Are you planning a visit to Chicago to attend the world famous St. Patrick’s Day celebrations? The Chicago River is dyed a brilliant emerald green every year for the festival. This beloved Chicago tradition has been around for many years and is attended by over thousands of people. Other festivities include St. Patrick’s Day parade and wearing St. Patrick’s day themed costumes but our favorite by far is drinking plenty of green beer during an Irish St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl. Here is everything you need to know to plan your own St Patricks bar crawl as well as attending the day’s many festivities.
The thing I love about Chicago apart from its stunning skyline is the city’s enthusiasm for celebrating a host of different events and festivals. While we lived in Chicago for over 5 years, we attended the Lollapalooza music festival, Taste of Chicago food festival, the Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown, the Blue’s Festival, World’s Largest Block Party, Chicago Air & Water Show, and many others but our favorite by far was the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. After all, it’s not every day that the Chicago River turns an emerald green!
We have attended over 3 different St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Chicago over the years and the weather has fluctuated wildly from flurries of snow to a warm and cozy 75F. The festivities are always held come rain, shine, snow, or hale. The weather might wildly vary from year to year but what remains constant is the Chicagoans’ and visitors’ enthusiasm in attending the Chicago River dyeing ceremony, the parades, and the following beer fests!
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“St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time—a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic.”
– Adrienne Cook
Why celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
Many people simply associate St. Patrick’s Day with Ireland without actually knowing who was St. Patrick or why is St. Patrick’s Day celebrated across the world by Irish communities. St. Patrick was one of Ireland’s patron saints. He worked as a Christian missionary and legends say that he drove the snakes out of Ireland. St. Patrick died on March 17 in 493 AD. Since then March 17 is celebrated at St. Patrick’s Day by the Irish people in memory of the saint and to celebrate the spread of Christianity in the country. This day is also known as the Feast of St. Patrick and festivities are held to celebrate the Irish religion and culture. You can get more information about the origins of the festival in this interesting video by National Geographic.
Chicago has a strong Irish community and has always spent St. Patrick’s Day on a lavish scale. While most cities have parades, pub crawls, Irish corned beef and cabbage dinners, and green beer; Chicago celebrates the Irish culture and tradition by dyeing a section of its river emerald green. This is one of the most widely attended celebrations in the country, akin to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Part I – Our Favorite Things to do in Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day besides the bar crawl
If you are planning to be in Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day then an Irish pub crawl should be the end to your day, not it’s a start! Chicago is vibrantly green on St. Patrick’s Day and hosts many activities from the famous Chicago River dyeing ceremony to many smaller events in the suburbs. Here are our favorite activities to do in Chicago on St. Patty’s Day or you can scroll down to see Chicago’s best Irish pubs for a bar crawl:
Watch the Chicago River turn green
Undoubtedly, the most anticipated part of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities is watching the Chicago River turn green. This beloved tradition started half a century ago in 1962. The Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union is responsible for both, the river dyeing ceremony and Downtown parade since its inception. The union members dump about 45 pounds of eco-friendly vegetable dye into the river. The dye when poured is orange in color but as it mixes with the water, it stains the river a brilliant shade of green. The dye formula is the city’s best kept secret and that is where legends of leprechaun magic at work come in.
Green beads, clovers, and shamrocks in every shape and size keep flashing by as people try to secure a great spot to watch the river dyeing ceremony at 9 am on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day. The best place to watch the event for free is along the Chicago Riverwalk which can be easily accessed from Lower South Wacker Drive. The area between Columbus Drive and State Street is great to stake out a place. After the event, we also like to watch the green river framed by the downtown buildings from one of the bridges. State St Bridge and Michigan Ave Bridge work great for this. But be prepared for huge crowds and arrive early around 8-8:15 am, Chicagoans and tourists come out in hordes to watch this tradition.
From here, you can see members of the union head out in boats and emptying cans of the dye in the river. Tourboats, kayaks, and water taxis follow them down the river. As the dye starts to seep in, a deep emerald green color starts trailing the boats. The first flash of green on the water is always followed by an answering cheer of green from the excited onlookers. The green color dazzles in the bright sunlight. This is the color of the Emerald Isle (Ireland) and represents its rolling hills and valleys. Soon the entire river is green and you can’t help but wildly applaud with the crowd.
This is also an amazing time to people watch. People of all ages assemble to watch the event. I have seen toddlers hearing stories about leprechauns from their fathers, pet dogs dressed in green jackets and bows, the elderly walking along the river hand in hand and waving to the passing boats, people dressed in kilts and carrying bagpipes, as well as tourists from Australia, Japan, South Africa, and yes Ireland intermingling with the locals!
See the amazing St. Patrick’s Day parades happening all over the city
The Chicago River loses its color in about 5 more hours the day is far from over. Next up are the city’s fabulous parades. Chicago has 3 great parades to attend: the Downtown Parade, the South Side Irish Parade, and the Northwest Side Irish Parade. We have attended all three and found them to be wonderful.
The Downtown Chicago St. Patrick Day’s Parade sponsored by the Chicago Plumbers Union is the most well-known of St. Patrick’s Day parades. Most visitors who attend the river dyeing ceremony end up somewhere along the Downtown Parade route in Grant Park. The parade has Irish floats, bagpipes, and marching bands, Irish dancers, firefighters, and policemen. It is widely covered by national news media and is one of the best parades in the country. To get the best view, either purchase a ticket to the VIP grandstand or stand along Columbus Drive just after Buckingham Fountain.
The South Side Parade is located in the beautiful Beverly neighborhood. The entire neighborhood has amazing architecture and a strong Irish heritage. The parade is attended by hundreds of thousands of onlookers every year. To check parade schedule, click here. We recommend checking out this area after the parade, the top neighborhood attractions being the Howard Hyde House and 3 other houses which were both designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Beverly Unitarian Church which is modeled after an Irish Castle.
The Northwest Side Irish Parade is my favorite one, partly because we lived in northwest Chicago. The parade is primarily in Norwood Park neighborhood which is less than a mile from our home in adjacent Edison Park. The parade is currently in its 16th year and also has an awesome parade after party which includes Irish food. While this parade is quite small compared to the Downtown and South Side parades, it is a vibrant community affair and quite close to our heart. If you attend this parade, there are a few amazing pubs to check out right after the parade in Edison Park like Curragh’s and the Emerald Isle.
Dress up for the occasion in shamrock green
On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is dressed up in bright green clothes, wearing green beads, pinning clovers over their clothes, and wearing green, tall, and towering stovepipe hats. Even babies are wearing special onesies for the occasion. You can see emerald feathered top hats bobbing up and down in the crowds as people crane their necks to see either the boats or the parades. I have spotted some of the weirdest costumes of the day including bright green beaded ties and bowties, emerald parasols, Irish flag suspenders, fake red leprechaun beards in the crowd. Everywhere you look it’s a sea of green.
Watch the river dyeing ceremony from a rooftop bar
Chicago has its share of famous rooftop bars and some of them are lined along the river – perfect for watching the most important event on St. Patrick’s Day. There are also many restaurants along the riverwalk. All of these have some form of ticketed event where you can drink lots of beer and eat good food while you watch the river turn green from the comfort of your chair. The tickets to these events are expensive but worth the splurge for those who can afford it. LondonHouse’s Rooftop Bar has sweeping views over the river. While Renaissance’s Raised lounge may not be as high as LondonHouse, it offers a more closeup look at the event and is extremely popular. Even the Trump Tower Hotel has events scheduled for the day.
Take a special St. Patrick’s Day cruise
Watching the river dyeing ceremony from the water is an awesome experience. The cruises often have Irish music, food, and bars serving green beer. Some of the cruises are booze cruises while others are family-friendly providing an opportunity for all types of travelers to enjoy the event. Wendella has both types of cruises aboard their boats. Seadog is another popular cruise which has 2 beers included in the price. Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises Boats actually help the plumbers union with the river dyeing ceremony. They also have a Green Beer Cruise scheduled for the day. Other event-only cruises including sailing on yachts are also often planned for St. Patrick’s Day. If you can’t grab a spot of any of the special cruises, then catch an Architectural Cruise right after the ceremony – you will still be able to see the green river at a much cheaper cost!
See the Chicago buildings and fountains turn green
If you thought it’s just the Chicago River that turns green in honor of St. Patty’s Day then you are in for a treat. Throughout the week of St. Patrick’s day, many of Chicago’s landmarks, buildings, and even fountains turn green. It’s really amazing, the way you stumble on some of these without even knowing about them. Prudential Plaza, Civic Opera House, Soldier Field are just some of the buildings that will be taking part in the celebrations. For more information, see here.
Eat Irish food including corned beef and cabbages
Bars, pubs, restaurants, and even small eateries throughout the city serve Irish food on St. Patrick’s Day. You need not even find an Irish place – even other establishments have something Irish on their menu in a nod to one of Chicago’s biggest celebration of the year. This is the perfect time to chow down on corned beef hot dogs, corned beef meatballs, Irish soda bread, shepherds pie, stews, corned beef and cabbage croquettes, mashed potatoes, green soda, green milkshakes, and even Irish buffet brunches and lunches.
Drink green beer at an Irish pub or do a whole St. Patty’s themed bar crawl
Historically, St. Patrick’s Day fell during the period of Lent. For Christians who wished to participate in the festivities, the Lent restrictions on drinking and eating were lifted for that particular day giving rise to stories of excessive drinking on St. Patrick’s Day. For what it may be worth, the tradition continues and almost all bars and pubs in Chicago serve Irish whiskey, beer, and other alcoholic drinks. In almost all bars, you will find green beer, green vodka, green whiskey, green Bloody Mary’s, green Peruvian Chilcanos, and all sorts of cocktails named after Luck and Leprechauns. Many bars sell 50 cents to a dollar Jello shots and beer for $2 throughout the day.
Part II – St Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl in Chicago: Which pubs to visit?
The Irish love of drinking is a well-known stereotype and on St. Patrick’s Day you can participate in it by visiting some of Chicago’s finest pubs. Did you know Chicago has simply lots and lots of Irish pubs? All of these celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style and many are even located close to each other – all perfect ingredients for a very, very boozy bar crawl! One thing to remember is that Chicago does not have an open container alcohol policy and consuming alcohol in public can have you arrested.
There are many St. Patty’s special bar crawls throughout the city and these are great for meeting new people and having a fun time. But when you have got a huge group, we prefer DIY bar crawls much much more since we have complete freedom. Also, sometimes the pubs we want to visit may not be on the bar crawl list and somehow those lists are never published when you buy the tickets. Plus, there’s always that one time where you get so sloshed at the first bar that you just need to take the can back home! In that case, why waste your ticket with a paid bar crawl?!
There are many areas in Chicago where you can do an Irish bar crawl. Our favorite two are Wrigleyville and Northwest Chicago. Some of the other awesome areas for St. Patty’s bar crawl include the River North neighborhood, Lincoln Park, and Beverly. Here are the best Irish and other pubs in Chicago that celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on a grand scale and are worthy of adding to your bar crawl.
River North Bar Crawl
River North is one of the most popular places to do an Irish St. Patty’s crawl because of its proximity to Downtown. It’s really easy to see the river turn green, then watch the downtown parade then hit River North pubs in a matter of few hours. This bar crawl route we recommend covers 5 awesome pubs including some of the best Irish pubs in Chicago and is just under a mile long.
Stop #1: The Green Door Tavern
Stop #2: O’Leary’s Public House
Stop #3: Kerryman Irish Bar and Restaurant
Stop #4: Fado Irish Pub
Stop #5: O’ Callaghan’s
Division Street Bar Crawl
Division Street is known for its many pubs. This route is also just 1 mile long and stops at 6 different pubs.
Stop #1: Declan’s Irish Pub
Stop #2: The Lodge Tavern
Stop #3: Butch McGuire’s
Stop #4: She-nannigans
Stop #5: Dublin’s Bar & Grill
Stop #6: Pippin’s Tavern
Lincoln Park Bar Crawl
The Lincoln Park bar crawl is over 2 miles long but has 7 awesome pubs and bars!
Stop #1: Vaughan’s Pub
Stop #2: Harrigan’s
Stop #3: Hidden Shamrock
Stop #4: The Galway Arms
Stop #5: Halligan Bar
Stop #6: Lion Head Pub
Stop #7: River Shannon
Wrigleyville Bar Crawl
Stop #1: Full Shilling Public House
Stop #2: Casey Moran’s
Stop #3: Guthrie’s Tavern
Stop #4: The Irish Oak
Stop #5: Charm’d
Charm’d is a St. Patrick’s Day themed pop-up bar in Wrigleyville. If you are new to the concept of pop-up bars, it means a temporary bar based around a popular theme. This bar is located at the Deuce’s and the Diamond Club and first makes an appearance in March of 2019 and will be open the entire month. At Charm’d, you will find eye-popping green decor, shamrocks, leprechauns, clovers, bagpipers, and green beer! There’s also a Jameson tasting room where you can sample the whiskey. This is the place to be for dazzling green pics for the ‘gram.
South Side Bar Crawl
Western Avenue in Beverly neighborhood is thoroughly Irish and has a succession of popular pubs lining up on its streets.
Stop #1: Cork & Kerry
Stop #2: Barney Callaghan’s Pub
Stop #3: O’Rourkes Office
Stop #4: McNally’s
Northwest Chicago Bar Crawl
Fun fact: from our rental apartment in Edison Park, Chicago we could ‘check in’ into 4 different pubs. On weekends we had free music streaming in till 2 am and then could hear the sound of hundreds of glass bottles being emptied into dumpsters after closing time which was our cue to finally sleep. We were living in a totally hip area and since it was just us (pre-kid days) we loved every bit of it! Getting sloshed and then walking a block home? Yes, please! And did I mention that 2 of those 4 bars were Irish? It was honestly one of the most romantic and carefree phases of our lives! And now that I have indulged in that bit of nostalgia, let me walk you through the must pubs on this side of the city.
This Edison Park Bar Crawl is almost a secret: most guidebooks won’t tell you about it! And yet, it is amazingly popular with locals. The best part? If you are coming from Downtown, you can just take the Metra from OTC to Edison Park Station and walk 2 blocks to 4 amazing bars – no designated driver needed!
Stop #1: The Curragh
Stop #2: Emerald Isle
Stop #3: Firewater Saloon
Stop #4: Edison Park Inn
How to dress for St. Patty’s themed bar crawl?
In a word, green! Honestly, you just need to find a green shirt, a St. Patrick’s Day hat, wear some green beads, and you are good to go! All stores including Walmart, Dollar Tree, and Party City have lots of Irish themed accessories for St. Patrick’s Day.
Where to stay in Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day?
Your best bet is to stay in the Chicago Loop. That way you are near the river dyeing ceremony and close to the bars in River North and other areas of the city.
What to pack for Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day trip?
While St. Patrick’s Day falls on 17th March every year, the weather can fluctuate wildly. There’s always a chance of snow in Chicago well into May and so you should bring your winter coat with you. If you are lucky, you can actually have 70-80 F weather – good enough to wear shorts! – but that’s not the norm. And even if it is pleasant in the morning, it’s Chicago – you should be always prepared for the weather and wind turning on you and dress up in layers.
The St. Patrick’s Day fervor always leaves us smiling and joyful. It is amazing to experience this original Chicago tradition, especially if the weather coordinates. While green beer, drinking, and photo ops is a popular part of it – it’s not what St. Patrick’s Day is about! This is a great opportunity to learn about the Irish-American heritage, make new Irish-American friends, and participate in their celebrations. The slightly grungy, towering, monotone buildings of Chicago downtown and the reddish-brown trussed metal bridges on the Chicago River perfectly frame the vibrant green water on St. Patty’s Day while the parades are a great way to understand the Irish culture.