It’s no surprise that Chicago is one of the finest tourist destinations in the country. There are Chicago museums that rank among the world’s best, gorgeous parks in Chicago and some of the friendliest city-dwellers out there (if we do say so ourselves). With so much to see and do, it can be tough for visitors to decide which Chicago attractions are really worth experiencing. Whether you’re an out-of-towner or a tried-and-true Chicagoan planning a staycation, we’ve assembled a list of the best Chicago attractions for your touring convenience. Oh, and if you’re feeling decadent, cap off your day of sightseeing with a meal at one of the best restaurants in Chicago. Ready to dive into the Windy City? Here are the Chicago attractions you simply shouldn’t miss.
1. Millennium Park
Guests must enter at Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street or via the BP Bridge.
This vast 24.5-acre section of Chicago’s front yard is one of the most popular places to spend time outdoors in the city, hosting well-known pieces of public art and a long list of special events.
Gaze at Cloud Gate (a.k.a. the Bean) from afar, go for a stroll through the serene Lurie Gardens, relax on the lawn in front of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion (in the summer) or skate on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (in the winter).
2. Art Institute of Chicago
One of the city’s most well-known cultural institutions, which houses more than 300,000 artworks.
Acquaint yourself with classic paintings like Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (as seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Grant Wood’s American Gothic, or explore an expansive collection of contemporary works in the museum’s Modern Wing. Check the museum’s website for more information on temporary exhibitions.
3. Lincoln Park Zoo
Located in the middle of Lincoln Park, this 35-acre zoo houses more than 1,000 animals and is one of the few remaining free zoos in the country.
Watch cute African penguins frolicking in Penguin Cove, observe majestic cats in the Kovler Lion House or visit the scaled residents of the McCormick Reptile House—all entirely free of charge. Trust us, it’ll get wild.
4. Garfield Park Conservatory
Outdoor gardens are open to the public with a free reservation.
Among the largest conservatories in the United States, this giant greenhouse in Garfield Park provides a home for some 600 species of plants (most of which aren’t indigenous to the region).
Stop by to admire the gigantic trees that fill the Palm Room, see a depiction of ancient Illinois vegetation in the Fern Room or window shop for succulents and cacti in the Desert Room.
5. Museum of Contemporary Art
Hosting one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the United States, this Chicago museum is a destination for cutting edge exhibitions and programming.
Take in a constantly changing lineup of exhibitions, including touring shows from the likes of Takashi Murakami and Kerry James Marshall, or stop by the museum’s in-house restaurant, Marisol, where chef Lula Cafe chef Jason Hammel serves an inventive menu.
6. The 606
A 2.7-mile stretch of an abandoned elevated rail line that has been transformed into a pedestrian path that connects Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park.
It’s a great place to go for a jog, zip around on your bicycle and quickly transverse some of the most popular North Side neighborhoods. Plus, you’ll spot some art installations as you go.
7. The Green Mill
This Uptown cocktail lounge is a fixture of Chicago’s live jazz scene and has been slinging drinks since before Prohibition (Al Capone and other gangsters used to hang out at the Green Mill).
Once you’ve snapped a picture of the iconic Green Mill marquee, head inside, order a cocktail and take in a set from some of the city’s top jazz musicians. The music typically goes late, but you’ll need to show up early if you want to score a good seat (capacity is extremely limited at the moment).
8. The Field Museum
Founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this massive natural history museum has more dinosaur bones and ancient artifacts than any other institution in Chicago.
Travel back in time by descending into a recreation of an ancient Egyptian tomb, stand beneath a towering titanosaur skeleton or stare at sparkling stones in the Grainger Hall of Gems.
9. Chicago Riverwalk
Hugging the banks of the main branch of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk provides a pedestrian path along the city’s most popular waterway, lined with restaurants, bars and gathering spaces.
The waterside walkway allows you to observe some of the city’s most gorgeous architecture from a new perspective. You can also sip a glass of merlot at City Winery or board a Water Taxi for a leisurely trip to Chinatown.
10. Shedd Aquarium
This Museum Campus staple is the home to thousands of aquatic creatures from all around the world, including adorable penguins and a giant Pacific octopus.
Watch tropical fish swim through a 90,000-gallon aquarium in the gigantic Caribbean Reef exhibition or pony up some extra cash to have a face-to-face encounter with a beluga whale.