America is chock full of iconic cities, but there is something about the jewel of the Midwest that captures the imagination like no other. Take a trip to Chicago to experience the height of art, architecture, sports, and a blend of culture like never before.
Top 15 Places to Visit in Chicago
Chicago sits right in the northeast corner of Illinois. It has served as the hub of the Midwest for over a century. The third largest city in America has thrived as a center for trade, and thus, a massive exchange point for arts and culture.
Whether you are a culinary freak, a history buff, a sports fan, a patron of the arts, or just down for an adventure, Chicago has a host of experiences waiting for you.
With colorful history around every corner, there is no shortage of delights available in the windy city. Check out a handful of the best places to visit in Chicago to get inspiration on where to start your journey.
1. Millenium Park & Cloud Gate
The largest rooftop garden in the world is home to some of the most iconic landmarks of Chicago, including the curved, silver, bean-shaped landmark that is a must-see for tourists. Cloud Gate, known colloquially as the Bean, can be found in Millenium Park.
Other attractions in Millenium Park include the Crown Fountain, an interactive video sculpture, the Lurie Garden, and many more pavilions and green spaces. It is a beautiful, stunning start to any trip to the city.
2. The Art Institute of Chicago
One of the oldest and largest art museums in the world, the Art Institute of Chicago is a marvelous place to visit. With over 1.5 million visitors annually, it sees massive foot traffic.
With a collection representing art from a global perspective like a constantly rotating selection of special exhibitions, there is always a stunning array of pieces available for viewing at the Art Institute. With over 300,000 art pieces in its collection, the Institute is sure to delight.
3. Buckingham Fountain
Located in the center of Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain is a beautiful jewel in the crown of the windy city. It is one of the largest fountains in the world and is inspired by Lake Michigan so close to it.
Donated to the city by philanthropist Kate Buckingham, it is a trendy place for locals to cool off during the summer and a festive spot during the winter months.
4. Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile is a portion of a street called Michigan Avenue in Chicago. A shopping district with endless possibilities, it offers a dazzling array of boutiques, shops, restaurants, and theaters.
Specialty shops on the Magnificent Mile include a Disney store, a Lego store, a Hershey store, and a Chanel store.
5. Navy Pier
A single pier spanning over 3,000 feet, Navy Pier is a sight to behold. Sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is the perfect place to enjoy the waterfront nature of Chicago and experience all the city has to offer from one place.
An iconic Ferris wheel is one of the most notable attractions, but there are also theaters, restaurants, parks, boat tours, and countless other reasons to swing by one of the biggest attractions in the Midwest.
6. Wrigley Field
Major League Baseball stadium Wrigley Field is home to the Chicago Cubs, my favorite baseball team. A stadium and team known for luck and rituals, Chicago cherishes both for things such as the peculiarity of a goat curse and the fickle winds coming off Lake Michigan.
Any sports fans will be sure to want to stop by to see the hand-turned scoreboard at Wrigley Field.
7. Shedd Aquarium
With over five million gallons beneath its roof, the Shedd Aquarium has seas of fish ready to be cherished by visitors. Over 30,000 animals call the Shedd Aquarium home, including crustaceans, cephalopods, aquatic mammals, and, of course, plenty of fish.
Depending on the year, it has been the most popular attraction in the city by attendance.
8. The Field Museum
A natural history museum, the Chicago Field Museum is a jewel in Chicago’s crown. With over two million annual visitors and nearly rivaling the population of Chicago, the museum’s attractions are the stuff of legend.
One of the most famous is the T. rex skeleton nicknamed Sue which often serves as the museum’s mascot. Catch her in all her toothy glory during your visit.
9. Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoological Gardens are an incredible place for visitors of all ages to experience wildlife in the heart of urban Chicago.
The fourth oldest zoo in America, Lincoln Park offers free admission to experience its host of over a thousand animals. From penguins to big cats to apes, there will be something fierce at the Lincoln Park Zoo to delight all.
10. The Museum of Science and Industry
This is my absolute favorite place to visit in Chicago. I am a pilot, and there are tons of aviation-themed attractions here. I’ve been several times and can’t get enough of this place.
The Museum of Science and Industry is a unique science museum hosting exhibits that showcase the technology and innovation of humankind as a whole.
The standout exhibits include:
- German submarine captured during World War II
- A model railroad spanning over 3,500 sq ft,
- The command module of Apollo 8, the first diesel-powered passenger train
- A full-size replica of a coal mine.
11. Water Tower Place
A seven-story mall towers over the boutiques of the magnificent mile, boasting over five dozen individual storefronts within. With restaurants and entertainment available including a Broadway live theater, there’s plenty to do at this all-in-one stop.
12. 360 Chicago Observation Deck
Chicago’s highest thrill ride is hidden over a thousand feet above the ground, making it one of the highest thrill rides on the planet.
Whether you want an adrenaline rush or to look out over the Chicago skyline, the 360 Chicago Observation Deck is a great chance to get a bird’s eye view of the windy city.
13. Garfield Park Conservatory
A botanical conservatory of incredible size and scope, the Garfield Park Conservatory is a burst of living greenery in the middle of Chicago inviting all to experience the wonders of the natural world.
Tropical plants and water features persist throughout winter, making this a great reprieve from the harsh Midwestern winter. During the gentler seasons, explore over ten acres of outdoor gardens.
14. Adler Planetarium
Stare with wonder at a starry sky on the cloudiest of nights at the Adler Planetarium. Astronomy and astrophysics are celebrated under the domed roof of this delightful institution of learning and research.
Stroll around the exterior of the building to enjoy a variety of sculptures as well, depicting mankind’s ascent into the stars and our fascination with them.
15. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Contemporary art museums are different from traditional art museums in that instead of featuring historical pieces from the past, they highlight new art that predicts the shape of the culture and form going forward.
Experimental work of all types can be found at this incredible home for new ideas and new beginnings. From photography to sculptures, there are pieces of all mediums at this incredible museum.
Things to Consider
There are going to be several factors to consider when visiting places in Chicago. Keep an eye out for these logistical snags and perks to make the most of any visit:
Transportation & Parking
Chicago is a huge city. Just because two attractions are both in Chicago, doesn’t mean they’re anywhere near each other.
Getting to one end of the city may be easy during one part of the day, but much more difficult during rush hour traffic. Parking can also be extremely expensive in Chicago, so be mindful of that if bringing your vehicle.
Ticket Prices & Fees
Some of the attractions in Chicago are free, especially the public parks and exhibitions, but others are ticketed.
In addition, the museums and other attractions may have additional ticketed limited-time events and exhibits within. It’s important to know your budget before you visit and do research before your pockets run empty.
Besides tourists and people who commute into the city to work there, the city of Chicago has a population of two and a half million people.
Being in that densely populated area means being okay with crowds, and lots of them. Be ready for lines, be ready for waits, and be ready to bump shoulders. Wear small bags close to your body, and good shoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Visitors to the Windy City are bound to have plenty of questions in anticipation of their visit to Chicago. Check out some of the most common questions below and our answers to better prepare for your visit:
What are some fun things to do in Chicago?
One thing people often forget about Chicago is that it is built on the shore of Lake Michigan, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities for activities on the Lake. In addition, you can even partake in activities on the rivers running through the city as well.
One exciting option is an architecture cruise, where you can take a guided tour through the city and admire the incredible forms the city has taken throughout its lifetime.
What is the number one attraction in Chicago?
Part of what makes visiting Chicago great is that so many of the attractions are free and so much of the city is walkable. That means that the exact numbers of some of the most popular attractions are difficult to estimate.
However, some of the most iconic tourist attractions of the city include Cloud Gate, known to locals as the Bean.
What is Chicago best known for?
Chicago is a city of fusion and fun. It’s known for food, music, arts, and culture all created by a rich history.
Some of the foods Chicago is famous for include deep-dish pizza, hot dogs without ketchup, polish sausages, Italian sandwiches, and gelato. Culture wise Chicago is a hub for jazz, theater, and art.
What part of Chicago is best for tourists?
A lot of tourists enjoy staying in the Chicago Loop, though the Loop is mostly a commercial district. The Loop is the second-largest commercial business district in the country, making it an impressive place to visit.
What is the most famous part of Chicago?
The Magnificent Mile is a famous part of Chicago, with a huge amount of iconic landmarks stuffed into a small amount of space. Galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops all vie for attention in a walkable district that is sure to dazzle any visitor.
So, What are the Best Places to Visit in Chicago?
The best places to visit in Chicago are the ones that pique your interest. In a city as varied and packed as the windy city, there’s something for everyone a dozen times over.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled to find an experience unique to you and your interests and you’ll be sure to be delighted by your trip. So what are you waiting for — book your trip to Chicago today!