Chicago, known for its magnificent skyline and outstanding architectural masterpieces, attracts millions of visitors from all over the world annually for obvious reasons: It is rich in history, it is home to some of the most intriguing museums in the world and it boasts beautiful beaches, vast open spaces, and great sightseeing opportunities.
Chicago is the capital city of the Chicago metropolitan area in the State of Illinois, and it lies along the shores of freshwater Lake Michigan.
Whether you’re a history boffin, art, architecture or history lover, an outdoorsy type or sports fan, you will find something in the Windy City, as Chicago is often referred to, to enthrall you.
1. Art Institute of Chicago
A must-see on every visitor to Chicago’s list is the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. It is situated in Grant Park, which is in the Loop community area of downtown Chicago and is best known for its collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. Some of the highlights to look for are paintings by Old Masters like Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir.
Its permanent collection consists of almost 300,000 works of art, and on top of that, it hosts about 30 special exhibitions every year. The Institute also owns collections of American Art, European and American decorative art, contemporary and Asian Art.
2. Field Museum
Meet the largest dinosaur ever discovered namely Maximo, the Titanosaur and Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found when you visit the Field Museum on Chicago’s Museum Campus on the lakefront.
This National History Museum is the largest of its kind in the world and owes its existence to the Columbian Exposition’s world fair which was held in Chicago in 1893. The museum was established to house and preserve the exhibits and collections assembled for the Exposition for future generations.
Over the next century, the museum continued to grow and expand the scope of its collections and research to what it is today: a magnificent display covering the science behind the formation of the planet, the world’s inhabitants and cultures of over 4 billion years.
Exciting permanent exhibits worth a visit are the Animal Halls, Inside Ancient Egypt where you can descend into an Egyptian tomb and see Egyptian mummies, Evolving Planet which follows the evolution of Life and the dazzling Halls of Gems and Jades.
3. Millennium Park
This huge park in the heart of the city is a spectacular spot where both locals and visitors gather for picnics on the lawns while enjoying free outdoor concerts, to cool off in the magnificent Crown Fountain in summer or ice-skating in winter. Millennium Park covers an area of 24.5 acres and features the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Lurie Garden, Cloud Gate and more and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago.
It can be called a rooftop garden, as it was constructed on top of a railroad to cover an area that consisted of train tracks, concrete lots and a large parking garage, becoming one of the largest green roofs in the world.
You cannot miss Cloud Gate or The Bean, as it is fondly called, a reflective sculpture which is at the center of the park and forms an archway into the park. Inspired by liquid mercury, it is made of polished stainless-steel plates which reflects the sky and surrounding area, one of the most photographic attractions in the city. Millennium Park is in downtown Chicago and connected to Grant Park by a pedestrian bridge.
4. Navy Pier
Being one of Chicago’s top attractions for adults and children alike, a visit to Navy Pier is an absolute must on any visitor’s must-see list.
Over 50 acres of land around the pier, which stretches over 1000 meters into Lake Michigan, was developed into this major tourist attraction complete with parks, gardens, shops, restaurants and lots of entertainment. Check out Centennial Wheel and Pier park for loads of fun. Take a ride in the incredible Centennial Wheel with its climate-controlled gondolas nearly 200 feet above the ground, experience the Pepsi Wave swinger or ride a musical carousel in the fairground.
In summer you can watch breathtaking fireworks synchronized to music, a tradition at Navy Pier, take a cruise or go for a 4D virtual reality adventure at Virtual Rush. Navy Pier is in the Streeterville neighborhood of the Near North Side community area.
5. 360 Chicago
Visit 360 Chicago for the highest thrill ride in the city and the best views of Chicago’s skyline and Lake Michigan. The glass-walled observation deck called 360 Chicago is on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building and its recent addition is an enclosed, glass and steel moveable platform called Tilt. It is an enclosed moving platform 1000 feet above the Magnificent Mile, that tilts visitors outward at an angle to provide unique downward-facing views of Chicago, straight down to the Magnificent Mile.
Before you enter the elevators which transport you to the observation deck at a dizzying speed of 20 miles an hour, you can learn more about the history of Chicago at an exhibition on the ground floor of the building. It features interactive touch screens with information on the history, scenery, culture, and architecture of the city.
6. Michigan Avenue and The Magnificent Mile
For an intense shopping experience visit The Magnificent Mile where you will find 460 retailers including department stores like Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and luxury boutiques.
The Mag Mile, as it is sometimes referred to, is a section of Michigan Avenue which runs from the Chicago River to Oak Street near the North Side. The district is also known for its theatres, art galleries, restaurants, and bars. The district is home to landmarks like the Chicago Water Tower, the Wrigley Building, John Hancock Centre and the Tribune Tower. Stroll down to Chicago Riverwalk where you can board one of the bright yellow water taxis.
7. Grant Park
Chicago’s front yard, as Grant Park is also referred to, is home to many of the most popular attractions in the city. It is a huge urban park in the Loop community area of Chicago and its attractions include Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Buckingham Fountain.
Rent a bike and cycle down the 18-mile-long Lakefront Trail, which stretches from one end of the city to the other, smell the flowers in the stunning flower gardens or follow one of the numerous walking paths to enjoy the outside art sculptures and exhibitions.
8. Buckingham Fountain
Start one evening in Chicago with a visit to the must-see Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park which comes to life at dusk with spectacular music and light shows.
The elaborate, massive fountain is more than 7 meters high and with its three basins resembles a huge wedding cake. It is made of pink Georgia marble surrounded by four sets of seahorses that symbolize the four states that border Lake Michigan, which it represents.
Buckingham Fountain is right in the center of Grant Park, and one of the largest of its kind in the world. It shoots almost 15 000 gallons of water per minute through 193 jets to create dazzling displays throughout the day.
9. Lincoln Park Zoo
Situated in Lincoln Park the entrance to the zoo is free and it is open every day of the week. It is ideal to go for a short stroll to get away from the busy city, or to spend a full day and admire its more than 200 animal species and beautiful gardens.
Lincoln Park Zoo was founded in 1868 and is one of the oldest zoos in North America. It is home to exotic animals and one of the largest zoo conservation programs in the country.
Its permanent exhibitions include a penguin cove, the Regenstein African Journey, the Regenstein Center for African Apes, Kolver Lion House, the Regenstein Macaque Forest, and the Helen Brach Primate House. Take the kids to the Farm-in-the-Zoo exhibit where they can meet cows, pigs, goats and more.
10. Shedd Aquarium
It’s a variety of permanent exhibits and indoor aquarium housing over 30,000 animals and 1500 species of fish, marine mammals and more make Shedd Aquarium worth a visit.
Find the aquarium on Lake Michigan, situated on the Museum Campus in Chicago. The 9 permanent exhibits that attract people include Caribbean Reef, Amazon Rising, Stingray Touch and Fantasea, a multi-animal show which features friendly dolphins, sea lions, whales, and penguins.
A diver interacts with people and creatures in Caribbean Reef which houses Stingrays, Green Sea Turtles, Sharks and more whereas Skinray Touch allows guests to touch the various swimming rays in their 20 000-gallon tank. Amazon Rising, which is a recreation of the Great Amazon River and The Jungle, is an award-winning exhibition displaying 250 different species.
11. Museum of Science and Industry
With over 2000 exhibits displayed in 75 halls, you might consider spending a day in the Museum of Science and Industry in Jackson Park, the Hyde Park neighborhood between Lake Michigan and the University of Chicago.
Its permanent displays include the command module of Apollo 8, a German U-505 submarine captured during World War II, a replica of a real coal mine and Pioneer Zephyr, the first diesel-powered and streamlined stainless-steel train.
Add to that Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, The Great Train Story and Swiss Jolly Ball, a huge pinball type machine made from salvaged materials and you will understand why children also love visiting this popular tourist attraction. The museum offers play and learning experiences for adults and children alike.
12. Chicago Waterfront Pedestrian
Explore Chicago’s Riverwalk, an open, pedestrian waterfront area in downtown Chicago where you can go to eat and drink, take a boat trip or even rent a kayak to paddle down the Chicago River which runs through the city. The Riverwalk is made up of six coves, each with its own nickname and special attractions.
These include The Marina where you will find loads of restaurants, The Cove where you can rent a kayak, The River Theater, The Water Plaza, The Jetty where you can see wetland gardens, learn about river ecology and do fishing if you are that way inclined, and The Boardwalk.
It is interesting to know that Chicago has the most drawbridges in North America, of which you will find eighteen in only two miles. You can learn more about Chicago’s movable bridges at the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum on the Riverwalk. While you are there, visit Island Party Hut, the famous tropical-themed bar famous for its rum-based drinks and island music.
13. Wrigley Field
Sports fans must make time to visit the home of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field Baseball Park in the North Side of Chicago.
The old-fashioned park is the last remaining Federal Land Ballpark, and still attracts fans whether the Cubs win or lose because a visit to Wrigley Field is like stepping back in time. People still go there to admire its ivy-covered outfield walls and hand-operated scoreboard with flags atop to remind fans whether the Cubs won or lost.
14. Willis Tower Sky Deck
Formerly known as the Sears Tower, Willis Tower is one of Chicago’s best-known skyscrapers and is easily recognizable because of its asymmetrical design and two antennae that are brightly lit up at night. The massive black building is the tallest in the city and attracts millions of visitors to its observation deck, called the Skydeck, from where you have 360-degree views over the city.
The visibility from the Skydeck is 65 – 80 kilometers, and on a clear day provides views over Illinois and across Lake Michigan to Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Willis Tower is 1,450 feet high and stands 110 stories tall. Elevators take visitors at lightning speed to the Skydeck where they can enter The Ledge, consisting of four observation boxes made entirely from glass. The glass boxes extend 4.3 feet from the skyscraper, providing unique views to the streets below. Willis tower is on Wacker Avenue in the heart of downtown Chicago. Find the Skydeck entrance on Jackson Boulevard.
15. Take a Gangster or Ghost Tour & Pub Crawls
Chicago’s history of organized crime and bootlegging during Prohibition provides a fun background for interesting tours through the city. Chicago of the 1930s is strongly associated with the mafia, gangsters, and speakeasies to provide alcohol during and after Prohibition.
Take the Chicago Haunted Gangster Pub Tour to explore some of the most famous gangster hangouts and establishments during the Prohibition-era. On the walking tour, you walk through alleys and down basements to explore the creepy past of Al Capone, the most famous gangster in Chicago history.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone became famous during the Prohibition era when he started the Chicago Outfit, also known as the Chicago Mafia. It is part of the American Mafia that originated in the South Side of Chicago. On the Chicago Ghost Tour and Pub Crawls, you will visit the city’s most haunted pubs and treated with stories of murdered gangsters, mobsters and ghosts who still hang around.