Chicago, Illinois is a vibrant, lively city with the highest population of any city in the American Midwest. Incorporated in 1837, the city became a major transportation hub and a center of retail, finance, and manufacturing. Today, the city is known for its shopping, dining, and theater. Places to visit in Chicago include parks, museums, and sports events.
10. Pilsen, Little Italy, and Chinatown
The city’s ethnic neighborhoods offer shopping, dining, and museums for the whole family to enjoy. Chinatown Square, at Princeton and Archer, features sculptures of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The Pilsen Murals depict Mexican icons and citizens of Pilsen. Other attractions include Maxwell Street Market, National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, and the National Museum of Mexican Art. Other museums include Clarke House Museum, Glessner House Museum, and Jane Addams Hull-House museum. Kids will enjoy the Ping Tom Memorial Park, which is twelve acres large. The park includes a playground and walking trails, and its entrance is marked by four large pillars with dragon designs carved into them.
9. Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile is an eight block stretch of Michigan Avenue running from Oak Street to the Chicago River. The one mile stretch has approximately 460 stores, 300 restaurants, and 60 hotels. The area is home to historical landmarks including the Site of Fort Dearborn, the Old Chicago Water Tower District, the Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable Homesite, and the Drake Hotel. The street also boasts some of the tallest buildings in the world, including Trump International Hotel and Tower, John Hancock Center, and the Palmolive Building. In addition to shopping and dining, the area hosts seasonal events, such as the Gardens of the Magnificent Mile walking tour each summer, and the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival to start the Christmas season every year.
8. Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. The zoo spans 35 acres and houses 1,100 animals. It was founded in 1868, after a gift of two swans from New York City’s Central Park to Lincoln Park. Exhibits include the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond, the Waterfowl Lagoon, the McCormick Bird House, the Kovler Lion House, the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, the Regenstein African Journey, and more. Admission is free, and the zoo hosts numerous daily events at the various exhibits, as well as seasonal activities.
7. Art Institute of Chicago
This art museum, located in Grant Park, houses 300,000 works of art and hosts over 1,500,000 visitors each year. Collections include Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as American art. The museum features an African American art collection, and has a number of exhibitions running at any given time. Mediums include textiles, photography, prints and drawings, architecture and design, and more. Gallery talks are delivered every day at noon, and weekend programs are offered. In addition to the galleries, the institute houses the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, which are accessible to the public. Tickets can be purchased online.
6. Second City
The Windy City is home to numerous theatre and comedy venues. The Second City comedy troupe is among the most famous. It opened in 1959 on North Wells Street. Originally improvisational comedy, the acts now feature sketch comedy as well. The famous club has featured numerous prominent comedians over the years, including Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Ed Asner, Dan Akroyd, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Chris Farley, and many more. The troupe offers shows and dinner packages. Classes are also available, including special workshops for classroom groups or individuals who are interested in honing their improvisational or writing skills.
5. Millennium Park
Opened in 2004, Millennium Park was named for the new millennium. The 24.5 acre park is chock full of attractions, is the location of numerous events, and admission is free. The Jay Prittzker Pavilion is a concert venue under a dome of stainless steel ribbons. The McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink and Park Grill is an ice rink in the winter, and provides multiple functions in warmer months. Other venues and features in the park include Nichols Bridgeway, Exelon Pavilions, McDonald’s Cycle Center, Wrigley Square, Harris Theater, BP Pedestrian Bridge, AT&T Plaza and Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain, and Lurie Garden. Millennium Park is a great choice for a romantic afternoon or weekend.
4. Chicago Architect Foundation Tours
The CAF is a non-profit organization that provides over 85 different architecture related tours of the city conducted by docents. Tours are offered on foot, by bicycle or Segway, by bus or trolley, on the “L” train, or by boat. The river cruise is available April through November each year, while other cruises are offered year round. The CAF also houses a very cool miniature model of the city. The organization is located in Daniel Burnham’s 1904 Santa Fe Building, on South Michigan Avenue. Tickets can be purchased at the CAF’s website, or by phone.
3. Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field is the second oldest ballpark in the United States. The park was built in 1914, and has been called Wrigley Field since 1927. Although the park underwent some renovations in 2014, the original scoreboard is still in use. Fans without tickets can sit along Sheffield Avenue and hope to catch a foul ball. The park is open year round. When the team is away, from April to November, visitors can take guided tours of the park and the dugouts. The neighborhood around the venue, which has homes, restaurants, and bars, is known as Wrigleyville.
2. Willis Tower Skydeck
Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, was the tallest building in the world for its first 25 years. It is currently the second tallest building in the United States, at 1,730 feet, and among the tallest in the world. The 110 story building has three glass box balconies that extend 4.3 feet out of the building at the 103rd floor. The observation boxes afford views of four states on a clear day. Willis Tower offers visitors interactive exhibits featuring famous Chicagoans, and computer kiosks in six languages to help travelers find attractions around the city. The skydeck is open every day. Tickets can be purchased at Willis Tower’s website.
1. Navy Pier
The Navy Pier is the most popular of tourist attractions in Chicago. Opened in 1916, the pier was intended for docking freight and passenger ships, and also as an entertainment venue. The structure is 1.5 miles long, and extends half a mile over Lake Michigan. Among its many uses, it was a Navy training facility during World War II, and a location for the University of Illinois for many years after that. Today it is home to a fifteen story Ferris wheel, a carousel, a beer garden, a botanical park, an IMAX theater, restaurants, bars, and shops. The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, and the Chicago Children’s Museum are all located there as well. The Navy Pier offers visitors a number of cruises. Admission is free, but some events may require tickets. This is a fun place to take kids in any season.
These are some of the best things to do in Chicago whether you are traveling with friends, family, or by yourself. This city has a lot to offer visitors at any budget, and at any time of year. Visit some of the many historical museums, catch a show at a theater, and enjoy world class dining during your stay.