We all know that Windy City (aka Chicago) has a lot to offer. But what are the most entertaining and memory-making opportunities in the city? We’re travel experts, and we’ve rounded up what we consider to be the best things to do on your trip to Chicago.
19 Best Things to Do in Chicago in 2023
With everything that Chicago offers, you could spend weeks visiting the city, enjoying different restaurants and attractions every day. So how do you narrow it down to get the most out of your time while visiting? Don’t worry — we’ll highlight the 19 best things to do in Chicago below.
If you’re interested in sea life, visiting Shedd Aquarium is the way to go! You will see every type of underwater creature possible during your tour of the aquarium.
Additionally, there are a variety of entertaining shows where you can see dolphins and whales jumping out of the water and performing tricks. Another significant aspect of the Shedd Aquarium is the chance to learn about the proper care of mammals and how they survive.
The aquarium provides ample educational opportunities, whether standing with a trainer next to a Beluga whale or touching a stingray. When visiting Shedd Aquarium, it’s good to note that not all areas are wheelchair or stroller accessible.
Often you have to take lengthy detours to find appropriate routes. You’ll want to devote at least half a day, if not longer, to seeing everything at the aquarium.
You’ve likely heard of Sue the Dinosaur. The 40-foot-long t-rex lives at the Field Museum in Chicago and is one of the top exhibits in the city. Other reasons for visiting the Field Museum include learning about meteorites and colors, Native American life, gems, earth restoration, etc.
Located right next to the aquarium, many take the opportunity to visit both places in the same day. This schedule, although convenient, may not be realistic due to the massive amount of exhibits included in both attractions.
Navy Pier is much more than just a pier. It’s home to many different restaurants, shops, and entertainment sources. While visiting the pier itself is free, the activities within the pier have extra costs associated with them.
Visitors come to Navy Pier due to its strong association with Chicago. You can find all of the city-specific attractions and restaurants there, including the Centennial Wheel, Giordano’s, Garrett Popcorn, and Billy Goat Tavern, among many others.
If you’re looking for a romantic excursion, you can opt for a sunset cruise. You can also visit the Chicago Children’s Museum or take a ride on the free local trolley. At Navy Pier, there is something for everyone.
A visit to The Art Institute of Chicago is a must-see for art enthusiasts. With so many exhibits, you can easily spend an entire day taking in all the various artists and the beautiful artwork at the institute.
While the array of art can change over time, with new exhibits coming and going, the experience remains the same. The curators at the institute do a great job obtaining various and unique items for visitors to enjoy.
There is a standard general admission price, and some of the premium attractions require an additional charge. Furthermore, if you want to take the fast pass approach, you can bypass the general admission lines at the entrances to different displays.
When you see references to Chicago in movies or television shows, you’ll frequently see images of Millennium Park. This centrally located space contains the infamous mirror-faced bean that visitors love to see.
Additionally, you can visit Lurie Garden, Crown Fountain (with the changing faces!), and then visit the Maggie Daley Park.
Many events occur at Millennium Park in the warmer months, so be conscious of the traffic you may encounter when you visit. Increased security measures are in place during these events, and the park officials may block off specific park areas.
With that in mind, if you’re looking forward to seeing certain areas of the park, it’s best to check their website ahead of time to see if there are any conflicting events taking place.
A trip to the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) will provide you with not only a fantastic time and beautiful memories made but also with an educational experience you didn’t anticipate.
There is so much to take in at MSI that you won’t know where to start. Between exploring a real-life submarine to viewing intricately detailed works of Lego art, you’ll be enthralled with any of the exhibits.
But it doesn’t end there! You’ll also have access to hands-on science experiments, animal life documentaries, and models of architecture and the inner workings of the world.
If you love museums, this is one that you want to add to your list. It has many different features than what you get with the Field Museum but is every bit as intriguing and impressive.
Many people enjoy visiting zoos in the different cities they visit. It can be interesting to see the distinct styles each zoo offers and the variety of animals
Don’t miss out on Lincoln Park Zoo if this is you! Not only is it free, but it’s packed with fun attractions that you’ll thoroughly enjoy.
While your initial thought may be that Lincoln Park Zoo is of a lower quality than others due to it being free, it’s anything but that. The zoo offers high-quality exhibits and educational resources on par with every other establishment.
With over 200 species of animals, a wide array of plants and vegetation, and several programs on animal welfare and conservation efforts, your mind will be blown after a busy day exploring. Even better? This zoo is open 365 days a year!
Read Next: The Best Zoos in the United States
One of the most extraordinary things about The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is that they believe art should be accessible to everyone. While they have a suggested admission price, they won’t turn anyone away who cannot pay.
Instead, they state that patrons can pay whatever they can and still have access to the museum. The exhibits and art on display are part of a wide range of elements and designs.
Each area has new and exciting pieces to explore and learn about during your visit. While the art is rotated out routinely to allow for new items to come in, there are always captivating pieces for all types of audiences.
As the tallest building in Chicago, and the second tallest building in North America, the Willis Tower offers impressive views of the Windy City’s skyline.
Made up of business offices and apartments, as well as some retail establishments, the former Sears Tower also offers tourists the ability to see the city from another perspective. Take a ride up 103 stories to “The Ledge.”
This is where you can walk out on a series of windows to get a view straight down of the city of Chicago. You can easily see for 50 miles when the skies are clear, including four separate states.
If you fear heights, skip this attraction. Being 103 stories up and standing on thick sheets of glass to get a bird’s eye view of the city isn’t for everyone. However, the scenery is terrific, and you won’t be able to find another view like this one.
If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan, or just a baseball enthusiast, taking an afternoon at the ball field will be a great addition to your trip. The outdoor stadium was built over a century ago and has housed the infamous Chicago Cubs since its inception.
The area is surrounded by top-notch breweries, restaurants, hotel accommodations, and even Airbnbs with phenomenal Wrigley Field views. Check the schedule and bring some sunscreen as the stadium has minimal shade.
Located right next to Millennium Park is Grant Park, also known as “Chicago’s front yard.” Known for its skate park, art installations, Buckingham Fountain, copious baseball diamonds, tennis courts, and green space, Grant Park is the go-to spot for many locals.
The park may also ring a bell because it was the location of Barack Obama’s Election Day speech in 2008. You’ll find many festivals and celebrations during the summer, including Taste of Chicago and the Grant Park Music Festival.
The park surrounds Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and the Art Institute of Chicago. If you find yourself in the area visiting one of these attractions, you can walk over to a quiet area of the park for a midday picnic and playtime.
As mentioned above, Adler Planetarium is one of the museums situated within Grant Park. Here, you can learn about the stars, planets, constellations, etc.
With many hands-on exhibits, adults and children alike can learn about the many aspects of the universe in a much different way than what textbooks and videos can show.
Additionally, you’ll learn about the changes over time in the universe, explore various styles of telescopes, and participate in the space visualization lab. Other adventures at Adler will have you taking in the inside of a spacecraft and learning how astronomy plays into our culture today.
As one of the free attractions that Chicago offers to visitors and locals, the Chicago Cultural Center gives you insight into the city we all love. Often you’ll see public events focused on music, dancing, and art within the center.
You’ll also have the ability to participate in family events, special film screenings, and lectures at the Chicago Cultural Center. Located downtown, you can easily access the center with public transportation.
Another great thing about the Chicago Cultural Center is the Public Media Institute’s shop inside that carries locally made items, artists, and manufacturer’s items for sale.
Located on State Street, the historic Chicago Theatre offers various shows, sporting events, speeches, special events, and more. Previously known as the Balaban and Katz Theatre, the establishment opened in 1921.
It was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Currently, you can view many different entertainment options at the theatre.
While you’ll often see children’s shows advertised, you’ll also have the chance to see off-Broadway performances and concerts. If you have a show that you’re interested in seeing at the Chicago Theatre, be sure to reach out for tickets ahead of time, as they often sell out.
Another iconic Chicago image that you see in movies and television shows is the Chicago Riverwalk. You can’t blame them as the backdrop of skyscrapers accented by the water and bridge make it an exquisite sight.
Lined with restaurants, you can stroll the area and enjoy a bit of nature in the middle of the city. If you want to take a cruise around Chicago or rent kayaks, this is the place to do so. The Riverwalk has many different companies that offer these services.
In addition, if you visit around St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll notice a unique shade to the water. The city turns the waterway green to celebrate the holiday.
You’ll notice many different photoshoots going on when you visit this space. Be sure to have a camera ready, as this gorgeous landscape calls for taking photos.
Tucked into Navy Pier is the Chicago Children’s Museum. A favorite of locals and tourists alike, the museum has much to offer the youngest generation. While visiting the space, your children will learn about clouds, personal safety, gravity, architecture, and history.
In addition to the above, your children will have access to climbing structures, an art creation studio, a tinkering lab, and a kid’s town with smaller-sized versions of grocery stores and public utilities. Little ones can even learn how to wash a car!
The museum is only open for visitors Friday through Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. During the summer season, reservations will book up quickly, so be sure to visit their website to secure your tickets.
Home to Chicago Bears football and Chicago Fire soccer, Soldier Field has been part of Chicago’s legacy since 1924. When not hosting football and soccer, the stadium holds charitable walks and races, Special Olympics, concerts, and conventions.
The field can hold over 61,000 individuals for events and can also be rented out for company retreats or trade shows.
Located in South Chicago, the area is near Museum Campus. The Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium aren’t far from the Soldier Field entrance.
Soldier Field offers several types of tours for visitors if you’re in the area and want an up-close and personal view. These tours must be purchased in advance and are not available on weekends.
If you’re looking for a unique experience to take in on your next visit to Chicago, do not hesitate to check out the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Founded in 1891, the symphony performs over 150 concerts annually in various genres.
If you have a sharp enough ear, you’ll notice some of their music in parts of famous recordings. The Chicago Symphony has been hailed as one of the top music organizations in the world.
Taking the time to visit won’t disappoint. Whether it’s Baroque or Contemporary that you buy tickets for, you’ll be happy that you made an effort to attend.
As an underrated gem in the Windy City, Lakefront Trail offers peace and tranquility without the hustle and bustle of the city. With over 18 miles of paved trail, you can walk, bike, run, or scooter along the lakefront.
Going for a walk or bike ride on a beautiful day next to superior water views will have you forgetting that just a short distance away is filled with busy roads and thousands of people.
The trail connects much of downtown Chicago and is a safer option for getting around on foot than the streets and sidewalks. If you’re coming from the museums, you’ll come upon public restrooms and parks for you to enjoy for a break.
The city website provides a detailed map of where you can utilize the trail. As another perk, the trail has recently undergone renovations to separate areas and designate space for walkers and bikers.
While some areas are still combined, the separation allows for safer conditions for those who use the trail.
Things to Consider
When you’re making plans to visit Chicago, there are certain things that you want to take under advisement. As is the case with every city and vacation destination, there are particular nuances that you should know in advance.
- As Chicago is located on Lake Michigan, you’ll get wind coming off the waterfront. This situation can make for extreme winter weather conditions. Therefore, plan your trip accordingly.
- Crime in Chicago is among the highest in the big cities in the United States. This concern is valid in every metro area you visit, and you should take precautions in them all, Chicago included.
- Chicago is a very walkable city, so don’t be overly concerned if your hotel isn’t located on the loop. Chances are you won’t be all that far from the main activities. Additionally, Chicago has various options for entertainment throughout the city, not just on the main streets.
Frequently Asked Questions
Planning a trip anywhere comes with significant research and lots of questions. Below are some of the most common questions we received about traveling to Chicago:
What can you do for free in Chicago?
There are several attractions that you can enjoy in Chicago for free. One of the top choices is the Lincoln Park Zoo. You can also enjoy Garfield Park Conservatory, Ed Paschke Art Center, the Chicago Riverwalk, and Chicago Cultural Center for no cost, among many others.
What fun stuff is there to do in Chicago?
There is a wide variety of activities to participate in during your visit to Chicago. Going to Millennium Park is generally at the top of the list for many, as well as Shedd’s Aquarium. A visit to the Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry are popular excursions too.
What should visitors do in Chicago?
While you should cater your exact itinerary to your specific interests, there are some staples that you shouldn’t miss out on when you visit Chicago. A walk on the Navy Pier and a visit to Millennium Park are big ones. You should also take the time to check out the skyline at Willis Tower.
How many days do you need in Chicago?
If you’re looking to get the full experience of everything that Chicago offers, then spending a week in the city will give you ample time. However, if you want to take in the highlights, visiting for 3-4 days will be sufficient.
What food is Chicago known for?
When you take a trip to Chicago, you need to make sure that you experience Chicago-style pizza. Several restaurants offer this local delicacy, including Giordano’s, Lou Malnati’s, and Pizano’s. While all of these establishments provide high-quality options, you’ll quickly find that locals always have their favorite that they find better than others.
So, What’s the Best Thing to Do in Chicago?
With all the incredible attractions that Chicago offers, it’s nearly impossible to nail down one that rises above all others. While many would list Shedd’s Aquarium, Navy Pier, or Millennium Park, others may say the Magnificent Mile.
It’s all about what your interests are! But, regardless of what you like to do, you can bet that there are more than enough attractions in Chicago to have you wanting to extend your trip.