an impressive Chicago landmark. Originally opened as a luxury men’s athletic club in 1929, the club was closed during the Great Depression. Reopened as the InterContinental in 2000, the hotel still has its original junior Olympic swimming pool, which was considered state-of-the-art when it was built on the 14th floor in 1929. The majestic Grand Ballroom is also a spectacular sight; it boasts a 12,000-pound Baccarat crystal chandelier—one of the largest in the world. icchicagohotel.com
Great eats. Meat-eaters will love Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, located on the hotel’s main floor. Enjoy breakfast or brunch as a family at The Continental, which has two delectable breakfast buffet options. And, while the kids are occupied, the adults can indulge at ENO, the hotel’s upscale wine tasting room.
For your American girl. The InterContinental’s American Girl Place package is a dream come true for your doll-loving daughter. The package includes milk and cupcakes, popcorn with a free room movie, and breakfast for two at The Continental. Best of all, your daughter can take home an American Girl doll-sized pink chaise lounge bed.
Special holiday events. The Intercontinental is fully equipped for the season with plenty of festive activities. Experience the hotel lobby tree lighting ceremony on November 15 or brunch with Santa on select dates in December.
For the whole family. Let the InterContinental take care of all the details—including the catering—for your family gathering. The historic Renaissance Room is the perfect setting for an elegant event. If a more intimate get-together is what you’re aiming for, the hotel also has 75 suites available for gatherings. For a truly unique experience, host your event in the beautiful indoor pool area—complete with a terra-cotta fountain and quaint, 1920s-era seating.
Best Hotel for a Real Neighborhood Experience: PUBLIC Chicago
On the esteemed corner of State and Goethe Streets in Chicago’s Gold Coast is Ian Schrager’s latest hotel masterpiece. The boutique hotelier’s neighborhood gem marks the spot of the former Ambassador East Hotel. Dressed in a soothing palette of “no color,” the hotel offers 285 oversized guest rooms and suites, all at an affordable luxury price point. publichotels.com/chicago/
My kind of town. Hang like Sinatra and his cronies did back in the day: The ever-classic Pump Room remains, with a newly revamped menu created by world-renowned chef and 2011 James Beard Award winner Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Hunker down in one of the throwback style, half-moon banquettes.
J.Crew for you. Any room booked at PUBLIC Chicago comes with a complimentary, one-on-one appointment with one of J.Crew’s Very Personal Stylists at their North Michigan Avenue location, complete with complimentary courier service back to your room or free shipping to your home.
Let the adults sleep in. The hotel offers cereal and cartoons in its posh and cozy Screening Room every Saturday and Sunday morning.
These [snow boots] were made for walking. No need for cabs in this tony neighborhood. Trek through the snow to check out ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo or walk to Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, where the Green City Market is held indoors through December 15.
Best Hotel for a Dazzling New Year’s Weekend: Waldorf Astoria
From the moment you walk through the revolving door, Chicago’s Waldorf Astoria, recently voted the number one hotel in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler, is designed to dazzle. A large hand-blown glass chandelier based on Chanel’s Sunburst bracelet is framed between enormous his and hers Javier Marín sculptures reminiscent of Roman busts. This sumptuous setting offers the perfect combination of solo pampering and together-time with spacious, luxurious rooms that boast fireplaces. What better way to ring in the New Year than drinking champagne in front of a crackling fire with the sparkling Gold Coast outside your window? waldorfastoria3.hilton.com
Something for everyone. Situated mere blocks from Chicago staples like Water Tower Place, the John Hancock Center, and the Newberry Library, the Waldorf’s convenient perch provides you with a diversity of diversions.
Spa-tacular. At 14,000 square feet, the Elysian Spa & Health Club on the third floor of the hotel is the second largest spa in Chicago. Prepare for the pampering of your life with gender-separate hot tubs, saunas, and eucalyptus steam rooms, luxurious showers, and relaxation rooms with vanilla-cherry water and the most comfortable robes in the world. Then, rejoin your spouse for an hour-long Elysian couples massage and let the talented hands of their massage therapists knead you into vacation mode.
Bonus. Even non-guests of the hotel have access to their fantastic health club with the purchase of an hour-long spa treatment. Experience their medical grade, 90-minute, Perfect Lift facial, or head to the health club side of things where they have the only combined GYROTONIC and Pilates studio in the Gold Coast.
Why go out? Balsan Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a European atmosphere with an extensive wine cellar and an expert sommelier. Bernard’s Bar features suede walls and a dimly lit atmosphere, perfect for drinks and a conversation.
Best Hotel to Escape with the Children: The Ritz-Carlton
The Ritz-Carlton Chicago may not be the first hotel that comes to mind when traveling with your children—but it should be. Featuring rooms customized with pint-sized robes, miniature toiletries, a welcome box filled with juice and cookies, and a treat from the hotel’s Toy Wagon, this hotel truly knows how to “put on the ritz” for your little ones. As if the indoor pool, the fabulously family friendly deca restaurant, or the proximity to Water Tower Place weren’t enough, the Ritz-Carlton has a few more tricks up its holiday sleeve. (Just a hint: Let the Ritz-Carlton know that you have children in tow when you make your reservation.) fourseasons.com/chicagorc
Cookies with the chef. Let your children take over your Christmas-making responsibilities this year. Every afternoon, kids can take an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen followed by a cookie-making session with the hotel chef.
The candy man can. The Candy Man, dressed in a red and white striped jacket, matching hat, and a smile from ear to ear, will visit your guest room with his traveling candy cart stocked full of colorful, complimentary candies. From gummy bears to licorice twists, your child may fill his or her candy bag until their sweet tooth is content.
Happy campers. Maybe the lure of Michigan Avenue and Chicago’s museums is lost on the tikes. Then why not let the Ritz pitch them an in-room tent to use during their stay, complete with a backpack filled with camping supplies and s’mores made to order. You will have happy campers indeed.
Best Hotel for an Old School Chicago Experience: The Drake Hotel
The Drake Hotel has long secured its title as a Chicago landmark. One of the most noted sights off East Lake Shore Drive and steps away from Lake Michigan and Oak Street Beach, the hotel is a historical institution. Constructed in 1920, The Drake has hosted many famous guests throughout its 92-year existence, including Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and the late Princess Diana. If you’re looking to experience Chicago, and we mean the real Chicago, look no further than the elegant and historic Drake. thedrakehotel.com
So Hollywood. Movies such as Risky Business, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and What Women Want filmed scenes at The Drake.
Boardwalk Empire. Coq d’Or, The Drake’s famous bar, which began service as soon as the prohibition laws were lifted, is still serving to this day. Its speakeasy décor and timeless tradition makes the bar one of the most popular destinations for Chicagoans and tourists alike.
Modernized. The hotel has kept many of the historical attributes that made it famous, but recent renovations and additions have ensured that The Drake stays current on all of the amenities guests expect, such as a 3,000-square-foot fitness center.
Go ahead, be a tourist! One of the most talked about tourist attractions in Chicago is experiencing The Drake’s High Tea service, and we couldn’t agree—it’s not to be missed!