Green Chicago River at night

The Chicago Green River Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day – Everyone’s Irish for a Day

Posted on Posted in Activities/Experiences, Chicago

This past weekend, Chicago continued its tradition of dyeing the river green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s part of a larger celebration with multiple parades and informal pub crawls. I was lucky to experience this tradition a few years ago while attending a travel writers conference. While I was excited to meet so many women travel writers and bloggers from around the world, I was even more excited to see the Chicago green river for St. Patrick’s Day.

Green Chicago River
A bit greener than I imagined

If you think your city does St. Patrick’s Day well (outside of Dublin of course), you’d be wrong.  Chicago not only has multiple parades with the Downtown parade attracting over 300k people, they dye the river green!  That’s taking it the extra mile and they have been doing this for over 50 years.  With a eco-friendly vegetable dye the boats begin their routine of swirling the dye in the water.  While I missed this part of the process, a friend had excellent photos she took from a nearby hotel high above the river (a few have rooftop viewing from bars and restaurants) – there are also multiple YouTube videos of the process from several years.     

Chicago Green River Boat
Boats on Chicago Green River hours after the dyeing ceremony

Off to see the Chicago Green River

During our extended lunch break, I was able to make my way through the kilts, the outlandish green body suits, the tall leprechaun hats and the more unbelievably dressed revelers (ah to be young, drunk and without a care in the world as those photos will definitely haunt them on social media!)  to the Chicago Green River. While I had seen the green river for many years on television, seeing it in person was unreal.  The actual green of the river does not translate on the television – it was a crazy bright green! I just stood there laughing it was that green.

Chicago Green River on the Riverwalk
The Chicago Riverwalk gets you up close and personal with the Chicago Green River
Chicago Green River for St. Patrick's Day with couple
The color green that Kermit the Frog would love to swim in

While I was at the river, the parade was nearing it’s conclusion down at Millenium Park with Irish dancers, floats, marching bands and bagpipes.  I was sad to miss the parade but happy that the river wasn’t so crowded with people and easy to navigate.

Chicago Green River and bridge
The Chicago Green River and one of many bridges

Chicago Green River Accessories – Everyone’s Irish for a Day

If you forgot your green outfit, beads, silly hat, glasses, sparkly vest or “kiss me I’m Irish button”, don’t worry Walgreen’s (which seem to be on every corner downtown) and other stores I walked into had something to make you Irish, even if it was selling you Jameson’s Irish Whiskey!  Vendors were along the parade route selling hats, beads and other green accessory to make you honorary Irish for the day.  Just in case you forgot you are in the city for St. Patrick’s Day, restaurants changed the light bulbs to green, buildings were lit in green and even the hotel had a subtle message. It was hard to escape the color green.

Chicago Green River Hotel welcome
Happy St. Patrick’s Day projected on the hotel floor – Chicago takes the holiday quite seriously


Despite all the insanity of the green river, the parade, the revelers and the outfits (some that I wished I had never seen) -it was really nice to see happy people (even if alcohol played a part).  Groups of friends, families, couples and the traveling singleton (me) were enjoying the bright, sunny day walking around Chicago. So while Kermit the Frog may lament “it ain’t easy being green”, in Chicago for St. Patrick’s day, it’s super easy and fun being green (and temporary Irish).

Chicago Green River at night
Chicago’s Green River at night

Have you visited the Chicago green river to experience St. Patrick’s Day? If not, how do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in your part of the world?


2 thoughts on “The Chicago Green River Celebrates St. Patrick’s Day – Everyone’s Irish for a Day

  1. Great ‘gram!
    I wonder why it is that Chicago goes all out for St. Patty’s Day … is it simply because they have a big Irish descendant population? I was there for the festivities a couple years ago, but that was the first time I realized it was a major holiday there… any thoughts/answers?

    1. Amanda – as far as I can gather the Irish community has been a part of Chicago for over 150 years and involved in the politics of the city. With two parades -one on the South Side and this parade in the downtown, the Irish community really celebrates it’s history and culture. The green river has it’s own page and story at the greenchicagoriver (dot) com.

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