Guide to St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago

Celebrating the Irish tradition in Chi-Town

Every St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago becomes a sea of green. Quite literally, as the city actually dyes the Chicago River emerald green in celebration of the holiday. Chicago proudly hosts one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the nation, and it’s high time you experience the Irish charm for yourself.

Whether you’re of Irish heritage or not, you’re invited to experience the hoopla and excitement in the heart of Chicago each March. From bar crawls and dance troupes to marching bands and bagpipers, this is one lively event you won’t want to miss. Grab yourself a shamrock and a pint of beer as you check out our guide to St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.

What You Need to Know

Before you emerge decked out in green from head to toe, it might be helpful to understand why we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the first place.

Also known as the Feast of Saint Patrick, the event is not only an Irish cultural celebration but a religious one, too. The holiday takes place on March 17, commemorating the death of Saint Patrick, an Irish patron saint, who is said to have brought Christianity to Ireland. The Irish began celebrating the holiday as far back as the 17th century, but until the 20th century, St. Patrick’s Day was often a bigger celebration in other countries.

Chicago held its first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1843. It was a modest celebration that kickstarted the spirited event we know and love today.

When is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Chicago?

Although St. Patrick’s Day occurs on March 17, Chicago usually hosts the event on the Saturday on or before the holiday.

For 2020, the main downtown parade will occur on March 14 at noon. On this same day, the city kicks off the celebrations with the dyeing of the Chicago River at 9 a.m. They use green organic (harmless) dyes, which usually last for around five hours.

Where is the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade?

If you want to see the water take on its green hue, head to the Chicago River between Columbus Drive and Wabash Avenue. For a front-row view, arrive early and find a spot on the bridges or sidewalks along the riverwalk. The intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive offers prime views, too.

After you’ve seen the magic of the river, make your way toward Grant Park for the grand parade. The parade route begins at Balbo Drive and Columbus Drive and the procession heads north on Columbus toward Monroe Street. Get there early to snag a good spot along Columbus. You can also try the main viewing stand in front of Buckingham Fountain.

What to do during the celebrations

Of course, the main parade is the pride and joy of the city’s celebration. This massive, three-hour parade pulls out all the stops, from Irish dancers to bagpipers. You’ll see marching bands and floats decked out in style. The festivities don’t stop there, though; Chicago holds celebrations throughout the holiday weekend.

  • Irish American Heritage Center Irish Fest: After the parade, the heritage center hosts a full day of events with Irish music, dancing, and food. This a family-friendly affair.
  • Bar Crawls: Chicago hosts countless pub crawls after the parade. Grab a pint of Guinness or go for the green brew at bars all across the city. Some of the more popular pub crawls include the St. Paddy’s Day River Crawl, Chicago Shamrock Crawl, and the Irish Stroll Pub Crawl.
  • South Side Irish Parade: This parade takes place on the Sunday after the main parade. In 2020, the procession will begin at noon on March 15. It begins at 103rd and Western and makes its way south down Western Avenue to 115th Street.
  • Northwest Side Irish Parade: You’ll find another festive parade taking place on Sunday, March 15, 2020. The procession begins at noon and follows Northwest Highway.
  • Patrick’s Day Cruise in Chicago: Why view the green river from the shore when you can view it aboard a ship? Many river cruises offer special St. Patrick’s Day tours on the water, giving you a front-row view to all the excitement.
  • Races: The city hosts a variety of marathons and 5Ks on or around the holiday weekend, so don your favorite green garb and get moving! Some popular ones include the Leprechaun Leap 5k/8k; the Get Lucky Half Marathon, 14k, and 7k; and the Emerald Isle Mile.

Getting There and Getting Around

If you’re booking flights to Chicago, you’ll most likely fly into O’Hare International Airport. From here, you can hop on the CTA train straight to downtown. The Blue Line train runs into the city 24/7. Of course, taxis, rideshares, and shuttles are always an option, too. The airport is roughly 20 miles northwest of downtown.

Once you land in Chicago, it’s easy to get around. One major perk of the Chicago cityscape is that it’s arranged in a grid system. Streets are identified as north, west, east, and south. There are typically eight blocks to a mile with 800 addresses between each. This makes it simple to navigate and determine how far away an attraction is from your current location. Because of this setup, Chicago is extremely walkable.

Would you rather sit? Take advantage of the city’s public transportation system. CTA will get you nearly anywhere you need to go. In fact, it provides additional service on St. Patty’s Day, so more trains and buses are running to and from The Loop than usual.

Where to stay for St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago

Attribution: Aurimas/

There are countless hotels in Chicago to choose from when you want to visit for the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. The following are just a few popular areas to stay:

  • The Loop/Downtown: This neighborhood will place you in the heart of all the festivities. It’s also near some of the city’s most famous attractions, from Millennium Park to the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Wicker Park: If you’re looking to stay in a trendy ’hood, search for hotels in Wicker Park. With vintage shops, music venues, and boutiques, this is one of the coolest areas in town.
  • River North: If the nightlife is on your radar, stay in this neighborhood. It’s home to some of the best bars, restaurants, and nightclubs in town.

Whether you have Irish blood or you’re honorary Irish for the day, St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is the perfect place to celebrate. For more tips and tricks, our guide to help you plan your weekend in Chicago.


Header image: Via Max Talbot-Minkin/