Classic Chicago Attractions & Museums
By Rebecca Taras
While you can take home memories, nobody can take away the fact Chicago is host to some of the best attractions that can only be found here. Whether you’re a history buff, sports enthusiast, eco-lover, or thrill seeker, you’ll see why Chicago is the kind of town visitors want to keep coming back to and locals don’t want to leave.
Room With a View
There’s no better way to get a broad perspective of the city than with a birds eye view! The John Hancock Observatory is known for its sweeping 360-degree views of the cityscape which is a good place to start. Stop by the Lavazza Espression café for a coffee, cocktail, snack, or meal designed by 3-star Michelin chef Ferran Adrià.
At 1,353 feet up, Skydeck Chicago also boasts sweeping views, but with the addition of a unique perspective like no other. Known as the Ledge, glass boxes extend out 4.3 feet from the skyscraper’s Skydeck, providing an incomparable thrilling look at the city.
The Great Outdoors
Millennium Park features the work of world-renowned architects, planners, artists and designers on 24.5 acres of land. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is one of the most sophisticated outdoor concert venues of its kind in the United States. Visit the park on a concert day for one of the best summer in the city activities.
Grant Park is home to Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, in existence since 1927. A dynamic 20-minute water display takes place every hour on the hour—accompanied by lights and music beginning at dusk—from April to mid-October. If you’re lucky, you’ll be visiting when one of the summer food or music festivals is taking place in the park.
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the last free zoos in the country, as well as one of the oldest. It’s home to approximately 1200 animals, including one of the largest families of great apes. The newly restored boardwalks surrounding the pond in the back are perfect for a summertime stroll.
Just in case you wanted to learn about Chicago in more depth than your guide book, the Chicago History Museum is the city’s oldest museum, interpreting millions of authentic pieces of Chicago and U.S. History. Highlights include Abraham Lincoln’s Chicago, Unexpected Chicago, and Treasures—think souvenirs from the World’s Fair.
Step into the real water tower— and no, we don’t mean the mall! The only standing structure that survived the Chicago fire also serves a dual purpose beyond being a historical monument. The City Gallery located inside the tower, is a free venue for local photographers to display their work. While the artists change, one commonality remains: all photos must be about Chicago.
Chicago has many museums, but the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in the western hemisphere and a favorite among tourists and locals alike. Whether you’re visiting old-school exhibits like the U-505 submarine or the Coalmine, or new wonders like the Smart Home (Chicago’s greenest home) or Body Worlds, this museum makes science fun for all ages.
Navy Pier is a 3,000 foot-long entertainment venue boasting amazing views of the Chicago skyline. Take a walk through the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows (free admission) and of course, walking around the pier doesn’t cost a thing either! Enjoy a libation while catching some of the free entertainment in the beer garden. Also, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, catch a free fireworks display every Wednesday and Saturday night. The Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Bus Co. stops at Navy Pier.
Sox fan? Then U.S. Cellular Field is your turf. If you’re looking to elevate the regular peanuts and Crackerjack experience, an extra $1,000-$5,000 will buy you anything from announcing on the loudspeaker, to a personal dugout experience.
The same can be said for Wrigley Field , home to the Chicago Cubs, except they offer a variety of park tours (press box, clubhouses, and/or dugouts) for an economical $25 per person. There’s not a better—or closer—way to experience a game!
Forget hailing a cab, Chicago’s “L” train system (a nickname because most of the lines are elevated) has roots dating all the way back to 1892. So if you want to get to the other side of the city fast, jump on one of the eight rapid transit lines distinguished by color.