What time do they dye the river green - One Stop Guide to a Perfect St. Patrick's Day Chicago

Being “half” Irish and loving a good beer I have always been a fan of St. Patrick’s day and enjoy celebrating it. There are lots of great St. Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world from Dublin to New York, Savanah, Georgia and even Sydney, Australia. One of the best and well known however which I recently had the chance to attend is the Chicago St. Patrick’s day celebrations. They celebrate with a big parade, special events and one of the most iconic St. Patrick’s day celebrations, dyeing the Chicago River green. Learn about all of that and more in my one stop guide to St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago so you can have as great of a time as I did and more!

When do they celebrate St. Patrick’s day in Chicago?

The most IMPORTANT piece of information to know about the St. Patrick’s day celebrations in Chicago is that they don’t necessarily take place on St. Patrick’s day. Since it is such a big event and celebration with so many people attending it closes down parts of the city. Because of that they actually celebrate it the Saturday the weekend before March 17th. That is of course if March 17th doesn’t fall on a Saturday. Be sure to plan your trip accordingly so that you don’t miss the big celebration.

In 2019 St. Patrick’s Day Chicago will be celebrated on March 16th.

In 2020 St. Patrick’s Day Chicago will be celebrated on March 14th.

In 2021 St. Patrick’s Day Chicago will be celebrated on March 13th.

plumbers dumping dye into the Chicago river - guide to st patricks day in chicago

The Plumbers Local Union130 dump the dye into the Chicago river to mix it up, it starts out orange then changes to bright green

Watch them dye the Chicago River green

What time do they dye the river green? This is the most important question when celebrating St. Patrick’s day in Chicago (aside from where to get a good drink). The dyeing of the Chicago river green starts bright and early at 9am. Rest up the night before, wake up early, put on all of the green clothes and things that you can find and head down to the Chicago river for 9am. Position yourself along the Chicago riverwalk between Columbus Drive and State Street along Wacker Drive and you can’t miss it. On average 200,000 people watch them dye the river green so head down early to get a good spot.

a close up of the Chicago river dyed green - guide to st. patrick's day in chicago

A close up of the churning bright green Chicago River

The next question that comes is, why do they dye the river green? It actually has been taking place for over 55 years and is organized by the Plumbers Local Union130. They used an orange/green dye in pipes to check for leaks and one of the bosses had the idea to flood the river with it on St. Patrick’s day. The dye is eco-friendly and they use about 40lbs of it to change the color of 1/4 of the river. There are several boats in the river dumping the dye and driving around to stir it up. It is quite the site to see. The dye lasts for 4-5 hours but in my opinion is best to see right when they do it.

wendella boat tour booze cruise for st. patrick's day dyeing of the chicago river - guide to st patricks day in chicago

A view of the large crowds and a Wendella booze cruise watching the dyeing of the Chicago river

Public drinking is frowned upon in the streets of Chicago but if you want to watch the dyeing of the river with a drink in hand that early in the morning you do have options. There are various bars and restaurants on the river with great views that serve or you could also take a boat tour. Wendella tours and cruises are one of the top boat tour companies on the Chicago river. Join them for a St. Patrick’s day cruise full of Irish music, a great spot to watch the river dyeing and a lot of green beer for everyone. Learn more here.

girls do an Irish dance in the st patrick's day parade - guide to st. patrick's day in chicago

Young girls Irish dance in the downtown Chicago St. Patrick’s day parade

st. patrick's parade court queens - guide to st. patrick's day in chicago

Ladies of the St. Patrick’s day parade court

Next stop, enjoy the parade

Following the river dyeing you should maybe grab a breakfast sandwich then make your way towards nearby Millennium Park / Grant Park for the Chicago St. Patrick’s day parade. Starting at 12noon from Balbo Drive & Columbus Ave the parade will head straight through the middle of the parks heading north. You can grab a spot along the street and watch for free. Or you can pay a $45 fee for VIP seating located by the Buckingham fountain. 800,000+ people will be watching the parade so make sure you grab your spot early. Over 120 community groups, marching bands, Irish dancers, firefighters and more will be celebrating in the parade.

enjoying a large green beer at dick's last resort - guide to st. patrick's day in chicago

Enjoying a large green beer at Dick’s Last Resort

Drink a Green Beer

After the parade is over it’s time to get your drink on! Anywhere in the near vicinity will be packed full and there may be a wait, but you need to get that green beer! I enjoyed cheap drinks and pub eats at a place along the river called Dick’s Last Resort. Their balcony has a great view over the river dyeing too. They are far from being an Irish pub though. If you want to go full Irish on St. Patrick’s day I suggest checking out Lizzie McNeill’s and Fado. But again be prepared to wait to get in. Also drink responsibly! No matter where you manage to get into for a drink consider staying there for the day as there will be long lines everywhere else you go.

Best bars for st. patrick’s day in Chicago - One Stop Guide to a Perfect St. Patrick's Day in Chicago

Go on a bar crawl

Can’t make up on your mind on where to grab a drink or you would prefer someone else lead your St. Patrick’s day shenanigans? Then you should check out one of the several offered St. Patrick’s day bar crawls. One of the most popular is in the Chicago Shamrock Crawl in the Wrigleyville neighborhood starting at 8am until 2pm. Prices range from $15-$60 depending on how far in advance you purchase them. They include a free t-shirt, a buffet breakfast, access to over 11 bars and restaurants and a giftcard to use during the crawl. For tickets and more info click here.

Other great events to check out in Chicago on St. Patrick’s day

There are more parades and events than just mentioned above. Head to the Irish American Heritage Centre for their St. Patrick’s day festival great for families. For a small entry fee enjoy Irish dancing, Irish language classes, an arts and crafts fair and more. There are also two other parades one in the South Side and one in the North West, so you have three to chose from to enjoy.

For the “healthy” people attending you can skip the river dyeing and take part in a 5k or 8k run/walk. The more whacky the costumes the better and you could win a prize. Learn more about the St. Paddy’s day run here.

Later in the day there are also numerous booze cruises offered, see a great list of all of your options for Saturday and Sunday here. These are also offered on March 17th itself whatever day that happens to fall on.

Late at night while walking / stumbling home don’t forget to look up at all of the buildings. For the whole week around St. Patrick’s day the entire city lights up green at night becoming the GREENist city in the world.

For more ideas on the best things to see, do and eat in Chicago check out my blog post and video that highlights the best of the city.

a harpist plays during afternoon tea int he Palm Court at the Drake Hotel in Chicago - Afternoon Tea at The Drake Hotel in Chicago

A harpist plays in the Palm Court at Chicago’s Drake Hotel by Hilton

Where to stay in Chicago for St Patricks Day?

Here are my recommended hotels to stay in, in Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day:

For a budget property stay at HI Chicago hostel. Located centrally in the loop of downtown. To learn more click HERE.

For a more modern, hip and business type hotel check out the Hyatt Place also located in the loop downtown area. To learn more click HERE.

If you are feeling really fancy and are the type of person that enjoys a nice afternoon tea then I recommend staying at the Drake Hotel by Hilton. To learn more click HERE.

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