My family and I love to travel and explore new places. We have been blessed to travel across the United States.
Chicago is a world-class city located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. It is the third largest city in the United States and a cool place to visit. It is the starting point to "Historic Route 66" that begins in Chicago at Grant Park on Adams Street. It is also home to the Twinkie, which was invented by Chicagoan Jimmy DeWar.
Each year, over 52 million people visit Chicago. It has so many things to see and do there. Here is a look at the top 10 things to do in Chicago.
1. Visit One of Downtown Chicago's Parks
Chicago has a lot to offer the outdoor lover, including many great parks. Here is a look at the top three.
Millennium Park opened in 2004 and has quickly become the most popular tourist attraction in Chicago. It attracts 25 million visitors annually. It is most famous for being the home of "the Bean," which is a giant mirrored-shaped bean. It is one of the best spots for selfies in the city. The Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to watch a concert or a movie in the summer. Millennium Park is also home to the Crown Fountain, the Lurie Garden, and more.
Grant Park is 319 acres and contains both Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park. Its boundaries are Michigan Avenue (West), Roosevelt Road (South), Lake Michigan (East), and Randolph Street (North). It is also home to the Art Institute of Chicago, Buckingham Fountain, Chicago's Museum Campus (Adler Planetarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and the Shedd Aquarium), Petrillo Music Shell, Congress Plaza, several gardens, Court of the Presidents, Hutchinson Field, Chicago Lakefront Trail, dog park, and more.
Maggie Daley Park
Maggie Daley Park is a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It offers views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. It is connected to Millennium Park by the BP Bridge over South Columbus Drive. It is also a great place to take kids. It has a climbing wall, skating ribbon, mini golf, children's playground, picnic areas, tennis courts, and a garden.
All three of these parks are must-sees when visiting Chicago. They offer incredible views of the Chicago skyline. My family and I have enjoyed all three of them.
2. Attend a Professional Sporting Event
Chicago is a sports town. It has professional teams in every major sport. Here is a closer look at Chicago's teams by sport.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
Chicago is home to two Major League Baseball teams: Cubs and White Sox. The Cubs play at historic Wrigley Field on the north side. It is the second oldest stadium in baseball next to Fenway Park in Boston. The White Sox play at Guaranteed Rate Field on the south side. Both stadiums are worth a visit.
National Football League (NFL)
The Chicago Bears play at Soldier Field right on Lake Michigan. Soldier Field is unique. It has beautiful white columns that surround it. The last renovation kept that look but made it look like a spaceship crashed into it. Inside, it is a great stadium.
National Hockey League (NHL)
The Chicago Blackhawks play their home games at the United Center, located on Chicago's near west side. It is a great place to watch a hockey game. The crowd can get rocking.
National Basketball Association (NBA)
The Chicago Bulls share the United Center with the Blackhawks. The Bulls have not been the same since Michael Jordan retired, but their games are still entertaining. Fun place to watch basketball.
Auto Racing (Nascar, ARCA, NHRA Nationals)
The Chicagoland Speedway is in Joliet, Illinois about an hour southwest of the city but it is a major attraction when Nascar is in town. The track also hosts ARCA and NHRA races. It is a great place to watch a race.
3. Visit a Museum
Chicago is home to world-class museums. They cover art, astronomy, history, nature, and science. Here is a look at three great ones.
Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is incredible. It is one of the largest science museums in the world. Exhibits include U-505 Submarine, Coal Mine, Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery Science Storms, the Great Train Stroy, Transportation Gallery, and more. It is a great place to take kids and let them interact with some of the exhibits. Plan on spending at least half a day here if not more.
Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago opened in 1921 and is one of the top natural history museums in the world. Visitors can learn about dinosaurs, ancient artifacts, ancient cultures, and science. Maximo the Titanosaur is a new dinosaur at Field Museum. It was added in 2018 and molded from fossil bones from Argentina. Another popular exhibit is the mummy exhibit. The Field Museum of Natural History is a must-see. It is a big place, plan on spending a good portion of a day going through the whole thing.
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the best art museums in the world located downtown on Michigan Avenue. It offers thousands of different artworks that range from well-known works to lesser-known ones. The museum offers gallery talks, classes and workshops, and more. It is a great place to visit.
4. Take a Stroll on the Chicago Riverwalk
The Chicago Riverwalk is a happening place. It is 1.25 miles long and runs along the Chicago River between Lake Street and Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago Riverwalk is made up of six different parts: The Riverbank (Lake Street to Franklin Street), The Jetty (Franklin Street to Wells Street), The Water Plaza (Wells Street to LaSalle Street), The River Theater (LaSalle Street to Clark Street), The Cove (Clark Street to Dearborn Street), and the Marina (Dearborn Street to State Street). It offers fishing, kayaking, an outdoor wine garden, great food, McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, sightseeing cruises, and more. I highly recommend spending a few hours in this area. It is one of the better riverwalks in the country.
5. Visit One of Chicago's Famous Skyscrapers
Chicago offers an incredible skyline with four out of the nine tallest skyscrapers in the United States. It is a magnificent sight all lit up at night and during the day. The architecture is amazing. Here is a look at three of the top skyscrapers in Chicago.
Willis Tower (Formerly the Sears Tower)
The Willis Tower (1,451 feet) is the second tallest building in the United States (One World Trade Center at 1,776 feet is the tallest). It opened in 1973 and was the tallest building in the world until 1998. Visitors can travel up to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor (1,354 feet) in 93 seconds. Visitors can also walk out into a glass box with a glass floor that extends out a little over 4 feet from the building. Views from here are amazing. Looking down gives a sense of how high you are. The views from the Skydeck are amazing. There are windows on all four sides of the building that allow visitors to see into four states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin) on a clear day. The Willis Tower is a must-see when visiting Chicago.
John Hancock Center
The John Hancock Center (1,128 feet) is the ninth tallest building in the United States and the fourth tallest in Chicago. It opened in 1970. It boasts the fastest elevators in the United States at 1,800 feet per minute. The 94th floor is home to the observatory called 360 Chicago. It is 1,030 feet up and offers incredible views of the lake, skyline, and it can see into four states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin). The observatory is home to a first of its kind feature called Tilt. Visitors step up to the glass and then are tilted outward at over 1,000 feet in the air high above the Magnificent Mile. The Signature Room is a restaurant located on the 95th floor which also has a lounge on the 96th floor. The John Hancock Center is another must-see when visiting Chicago.
Trump International Hotel and Tower
The Trump International Hotel and Tower (1,171 feet) is one of the new additions to the Chicago skyline. It is the second tallest building in the city. It was supposed to be even higher but had to be scaled back after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. It has a 5-star hotel, retail space, and also offers high-end condominiums. Trump International Hotel and Tower is worth checking out.
6. Visit Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a fun place to visit. It is located on Lake Michigan and offers incredible views of the Chicago skyline. Navy Pier offers the Centennial Wheel & Pier Park, Chicago Children's Museum, AMC IMAX Theatre, various cruises, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Crystal Gardens, shopping, and more. It also hosts special events throughout the year including the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, Navy Fear (Halloween), and Winter Wonderfest (Christmas). Aon sponsors summer fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday beginning in May and running through the end of August. There are also special fireworks shows on July 4th and New Year's Eve. Navy Pier is also a great place to go for a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan. It is a must-see when visiting Chicago.
7. Take a Chicago Architecture River Cruise
Chicago Architecture River Cruises are a great way to enjoy the beauty of Chicago. Several companies offer cruises including Chicago's First Lady Cruises, Wendella Sightseeing Company, and Chicago Line Cruises. The cruises usually last between 75 and 90 minutes. It is a great way to learn about the architecture of the buildings downtown as well as a chance to take some great pictures. I highly recommend taking one of the Chicago Architecture River Cruises.
8. Visit a Zoo or Aquarium
Chicago is home to two great zoos: Brookfield and Lincoln Park. It is also home to the Shedd Aquarium. Here is a close look at each one.
Brookfield Zoo is 13 miles west of downtown Chicago. It has about 450 different species of animals. In 2019, a LEGO brick Safari is coming to the zoo in the form of wildlife sculptures throughout the park. Each year, the zoo offers annual events including Breakfast with the Bunny, Summer Night Concerts, ZooBrew, and Zoo Lights. I highly recommend checking out the Dolphins in Action show. It is amazing. Plan on spending about half a day at the zoo. Brookfield Zoo is worth it if you have time.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is a unique zoo in the shadow of skyscrapers. It is also one of the few free zoos in the United States. It does cost money to park so taking public transportation is advised. It is home to dozens of different species and has a lot to see and do. The Lincoln Park Zoo is quite a bit smaller than the Brookfield Zoo, but do not let that fool you. The Great Ape House is one of the best in the world. Zoo Lights is one of the highlight events each year around Christmas. Lincoln Park Zoo is worth spending a few hours visiting.
The Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930 and is right on Lake Michigan. It has a lot of cool exhibits including Waters of the World, Caribean Reef, Wild Reef, Stingray Touch, and more. The Shedd offers some great special events such as Spend the night at the Shedd, After Hours: Salsa Dance Party, and more. The Shedd aquarium dolphin show is a popular attraction. Visitors should plan on spending several hours here. I highly recommend taking a stroll behind the Shedd after visiting to take in the incredible views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. The Shedd Aquarium is a must-see when visiting Chicago.
9. Explore the Magnificent Mile
Chicago's Magnificent Mile (aka The Mag Mile) is a high-end section of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street. It includes 460 stores, 275 restaurants, 51 hotels, and a bunch of different attractions. It is also home to some of the most famous buildings in Chicago including the John Hancock Center and Wrigley Building. Here is a closer look at what the Magnificent Mile has to offer.
Shopping on the Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile is home to many different luxury department stores and boutiques. It has three distinct shopping centers: 900 North Michigan Shops, The Shops at North Bridge, and Water Tower Place. It is one of the best shopping avenues in the world.
Hotels on the Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile is also home to some of the best hotels in Chicago. The best three include Four Seasons Chicago, The Peninsula Chicago, and the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. It is also home to the Allerton Hotel, Conrad Chicago, Drake Hotel, Hotel Inter-Continental Chicago, Park Hyatt, Knickerbocker Hotel, and more.
Dining on the Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile offers a variety of different options when it comes to dining. The top restaurants are the Signature Room at the 95th (John Hancock Center), Lawry's Prime Rib, and The Grand Lux. Other restaurants worth trying are Michael Jordan's Steak House, Gino's East Magnificent Mile, Ghiradelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop, and Ditka's Restaurant. I also highly recommend stopping at Garrett's Popcorn Shop and enjoying their incredible cheese popcorn.
10. Attend a Chicago Festival
Chicago is home to many incredible festivals. Some of the most popular ones include the Chicago Air and Water Show, Taste of Chicago, Chicago Blues Festival, and Baconfest. Here is a closer look at my three favorites.
Baconfest Chicago is a celebration of bacon. It is three hours of all of the bacon you can eat. Each year Chef's from local Chicago restaurants come up with their best bacon creations. It is amazing! Baconfest Chicago is at the University of Chicago's Dorin Forum at the beginning of April. Tickets are required and are available for purchase on Baconfest Chicago's website. Visitors need to select whether they want to attend Friday Dinner, Saturday Lunch, or Saturday Dinner. Each session has different food from different restaurants. I have gone the past two years and already have my tickets for Baconfest Chicago 2019. I highly recommend it!
Taste of Chicago
The Taste of Chicago is in beautiful Grant Park. It is the top outdoor food festival that shows off the incredible food Chicago has to offer. Food trucks were part of the celebration for the first time in 2018. Each evening there are concerts held at the Petrillo Music Shell. The Taste of Chicago 2019 is set to run from July 10-14. It is free admission to get in. The Taste of Chicago is a must-attend event.
Chicago Air and Water Show
The Chicago Air and Water Show is a highlight to the summer. The best places to watch are from the North Avenue Beach, the lakefront between Oak Street Beach to Fullerton, and the Ohio Street Beach. The best part is that it is free to attend. Other interesting places to watch from are the Willis Tower Skydeck or 360 Chicago in the John Hancock Center. The Chicago Air and Water Show 2019 edition is on August 17-18. I highly recommend this event as well.
Don't Miss a Chance to Visit Chicago
Chicago is a beautiful city and is a fun place to visit. There are so many things to see and do. My family and I have enjoyed our numerous trips there. Do not miss a chance to see this great city.
© 2019 Eric Cramer
Marcy Bialeschki from Cerro Gordo, IL on May 03, 2020:
I live about 3 hours south of Chicago, and I have only been downtown one time. For a rural-girl like myself, quite frankly, your traffic scares the crap out of me. I would love to go to Navy Pier and Wrigley -- even though I am a Cardinals fan. I loved the thorough information. You make a compelling case for us to head to Chicago sometime for a weekend getaway.
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on May 24, 2019:
Great hub. Just got back from Chicago, our first visit, and we loved it. Didn't get to everything on your list, but did knock off many of them. Can't wait to return.
Eric Cramer (author) from Chicagoland on March 09, 2019:
Liz Westwood from UK on March 09, 2019:
This is another extremely useful article.My daughter has been twice, but we have yet to go to Chicago. When we do I will be sure to reread your great guide.