Top Things To Do In Chicago

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Poet Carl Sandburg described Chicago as the "City of the Big Shoulders" in 1916, and the city carries that moniker proudly to this day. With world-class museums and cultural attractions alongside thriving commercial and industrial ventures, Chicago hums with energy. These top things to do and see capture the breadth of the city’s offerings and illustrate why Frank Sinatra was moved to immortalize Chicago as "My Kind of Town." Hey, Frank, it’s our kind of town, too.

Shedd Aquarium

With more than 2 million guests every year, John G. Shedd Aquarium is Chicago’s most visited cultural attraction. The aquarium is conveniently located in Chicago's Museum Campus, right next to the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium.

What to Do
Curious explorers can roam through more than 80 habitats, acquainting themselves with some 32,000 different animals from aquatic habitats around the world. Shedd Aquarium also has "Aquatic Show," a live animal show featuring a rotating group of Shedd residents. For more live animal fun, you can also sign up for "Penguin Encounter," a 30-minute introduction to one of the aquarium's penguins.

What to See
The recently "reimagined" Abbott Oceanarium, which brings beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Alaska sea otters and California sea lions up close, while the 90,000-gallon (340,687 liters) Caribbean Reef installation offers a 360-degree view of the sea life found in warm waters.

>> Learn more about the Shedd Aquarium.

Art Institute of Chicago

Voted the #1 museum in the world by TripAdvisor in 2014, the Art Institute of Chicago is definitely one of the top things to see in Chicago. Inside you'll see famous masterpieces like American Gothic, as well as the greatest impressionist collection outside Paris. Featured artists include Degas, van Gogh, Gaugin, Monet, and more.

What to Do
Devote an entire day to this magnificent Beaux-Arts building — with two stone lions guarding its Michigan Avenue entrance — that is home to works of art that span 5,000 years of human history, as well as the globe. If you're traveling with kids you can enjoy free art-making activities each weekend from 11am to 2pm.

What to See
Head over to see all of the amazing things housed in the recently unveiled Modern Wing, which opened in 2009. This new wing houses galleries that feature art from ancient Greece, Japan, Africa, and the Americas. A visitor favorite is the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which offer a detailed view of European residences from the 16th century through the 1930s and American homes from the 17th century to 1940.

>> Learn more about the Art Institute of Chicago.

Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, which appears ready to launch itself into Lake Michigan from its lakeside perch, brings the universe to its visitors. The planetarium is also home to one of the world's most technologically advanced dome theaters. Adler is America's first planetarium and is still a favorite among tourists and locals alike.

What to Do
Spend time in an exhibition where intrepid explorers can occupy a life-size model of a Mars rover. The planetarium is home to nine exhibitions and multiple theaters. In the historic Atwood Sphere you can experience how the night sky looked in Chicago in 1913.

What to See
The Galaxy Wall — the largest and most complete view of our Milky Way. The Adler encourages us to break the bonds of earth and look to the heavens. Don't forget to see Adler's premiere show, Destination Solar System in the Grainger Sky Theater. This 30-minute show is a tour of the best of the Solar System and will help you see it in a whole new way.

>> Learn more about the Adler Planetarium.

The Field Museum

The Field Museum is your passport to travel the world and back in time with 4.5 billion years of history under one roof. Field is also one of the few places in the United States where you can visit an ancient Egyptian tomb featuring mummies, a Book of the Dead, and artifacts from everyday Egyptian life.

What to Do
Journey through 4 billion years of life on Earth in the Evolving Planet exhibit and marvel over precious stones — from their rough beginnings to sparkling jewelry — in the Grainger Hall of Gems. In Underground Adventure you can "shrink" to 1/100th of your actual size to explore the world under our feet. Come face-to-face with a giant mole cricket, wolf spider, and other animatronic creatures at 100 times their actual size.

What to See
The remarkable SUE -- the world’s largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex. Find her holding court in The Field Museum's grand Stanley Field Hall. SUE's original skull weighs 600 pounds and rests in an exhibition on the museum's balcony. At 42 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hip, SUE is an impressive sight. Every trip to Chicago should include a date with SUE, just watch out for the 58 dagger-like teeth!

>> Learn more about The Field Museum.

Skydeck Chicago

The tallest building in the Western Hemisphere beckons with its eye-popping views of Chicago and beyond. Located atop the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), Skydeck Chicago attracts nearly 1.3 million visitors each year to its 103rd floor observation deck, which rises 1,353 feet (412.4 meters) above street level.

What to Do
The brave of heart can step out onto The Ledge, a glass-enclosed balcony, for a view unlike any other. The Ledge's glass boxes extend 4.3 feet out from the building, letting you have a clear view all the way down the 1,353 to the bottom. Do you dare step out onto the Ledge?

What to See
On a clear day, you can spot many of Chicago’s landmarks and scan the horizon to Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Play the Skydeck Scavenger Hunt and try to spot all the items on the list. This is a great way for first-time visitors to Chicago to really see and get familiar with the Windy City.

>> Learn more about Skydeck Chicago.


Located in the heart of the Windy City’s tourist district, 360 CHICAGO — with its one-of-a-kind open-air Skywalk — is open until 11 p.m. daily. The fastest elevators in North America zoom to the 94th floor — 1,000 feet (305 meters) up — in only 40 seconds.

What to Do
Guests can enjoy a multimedia Sky Tour and can contemplate Chicago’s history on the 80-foot (24 meters) history wall. If you're feeling brave you can also check out TILT, which safely leans up to eight visitors over the edge of the building for unique views from 1,000 feet up.

What to See
The real fun is spotting Chicago landmarks, such as Wrigley Field, Navy Pier, and glamorous marinas. The observatory has educational features that will help you learn about the Chicago Skyline as well as the city's history, culture, and natural scenery. With a 17,000 square foot observation deck, there is plenty to see at 360 CHICAGO.

>> Learn more about 360 Chicago.

Museum of Science and Industry

The largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the Museum of Science and Industry was the first museum in North America to offer visitors the chance to touch and interact with exhibits.

What to Do
Continue that tradition to this day with exhibits that encourage people to do more than look at things behind glass. For example, you can make a giant heart beat in time to your own, open a Chicago River drawbridge for a model train, run in a human-sized hamster wheel, and explore a World War II German Submarine.

What to See
Examine your moves on the basketball court with the help of a virtual instructor. In the Science Storms exhibit you can see a 40-foot tornado, 20-foot Tesla Coil, and a 30-foot avalanche disc. For a real eye-opening experience, watch an Omnimax show in Chicago's only five-story, domed, wrap-around theater.

>> Learn more about the Museum of Science and Industry.

Navy Pier

Encompassing more than 50 acres (20 hectares) of prime Chicago lakefront territory, Navy Pier is truly a city within the city. With shopping, restaurants, parks and gardens, museums, stages and attractions galore, this Chicago landmark attracts millions every year.

What to Do
Ride the 150-foot (45.7 meters) Ferris wheel operates year-round, weather permitting. Hop on board a sightseeing or dining cruise with one of the cruise companies at Navy Pier. If nothing else, you'll find plenty to do just strolling along Navy Pier.

What to See
Fireworks light up the Chicago skyline twice a week during the summer months. If theater is your thing, Navy Pier is home to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a leading international theater company dedicated to creating extraordinary productions. It's no wonder that Navy Pier is often considered one of the top things to do in Chicago.

>> Learn more about Navy Pier.

Millennium Park

This may be one of Chicago’s newest places to visit, but Millennium Park has quickly become a destination of choice for travelers and locals alike. With hundreds of free concerts and performances offered throughout the year at the dramatic Jay Pritzker Pavilion, you're likely to be able to catch one when you're in town.

What to Do
Explore a 5-acre (2.2 hectares) garden, which confirms that Millennium Park lives up to the Chicago’s official Latin motto: Urbs in Horto — City in a Garden. Rent a bicycle or Segway from the McDonald's Cycle Center for a fun way to see all that the park has to offer in a shorter amount of time.

What to See
The immense, walk-up-and-touch sculpture "Cloud Gate",known affectionately as "The Bean" is located at Millennium Park. Another fascinating piece of art is the Crown Fountain, which features images of Chicago citizens appearing to have water spouting from their mouths.

>> Learn more about Millennium Park.

The Magnificent Mile

Do you like shopping? Aptly named, The Magnificent Mile is a mecca for tourists and business people, and bolsters Chicago’s claim as one of the great cities on the world stage. The Magnificent Mile is also the heart of Chicago's dining scene.

What to Do
Try not to miss a single storefront! -Start on Michigan Avenue, at the Chicago River and head north for, yes, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to Oak Street. Since The Magnificent Mile is the best shopping in Chicago, you're sure to find a store that has just what you're looking for. Whether it's clothing, jewelry, toys, or pet boutiques The Magnificent Mile has something for everyone.

What to See
Observe this district of architecture, shopping, dining and business that has few peers. If you're lucky enough to be in Chicago during the Christmas season, try to make it to the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and it's family friendly activities, music concerts, and a tree-lighting parade.

>> Learn more about the Magnificent Mile.

Grant Park

Grant Park is Chicago's front yard. Between the towering architecture of the city and the lakefront is a marvelous piece of land free of buildings and full of life. With over 300 acres of space, Grant Park has plenty to offer. Bike paths and softball diamonds are available to those who are up for some blood-pumping fun.

What to Do
Take a casual stroll along the park's paths and check out the gorgeous green landscape that encompasses the area! In the summer, you can even enjoy some free, live classical music at the Grant Park Music Festival.

What to See
Aside from the landscape’s natural green lure, Grant Park is known for it’s flashy spectacles and public art. Buckingham Fountain shoots water 150-feet into the air once every hour. In the spring, Grant Park is the perfect spot to watch Chicago's famous St. Patrick's Day Parade. After you check out American Gothic at the Art Institute of Chicago, don’t forget to stop and see the wonderful public art all around the park. Agora is an art installation composed of more than a hundred nine-foot tall headless figures, seemingly faced in many different directions to symbolize the idea of going everywhere and nowhere all at once.

>> Learn more about Grant Park.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park accurately represents Chicago’s motto, urbs in horto, or "City in a Garden." The center of the Lincoln Park neighborhood beams with an exuberant nightlife, but it's the scenic outdoors that make Lincoln Park so wonderful.

What to Do
There’s nothing more exciting than saving a little bit of money on a trip. Lincoln Park Zoo has free admission and features a wide variety of family-friendly exhibits. Take a walk through the woods and see some bears and otters, and when you're done, enjoy a good meal and refreshing beverage at the Café Bauer, located right outside the zoo lagoon.

What to See
At North Avenue Beach you can bury your toes in the soft sand as you take in the clear waters of Lake Michigan. If you’re not up for the shore, take a break in the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a greenhouse wonderland. The Orchid House, the Fernery, the Palm House, and the Show House, all contain beautiful bits of nature that provide visitors with an immediate sense of calm and relaxation.

>> Learn more about Lincoln Park.

Chicago Sports Teams

Football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, whatever sport it may be, Chicago proudly sports them all. From the Bears and the Blackhawks to the Cubs, the Bulls, and the White Sox, Chicago is the epicenter of all things major league.

What to Do
If you’re a Bears fan, go on an educational tour through the oldest stadium in the NFL, Soldier Field. At the United Center, home to the Blackhawks and the Chicago Bulls, you can visit the bronze statue of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan. Have a look at essential Cubs gear in the Souvenir Shop at Wrigley Stadium, or accept the challenge to chow down on the "Giant Slugger," a 2-foot-long hotdog covered in nacho cheese, chili, onions, and jalapenos at the White Sox’ Cellular Field.

What to See
Get your bear hats ready and heady over to Soldier Field to see the Chicago Bears in action! The rich history of Soldier Field makes for eager fans. Watch the Bulls slam-dunk and the Blackhawks hit pucks at the largest arena in the United States. Cellular Field is where you’ll want to be to witness the White Sox swing bats, or head across town to see their neighboring rivals, the Cubs.

>> Learn more about Chicago Sports Teams.

Cloud Gate

A futuristic, silvery bean known as Cloud Gate made it’s way to Chicago at the grand opening of Millennium Park in 2004. It's seamless design and shiny exterior produces entertaining and distorted reflections of anyone and everything, 360 degrees around.

What to Do
Cloud Gate, often referred to as "The Bean," has become Chicago's iconic sculpture. The bent reflection of the Chicago skyline makes for beautiful photographs, and tourists from around the nation have blasted pictures of the shiny bean all over social media. Yes, it's shiny and irresistible. Go ahead. Touch it.

What to See
Who knew a giant bean could be so much fun! If you've made your way around Cloud Gate and back underneath it, you probably spent a lot of time enjoying the distorted reflections at each and every curve. Stretched faced and exaggerated proportions are what make this sculpture so much fun. An outdoor mirror house, The Cloud Gate is also a reflection of Chicago's cityscape beauty. If you're around in the evening, there's nothing like the reflection of the night sky. The bean turns black with only the city lights defining its shape.

>> Learn more about Cloud Gate.

Catch a Show

The Chicago Theatre boasts elegant design and classy character with it’s near six stories high, vertical C-H-I-C-A-G-O sign. Alternatively, The Goodman Theatre is Chicago’s oldest not-for-profit theater, known for high quality productions and artistic diversity. If you're visiting in August, consider planning your visit around the Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park. If you want to see a show that’ll leave you wanting more, Chicago is where you’ll want to be.

What to Do
At one time, the Chicago Theatre was a movie mansion. Now, it is the hub of great entertainment and shining stars. David Letterman, Oasis, Dolly Parton, Prince, Aretha Franklin, and Ellen Degeneres are only a handful of those who have graced the stage of Chicago Theatre. At The Goodman Theatre, you can enter with high expectations, and leave with expectations exceeded. The Goodman seeks to reach a diverse audience, and the dedicated creative directors behind the theatre’s success make sure to do just that.

What to See
Aside from the many talented stars producing a great show at the Chicago Theatre, the Theatre on its own is a must-see. The wide, red-carpeted staircase in the lobby and the graceful murals enveloping the ceiling above the stage are only some of the theatre’s wonderful features. If you’re at The Goodman Theatre, expect to see a great act! Talented actors and talented directors have put on shows of noteworthy plays like Dollhouse and The Amen Corner.

>> Learn more about shows in Chicago.

Chicago Lakefront Trail

Lake Michigan makes Chicago ever the more beautiful, and the city’s Lakefront Trail provides the greatest view of all. The 18-mile path stretches across multiple lakefront neighborhoods, and is the most scenic route you can take to Chicago’s hotspot destinations.

What to Do
Take a morning walk or a refreshing jog on Lakefront Trail and enjoy the skyline as it moves alongside you. Filled with beaches, parks, gardens, playgrounds, and much more, the Lakefront Trail is the perfect place to wind down and relax.

What to See
With 18 miles to cover, there’s going to be a time where you’ll want to stop and smell the roses. In the green gardens, you can do just that! But after, you might want to check out the Field Museum of Natural History or Shedd Aquarium. Both are easily accessible from the Lakefront Trail, and who would want to miss the opportunity to see Sue, the world’s largest and most complete T. Rex?

>> Learn more about the Chicago Lakefront Trail.

Chicago Botanic Garden

In a big city like Chicago, skyscrapers and urban enchantment will likely take up the majority of your travel itinerary. But if you want clean air and a green getaway, the Chicago Botanic Garden might be just what you’re looking for.

Things to Do
Immerse yourself in an array of fluttering wings at the Butterflies & Blooms Exhibition from May 28th-September 5th. With species from around the world, you’ll get a first-hand look at the beautiful diversity of the butterfly in a 2,800-square-foot mesh enclosed room. Or, explore the 385 acres of the Chicago Botanic Garden with a narrated tram tour that will educate, as well as entertain.

What to See
With 26 gardens and four natural areas to explore, you will see every type, color, and shape nature has to offer. Relax and breathe in the beauty of the Waterfall Garden as you cool off in the shade of the garden’s 15,000+ plants and trees. Feel free to frolic in the enchanting English Oak Meadow where blooming beauties make for a vibrant and photo-worthy backdrop.

>> Learn more about the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Chicago Cultural Center

At the Chicago Cultural Center, you’ll experience the Chicago art and music scene in a building that looks like an ornate masterpiece all on its own. With dozens of free public events drawing in thousands of visitors every year, the Chicago Cultural Center coalesces history, beauty, and culture into one brilliant attraction.

Things to Do
Film, music performances, contemporary art exhibitions, dance, theatre—what isn’t there to do at the Chicago Cultural Center? With free events filling the calendar year-round, you could visit the Center every day and still leave with a new, cultured experience. If you’re in the mood for a live performance, The Chicago Cultural Center showcases emerging theater, music, and dance talent on an ongoing basis. Enjoy the show from the front row or unleash your best dance moves at "Wired Fridays," a midday dance party held on the first and third Friday of the month.

What to See
Depending on which part of your inner artist you would like to get in touch with, there are plenty of things to choose from when deciding what to see. To get a closer look at the Chicago Cultural Center’s stunning architecture, take a building tour and learn about the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome, a dazzling Renaissance design composed of about 50,000 pieces of glass. Or, head to the Chicago Cultural Center at the beginning of the week for a Chamber Mondays, where talented classical, jazz and ethnic instrumentalists delight your ears with Chicago-rich melodies.

>> Learn more about the Chicago Cultural Center.

To visit the best attractions in Chicago, use Chicago CityPASS and save nearly half off the combined entrance fees. Plus, CityPASS holders skip most main-entrance ticket lines. So, while others are stuck waiting in the queue, CityPASS users are already enjoying the attractions. Chicago CityPASS includes admission to Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Skydeck Chicago, Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago, and 360 CHICAGO or the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago. Some special exhibits are not included with the CityPASS and may require an extra fee.

CityPASS can be purchased online or at any of our participating Chicago attractions. Use Chicago CityPASS and discover these top places to visit and things to do in Chicago.

Cloud Gate Photo Credit

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