Also known as the “Windy City,” Chicago, Illinois is one of the country’s most exciting cities, offering a variety of attractions for visitors of all ages. The city is loaded with fantastic restaurants, shopping, and entertainment, as well as plenty of beautiful natural spaces to enjoy. Furthermore, it is home to well-kept public parks, museums, cultural art centers, and music venues. Many people don’t realize that Chicago is located right alongside Lake Michigan, so there are many sandy lakefront beaches to explore. Book a stay at one of numerous incredible Chicago vacation rentals — many are just a stone’s throw away from the city’s best attractions. Here are 15 must-visit spots for you to check out while you’re in Chicago.
1. Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is a family-friendly zoo that’s free all year. This famous attraction’s location in the historic Lincoln Park makes it easily accessible by foot, car, or public transportation. Featuring more than 1,200 different types of animals, your whole family is sure to catch their favorites. In addition to gorillas, giraffes, tigers, and other exotic creatures, the zoo offers plenty of cafes, snack kiosks, and restaurants, as well as a wonderful gift shop. The kids are sure to love riding the Endangered Species Carousel and the children’s train ride.
2. Millennium Park
Millennium Park is one of the most popular spots for both locals and tourists to congregate. It’s located right next to The Loop, which is an area filled with unique shops, eateries, theaters, and more. The park often hosts free concerts, art installations, and festivals. The park is home to Lurie Garden, a gorgeous urban oasis filled with picturesque perennials, bulbs, grasses, shrubs, and trees. The park offers a pedestrian bridge that leads to the Art Institute and Maggie Daley Park, making it the perfect starting point for your adventure.
3. Adler Planetarium
If you’re even remotely interested in space, you’ll find the Adler Planetarium to be out of this world. The immersive Grainger Sky Theater is a must-visit attraction. It’s a 70-foot-diameter dome that takes you on a mind-blowing journey through outer space. There are many space-themed exhibits, some that are permanent and other that change regularly. The planetarium also hosts regular events, so be sure to check the calendar to see what’s on deck.
4. Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a delightful Chicago landmark that’s fun for the whole family. There’s a 200-foot Ferris wheel, an IMAX theater, and plenty of eclectic shops and restaurants. You’ll be treated to a variety of free public art exhibits, as well as some great people-watching. The pier is home to the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, so it’s a wonderful place to spend the entire day. Be sure to take one of the many sightseeing boat tours for an aquatic look at the city.
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5. Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is home to a huge variety of exquisite art, including a number of famous works such as Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. With over 300,000 works of art, you could spend the entire day exploring the sprawling museum. There are breathtaking collections from all over the world, spanning many time periods, from Ancient Greek sculptures, to Chinese textiles, to Native American metalwork, and so much more. The museum also boasts an excellent collection of international contemporary art.
6. Shedd Aquarium
The Shedd Aquarium is an indoor public aquarium that’s home to incredible aquatic creatures from all over the world. You’ll see penguins, whales, sharks, and countless other marine animals. The aquarium also offers many different experiences, including 4-D shows, informative talks about animals, and behind the scenes feedings and trainings. Your family can even touch starfish, sturgeons, stingrays, and other critters.
7. Garfield Park Conservatory
Founded in 1908, the Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest and most innovative conservatories in the world. Described as “landscape art under glass,” walking through this unique conservatory is a magical experience. You’ll see a huge range of plant life, including cacti, succulents, and ferns, as well as a stunning stone waterfall.
8. The Field Museum
The Field Museum is one of Chicago’s finest attractions, boasting a huge range of exhibits. Your family can admire a massive dinosaur collection, go face-to-face with a mummy, and gaze at sparkly jewels in awe at the Grainger Hall of Gems. This is truly a world-class museum with plenty to offer to visitors of all ages.
9. Skydeck Chicago
Located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower — the second largest tower in North America — Skydeck Chicago offers breathtaking views of the city. In fact, the view is so spectacular that on clear days, you may even see other parts of Illinois, as well as Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The best part is the ledge, which is a glass extension that you can stand on and look down at famous landmarks such as Wrigley Field and Millennium Park.
10. The Chicago Theatre
The Chicago Theatre is a world-famous historical Chicago landmark that has hosted countless legendary events since opening in 1921. Its iconic red and yellow marquee is instantly recognizable. Today, the theatre regularly hosts some of the biggest names in comedy, music, and other performances. Check the calendar and check out a show, or just stop by with the whole family to take a tour of the theatre.
11. Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain
Located next to the northwest corner of Millennium Park is the beautiful 319-acre Grant Park. The park is home to a number of famous Chicago attractions, including Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute of Chicago, and The Field Museum, but it’s also a wonderful place to spend the day with the family in its own right. You’ll find sports fields, lovely flower gardens, and plenty of spots for a relaxing picnic. Be sure to head to the heart of the park to see one of the world’s largest fountains, Buckingham Fountain. Visit the fountain at night and you’ll be treated to festive lights and music.
12. Wrigley Field
Chicago is one of America’s most sports-friendly cities, so it’s not surprising that Wrigley Field is such a popular destination. Of course, if you’re here during baseball season, catching a Cub’s game is a must. However, there are year-round attractions at Wrigley Field. Enjoy some ballpark fare like nachos, pretzels, and hot dogs, or enjoy a more upscale meal at one of the park’s restaurants. The Park at Wrigley is a smaller park adjacent to Wrigley Park, offering a variety of community-oriented events.
13. Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago is famous for its outstanding architecture, and there’s no better place to take it all in than the scenic Chicago Riverwalk. As the name implies, the path takes you along the Chicago River, taking you on a journey that leads to many different restaurants, bars, shops, and other attractions. There are plenty of spots to sit down and relax and take in the sights along the way, or you can grab some American fare at O’Brien’s Riverwalk Cafe.
14. Museum of Contemporary Art
Boasting one of the largest contemporary art collections in the nation, the Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-visit for anyone who appreciates art culture. Check the calendar before you come, as the museum often hosts world-famous performing artists and touring exhibits, as well as film screenings. Enjoy a relaxing walk through the museum’s scenic sculpture garden, and then enjoy a delicious bite to eat with the family at the museum’s restaurant.
15. The Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile is one of Chicago’s most luxurious areas, featuring a variety of upscale shops, restaurants, and hotels. Even if you’re on a budget, it’s a wonderful place to do some window shopping and admire the area’s exquisite architecture. Stop in your favorite stores such as American Girl or Nike for some bargains. The Magnificent Mile is located just a quick walk away from a wide variety of other popular attractions that you’ll probably end up visiting anyways, so be sure to include this stunning stroll in your itinerary.
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