Chicago, often dubbed the “Windy City,” stands tall as a hub of architectural marvels, deep-dish pizza, and rich American history. For those considering things to do in Chicago, taking an architectural boat tour along the Chicago River to admire the city’s iconic skyscrapers and visiting Millennium Park, home to the reflective “Bean” sculpture and Crown Fountain, are top activities.
The city’s Navy Pier, stretching along the Lake Michigan shoreline, offers entertainment, dining, and cultural attractions. Nearby, the Art Institute of Chicago houses an impressive collection of artworks, spanning ancient to contemporary, making it one of the premier art museums in the world.
Beyond its urban attractions, Chicago is renowned for its music scene, particularly blues and jazz. For those seeking the best places to visit in the USA, Chicago’s blend of cultural richness, architectural grandeur, and musical legacy makes it a must-visit metropolis.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Chicago, USA
1. The Art Institute of Chicago
One of the country’s premier art museums, the Art Institute of Chicago houses an impressive collection spanning ancient to contemporary art. Visitors can marvel at iconic works such as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.”
Travel Tip: Purchase tickets online in advance to avoid long lines, and plan to spend at least half a day exploring the vast collections.
2. Navy Pier
Situated along the Lake Michigan shoreline, Navy Pier offers a mix of entertainment, shopping, dining, and cultural experiences. From the iconic Ferris wheel offering panoramic views of the city to seasonal fireworks and festivals, there’s something for everyone.
Travel Tip: Visit during weekdays to avoid the weekend crowds. The pier can be bustling during the summer months.
3. Millennium Park
An urban oasis in the heart of Chicago, Millennium Park is home to the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (commonly known as “The Bean”), the Crown Fountain, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which hosts various concerts and events.
Travel Tip: Early mornings are the best time to capture photos at “The Bean” without large crowds.
4. Willis Tower Skydeck
Standing tall at 1,450 feet, the Willis Tower offers a thrilling experience with its Skydeck. On clear days, views can extend over four states, and the glass-floored ledges provide a unique, albeit heart-stopping, perspective.
Travel Tip: Go early or during sunset for the best views and fewer crowds. Be prepared for a wait during peak times.
5. Chicago Riverwalk
This pedestrian waterfront along the Chicago River offers scenic views, restaurants, cafes, and boat tours. It’s a favorite spot for tourists and locals looking to relax and enjoy the city’s skyline.
Travel Tip: Consider taking a riverboat architecture tour to learn about Chicago’s rich architectural heritage.
6. Museum of Science and Industry
Housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, this museum is a wonderland of science and technology exhibits. From a U-505 German submarine to a coal mine replica, the hands-on experiences are endless.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable shoes; the museum is vast and requires a lot of walking.
7. Lincoln Park Zoo
One of the oldest zoos in the country, Lincoln Park Zoo offers a free admission experience in the city’s heart. The zoo is home to various animals worldwide and is set within the expansive Lincoln Park.
Travel Tip: Since admission is free, the zoo can get crowded, especially on weekends. Try visiting on weekday mornings.
8. Shedd Aquarium
A window to aquatic life from around the globe, Shedd Aquarium showcases everything from tiny sea horses to majestic beluga whales. Its Oceanarium offers a breathtaking view of marine mammals against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline.
Travel Tip: Weekdays or off-peak hours are the best times to visit to avoid long entrance queues.
9. Chicago Cultural Center
Originally the city’s central library, the Chicago Cultural Center boasts intricate mosaics, marble, and grand arches. The highlight of this architectural gem is its two stunning stained-glass domes, especially the world’s largest Tiffany dome.
Travel Tip: Free guided tours are available that delve into the history and artistry of the building. Check the schedule and try to catch one.
10. Grant Park
Often called “Chicago’s front yard,” Grant Park spans 319 acres and hosts many of the city’s most significant events, including the Chicago Blues Festival and Lollapalooza. The Buckingham Fountain, one of the world’s largest, is a centerpiece not to be missed.
Travel Tip: If visiting in the summer, pack a picnic and enjoy the many free concerts and movie nights held in the park.
11. The Field Museum
With over 40 million artifacts and specimens, The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. Sue, the largest and most complete T. rex ever found, is one of its most famous inhabitants.
Travel Tip: The museum often has temporary exhibits which may require separate tickets. Check their schedule in advance to make the most of your visit.
12. 360 Chicago
Atop the John Hancock Center, 360 Chicago provides panoramic views of the city’s skyline, Lake Michigan, and beyond. The TILT experience offers the daring visitor a unique, angled view of the streets below.
Travel Tip: Consider visiting at night when the city lights illuminate the landscape for a different perspective.
13. The Magnificent Mile
Chicago’s premier shopping district, The Magnificent Mile, is a stretch of North Michigan Avenue that offers a mix of high-end boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and historic landmarks.
Travel Tip: Even if shopping isn’t your main aim, the area is perfect for strolling and people-watching. Also, don’t miss the historic Water Tower, one of the few structures that survived the Great Chicago Fire 1871.
14. Chicago History Museum
Dive deep into the city’s past at the Chicago History Museum, which showcases Chicago’s diverse and rich history through various exhibits, photographs, and interactive displays.
Travel Tip: Explore the museum’s digital interactive displays, which provide a fascinating look into the city’s architectural and cultural evolution.
15. Garfield Park Conservatory
One of the largest conservatories in the nation, Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush, green haven amidst the urban landscape. Spanning 12 acres, it houses thousands of plant species in various settings, from the arid Desert House to the luxuriant Fern Room.
Travel Tip: The conservatory is a great year-round destination, but it’s adorable in winter when you can escape the cold and immerse yourself in tropical warmth.
16. Adler Planetarium
Perched on the edge of Lake Michigan, Adler Planetarium offers awe-inspiring insights into the vast universe. With its state-of-the-art theaters and fascinating exhibits, visitors can explore space like never before.
Travel Tip: For an unforgettable experience, try to catch one of the regular sky shows in the Grainger Sky Theater, but check the schedule beforehand.
17. Wrigley Field
Home to the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field is one of the oldest ballparks in the country. Even if baseball isn’t your game, the history and atmosphere of this iconic stadium are worth experiencing.
Travel Tip: Consider taking a guided tour to learn about the park’s rich history and get behind-the-scenes access, even during non-game days.
18. The Chicago Architecture Center
Located on the Chicago Riverwalk, this center celebrates the city’s renowned architectural heritage through exhibits, tours, and educational programs. Chicago’s architecture is world-famous, and this center helps to explain why.
Travel Tip: One of the highlights is the river cruise. If you’re keen on architecture, booking a river cruise tour is necessary.
This charming neighborhood in the northern part of the city is rich in Swedish heritage and filled with unique boutiques, eclectic restaurants, and historical sites. It’s a great place to stroll, shop, and soak in a more local side of Chicago.
Travel Tip: Visit during the Midsommarfest, Andersonville’s annual summer street festival celebrating its Swedish roots, for a truly festive experience.
20. Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Regarded as one of the world’s greatest orchestras, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center offers world-class musical performances ranging from classical symphonies to contemporary works.
Travel Tip: Dress is generally business casual for CSO concerts, but it’s always best to check ahead. If unsure about which performance to attend, afternoon matinees can be a delightful introduction.
FAQ About Things to Do in Chicago, USA
What are the top attractions to visit in Chicago?
Some of the top attractions in Chicago include the Willis Tower Skydeck, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Magnificent Mile.
Is the Chicago Riverwalk worth visiting?
Absolutely! The Chicago Riverwalk offers a scenic pathway along the Chicago River with numerous restaurants, bars, and public art installations. It’s a great place to stroll and enjoy the city’s architecture.
Where can I get the best view of the Chicago skyline?
The Adler Planetarium offers a stunning view of the city’s skyline. Alternatively, you can also visit the 360 Chicago observation deck located in the John Hancock Center.
Are there any free activities to do in Chicago?
Yes, Chicago offers several free activities. You can visit the Lincoln Park Zoo, enjoy concerts at Millennium Park during the summer, or walk along the Lakefront Trail.
What museums should I visit in Chicago?
Chicago is home to world-class museums. Some must-visits include The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Chicago History Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Is Chicago known for any special events or festivals?
Chicago hosts numerous events throughout the year. Some popular ones include the Chicago Air & Water Show, Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, and the Chicago Blues Festival.
Where can I experience Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizza?
Chicago is renowned for its deep-dish pizza. Some iconic places to try it include Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, and Pequod’s Pizza.
Are there any guided tours to explore Chicago?
Yes, various guided tours are available, ranging from architectural boat tours on the Chicago River to walking tours exploring the city’s rich history and culture.