If you’re new to Chicago, you’ll feel a certain buzz in the air in early March — it’s the anticipation of the city’s biggest tradition: celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.
To be honest, there might not be a better place on the planet to celebrate this Irish holiday — they don’t dye any rivers in Dublin. Chicago is proud of its Irish heritage, and the feast coincides with the end of winter, so everyone’s ready to cut loose a little by the time March 17 rolls around.
The first thing to know about St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is that the city celebrates it on the Saturday before March 17 — that’s the day the river turns green and parades stream and Irish music wafts through the streets.
Here are seven ways to make the most of this famous Irish saint’s feast day in one of the most Irish cities in the world.
Don’t miss the greening of the Chicago River
On Saturday morning, Chicago’s plumber’s union sprays green dye through the river, turning it a bright green. There really isn’t a more iconic St. Patrick’s Day sight anywhere. If you’re looking for a good vantage point, there are lots of options — the river winds through the heart of the city.
Shamrock’n the Block Party at Old St. Pat’s
If Chicago is the perfect place for St. Patrick’s Day, then there might not be a better place in the city to celebrate than at the Catholic parish named after the Irish saint. Old St. Pat’s (as it’s affectionately known) is home to a lively network of young adults and they go all-out in celebrating the namesake of their community. The party lasts all afternoon, so it’s a perfect spot to end up after taking in a parade and the green river. Entry gets you access to Irish food and drink, and there will be plenty of music and entertainment.
In fact, our Grotto community in Chicago is meeting up at Shamrock’n the Block, so come find our table to connect, meet some new friends, and take home some Grotto swag!
Take in a parade — or two
The city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade starts at 12:45 p.m. and runs along Grant Park on Columbus Avenue. If the weather is nice, make it an urban hike with a stroll along Lake Michigan or through Millennium Park.
The next day, Sunday, is when the South Side Irish Parade steps off — it’s the largest community parade for St. Patrick’s Day outside of Ireland. The south side of Chicago is where Irish people settled in the city when they immigrated to America, so there’s a lot of history and heritage on display there. That parade starts at noon from 103rd and Western.
Take in an Irish music session at one of Chicago’s excellent Irish pubs
Walking into Galway Arms (in Lincoln Park on Clark Street) any time of the year is like stepping into a village pub on the Emerald Isle — the beer, the food, the music doesn’t get much more authentic. And St. Patrick’s Day is when the cultural elements of this place really shine.
If you’re not looking for a slice of Ireland, and just want to live it up in a fun atmosphere, check out Charm’d, a pop-up bar in Wrigleyville that goes over the top with kitschy green decor.
Drop by the Irish-American Heritage Center
This cultural center is active year-round, but they offer special programming around St. Patrick’s Day — it’s a good time to catch Irish food and drink, and they specialize in dance and music. If you’re not familiar with the high-stepping routines of Irish dancing, a show here will have your feet tapping.
Do some Irish shopping and celebrate at home
Because this weekend is such a big party for the city, you might want to avoid the crowds and take in St. Patrick’s Day on your own terms — nothing wrong with that. Because of Chicago’s deep Irish heritage, you can put together a meal (or outfit) you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else on this side of the Atlantic. Here are some Irish shops to visit, depending on where you are in the city:
- In the city: Celtica Gifts, Montrose Ave (near the Montrose Brown Line station)
- Northwest: The Irish Boutique, Long Grove
- West: The Irish Shop, Oak Park (near the Oak Park Green Line station)
- Southwest: Winston’s Market, Tinley Park