Chicago   Travel Guide

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chicago things to do tourist

28 Fun Things to Do in Chicago

Chicago shines for its world-class museums, various shopping districts, vibrant neighborhoods and lively nightlife venues. Explore the city's innovative roots at the Griffin Museum of Science and Industry, where you can walk inside the U-505

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chicago things to do tourist

Millennium Park and Cloud Gate Millennium Park and Cloud Gate free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Construction around the Cloud Gate sculpture will limit the public's access to this top tourist attraction until spring 2024. While you might not be able to snag a selfie with "The Bean," many other attractions are available within the park. – Cortney Fries

A first-time visit to Chicago isn't complete without a stop at Millennium Park. Situated in the Loop just north of the Art Institute of Chicago , this 25-acre space is used to showcase cutting-edge art, architecture and landscaping; it also acts as a backdrop for concerts and festivals. Most visitors come to Millennium Park to see the Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate, better known as "The Bean." Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain features two 50-foot towers that face each other at opposite ends of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers' LED screens project the faces of 1,000 different Chicago residents, which are perfectly aligned with spouts so that it appears they are spitting water on passersby. The water flows mid-spring through mid-fall, while the faces are projected year-round. Cloud Gate – created by British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor – is a 110-ton bean-shaped sculpture forged from stainless steel. The Bean's elliptical shape reflects the Chicago skyline. A quintessential Chicago souvenir is a photo of your reflection in The Bean.

chicago things to do tourist

Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain free

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you're visiting Chicago Sept. 8 through 10, head to Grant Park early – around 11 a.m. to avoid the lines – for the Taste of Chicago. Enjoy the park and eat the best cuisine the city has to offer. Admission is free. – Sarah Estime

Often referred to as "Chicago's front yard," Grant Park is an approximately 313-acre swath of green space that starts at the eastern edge of the Loop and stretches down to the northern fringes of the Near South Side. First-time visitors should plan on spending a fair amount of time in Grant Park: This is where you'll find several of Chicago's most popular things to do, including The Field Museum , the Art Institute of Chicago and Shedd Aquarium . ( Millennium Park also rubs elbows with the northwest corner of Grant Park.) Baseball diamonds, flower gardens, walking paths and wide-open grassy terrain are available as well.

chicago things to do tourist

Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago

Home to one of the country's most impressive collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art (plus works from numerous other genres), the expansive Art Institute of Chicago features nearly 300,000 works from all over the world in its permanent collection. You'll find pieces created in the Byzantine era, as well as paintings completed just a few decades ago. Highlights include Jacob Lawrence's "The Wedding," Georgia O'Keeffe's "Sky above Clouds IV" and Grant Wood's "American Gothic." The Art Institute's exhibits also include all sorts of intriguing artifacts, from European armor to the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which showcase interior design and furnishings in Europe and America from the late 13th to early 20th centuries. In addition to the permanent collection, the Art Institute hosts traveling exhibitions covering a variety of subjects and showcasing a diverse array of artists and genres.

The Art Institute of Chicago earns high praise from recent visitors, thanks in part to its impressive collection. Art enthusiasts particularly commend the museum's impressionist collection, which features pieces from famous artists like van Gogh, Monet and Renoir.

chicago things to do tourist

Popular Tours

Chicago Architecture River Cruise

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chicago things to do tourist

The Magnificent Mile The Magnificent Mile free

U.S. News Insider Tip: The Magnificent Mile, known for its world-class shopping, also has plenty to offer architecture buffs. Book a walking tour with the Chicago Architecture Center and hear the untold stories of North Michigan Avenue's architectural icons. Tours start at $30. – Sarah Estime

For shopping at more than 450 retailers within walking distance in downtown Chicago, make your way to The Magnificent Mile. This portion of Michigan Avenue – which stretches between Lake Shore Drive and the Chicago River – beckons to shopaholics with department stores and luxury retailers like Bloomingdale's, Marcus, Macy's, Tory Burch and Nordstrom. Additionally, The Magnificent Mile is home to several top-notch eateries and luxury hotels, including The Drake , the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile and the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile .

chicago things to do tourist

Navy Pier Navy Pier free

Extending out onto Lake Michigan, Navy Pier offers plenty in the way of family-friendly entertainment. The first thing you'll spot once you set foot on the pier is the towering Ferris wheel (which stands 196 feet tall); you'll also find a drop tower and a carousel. Once the kids have had their fill of thrill rides, you can spend some time cruising the Chicago River on a sightseeing or speedboat tour or spend a few hours exploring the Chicago Children's Museum , with hands-on exhibits ranging from treehouses to fire trucks.

But you don't have to be a kid to enjoy a visit to Navy Pier. Grown-ups can catch a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, flex some credit card muscle at a variety of shops or grab a drink at the Navy Pier Beer Garden. And be sure to check Navy Pier's website for a list of events: Concerts are often held here, and from Memorial Day to Labor Day (as well as New Year's Eve), impressive fireworks displays light up the skies on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Many of the city's top Segway tours offer special summer evening tours to the pier to catch the semiweekly fireworks show.

chicago things to do tourist

Lincoln Park Zoo Lincoln Park Zoo free

U.S. News Insider Tip: North Avenue Beach is a short walk over the North Avenue Bridge when you park at the southern end of the Lincoln Park Zoo lot. Explore the zoo, then stroll over to the beach for an afternoon in the sand. – Cortney Fries

Located 2 miles north of the Loop in the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo is home to nearly 200 species, such as zebras, sloths and hippos. Visitors can view the zoo's furry (or scaly) friends in their natural habitats: Check out the gorillas in the sprawling, award-winning Regenstein Center for African Apes, or head to the Kovler Seal Pool to get up close and personal with harbor seals. Seal training and feeding occurs daily at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

chicago things to do tourist

Best Chicago Tours

chicago things to do tourist

Chicago Tours

The 16 Best Chicago Tours for 2024, According to Reviews

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chicago things to do tourist

The 7 Best Chicago Boat Tours of 2024: River & Lake Cruises

chicago things to do tourist

The 6 Best Chicago Walking Tours

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chicago things to do tourist

360 CHICAGO Observation Deck 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck

One of Chicago's most notable attractions is its skyline, and one of the best places to experience it is at the 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck. Formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, 360 CHICAGO towers 1,000 feet over The Magnificent Mile from its location on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center (or 875 North Michigan Avenue as its more formally known). Encased by floor-to-ceiling windows, 360 CHICAGO boasts expansive views of the city; on a clear day, you can see four states. Meanwhile, the interactive screens will help you identify different landmarks that appear in your panorama.

For a different point of view (and an adrenaline rush), test out 360 CHICAGO's TILT. In this mechanized room, visitors hold on to handlebars as the top of the room's windows extend outward, tilting you toward bustling North Michigan Avenue down below. For another memorable way to immerse yourself in the views, try ClouldWalk, a 3D art experience introduced in 2022. Mural artist Nate Baranowski created an optical illusion on the observation deck that makes visitors feel as though they are standing on a crane platform in the clouds.  Should you prefer to experience the view without feeling your heart skip a beat, grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a snack at the cafe and bar, or look for souvenirs in the gift shop.

chicago things to do tourist

The Field Museum The Field Museum

U.S. News Insider Tip: After hours of museum hopping, grab a kid-approved lunch at Kim & Carlo's Hot Dog Cart. The no-frills stand offers everything from vegan dogs to the traditional Chicago hotdog. Enjoy your lunch on the water. – Sarah Estime

This extensive natural history museum occupies half an acre of Grant Park 's Museum Campus and houses exhibits that showcase artifacts from multiple eras and destinations, making it a must-see for kids (as well as any fans of the "Indiana Jones" movies). Some of the most popular parts of the museum include the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit, which features a reconstruction of a three-story replica of an Egyptian tomb, one of the largest collections of mummies in the United States and interactive representations of life on the Nile. There's also the Restoring Earth area in the Abbott Hall of Conservation, where visitors can learn more about sustainability through hands-on activities. But no visit to The Field Museum would be complete without some quality time with SUE, the facility's T. rex who just happens to be the largest, most complete T. rex ever discovered. SUE is 40 feet long from nose to tail and boasts 55 terrifying teeth.

chicago things to do tourist

Lake Michigan Sunset Cruise in Chicago

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Chicago Lake and River Architecture Tour

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Chicago River Architecture Tour with Small Boat Upgrade Option

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chicago things to do tourist

Chicago Architecture River Cruise Chicago Architecture River Cruise

A visit to 360 CHICAGO or Skydeck Chicago will give you a good overview of the city's layout. But if you want to learn more about Chicago's sky-high buildings, tag along on an architecture river cruise. During a river cruise, you'll gain great views and historical insight about well-known structures like the Wrigley Building, the Leo Burnett Building and the Fulton House.

Though several companies, including Wendella Sightseeing Co. and Chicago Line Cruises, offer architecture river cruises, most travelers recommend climbing aboard a Chicago's First Lady Cruises boat with a Chicago Architecture Center docent. You'll learn tons of information about the area's architecture, plus catch superb skyline photo-ops.

chicago things to do tourist

Maggie Daley Park Maggie Daley Park free

U.S. News Insider Tip: There are many restaurant options around the park, but Wildberry Pancakes & Café is a satisfying brunch spot. Choose from creative pancake options, a variety of omelets, crepes, sandwiches and salads. Go hungry and leave happy. – Cortney Fries

Opened in 2014, Maggie Daley Park is an expansive property located just east of Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. The 20-acre green space offers numerous activities for both kids and adults alike, including a climbing wall, a mini-golf course, a 3-acre playground, a public garden, an ice-skating skating "ribbon" during the winter and scooter and rollerblade rentals in the summer, not to mention a tennis facility. Whatever you choose to do, you'll get to enjoy fantastic views of the Chicago skyline. Recent visitors loved that the park is free to access, and they noted that the attraction is excellent for family fun.

chicago things to do tourist

Griffin Museum of Science and Industry Griffin Museum of Science and Industry

U.S. News Insider Tip: Mid-November through the first week of January, experience the annual "Christmas Around the World" and "Holidays of Light" exhibits. Volunteers decorate more than 50 trees in celebration of holiday traditions from around the globe. – Cortney Fries

Chicago's extensive Griffin Museum of Science and Industry is the Western Hemisphere's largest science museum, showcasing more than 35,000 artifacts and a variety of hands-on exhibits meant to inspire creativity. The museum resides in the 14-acre former Palace of Fine Arts, which hosted the famous World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The fair brought together some of the world's greatest scientific minds, including Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, who at the time were competing to prove which type of electricity – direct current or alternating current – was more effective. 

chicago things to do tourist

Wrigley Field Wrigley Field

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you're visiting during the holiday season, don't miss Winterland at Gallagher Way for family-friendly rides and games inside and around the ballpark. Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville is free to enter. Enjoy festive shopping and international food and beverage selections. – Cortney Fries

Chicagoans take their love of sports very seriously. So, for a real taste of Chicago culture, head north of the Loop to Wrigley Field to watch the Chicago Cubs play ball at the Friendly Confines. History buffs will also appreciate this sports treasure, which first opened in 1914 and holds the honor of being the second-oldest Major League Baseball stadium in the country (after Fenway Park in Boston ).

chicago things to do tourist

Shedd Aquarium Shedd Aquarium

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you're visiting in the summer (June through August), check out Jazzin' at the Shedd. You can enjoy jazz music and drinks with incredible views from the terrace. Plus, the lights dim in the aquarium for a unique experience. – Elizabeth Von Tersch, Senior Editor

Shedd Aquarium is one of the world's largest indoor aquariums, housing around 32,000 creatures. While you're here, you can feel stingrays float beneath your fingers, listen to sea lions bark and learn all about a variety of turtles. A visit to Shedd Aquarium will lead you through a cornucopia of habitats, where you'll find additional animals like penguins, piranhas, sharks and beluga whales. Or, for an additional fee, you can participate in specialty experiences like animal encounters, feeding experiences and virtual reality.

chicago things to do tourist

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chicago things to do tourist

The Chicago Riverwalk The Chicago Riverwalk free

U.S. News Insider Tip: During the summer, there is nothing better than watching the boats go by as you relax at City Winery Riverwalk Wine Garden. Rent a retro boat from Chicago Electric Boat Company and cruise the river yourself. – Cortney Fries

When the weather warms up in Chicago, there are few better places to enjoy the outdoors than the Chicago Riverwalk. The 1.25-mile pedestrian walkway on the south bank of the Chicago River is the perfect place to take a stroll and observe the city skyline. Plus, there are numerous activity options to enjoy directly on the water, such as a boat or kayak tour . If you prefer to explore on your own two feet, visit the public gardens and art displays, or grab a meal at a popular restaurant or bar overlooking the Chicago River. And if you want to learn more about the river's unique history, check out the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, which celebrates the city's famous movable bridges. What's more, Art on theMART – a massive digital art projection on the facade of theMART (formerly The Merchandise Mart) – is best viewed from the Riverwalk.

chicago things to do tourist

Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower

More than 1.7 million people make their way to Willis Tower's Skydeck Chicago each year, and it's easy to see why. Occupying the 103rd floor – that's nine floors higher than 360 CHICAGO – of the 110-story Willis Tower (the third-tallest building in North America after One World Trade Center and Central Park Tower), Skydeck Chicago boasts breathtaking views of the city. Visit on a sunny day and you may be able to see far beyond Chicago's borders to Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and other parts of Illinois.

The highlight for most visitors is the Ledge. Extending 4.3 feet beyond the building's exterior, this platform is made entirely of glass – even the floor. Travelers also liked the video screens that show what it would be like to stand 103 floors above other Chicago attractions, including Wrigley Field and Millennium Park . However, long lines quickly form for Skydeck Chicago, so plan on arriving early or purchasing a Chicago CityPASS, which covers expedited admission into the attraction. Or, simply pay extra for expedited entry, which features an express line to the elevators. For the best views, it's advised that you visit just after opening or after sunset. If you'd like to enjoy the sunset from the tower, plan on arriving 30 to 45 minutes before sunset to ensure you have enough time to get through the elevator line and up to the top.

chicago things to do tourist

North Avenue Beach North Avenue Beach free

Located in Lincoln Park directly on Lake Michigan, North Avenue Beach is one of the most popular swimming spots in Chicago. The sandy beach has volleyball courts, plenty of space for visitors to stretch out and multiple things to do near nearby. Plus, it offers spectacular views of the city skyline. Beachgoers can also find restaurants, sports rental companies, restrooms and more inside a 22,000-square-foot beach house adjacent to the shore.

Recent visitors said the beach is a nice spot that is perfect for relaxing, biking and running, but they warned that it can get busy on warm summer days.

chicago things to do tourist

The Second City The Second City

If you've seen a sketch comedy show or hilarious movie in the last 40 years, it's likely that someone from The Second City appeared in it. The Second City is one of the world's most iconic improvisational comedy theaters, and it has helped launch the careers of numerous famous comedians, including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. If you're in the mood for a laugh, check out a live show on any night of the week at any number of The Second City's seven stages (which are all housed in its facility at the northwest corner of North Avenue and Wells Street in Old Town). 

Recent reviewers said that everyone in their group could not stop laughing during the shows, which typically last 90 minutes to two hours. Ticket prices vary by the show and date, but run anywhere from $30 to $100.

chicago things to do tourist

The Chicago Theatre The Chicago Theatre

Aside from Cloud Gate and Buckingham Fountain , The Chicago Theatre's red and yellow marquee is perhaps one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. Illuminating North State Street at the northern edge of the Loop, The Chicago Theatre first opened its doors in 1921 as an extravagant movie theater and performance venue. Throughout its history, the theater has hosted such big names as Duke Ellington, Diana Ross and Prince, in addition to screening blockbuster flicks. Though the theater fell into disuse in the 1970s, new management and a full renovation in the 1980s helped return the venue to its former glory. Today, the theater is still used for a variety of comedic, theatrical and musical performances.

According to past patrons, the theater's historic appearance enhances the overall experience of catching an event here. Just remember, cameras and video cameras, including those on cell phones, cannot be used during tours or performances. If you're not in town for a show, consider signing up for one of the venue's guided tours. Tour tickets cost $20 for adults and $15 for kids ages 12 and younger. Tours are available Monday and Tuesday at noon and 2 p.m. and last about an hour.

chicago things to do tourist

Chicago: Gangsters and Ghosts Walking Tour

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Big Bus Chicago: Hop-On Hop-Off Sightseeing Tour by Open-Top Bus

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Chicago River Cocktail Cruise

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chicago things to do tourist

Chicago Children's Museum Chicago Children's Museum

Located at Navy Pier , the Chicago Children's Museum offers temporary and permanent play-based exhibits for babies, toddlers and kids ages 4 and older. Founded in 1982 by the Junior League of Chicago as a response to cuts in arts programming, the museum was originally housed in two hallways of what is now called the Chicago Cultural Center . Today, children can dig for "teeth" and "bones" in "Dinosaur Expedition," climb through tunnels of "Cloud Buster," test their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) skills in the Tinkering Lab and paint, draw or sew in the art studio.

Recent visitors appreciated the interactive, hands-on exhibits, which they recommend for young children.

chicago things to do tourist

American Writers Museum American Writers Museum

U.S. News Insider Tip: Across the street from the museum, you will find the first Nutella Café, where you can savor French and Italian dishes featuring the heavenly hazelnut spread. The gelato is roll-your-eyes-to-the-back-of-your-head good. – Cortney Fries

The first museum in the United States dedicated to celebrating the diverse voices and influence of American authors, the American Writers Museum is an interactive journey through more than five centuries of written and spoken word. This relatively small museum, which opened in 2017, features thoughtful and reflective exhibits that you can touch, smell, hear and see. 

chicago things to do tourist

DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center

U.S. News Insider Tip: If driving in Chicago isn’t your thing, consider taking the No. 55 bus to the museum. The bus drops you off within just a five-minute walk of the museum. – Sarah Estime

The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, named for Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the entrepreneur who is credited with founding Chicago, is a must-visit for anyone looking to learn more about African American history in the city of Chicago and America. It celebrates its 62nd anniversary in 2023, and is full of thought-provoking exhibits, including those that showcase fine art created by influential African American artists and historical materials. Note that visitors hoping to enjoy “The March” exhibit, an immersive experience depicting the historic March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, can go in groups of no more than four at a time.

chicago things to do tourist

Adler Planetarium Adler Planetarium

The first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, the Adler offers unrivaled insights into our solar system. Indeed, "Our Solar System" is one of its permanent exhibits, along with "Mission Moon," "The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time," "Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass" and "Astronomy in Culture," among others. Its facilities include the Doane Observatory, which has the largest telescope available to the public in the Chicago area, through which visitors can glimpse celestial objects trillions of miles away. The Adler also has three full-size theaters – the 3D Universe Theater, the Definiti Space Theater and the Grainger Sky Theater – in which it screens programs like "Destination Solar System," "Planet Nine" and "One World, One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure."

Space enthusiasts invariably find the Adler's presentations both informative and entertaining, if somewhat pricey. Most visitors suggest setting aside a few hours to explore the various exhibits and shows. Travelers recommend maximizing your parking expenses by also visiting the Shedd Aquarium or The Field Museum , which also sit on the Museum Campus. Reviewers also appreciated the Lake Michigan and skyline views as seen from the planetarium.

chicago things to do tourist

Offbeat Street Art Tour Offbeat Street Art Tour

U.S. News Insider Tip: If you’re looking for unique souvenirs from your Chicago trip, consider The Goddess & Grocer for its gift baskets. – Sarah Estime

In Chicago, you can find eye-catching street art nearly everywhere. As you sightsee, you’ll be greeted with unique, thought-provoking art on the sides of buildings and underneath bridges. If you’re looking for an experience that walks you through the history and cultural significance of Chicago's street art scene, look no further than the Offbeat Street Art Tour. On this two-hour tour, you’ll discover new artists and learn the inspiration behind their colorful works, along with some interesting neighborhood history. You’ll also be able to take great photos along the way.

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Chicago Crime and Mob Bus Tour

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Skydeck Chicago Admission Ticket

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chicago things to do tourist

The Green Mill The Green Mill

U.S. News Insider Tip: For visitors looking for a bite to eat after a night of jazz music, head across the street to Damera for an authentic Ethiopian meal, or down the block to the Fat Cat for a burger. – Sarah Estime

Best known for serving gangsters during its speakeasy days, the Green Mill invites travelers to step back in time. The long bar that runs along the club's left side sits in front of smokey mirrors and is peppered with decor reminiscent of the Prohibition era. The entire place is cast in a warm reddish glow while old-time jazz plays from the jukebox. The bar – one of Al Capone’s favorites – has no set menu; order whatever cocktails you like (though the chocolate martinis are delicious). There is also a selection of beer and wine.

chicago things to do tourist

Garfield Park Conservatory Garfield Park Conservatory free

One of the biggest botanical conservatories in the United States, the Garfield Park Conservatory houses thousands of plant species in eight indoor gardens, as well as 10 acres of outdoor gardens.

Each indoor space has a distinct focus. The Aroid House features varieties of its namesake, which are among the most popular houseplants; it also features sculptures by the world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly made specifically for the Aroid House. As its name suggests, the Desert House boasts cacti and succulents, while the Fern Room arranges ferns around an indoor lagoon. The Palm House, the conservatory's largest structure, recreates a tropical landscape complete with more than 70 palm trees. Meanwhile, the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children's Garden aims to educate little ones about plants. Horticulture Hall displays a range of flowers and plants and also has tables where visitors can take a seat and have a rest.

chicago things to do tourist

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum The Richard H. Driehaus Museum

Occupying a restored mansion built in 1883, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum presents exhibitions relating to architecture, art and design from the 19th century to the present day.

The Nickerson Mansion containing the museum boasts an entrance hall made with so much marble that the building was nicknamed "the Marble Palace." (The museum takes its current name from the philanthropist who founded it in 2003.) Its reception room features intricate woodwork as well as items from the museum's permanent collection, such as a Tiffany Studios lamp that dates back to the early 1900s. Meanwhile, the front parlor displays Renaissance Revival furniture original to the Nickerson Mansion. The dining room, fitted with elaborately carved oak, houses a silver punch bowl first exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Other highlights from the permanent collection include a gem-encrusted inkstand, a ceramic clock, multiple chandeliers, paintings, sculptures and an array of decorative items.

chicago things to do tourist

Chicago Cultural Center Chicago Cultural Center free

The "People’s Palace," a popular destination occupying a full city block in the downtown Loop neighborhood, is a stunning architectural marvel as well as a venue for a great deal of cultural programming, including art exhibits and concerts. Among its features are one of the largest Tiffany stained-glass domes in the world (made with around 30,000 individual pieces of glass) and a marble lobby adorned with mosaics made of gold, glass and precious stones.

Visitors invariably rave about the impressive structure and its elaborate decorations, saying it’s worth it to pop in for free to see the ornate ceiling.

chicago things to do tourist

University of Chicago University of Chicago free

Founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago is an urban research university in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood close to Lake Michigan. Currently, it has more than 7,000 undergraduate students and more than 10,000 graduate, professional or other students as well as nearly 2,400 full-time faculty members.

Impressive as those statistics may be, they aren't reasons to visit. But the university's 217-acre campus, which was designated a botanic garden in 1997, and its mixture of English Gothic and modern architecture are. Some of the newer structures were designed by celebrated architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen, while some of the older ones are adorned with gargoyles that date back to the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. The university welcomes visitors to explore its campus, and provides information about its architecture on its website. Those who've visited before routinely call the buildings diverse and beautiful, and many recommend stopping by in the spring when flowers bloom across campus, or fall when amber leaves transform the grounds.

chicago things to do tourist

Chicago Gourmet Dinner Cruise on Lake Michigan

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Chicago River 90-Minute Architecture Boat Tour

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Chicago CityPASS®

Chicago CityPASS®

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23 Best Things to Do in Chicago

By Nicole Schnitzler

The 23 Best Things to Do in Chicago That Arent the Bean

Home to 77 neighborhoods, a robust lineup of festivals, a sprawling waterfront, and charming parks and walkways throughout, Chicago packs in something for every one of its locals. Add to that list award-winning theaters, iconic architecture, and a dynamic dining scene, and you’re looking at a world-class destination, too—smack dab in America’s heartland. The city’s draws only continue to grow, thanks to arrivals in everything from music venues to Michelin-starred restaurants—and the town’s hospitality remains strong, invested in helping others to enjoy those experiences across the board. From an education in the arts to an entirely outdoors itinerary (and plenty of easy-to-elegant noshes along the way), here are some of the best things to do in Chicago now.

Read our complete Chicago travel guide here.

This gallery has been updated with new information since its original publish date.

Garfield Park Conservatory Chicago

Garfield Park Conservatory Arrow

Step into the humid, glass-enclosed domes of Garfield Park where the air is clean thanks to thousands of jewel-toned plant specimens filtering toxins throughout. The space is fashionably untamed across its verdant showcase of flora from wet and dry environments, and those between. Spread across twelve acres, there's abundance year-round, from the colorful spring flower show to permanent indoor exhibits and holiday displays. Plant and garden enthusiasts should make the conservatory—easily accessed by Green Line—one of their stops.

chicago things to do tourist

Pizza City USA Arrow

In writing his book Pizza City USA , James Beard Award-winning food reporter Steve Dolinsky had organized the city into 10 different styles of pizza, quickly understanding Chicago’s wide array of pie styles. That research led him to start a tour showcasing that range, offering him and a team of “doughcents” a chance to tout Chicago’s diverse pizza scene to visitors and locals alike. There are four different kinds of tours, each exploring 3-4 styles of pizza. A walking tour Friday nights (downtown), a bus tour (various neighborhoods), and a walking tour (West Loop) on Saturdays, and a walking tour on Sundays (Bucktown/Wicker Park). Though the venues vary by tour, you can expect stops at favorites like Labriola (deep pan), My Pi (deep-dish), Robert’s (artisan), Paulie Gee’s Logan Square (Detroit-style), Eataly, and Bar Cargo (Roman). Get ready to grow your pizza IQ—in addition to discussing the range of pie styles, the team shares plenty of ‘za terminology and local history.

This view from Wolf Point in Chicago looks toward the intersection of the main north and south branches of the Chicago...

Urban Kayaks Arrow

Kayaking on the Chicago River or lake front is one way to shake up your perspective while visiting. Urban Kayaks offers tours along either. Move through the pulsing heart of the city on the river or travel Lake Michigan and circle Museum Campus (featuring the Field Museum , Adler Planetarium , Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field). A night tour on the river boasts views of the glowing Merchandise Mart, which is showered in rotating, digital art displays projected onto the building. A one and a half hour skyline paddle in Lake Michigan gives you all the tourist sites without the foot traffic and crowds, showing you Grant Park and Navy Pier on a route few tourists trek.

chicago things to do tourist

The Salt Shed Arrow

The team responsible for some of Chicago’s best restaurants and concert halls is behind this hugely popular newcomer, housed within the iconic Morton Salt building on the North Branch of the Chicago River. The indoor-outdoor space made a soft debut last summer and continues those rollouts this year, with indoor shows this past winter and a full lineup this summer (including acts like First Aid Kit, Pretty Lights, Caamp, and Tash Sultana). Multi-level ticketing tiers help guests in selecting their vantage point for shows. Even if you don’t have prime sightlines every time (now considered the largest independent concert venue in Chicago, the space has a capacity of 5,000 for outdoor shows and 3,500 for indoors), you’re still in luck: They feature a state-of-the-art sound system by L-Acoustics. The venue also features a solid lineup of local food options, including Pizza Friendly Pizza and Café Tola. Find them in the outdoor Fairgrounds space (perfect for grabbing a bite pre-show).

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giant sculpture in park. framed by purple leaves. tree. nature. human walking

The Morton Arboretum Arrow

Located about 30 minutes west of downtown Chicago, the Morton Arboretum feels like a world away. It's a pastoral escape that feeds the mind and heart. Art installations on site are rotated seasonally, several of them are dedicated to the natural sciences, such as the living exhibit dedicated to tree growth. 'Human+Nature' is the current installation here, showcasing the work of acclaimed sculptor Daniel Popper. Five pieces are currently on display in various locations across the arboretum's 1,700 acres, making this Popper's largest exhibition to date anywhere in the world. Open from 7:00 a.m. to sunset, daily—it's a relative bargain at $16 a ticket. With a maze garden and over 16 miles of hiking trail, this is the ideal urban getaway for outdoorsy sorts looking to decompress.

Wrigley Field Baseball chicago

Wrigley Field Arrow

Iconic Wrigley Field is arguably one of Chicago's most storied landmarks, with millions of baseball fans flocking to the stadium just to get a photo in front of the iconic Wrigley Field Marquee (whether they’re rooting for the Cubs or not). The stadium anchors the Wrigleyville neighborhood, which has experienced a boon in development. A new outdoor plaza, luxury hotels, and an influx of restaurants/bars have boosted the area's cultural cachet, so it's worth hanging around before or after your stop at the stadium.

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago Arrow

The MCA is one of the city’s museums that’s in a near constant state of transition. With its relatively small permanent collection, it relies on special shows—from large scale installations to video, fashion, music, photography, and more—that showcase just as many rising local talents and underground, avant-garde renegades as recognizable names. Past exhibits include David Bowie Is, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, and Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech.   It also has one of the best gift shops (ever) and is home to Marisol, where chef Jason Hammel puts forth thoughtful, seasonal cuisine. Come summer, visit for their “Tuesday on the Terrace” music series, along with 21 Minus, an annual festival celebrating the next generation of artists.

Midway Plaisance

Midway Plaisance Arrow

Known simply as the Midway, this mile-long natural stretch on the South Side connects the east end's Washington Park to Jackson Park on the west. Once the site of amusements during the 1893 Columbian World's Exposition (AKA World's Fair), the Midway is flanked by Hyde Park's noted gothic architecture, particularly the University of Chicago campus, and tree-lined boulevards, as well as outfitted with an ice skating rink and other facilities to keep folks visiting year-round.

Lincoln Park Zoo chicago Exterior

Lincoln Park Zoo Arrow

Located in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park, this zoo offers free, family-friendly entertainment year-round including the festive Zoolights around the holidays (reservations are required for all visits though). The sprawling grounds are seamlessly woven into the park’s landscape, balancing open, natural spaces and numerous animal exhibits. If you skip the pricey concessions (but maybe spring for a paddle boat ride), Lincoln Park Zoo is a great option to keep all ages occupied while staying on a budget. Visit the animals, take a spin on the AT&T Endangered Species Carousel or the Lionel Train Adventure, and enjoy family-friendly dining options, such as Bird’s Eye Bar & Grill or the Patio at Café Brauer. 

Art Institute of Chicago Museum

Art Institute of Chicago Arrow

If you're coming to Chicago for culture, you're hitting the Art Institute first. It is the city's grandest museum, a Beaux Arts gem flanked by two bronze lions that are as much a symbol of the city as the Willis Tower and it has as fine an impressionist collection as you'll find anywhere. While you're there, plan to take a stroll through Millennium Park next door.

606 trail chicago

Bloomingdale Trail (The 606) Arrow

Chicago's answer to New York's High Line , the Bloomingdale Trail—a.k.a. The 606—is a nearly three-mile, elevated greenway running west and east on the city’s North Side. Unlike its NYC counterpart, the trails are wide enough to accommodate active patrons running, walking and cycling without running off more casual strollers, the formerly abandoned rail line is also lined with public art installations and gardens. During fairer weather, the trail also hosts various free events for families with young children.

chicago things to do tourist

3 Arts Club Cafe Arrow

Today there are more than 15 RH restaurants across the nation, but Chicago’s 3 Arts Club Café, which opened in 2015, was the first. Guests will discover it within Restoration Hardware’s 70,000-square-foot design gallery, which formerly functioned as the Three Arts Club, a residence built in 1914 for young women studying music, drama and the visual arts. Today, that space has been royally reimagined in the hands of RH, turning the six-story building into a lavishly outfitted labyrinth featuring its myriad décor whimsies (from the brand’s Design Atelier line to its children’s collections). Come here with friends or a special plus one, and arrive early—you'll want to factor in time for grabbing a coupe and perusing the historic property as you await your table.

vintage park district building on lake pond lagoon

Humboldt Park Arrow

One of Chicago's prettiest parks, this nearly 200-acre green space is located within the larger neighborhood of Humboldt Park (both are named for German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt). It's home to several statues—including one of its namesake, and two bison that were placed there during the 1893 World's Fair—as well as the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, located in the park's former stables. It's easy to drop in if you're headed down the 606 trail, but the park is big enough that it could take more than half a day to do all of it, so it's best if you're not in a rush.

Second City Chicago Drama Theater Exterior

The Second City Arrow

Tina Fey, Bill Murray, and Chris Farley all grew out of the scene at Second City and it continues to nurture some of the country's best comedy talent. Over three stages and four intimate studio theaters, there's plenty to see. The Mainstage show, featuring that season's top billed act, features long-form improv sketch, and is often packed on marquee nights. The same can be said for the e.t.c. Theater, which showcases up-and-comers, and the Up Comedy Club, for stand-up comic acts. The shows tend to be full, and ticketed for general admission, so come early to snag a prime seat. (Pro-tip: Avoid front row if you don't want to crane your neck all night.)

Lakeshore Trail Chicago

Chicago Lakefront Trail Arrow

The 18-mile long trail hugs the coast of Lake Michigan, offering almost all manner of activity along the shore. From sandy beaches and sprawling parks, to some of the best views of the Chicago skyline, the Lakefront Path is one of the city's great public treasures, enjoyed by visitors and locals alike. Runners and cyclists love the width and ease of use of the trail, while intramural type teams make use of the many open spaces found up and down the path. If you don't want to run around, there’s plenty of room to just sit and people watch, as well as check out a number of art installations that pop up throughout the year.

chicago things to do tourist

Chicago Electric Boat Company Arrow

Sunday Nov. 7 2021  Chicago IL My Morning Jacket Audience Imagery© Todd Rosenberg 2021

Auditorium Theatre Arrow

Inspired to build a theater that would benefit the city and serve as the world’s largest and most ornate building, Chicago businessman Ferdinand Wythe Peck began plans for the Auditorium Theatre and debuted the venue in 1889. Since then, the theater has been the site of major historical events and performances and earned impressive titles along the way (including a National Historic Landmark designation). Keep an eye on this season's calendar for events with Tom Hanks, The National, and Loreena McKennitt, among others. Anyone seeking a dose of the arts in elevated, historic environs will do well by a visit here. Gather friends for a speaker event or concert, or make it a date night.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge Chicago Bar

Green Mill Arrow

Do not come here expecting fancy drinks—or anything fancy, really. This is living, breathing history. And it's a rocking good time. The Green Mill is a warm and inviting throwback to a bygone era. There’s live jazz, cheap drinks, and loads of local history (Al Capone used to have a booth reserved here during Prohibition); what's not to love? Bar eats are not on the menu here. Bring your own potato chips if you think you'll need a snack (no one will judge you). The craft beer list has expanded commendably over the past few years. So grab yourself a cold one or a whiskey soda and see where the night takes you.

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Tour

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise Arrow

Run by the Chicago Architecture Center, the Architecture River Tour is one of the most polished operations in town ( and a wonderful alternative to some of the cheesier tours ). Taking place on a barge in spring, summer, and fairer fall weather, the cruise explores Chicago's beginnings from various branches of the Chicago River—offering both day and evening tours. While groups are typically large, the Architecture Center-trained docent speaks via loudspeaker, audible from throughout the boat. (Pro-tip: Head straight upstairs when you board and snag a seat in the rear for optimal views.) In 90 minutes, you'll get to know 50 buildings along the Chicago River, hear secrets about a map of the river's topography hidden in plain sight, and learn about the only skyscraper in the skyline designed by an award-winning female architect.

Promontory Point in Hyde Park with the Chicago skyline

Promontory Point Arrow

This man-made peninsula in Burnham Park has become a favorite gathering and photo shoot spot for locals due to its manicured landscape and rock formations along the lakefront. Our plan of attack here is to have a picnic at the point, then walk among a number of public art works edging the surrounding park. Some of the most interesting  public art installations and gathering spaces, such as Sounding Bronzeville and La Ronda Parakata, are actually within the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, which is composed of the Burnham Centennial Prairie, Burnham Nature Sanctuary, and McCormick Bird Sanctuary.

Riccrado Muti leading the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the program of Mendelssohn Debussy and Scriabin at Carnegie Hall...

Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Center Arrow

chicago things to do tourist

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art Arrow

Among the only museums in the world dedicated wholly to outsider art, Intuit is an impressive shrine to self-taught creators across all forms of media. Beyond an unassuming, brick facade, you’ll brush up against a concise-yet-vibrant collection of paintings, sculptures and assorted ephemera. The collected work draws you in with an air of unconventional audacity. This is a whimsical environment with an industrial edge. Exhibits are spread out with ample room for wandering and gazing at your leisure. The museum is curated by passionate docents who are committed to the cause of promoting the artistic output of marginalized creatives.

Chicago Botanic Garden Chicago

Chicago Botanic Garden Arrow

The Chicago Botanic Garden, a 385-acre living plant museum, features 28 distinct gardens and four natural areas. Those figures are impressive enough to draw more than one million visitors annually, making it one of the most frequented botanical gardens in the United States . Inside the gates, the Garden’s living collections feature more than 2.8 million plants from around the world that grow well in the Chicago area and are adapted to Midwest climate and soils. Expect to see a lush array of trees, shrubs, vines, and tropical plants, among other varieties.


The Emily Hotel

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The 10 best things to do in Chicago

Aug 9, 2023 • 7 min read

chicago things to do tourist

Chicago has plenty to see and do, from impressive skyscrapers and green parks to fascinating museums and moody speakeasies © Leonardo Patrizi / Getty Images

No matter what kind of vacation vibe you want to roll with, the Windy City can cater to it.

Whether it's a break jam-packed with iconic sites like the Bean, the Picasso structure or Navy Pier, or a quieter trip to more chilled parts of the city like the North Side’s Andersonville, Chicago keeps the good times rolling.

But with so much on offer, where to start? Listen to the locals, of course. Here are the 10 best ways to experience Chicago like those who know it best – before you know it, you'll be exploring the Windy City like a pro.

Exterior of Wrigley Field, Chicago

1. Take yourself out to the ball game

When you consider the fact this city is home to the Chicago Cubs (at historic Wrigley Field ), the Chicago White Sox (MLB), the Chicago Bears (NFL), the Chicago Bulls (NBA), the Chicago Sky (WNBA), the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL), the Chicago Fire FC and the Chicago Red Stars (NWSL), it’s safe to say this is a sports town.

On any given day, you'll find a sporting event happening, with fans filling up arenas, stadiums and bars, and rooting for their favorite players. Plus, Chicago is one of the rare cities with a long legacy of championships, so don't miss out on the magic of cheering on the hometown team.

Planning tip:  Tickets to major games sell out quickly, so buy well in advance if there's a particular one you want. Accommodation prices also shoot up during peak times – book ahead to avoid disappointment.

2. Dive into Chicago’s cocktail scene 

The Violet Hour is said to be the birthplace of craft cocktails in Chicago, and no visit is complete without a drink here at one of the city’s original speakeasies. 

Look for a yellow light to mark the bar’s entrance – if the light is on, they're open for business. Once you cross the threshold, the lights dim, and sound hushes behind towering velvet curtains that open to reveal an upscale cocktail bar. Be sure to keep your phone on silent and dress as if you’re meeting the parents to ensure admittance. 

If you can’t get enough of Chicago’s speakeasies, add The Drifter and Lady Bird to your list. The Drifter is located on the lower level of River North’s iconic Green Door Tavern ,  the city’s oldest drinking hole. Find the entrance en route to the bathroom behind a bookshelf. And the best part? Vaudeville shows play every hour (expect to pay a cover). 

Lady Bird is nestled in the basement of the Hoxton , in the West Loop . The low-lit bar features live music (jazz, soul and rock) Thursday through Saturday and evokes feelings of 1960s glam.   

3. Find Chicago's magic 

Some of the most prominent magicians in the industry reside in Chicago, and i t’s no wonder the city has become a hub for a burgeoning magic scene. 

In the Loop, spectators can get dolled up for an intimate night of magic with Dennis Watkins , a third-generation magician, at the opulent Palmer House Hilton  – dress well, as cocktail attire is encouraged. If you prefer something more laid-back, head north to the Chicago Magic Lounge .

In true magical fashion, the entrance is disguised – as a laundromat. A wall of washers swings open to reveal a host ready to guide you to an auditorium show or the bar, where the bartenders serve up close-hand magic alongside delicious drinks.

Planning tip:  The Magic Lounge hosts a family matinee show every other Sunday that welcomes everyone aged five and up. Perfect for the whole family!

A drummer on stage at Buddy Guy's Legends jazz club in Chicago, Illinois

4. Groove to the blues and rock

In Chicago, no genre is as iconic as the blues – the electric blues, to be exact. When Muddy Waters and friends plugged into their amps in the 1950s, guitar grooves reached new decibel levels. Hear it in clubs around town, such as Buddy Guy's Legends , where the icon himself still takes the stage, or Rosa's Lounge , where the vibe is a bit more down and dirty. The blues paved the way for rock and roll, so it's no surprise that cool little clubs hosting edgy indie bands slouch on many a street corner.

5. Shop local in Chicago neighborhoods

Chicago is a collection of vibrant neighborhoods  – t o really experience the city like a local, go beyond the Loop, avoid Michigan Avenue and support local shops that reflect the city’s make-up. 

Andersonville sits on the North Side and has Swedish roots. The Clark Street passage between Foster and Bryn Mawr is littered with nostalgic shops that give off Wes Anderson vibes, while Wicker Park and Bucktown  tailor their scene to local hipsters and young families.

If you continue south to Little Village, you'll find a predominantly Mexican community that's the city’s highest shopping district. Pop into Comercio Popular to buy from unique artisans and catch events imported straight from Mexico . 

End your retail tour in Hyde Park, home to Michelle and Barack Obama (when they’re in Chicago). The Silver Room is a must – this Black-owned store features various products that place Black culture and Black artisans at the forefront.

6. Dine at award-winning restaurants 

Over the years, Chicago's reputation as a culinary destination has flourished. The James Beard Awards arrived in Chicago in 2015, with plans to stick around until 2027, largely thanks to local chefs such as Grant Achatz, Stephanie Izard, Bill Kim and Carlos Gaytan. 

For high-end dining, head to the West Loop and take your pick of top culinary artists, Beard winners and Michelin-starred chefs. Joe Flamm’s Rosemary , an Italian-Croatian restaurant, is one of the city’s hotspots, while Swift & Sons fits the power dining crowd, and Beatrix  delivers top-notch brunch.

For anyone looking to splurge, book a reservation at Next for their unique dining experiences.

For more low-key, budget-friendly fare, head to the Athenian Room in Lincoln Park for the chicken kalamata (a Tina Fey favorite), Oasis in the Loop (located in the back of a jewelry shop) or Aguascalientes in Little Village.    

Best free things to do in Chicago

Cloud Gate (better known as "the Bean") in Millennium Park, Chicago

7. Make the most of Millennium Park

In the playful heart of Chicago, Millennium Park shines with whimsical public art. Go ahead, walk under Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate – aka "the Bean" – and touch its silvery smoothness. Let the human gargoyles of Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain shower you with water to cool down in summer or u nfurl a blanket by Frank Gehry's swooping silver band shell as the sun dips, when gorgeous live music fills the twilight air. 

Planning tip:  Check out the schedule of free summer concerts in Millenium Park – jazz and world music on Mondays and Thursdays, and classical music on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

8. Take a tour  

Want to know all the Windy City's secrets? Take a guided tour to uncover lesser-known facts and all sorts of Chicago information that will help you win Trivia Night. The river cruise run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation is popular with architecture buffs; it now runs during the day and at sunset with indoor and outdoor seating.

If you want to explore  Chicago's neighborhoods more fully,  book a tour run by the city’s TikTok Historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas , who leads fascinating walks through Bridgeport/Stockyard, Bronzeville or Pullman/Roseland with his company Chicago Mahogany Tours .

9. Laugh out loud at local comedy shows 

A group of jokesters began performing intentionally unstructured skits in a Chicago bar a half-century ago, and voilà – improv comedy was born. Second City still nurtures the best in the biz, though several other improv theaters also work from booze-fueled suggestions that the audience hollers up. 

Among the city's 200 theaters are powerhouse drama troupes such as Hollywood-star-laden Steppenwolf  and heaps of fringey, provocative "off-Loop" companies, such as The Neo-Futurists .

How to get around Chicago

10. Navy Pier

Stretching away from the skyline and into the blue of Lake Michigan, the half-mile-long Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most visited attractions. Its charms revolve around the cool breezes and sweet views, especially from the vertigo-inducing, 196ft-tall Ferris wheel. High-tech rides, splash fountains, big boats and greasy snacks blow the minds of young ones. 

Live music, Shakespearean theater and whopping fireworks displays entertain everyone else. A smart renovation has added public plazas, performance spaces, art installations and free cultural programming.

This article was first published Jun 16, 2021 and updated Aug 9, 2023.

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Things to Do in Chicago, IL - Chicago Attractions

Things to do in chicago.

  • 5.0 of 5 bubbles
  • 4.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • 3.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • 2.0 of 5 bubbles & up
  • Near North Side
  • Downtown / The Loop
  • Good for a Rainy Day
  • Budget-friendly
  • Good for Couples
  • Good for Big Groups
  • Good for Kids
  • Hidden Gems
  • Honeymoon spot
  • Adventurous
  • Good for Adrenaline Seekers
  • Things to do ranked using Tripadvisor data including reviews, ratings, photos, and popularity.

chicago things to do tourist

1. The Art Institute of Chicago

chicago things to do tourist

2. Millennium Park

chicago things to do tourist

3. Chicago Architecture Center

chicago things to do tourist

4. Museum of Science and Industry

chicago things to do tourist

5. The Magnificent Mile

chicago things to do tourist

6. Skydeck Chicago - Willis Tower

chicago things to do tourist

7. Wrigley Field

chicago things to do tourist

8. Cloud Gate

chicago things to do tourist

9. Field Museum

chicago things to do tourist

10. 360 Chicago Observation Deck

chicago things to do tourist

11. Chicago Riverwalk

chicago things to do tourist

12. Lincoln Park Zoo

chicago things to do tourist

13. Chicago Cultural Center

chicago things to do tourist

14. Medieval Torture Museum

chicago things to do tourist

15. Chicago River

chicago things to do tourist

16. Navy Pier

chicago things to do tourist

17. Richard H. Driehaus Museum

chicago things to do tourist

18. Buckingham Fountain

chicago things to do tourist

19. Shedd Aquarium

chicago things to do tourist

20. United Center

chicago things to do tourist

21. Garfield Park Conservatory

chicago things to do tourist

22. Lakefront Trail

chicago things to do tourist

23. Holy Name Cathedral

chicago things to do tourist

24. American Writers Museum

chicago things to do tourist

25. Lincoln Park Conservatory

chicago things to do tourist

26. Chicago History Museum

chicago things to do tourist

27. Lincoln (Abraham) Park

chicago things to do tourist

28. The Loop

chicago things to do tourist

29. Route 66

chicago things to do tourist

30. Chicago Skyline

What travelers are saying.


18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chicago

Written by Lana Law and Lura Seavey Updated Mar 18, 2024

Chicago, the "Windy City" as it is often called, lies along the shores of Lake Michigan. Known for its vibrant arts scene, numerous cultural attractions, excellent shopping, and interesting architecture, this city attracts visitors from the US and around the globe.

Chicago enjoys a worldwide reputation as a focal point of 20th-century architecture and art, with architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and artists like Picasso, Mirõ, Dubuffet, and Chagall leaving their mark.

The city also has much to offer in the sporting sphere, too, with the Chicago Bears in American football, the Chicago White Sox and Cubs in baseball, and the Chicago Bulls in basketball.

Last, but not least, are the beautiful beaches that stretch along the waterfront, attracting throngs of sun seekers in the summer.

Deciding when to visit Chicago may depend on your interests, particularly if you are coming for sports or cultural events, but spring until fall is the best time for weather.

For a complete look at places to visit, see our list of the top attractions and things to do in Chicago.

1. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago

2. walk through millennium park, 3. stroll around navy pier, 4. reach for the stars at adler planetarium, 5. museum of science and industry, 6. see the view from the willis tower skydeck, 7. watch the water show at buckingham fountain, 8. 360 chicago, 9. field museum of natural history, 10. michigan avenue and the magnificent mile, 11. take a tour or see a game at wrigley field, 12. lincoln park, 13. shedd aquarium, 14. lincoln park zoo, 15. chicago riverwalk and lakefront trail, 16. oriental institute museum, 17. the rookery building, 18. enjoy a show in style at the chicago theater, where to stay in chicago for sightseeing, map of tourist attractions in chicago, best time of year to visit chicago.

Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is a world class museum with hundreds of thousands of artworks. The diverse collection spans thousands of years and includes pieces from a variety of media including painting, prints, photography, sculpture, decorative arts, textiles, architectural drawings and more.

The Institute is known for its collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings including Georges Seurat's 1884 A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte , Renoir's 1879 Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando, and numerous paintings by Claude Monet.

The main building, designed by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge in beaux-arts style, was built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Several other buildings have been added on over the years and today the complex measures 400,000 square feet.

Address: 111 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is part of the larger Grant Park , located in downtown Chicago bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the north, and Monroe Street to the south. Its centerpiece is a 110-ton sculpture name Cloud Gate , which has a polished, mirror-like stainless steel surface that was inspired by liquid mercury. It reflects the surroundings, including buildings, the sky, and the tourists who walk through its central arch.

Another top attraction in Millennium Park is Crown Fountain , a fascinating modern interpretation of the ancient gargoyle that gives the appearance of water flowing from the mouths of projected images of Chicago citizens. Other popular things to do here include seeing a performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion , an outdoor concert venue, and visiting Lurie Garden , which is open to the public at no cost year-round.

Located close to many of the major attractions, as well as great shopping, this area of the city is a convenient place to base yourself.

Address: 201 East Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Navy Pier

The Navy Pier originally opened in 1916 as an amusement area and shipping facility but is now one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions. Today, the Navy Pier is made up of 50 acres of gardens, attractions, shops, restaurants, concert venues, and parks. There is a 150-foot Ferris wheel and an historic carousel in Navy Pier Park.

Visitors can also watch a film at the 3D Imax Theater, watch actors perform the classics at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, or visit Crystal Gardens, a one-acre, six-story, indoor botanical garden. Also located here is the Chicago Children's Museum. The Pier hosts year-round festivities, including the Chicago Festival in August. Cruise ships leave from here on various sightseeing excursions.

Address: 600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

The Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Illinois

The Adler Planetarium is leaps and bounds beyond the ones most kids get to visit on school trips, and all ages will appreciate the shows and comprehensive exhibits it has to offer. The Adler prides itself in being the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, built in 1930 on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The planetarium is home to two dome theaters, which offer a variety of shows, including exploration of Chicago's night sky, the solar system, and the moon. There is also an extensive array of exhibits that explore topics including life on other worlds, meteors and meteorites, space exploration, the history of the scientific discipline, and even the history of astrology.

There are also several exhibits dedicated to the accomplishments of marginalized groups including female, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ astronomers. Of note is an excellent exhibit that looks at the importance of Islamic astronomers' contributions and how their studies affected the faith and the world. In addition, there are collections of artifacts from astronomers past, including many antique and ancient sundials, as well as telescopes.

While visiting, be sure to leave enough time for the Skyline Walk along the perimeter, the best place to get photos of the city skyline short of a boat cruise.

Address: 1300 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Museum of Science and Industry

At the north end of Jackson Park is the Museum of Science and Industry, founded in 1933, and arguably the most impressive museum in Chicago. It is devoted to the application of natural laws in technological and industrial development.

The museum is thought to be the first in the U.S. to incorporate the idea of "hands-on" exhibits. Visitors are encouraged to interact with hundreds of exhibits. The MSI features permanent and changing exhibits, as well as an OMNIMAX theater.

Address: 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Willis Tower SkyDeck

Until 1996, when the Petronas Towers were built in Kuala Lumpur, the 110 story Sears Tower, now Willis Tower, was the world's tallest office block. While there are now several taller buildings, the view from here is incredible. On a clear day you can see 40 to 50 miles over four states, and gain a bird's eye view of Chicago's impressive architecture.

The Willis Tower took three years to build and was opened to the public in 1974. The building is 1,453 feet tall with an observation area, called the SkyDeck, on the 103rd floor, 1,353 feet above the ground. A glass box with a glass floor, known as the Ledge, juts out from the SkyDeck, where visitors can stand and look directly down at the city below.

Address: 233 South Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Buckingham Fountain

Built in 1927 as a donation from the family, the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain is one of the largest in the world. Designed in the period's iconic Art Deco style, the central fountain is surrounded by four seahorses that represent Lake Michigan's four bordering states. From 8am to 11pm, the fountain bursts to life hourly, shooting 15,000 gallons of water through nearly 200 nozzles each minute to create an impressive display.

After dusk, the water show is accompanied by lights, a must-see if you are in the neighborhood in the evening. The fountain is the central focal point of Grant Park , Chicago's expansive public space that contains many attractions and smaller parks like Millennium Park , comparable to Central Park, one of the top attractions in New York City .

One of the park's main tourist sites is Museum Campus , home to The Field Museum of Natural History , the Art Institute of Chicago , the Adler Planetarium , and Shedd Aquarium . Grant Park is also home to several gardens and recreational facilities, and hosts events, including music and food festivals.

360 Chicago

Located in the John Hancock Center office building, 360 Chicago is an observation deck on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building, easy to recognize by its dark metallic looking exterior and cross-braced steel design, which runs up the outside of the building. The large glass-walled observation deck has views that look out over Chicago's skyline and beyond.

More adventurous tourists will love the deck's newest feature, "Tilt," which gives visitors a unique view from more than 1,000 feet above the Magnificent Mile as they are tipped outward at an angle to look straight down from the glass enclosure.

The rest of the building contains a variety of shops, offices, and apartments, as well as a multimedia exhibit located on the first floor that includes information about the city of Chicago and the construction of the John Hancock Building.

Address: 875 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Field Museum of Natural History

Originally called the Columbian Museum of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History was founded in 1893 to showcase the biological and anthropological collections gathered for the World Columbian Exposition. The name changed in 1905 to honor Marshall Field, the department store owner, art patron, and major benefactor of the museum.

The permanent collection features approximately 20 million artifacts and specimens covering a variety of disciplines including geology, botany, zoology and anthropology. Of special note are the permanent displays on Ancient Egypt and the cultures of North, Central and South America and "Sue," the world's largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Special rotating exhibits take place on a regular basis throughout the year.

Address: 1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile

Michigan Avenue is probably one of the most attractive boulevards in America. The city's famous Magnificent Mile is a section of Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River, with numerous galleries, boutiques, and luxury shops.

Some of the attractions along here include the John Hancock Center, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower. Michigan Avenue splits between North and South designations at Madison Street. This district is also known for its theaters, which host touring plays, musicals, and comedy acts.

Official site:

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs, was built in 1914 and is the second-oldest Major League Baseball park in the US, second only to Fenway Park in Boston. The park has seen some legendary moments in baseball history, including the 1917 no-hitter pitching duel between the Cubs' Jim Vaughn and the Reds' Fred Toney, and Babe Ruth's "called shot" during game three of the 1932 World Series.

Ballpark tours are conducted in-season, when you can visit the press box and field, as well as the dugouts if there is no game that day.

Official site:

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is a six-mile stretch of green space along the edge of Lake Michigan, and Chicago's biggest park. This popular park is home to the lovely Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Zoo , one of the oldest zoos in the country. Also located here are the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum , and the Chicago History Museum .

For those who simply want to enjoy the outdoor space there are playing fields, bike trails, jogging paths, and beaches. Visitors can see a number of significant statues and pieces of public art within the park grounds including Augustus Saint Gaudens' Standing Statue of Lincoln (1887).

Shedd Aquarium

If Lake Michigan has you wondering what sort of aquatic life exists just offshore from downtown Chicago, swing by the Shedd Aquarium. Inside are exhibits that cover aquatic regions of the world, from the Arctic to the Caribbean.

If you are visiting with young children, one of the must do's is the Polar Play Zone. Here, children can slip into their favorite animal costume, take a make-believe trip in a submarine, and touch sea stars. Another popular place for children of all ages is the Stingray touch tank. This massive tank is full of curious stingrays who love to be petted and touched.

Address: 1200 S DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

Polar Bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Another fun thing for families to do in Chicago is a trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo. The zoo is home to over 200 species from around the world. Sixteen different exhibits showcase the wonderful animals that we share this world with. Some of the most entertaining animals include penguins, otters, and seals. For a truly fascinating experience, stop by the Regenstein Center for African Apes.

The zoo is not just about animals, in fact it's one of the best places in Chicago to see amazing floral displays. Each year, the gardening crew tends to over 2,000 individual plants across 1,200 species.

Address: 2001 N Clark Street, Chicago. Illinois

Official site:

Chicago Riverwalk and Lakefront Trail

The Chicago River runs through the heart of the city, parallel to the lakeshore, and is known for its large number of movable bridges. In just two miles, there are 18 bridges, each with the ability to allow large boats to pass.

The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum treats tourists to an up-close look at the mechanisms of one of the city's most famous bridges, where you can actually watch the gears work as it moves.

The Riverwalk is home to many dining options and hosts special events throughout the year, and you can also find several river tours and cruises that depart from the Riverwalk.

The fully-paved Lakefront Trail offers beautiful views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan, stretching 18 miles from 71st Street on the South Side to Ardmore Street on the North Side. It is open to pedestrians and people-powered wheels, and is lined by parks, gardens, and recreation areas, as well as beaches. Many of the city's top attractions are located along the trail, including Navy Pier , Lincoln Park , and Soldier Field .

Official site:

Oriental Institute Museum

The Oriental Institute Museum, located on the University of Chicago campus, is dedicated to the archeology and art of the Near East, including antiquities from excavations in Egypt, Sudan, Nubia, Iraq, Turkey, Israel, and the ancient site of Megiddo.

Among the permanent exhibits are the Mesopotamian Gallery, which features objects from between 100,000 BC and the 7th century AD, and two Egyptian Galleries, which include artifacts that range from everyday objects to mummification relics.

Address: 1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

The Rookery Building

The Rookery Building was designed by architects Daniel Burnham and John Root in 1888, but the interior lobby and patio were remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907. This 12-story building has a Roman Revival and Queen Anne-style façade, but it is the central light court and the ornamental ironwork of the elegant staircases that are the true gem of the building.

The Rookery, named for the large number of pigeons that frequented the building, is listed on the Register of National Historic Places. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust conducts tours of the building, as well as other sites, like the Robie House in Hyde Park and the Bach House.

Address: 209 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

The Chicago Theater

Between the theater's unmistakable sign and its stunning façade, it's impossible to miss this stunning Chicago landmark. Built in 1921, the front of the building was designed after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, featuring stained glass and an ornate neon sign.

The interior features French Baroque architecture inspired by the palace at Versailles . Visitors will find a grand lobby with ornate details and a sweeping staircase before entering the immense theater that is seven stories high. Even if you don't have time to check out a show, be sure to pop in or schedule a tour to get a closer look.

The theater now hosts a variety of stage performances by major entertainers, from comedians to musicians. If you prefer a more intimate venue, check out The Second City on North Wells Street for nightly live comedy shows. This stage has seen many famous comedy performances, from the early careers of Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Steve Carrell, and many others.

Address: 175 N. State Street, Chicago, Illinois

Official site:

The best sightseeing, shopping, and dining and the most interesting architecture are found in Chicago's city center, and this is where most visitors will want to stay. The city center encompasses the famous Magnificent Mile and areas of the waterfront, which are particularly popular in summer.

The best time of the year to visit Chicago is between April and October during the shoulder season and the high-tourist summer season, when the selection of things to do is the most abundant.

During the busy summer tourist season , Chicago can be quite warm, especially in the concrete jungle of downtown. June, July, and August have the most festivals and convention activity, and that is when the Navy Pier is buzzing.

The summer crowds are big, so you may experience wait times on the observation decks at the Willis Tower and TILT, which tips you over the Magnificent Mile at 1,000 feet in the air. Be aware that the high tourist season also comes with higher prices at Chicago's most popular hotels.

The shoulder seasons of April and May are great times to visit, too, in the small window between spring and summer. September and October are also good times to go to Chicago, as temperatures become milder. The weather is still pleasantly warm, and many of the outdoor activities are still in full swing.

These are the best times to visit for moderate temperatures, especially for activities like strolling through downtown to the stores along the Magnificent Mile and snapping a selfie at the Bean in Millennium Park, one of the top tourist attractions in Illinois . The bonus to a shoulder season visit is that hotel rooms will be less expensive than in the summer months.

Spring : Spring is a beautiful time to visit Chicago , when the flowers and gardens are in full bloom and the city is awakening after the cold winter. Activity at the parks and lakefront is picking up, with walkers and bicyclists. Spring weather in Chicago is mild , with low humidity and comfortable daytime temperatures, from in the 50s Fahrenheit in March to the 70s by late May. These are perfect temperatures for walking around downtown and enjoying outdoor activities.

Tulips blooming during spring in Grant Park, Chicago

While springtime weather in Chicago is comfortable, it is also unpredictable—rain showers are likely, so pack a poncho or umbrella. The spring months have fewer crowds and lower prices , with the exception of mid-March when spring break tourists and St. Patrick's Day revelers flock to the city.

Summer : Summertime in Chicago is busy, and it is one of the most exciting times to visit . It is also hot and humid in Chicago in the summer. That is easy to remedy with an iced tea at one of the many open-patio restaurants and rooftop terraces. Summer temperatures range from the high 70s to the mid-90s Fahrenheit and feel even warmer with the humidity. You can also get storms in the summer, with June being the wettest month in Chicago .

Summer is the most popular time to visit Chicago , so expect large crowds everywhere, high prices for hotels, and long lines and wait times at restaurants. If you like being where the action is, summer is the best time to go to experience the festivals, outdoor music, and events . Some things, like the free fireworks at Navy Pier twice a week, you can only enjoy during the summer months. Availability is tough to come by in peak season, so it is best to book your Chicago resort or hotel far in advance if you plan on a summer getaway.

Fall : If your vacation goal is comfort and being able to maximize your time then the fall is the best time to go . The city is still active, and attractions and outdoor activities are still buzzing, but the temperatures start to drop, making it nice to walk around or sit in the stands at a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Daytime temperatures in the fall average in the 60s and 70s Fahrenheit. Restaurant patios are still open this time of year but with fewer crowds and without the summer vacationers competing for space.

Some attractions, like Lincoln Park Zoo and Navy Pier, may have reduced hours later in the fall season, but you can still enjoy the outdoor venues, city parks, and the lakefront. This is also a great time of year to experience the many cultural activities in Chicago with live theater and comedy performances and special exhibits at places like the Art Institute of Chicago .

Winter : While winters in Chicago can be brutal there are unique experiences during the colder months that can make for a fun vacation, especially around the holidays. Chicago winter weather usually means lake-effect snow up to 37 inches and average daytime temperatures below freezing. If you do not mind the cold weather then a few layers of winter clothing and a heavy coat will have you prepared to explore Chicago easily.

Winter in Chicago means indoor museums, theater, and shopping. The holiday displays in the store windows and festive lighting throughout the city creates a nice ambience that you can only experience during the winter. Since this is the low tourist season, you will find cheaper hotel rates and airfares . Keep in mind that the weather frequently causes flight delays in and out of Chicago in the winter, so it is best to pad your agenda with extra travel time.

Chicago Downtown Map - Tourist Attractions

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25 Things to Do in Chicago (from a Local!)

09/20/2022 by Emily Becker Leave a Comment

This post was written by Emily Becker, a Chicago native freelance writer for BMTM.

If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago, the list can get pretty long and overwhelming. After all, it’s a huge metropolis with 2.7 million people living in it. To make your Chicago trip planning a little easier, I’ve narrowed it down to the 25 absolutely essential things that you can’t leave the city without doing. From the quintessential Bean selfie to the best places to grab a bite or catch a show, these are my top picks, as a Chicago native:

Table of Contents

Year-Round Things to Do in Chicago

When you’re deciding when to visit, don’t get trapped by all the hype around the Chicago summer. There are plenty of things to do regardless of the season, and these are some of my favorites:

1. Take a selfie in the Bean

chicago things to do tourist

Although you won’t see native Chicagoans doing this, taking a selfie in the Bean is a rite of passage as a tourist, no matter how silly it seems. The Bean aka Cloud Gate is a massive silver art installation in the middle of Millennium Park in the heart of downtown. For many visitors, this is one of their first stops, as it’s one of the most iconic things to do in town. Since the entire structure is sleek metal, you can snap a selfie in its reflection, which makes for a fun memento of your Chi-town adventure.

Visiting Millennium Park is one of the many free things to do in Chicago , and you can explore the surrounding area, which is bustling any time of year but especially in the summer, when there are festivals there on the weekends.

2. Try deep-dish pizza

Another semi-cliché addition to your list of things to do in Chicago is getting your hands on a slice (or a whole pie!) of deep-dish pizza. I don’t mean just any deep-dish pizza, though. If you ask a native Chicagoan where they get their fix, chances are it won’t be the big chain restaurants like Giordano’s. My favorite is Pequod’s , because of the crispy caramelized crust on the pies.

3. Go on a food tour

If one slice of deep-dish has your head spinning and you’re dying to try more Chicago delicacies, consider a walking food tour. This will take you on a tasty adventure to try not only deep-dish pizza but other staples, like Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef, and other foods that originated from among various immigrant groups. There are so many different dishes to try, from Polish paczki s to Puerto Rican jibaritos and many more. A food tour is a great introduction to the gastronomical splendor of Chicago, as your guide can provide historical and cultural context to the food in a way that trying them all on your own doesn’t.

4. Explore Mexican culture through food and art in Pilsen

Pilsen is one of Chicago’s multiple neighborhoods that has a large population of Mexican Americans. Here you’ll find colorful street murals with Mexican and Latin American motifs, as well as an abundance of taquerías that are bursting with authentic Mexican flavor. It is also home to one of my favorite places in the city, the National Museum of Mexican Art . This free museum features artwork by Mexican artists young and old, with special exhibits on rotation throughout the year.

To get to the heart of Pilsen, take the Pink Line train to the Pilsen stop. From there you can easily explore the neighborhood on foot. In the last decade or so, it has undergone a great deal of gentrification, so the district is constantly changing. Try to visit restaurants and cafés run by local families if you can.

5. Catch a film at the Music Box Theatre

In the Lincoln Park neighborhood, you’ll find all kinds of gems, the Music Box Theatre being one of them. This theatre was first built in 1929 and continues to show movies today. With its quirky independent films as well as cult classics and international movies, the Music Box always keeps things interesting. The theatre is especially famous for its yearly rendition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show , so if you visit in the fall, it’s a must-do.

6. Peruse the Art Institute of Chicago

chicago things to do tourist

The Art Institute of Chicago is by far one of my favorite places in the whole city. When I was in college, I always went on Thursdays, when there was free admission for students. Being able to walk through the exhibits alone, pausing at anything that caught my eye, was always a treat. I especially love taking a coffee break at the café inside the museum before resuming my leisurely stroll.

The rotating exhibits change every couple of months, giving you something to look forward to throughout the year. Admission is $25 for non-Chicago residents; although the ticket price may seem pricey, you could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here because there’s so much to see.

7. Laugh all night at The Second City

Chicago’s nickname is “the second city” in reference to its having once been the second-largest city in the US. Although the reference is a bit outdated, the world-famous improv company The Second City makes a joke of the term.

The company is where actors and comedians like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got their first big break. Nowadays you can see some of the country’s best comedians perform there, with shows almost every night of the week. Tickets range between $40 and $100, with cheaper options on weekdays.

8. Go to Tina Fey’s favorite restaurant: The Athenian Room

If you find yourself in Lincoln Park on Chicago’s Northside (which you should!), don’t pass up the opportunity to have a meal at The Athenian Room . This Greek restaurant is not only a local favorite, but Tina Fey herself boasts that it’s her all-time favorite in Chicago . You won’t find any photos of Tina on the wall, but urban legend has it that she ate there on more than a weekly basis during her Second City days.

Regardless of whether or not you care that this is a celebrity favorite, The Athenian Room is a delightful place to grab a bite. It offers authentic Greek cuisine that is flavorful and affordable, with specialties like whole roasted chicken and whole slabs of feta cheese doused in olive oil and spices.

9. Admire the Tiffany glass dome at the Chicago Cultural Center

chicago things to do tourist

The Chicago Cultural Center is another stellar place to visit in the heart of downtown, close to the Art Institute and Millennium Park. Besides being one of the bougiest wedding venues in the city, the Cultural Center is also home to a theatre that screens movies throughout the fall, an exhibition space with art installations, and various events throughout the year.

It’s free to visit, meaning you can walk in just to admire the famous Tiffany glass dome in the ceiling close to the entrance. There are free tours if you want to learn more about the building’s history and architecture as well.

10. Get lost in a maze of stacks at Myopic Books

If you want to experience Chicago from a more local perspective, consider spending time in Wicker Park. This West Side neighborhood is easily accessible via the Blue Line train that you can hop on in downtown. Get off at Damen and feast your eyes on this cool and quirky neighborhood full of fun shops, chill cafés (my favorite is the Wormhole ), and colorful murals.

Myopic Books is a used bookstore with a maze-like feel. It’s a fun place to spend an hour or two getting lost in the stacks and exploring from the basement to the hidden reading room at the very top.

11. Stroll through the Garfield Park Conservatory

chicago things to do tourist

The Garfield Park Conservatory is another incredible free place to visit in Chicago , but it’s also one I’d pay to enter if they ever change their mind. It’s the largest conservatory in the city, and one of the most impressive in the whole country due to its outstanding variety of plant species.

Beyond taking a walk through to check out the plants, the conservatory also hosts various events throughout the week. From dance classes to painting workshops and live beekeeping demos, there’s always something interesting going on at the Garfield Park Conservatory during any season. Since the Garfield Park neighborhood as a whole usually falls by the wayside for tourists, visiting the conservatory is a great way to get off the beaten path and serves as a launching point for a neighborhood you might not have otherwise thought to visit.

12. Time-travel at the Green Mill

Since real time travel doesn’t exist yet, the next best thing is visiting the Green Mill in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. This old speakeasy turned modern-day jazz cocktail lounge is the ultimate place to get a feel for 1920s Chicago nightlife. Besides ordering a cocktail and listening to live music (any night of the week), the quirks of the Green Mill are enough of a reason to visit.

First of all, this place is cash only, which is an anomaly in such a large city like Chicago. Second, the Green Mill is famous for its witty and sometimes sassy bartenders (don’t even try to order a mojito here — you’ll see why). Although many people scout out the Green Mill to see one of the places where Al Capone allegedly hung out, it’s worth a visit even without the urban legend surrounding it.

13. Listen to blues at Kingston Mines

If you can’t get enough of Chicago’s live music scene, head to Kingston Mines for the ultimate place to listen to blues in Chicago. It’s the oldest continuously running blues club in the city (and hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1968) and has a reputation for bringing some of the biggest names in the genre.

Kingston Mines is open from Thursday to Saturday and has live music throughout the weekend. It’s in Lincoln Park, just a couple of blocks away from DePaul University (my alma mater).

14. See Chi-Town from above

chicago things to do tourist

One of the most epic ways to see Chicago from above is to climb to the top of the John Hancock Building to the 360-degree observation deck. Here you can step onto a glass platform suspended 95 floors in the air, with Chicago’s bustling downtown beneath you. This is one of the best adrenaline-pumping activities in the city, with the absolute best views of downtown that you can find. Get your ticket to 360 Chicago here.

15. Grab dim sum in Chinatown

Chinatown is the gateway to Chicago’s South Side. One of the most legendary restaurants is MingHin , which serves traditional Chinese dim sum all day.

Although Chicago’s pales in comparison to NYC’s massive counterpart, it is still worth visiting for a variety of reasons beyond simply grabbing dim sum. Spend some time walking through the district, where you’ll find all kinds of shops with Chinese goods, including specialized tea and herbal shops that are fun to explore. This is also the best neighborhood in which to get your boba fix.

Things to Do in Chicago in the Warmer Months

Visiting anytime from late spring to early fall means a lot more options for things to do in Chicago. From enjoying the Chicago River to catching a Cubs game, these are the best warm-weather activities:

16. Kayak along the Chicago River

chicago things to do tourist

If you thought the views of downtown from the bridges over the Chicago River or from the Riverwalk were great, imagine how epic they are from a kayak on the water! I did this activity years ago and absolutely loved it. The freedom to explore on your own is ideal for adventurous travelers, with the added bonus of getting a solid workout in while you do it.

Kayak Chicago has kayaks for rent for $30/hour or $90 for the whole day. You can also book a tour if you’d like a more in-depth experience with a guide.

17. Attend a Street Festival

Summertime is street festival season in Chicago , and there are hundreds to choose from. From the Pride festival every June to Lollapalooza and smaller cultural neighborhood celebrations, visiting Chicago in the summertime guarantees you’ll find something interesting going on in the streets.

I recommend aiming to visit at least one neighborhood festival, as these are more unique and will give you the opportunity to see more than just downtown, where many tourists get stuck. As a local, I think there’s so much more to the city than the skyscrapers and bustle of downtown, so a smaller festival is a great introduction to a neighborhood you might not have on your bucket list.

18. Marvel at Chicago’s architecture on a boat tour

chicago things to do tourist

If there’s anything you absolutely have to do during a summertime trip to Chicago, especially if it’s your first time, it’s an architecture boat tour. These give you a full rundown on some of the city’s most impressive buildings, offering valuable historical context for the most notable downtown edifices.

Architecture boat tours are $40-60 per person and typically last around 1.5 hours. Book your Chicago architecture boat tour here .

19. Have a drink on a rooftop…

A summertime must-do is grabbing a drink on a rooftop, with the sparkling city lights all around you. One of the most popular rooftop bars in the city is Raised, which is right on the Chicago River. Here you get more than just a stellar city view: the drinks and bites are off the charts, too. The whole place has a cool, modern, industrial feel without being too gray and sterile, with a fire pit for when it starts getting chilly in the fall.

20. …or in a speakeasy

Prohibition may be almost a century in the past, but Chicago still has a robust speakeasy culture that makes a night out with friends even more exciting. From actual working barber shops with a secret door, like Blind Barber , to more mysterious places, like The Drifter , finding these speakeasies feels like an adventure of its own.

21. Check out the beaches on Lake Michigan

chicago things to do tourist

Dipping your toes in Lake Michigan is as essential as visiting the Bean, especially if you’re visiting in the summer. There are a few superb beaches to choose from; my favorite is Montrose Beach on the North Side. It’s a lot less glamorous than downtown’s Oak Street Beach, but I like that it’s less crowded. Oak Street is a great choice, though, for first-time visitors to Chicago because of the spectacular skyline view you get as a backdrop to your beach day — just aim to visit early in the morning to avoid the massive crowds.

22. Take a walk through Lincoln Park Zoo

chicago things to do tourist

Although the Lincoln Park Zoo is technically open year-round, the best time to visit is during the warmer months. The zoo is completely free to visit, and has hundreds of animal species to see. I don’t usually love zoos, but this one’s open plan and genuine conservation efforts give it a different feel.

Plus, the zoo is just the beginning: you can venture just outside it to the Lincoln Park Conservatory (also free) and explore the variety of plants there. Lincoln Park is also an excellent place to hang out or have a picnic.

23. Bike the 606

chicago things to do tourist

The 606 is an elevated bike and walking path that was once an abandoned rail line. Its 2.7 miles connects several Chicago neighborhoods, giving you the ideal bike ride through the city. You can easily rent a Divvy bike at whatever point along the trail you’d like to start your journey, returning it to any station you like when you finish. Divvy also offers full-day passes so you don’t have to worry about counting the hours.

Another great option for getting the most out of the 606 trail is hopping on a bike tour like this one , which includes a large part of the trail. Your guide will be able to show you the best parts along with nearby street art and other stops along the way.

24. Go on a wacky street art tour

Chicago has a vibrant street art culture, with many murals that tell the city’s stories through art. Instead of passively admiring the colorful walls, consider joining a street art tour like this one , which showcases some of the more eclectic murals. This is such a great way to learn about local artists and see some works that are more hidden.

25. Immerse yourself in baseball culture in Wrigleyville

chicago things to do tourist

Even if you don’t care about baseball (I certainly don’t), a trip up to Wrigleyville on the North Side is a must-do if you want to get a glimpse into the fascinating world of Chicago baseball. Sure, the city might have two teams, but for the sake of making White Sox fans a little mad, I’ll only mention the Cubs. Can you tell I’m a North Sider?

Walking through Wrigleyville in the summertime is a blast, whether there’s a game going on or not. There are rowdy sports bars, fun barcades (bar/arcades), and restaurants serving up Chicago staples like Italian beef, hot dogs, and deep-dish pizza.

Going to a Cubs game only takes the fun one step further, as you’ll be completely entrenched in the intense atmosphere of Chicago baseball, which is quite the spectacle. Sit back, order a hot dog, and watch the game alongside diehard sports fans.

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chicago things to do tourist

I might have a soft spot for Chicago because it’s my home city, but I think it’s the best in the country. Not only are there so many things to do there, but it’s a cultural hub where people from all over the world bring their unique cultures to share with others in the form of food, art, architecture, music, and more.

If you’re planning a trip to Chicago soon (which you should!), what are you most excited to do?

*Some links in this post are affiliate links for products and services we personally use and love. Any purchase you make through them supports us at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much!

About Emily Becker

Emily Becker is a digital nomad based in Costa Rica. She's been traveling on and off since 2014 and has visited 15 countries—planning to tick many more off her bucket list. In addition to writing for BMTM, she works as a copywriter and project manager.

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Association of Science and Technologies Centers

Things to do in Chicago

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ASTC 2024 Annual Conference

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago is one of the most vibrant cities in North America, and we’ll hope you’ll have the chance to explore at least some of what the city has to offer.

Special Events

Experiences and tours, cultural events, sporting events.

ASTC does not endorse or recommend any of these events or activities, and participants take part at their own risk. All information subject to change.

Chicago Gourmet September 26–29, 2024 Harris Theater Rooftop, 205 East Randolph Street Cost: Varies Learn more

Amazing cuisine is the height of fashion. It’s creative, culturally expressive, and it’s tasteful — literally! Chicago Gourmet is putting on a delicious culinary fashion show this fall, and you’re invited to the front row!

Chicago Riverwalk Bar Crawl September 28, 6:00–9:00 p.m. Leaving from AceBounce, 203 North Clark Street, at 6:45 p.m. or meet them at the Riverwalk Cost: $19.99 Learn more

The Chicago Riverwalk is not just scenic, modern and brand spanking new… it is home to some of the coolest bars in Chicago and the atmosphere that they offer is unmatched! Crawling from bar to bar with other fun-loving people, you’ll experience the excitement of the Chicago Riverwalk firsthand! 

Hyde Park Jazz Festival September 28–29, 2024 Cost: Free Learn More

The Hyde Park Jazz Festival is a collaborative platform dedicated to supporting the presentation and ongoing development of jazz, particularly on the South Side of Chicago. We do this by creating opportunities for a diverse community of listeners to engage with the music and its creators, and by working with artists, organizational partners, and networks to celebrate the rich tradition of jazz and to support the development of new work and ideas.

World Music Festival Chicago September 20–29, 2024 Cost: Free and Varies Learn more

The annual World Music Festival Chicago features dozens of free and ticketed concerts with international and local artists performing music from all over the globe at venues throughout the city, including the Chicago Cultural Center. Guests can experience the sounds of world music and its subgenres from diverse geographical regions including Brazil, South Korea, and Senegal.

Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise Leaves from northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and East Wacker Drive Cost: Tickets start at $54 for daytime cruises; $59 for evening cruises Learn more

For more than 25 years, the Chicago Architecture Center’s (CAC’s) expertly trained docent volunteers have led the CAC River Cruise, sharing fascinating stories behind more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River. Hear how Chicago grew from a small settlement into one of the world’s largest cities in less than 100 years. In just 90 minutes, you’ll get the best overview of Chicago’s architecture and its history.

Chicago Craft Brewery Barrel Bus Tour 600 North Clark Street Cost: Tickets start at $99.60 Learn more

Learn about Chicago’s brewpub scene and taste different types of craft beer on this guided brewery tour. Visit unique breweries for craft beer samples plus an additional brewing production facility for an in-depth tour. Discover the science behind the brewing process, complete with step-by-step procedures, and enjoy plenty of beer samples throughout the tour. Round-trip transportation in a Prohibition-era-styled barrel bus is included.

Chicago Greeter Visits Cost: Free Learn more

Explore the streets of Chicago like a local with Chicago Greeter. Choose from in-depth neighborhood visits to short informative walks of top downtown spots. Register two weeks in advance for the immersive neighborhood visits or drop by for an InstaGreeter walk.

1776 September 27, 8:00 p.m. September 28, 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. September 29, 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire Cost: Tickets starting at $63 Learn more

The story chronicles the direct aftermath of the American Revolution, finding a nation on the edge of a glorious new era but mired down by chaos and confusion. Winner of the Tony® Award for best musical when it premiered in 1969.

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations September 27, 7:00 p.m. September 28, 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. September 29, 1:00 p.m. CIBC Theatre, 18 West Monroe Street Cost: Tickets starting at $100 Learn more

Ain’t Too Proud is the smash Broadway musical that follows The Temptations’ extraordinary journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Nominated for 12 Tony® Awards and winner of the 2019 Tony Award for Best Choreography.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra September 27, 1:30 p.m. September 28, 7:30 p.m. Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, 220 South Michigan Avenue Cost: Tickets start at $45 Learn more

Join the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, and violist Antonie Tamestit for a program of Vaughan Williams, Walton, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 .

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child September 27, 7:00 p.m. September 28, 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 West Randolph Street Cost: Tickets starting at $125 Learn more

When Harry Potter’s head-strong son Albus befriends the son of his fiercest rival, Draco Malfoy, it sparks an unbelievable new journey for them all—with the power to change the past and future forever. This is the first North American tour following award-winning runs in London and Broadway.

Henry V September 27, 7:00 p.m. (ASL Duo-Interpreted) September 28, 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. September 29, 2:00 p.m. Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 East Grand Avenue Cost: Tickets starting at $125 Learn more

After a long wait, Henry V finally succeeds his father to the throne, finding his country in disarray. Political tension and the fatigue of civil war have left the English dissatisfied and in need of a strong leader. But first he must win their respect and trust

Spider-Man™: Across the Spider-Verse September 28, 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street Cost: Tickets start at $66.50 Learn more

Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man embarks on an interdimensional journey across the Multiverse. This 2023 film will be played on a colossal HD screen, complemented by a diverse ensemble of musicians and instrumentalists—including a full orchestra, scratch DJ, percussion and electronic instruments—performing the film’s iconic score and soundtrack live.

The Second City Mainstage 112th Revue September 28, 7:00 p.m. The Second City Cost: Tickets start at $39 Learn more

The storied Second City improvisational theater troupe has helped launched the careers of comedians from Gilda Radner to Tina Fey, John Belushi to Stephen Colbert, Keegan-Michael Key to Tim Meadows, Alan Alda to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Come see the Mainstage’s brand new 112th Revue with new material in every show every night.

Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs September 27, 1:20 p.m. September 28, 1:20 p.m. September 29, 2:20 p.m. Wrigley Field, 1600 West Addison Street Cost: Starting at $14 Learn more

The Chicago Cubs host the Cincinnati Reds at storied Wrigley Field in the final series of the 2024 regular series.

Toronto FC at Chicago Fire September 28, 8:30 p.m. Soldier Field, 1410 Special Olympics Drive Cost: Starting at $16 Learn more

In one of the last games of the Major League Soccer (MLS) regular season, the Chicago Fire host Toronto FC at historic Soldier Field.

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chicago things to do tourist

14 Things To Do In Rockford: Complete Guide To The Illinois City Just Outside Chicago

L ocated to the north of the state of Illinois, the Midwestern city of Rockford offers a less crowded holiday destination compared to Chicago . Rockford is the seat of Winnebago County and is perched on the banks of Rockford River. This geographic advantage further elevates the touristic quality of the city, providing scenic waterfront attractions to explore. In addition, the city is renowned for its forests, symbolic and scenic gardens, arboretums, parks, as well as museums that preserve fascinating history.

For visitors with a love for unique or vintage architecture, Rockford offers a number of interesting attractions, among them the Tinker Swiss Cottage. The growth of the city’s tourism sector is impacted by its proximity to Chicago, particularly as travelers consistently seek more non-traditional tourism locations.

Gradually stamping its profile as a worthy, non-traditional travel destination in Illinois like Chesterfield , Rockford offers diverse attractions and activities ideal for both solo travelers and family groups.

UPDATE: 2023/08/03 08:56 EST BY BARRY JUMA

An Expanded List Of Things To Do In Rockford, Illinois

Although Rockford may not elicit as much excitement as its larger Illinois counterpart Chicago, it certainly has a number of attractions that are bound to keep visitors busy. This expanded list includes some options within a short drive from the city, including the scenic White Pines Forest State Park and Rock Cut State Park, with the latter located just 10 miles from Rockford.

Top Things To Do

From discovering and savoring diverse nature to getting in touch with Rockford’s history and heritage, there is no shortage of things to do in the city.

Visit The Klehm Arboretum And Botanic Garden

The garden and arboretum offer 155 acres of unique gardens and fountains with sculptures, creating picturesque and tranquil spots for sightseeing and outdoor relaxation. One may also opt to hike along the cleared hiking trails or try out the forest routes.

The arboretum has some rare, unique trees including a variety of maple, oak, pine, elm, spruce, and fir species from Europe, Asia, and North America. One of its highlights is a bur oak grove with trees as old as 300 years.

One has several gardens to explore, with popular ones including the daylily, children’s, pre-historic, and butterfly gardens.

  • Address: 2715 S Main St, Rockford, IL 61102
  • Hours: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

The last batch of visitors is allowed entry at 3:30 pm

Head To The Famed Anderson Japanese Gardens And Laurent House

This is among the most visited attractions in Rockford, and it features numerous, diverse species of flora and fauna. Aside from plant species like magnolias and azaleas, the gardens also have ponds, cascading waterfalls, streams, rocks, and a Japanese-style teahouse.

The 12-acre park showcases nature, but there are a number of wellness services offered within the gardens including yoga classes, gong baths, tai chi, and meditation. Visitors can also opt to sample the fascinating cultural and educational events hosted at the gardens.

To grab a bite, head to Fresco, which is within the gardens. There is also a gift shop onsite.

For a more in-depth exploration of the gardens, visitors have the option of private or public tours. These tours include a stop at the Sukiya-style guest house with its marvelous post and beam construction style and Laurent House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is about 3 miles from the gardens.

  • Address: 318 Spring Creek Rd, Rockford, IL 61107
  • Hours: Open daily

Reserve a tour at least two weeks in advance. The tour cost is $60 per person.

Check Out Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens, Sinnissippi Gardens, And Sinnissippi Park

The Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens features a wide variety of exotic plants including tropical flowers conserved mostly in a beautiful indoor setting. The 11,000-square-foot conservatory routinely hosts intriguing plant exhibits, among them the annual orchid display.

The butterfly house is another fascinating exhibition that showcases the lifecycles of butterflies and moths, including when they emerge from their chrysalises.

Outdoors, the environment is even more stunning with more plant and tree species, a scenic Eclipse Lagoon, a waterfall, and fountains. There are also patio areas to take a break at, and a riverfront path that offers scenic views of Rock River while directly leading to the adjacent Sinnissippi Rose Gardens.

At the rose gardens, there are thousands of rose flower plants of different varieties which create a truly magnificent scene when they bloom. Just across the road (east of N 2nd Street) is Sinnissippi Park which is a public park. It offers a tranquil ambiance with its lush greenery and is a good spot for leisurely strolls.

The park typically hosts concerts in summer, including at the open-air Sinnissippi Park Music Shell which is a uniquely-designed amphitheater.

The Festival of Lights is another popular event typically hosted at the park in the winter months.

Induce An Adrenalin Rush At Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, Rockford

The spot packs numerous adventure and activity-packed attractions ideal for a family day out and was formerly known as Magic Waters Park.

Just off Interstate 90/39, Hurricane Harbor located in Cherry Valley offers water slides, a lazy river for some water-based fun and relaxation, and several play areas.

The Typhoon Terror, a tube water slide, is one of the hot favorites in the park. It has exhilarating twists and turns, which are experienced on a 4-person raft taken through the whooshing waters and wind action.

For adrenaline junkies, the Riptide Rush is just the right stop, with its near-vertical speed slide of 75 feet. On its part, the Abyss takes sliders on a descent of five stories in darkness, treating them to unpredictable twists and turns before they land in the pool below.

If visiting with young swimmers, the Caribbean Cove with its small water slide and spraying waterfalls will keep them actively entertained as they explore. Little Lagoon is another option for kids, with floating replicas of ocean animals and colorful water sprinklers to soak in as much fun as possible.

  • Address: 7820 N Cherryvale Blvd, Cherry Valley, IL 61016
  • Hours: Vary frequently; check the calendar before visiting
  • Cost: Single-day tickets start at $30

Purchase passes for unlimited entry into the park for pre-determined durations and numerous other benefits.

Learn At The Burpee Museum Of Natural History

The Burpee Museum offers an appreciation of natural history in different aspects, and its exhibits and programs are curated for both adults and minors.

Classes suitable for adults include natural history art classes which offer fun ways to explore topics of the evolution of plant and animal species. To make learning interesting and interactive, art is thrown into the works with supplies provided for some exploration.

In terms of displays and exhibitions, there is enough to peak one’s imagination and curiosity. Dinosaur fossils, replicated forests, and re-enacted living environments of indigenous communities are some of the displays in the museum.

For travelers fascinated by topics of dinosaurs and evolution from the pre-ice ages, the Burpee Museum of Natural History is a place to visit.

  • Address: 737 N. Main Street Rockford IL, 61103
  • Hours: Monday-Sunday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. Closed over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Easter

RELATED: What To Do In The Windy City: The Ultimate Travel Guide To Chicago

Sample More History At The Historical Discovery Center Museum

The museum definitely deserves a spot in the list of the most family-friendly museums in the US . It is an ideal spot for a fun-laden family outing where children get to learn a lot of scientific concepts from hundreds of interactive exhibits. It is a place to raise the interest of children in Science Technology Engineering and Math concepts in a hands-on, but entertaining way.

Visitors are able to discover fascinating exhibits showing human anatomies, space travel devices, a broad range of machinery, intricate electricity and lighting concepts, and other diverse scientific creations . This makes the museum a great spot for student visits.

Located on the banks of Rock River, the museum also features the Rock River Discovery Park which has a water play area, a fascinating maze, and dinosaur pits for some playful exploration.

The museum is housed at the Riverfront Museum Park complex which is a humanities and arts complex in downtown Rockford. The complex also houses the Rockford Art Museum and is connected to the Burpee Museum of Natural History by a walkway tunnel.

Visit The Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum And Gardens

Like the other attractions in Rockford, this museum also offers a reason to skip Chicago and try other Illinois destinations . It features the famed house museum, carriage house, and barn which belonged to the Tinker family. The attraction bears remarkable history relating to the foundation of the city and stores thousands of items documenting the life of the famous family.

The vintage Swiss architectural style which captivated Robert Tinker in his tour of Europe in the 1860s is among the few remaining in the US. The family also planted immaculate gardens around the cottage, creating a quaint and serene environment outside.

The museum depicts what the Victorian lifestyle was like in Rockford. Appreciate the cottage’s original furnishings, clothing used by the family in that era, diverse pieces of art, and general household items which are splendidly preserved.

The museum grounds also hold a pre-Columbian conical mound which is associated with the burial rites of Native American communities.

In addition to guided tours, visitors can explore the museum and gardens through open-house events, family game days, lectures, and members-only days.

  • Address: 411 Kent St, Rockford, IL 61102
  • Hours: Tours are offered between Tuesday and Sunday at 1 pm and 3 pm
  • Cost: $9 for adults; $8 for seniors aged 65+; $5 for children aged between 6–17 years; free for children aged 5 years and below.

Visitors need to book guided tours to be allowed entry into the museum. The walking tours may take anything from 60 to 90 minutes.

Ethnic Heritage Museum And Graham-Ginestra House Museum

With its shared campus, the Heritage Museum Park connects the two fascinating museums, making it a convenient location to immerse oneself in a history-themed exploration.

The Ethnic Heritage Museum offers six galleries stashed with remarkable artifacts documenting the lives of the immigrant groups that primarily settled to the south of Rockford. It takes visitors through some of the important aspects of African-American, Lithuanian, Polish, Italian, Hispanic, and Irish immigration.

The galleries include some of the earliest maps of Rockford, vintage clothing, and diverse photography which tell the stories of the entry of these communities into Rockford.

On its part, the Graham-Ginestra House is symbolic of the industry of prominent families which established successful enterprises in Rockford in the 1800s. The architectural style of the house features both Greek and Italian influences and is on the National Register of Historic Places in Illinois.

  • Address: 1129 South Main Street in Rockford, IL 61101
  • Tour Hours: Guided tours are offered on Sundays from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm. For private weekday tours, prior booking is required.

RELATED: 14 Quirky Roadside Attractions In Illinois Worth A Road Trip

Check Out The Fascinating Midway Village Museum

This museum takes you back to life in the Midwest in the era between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Guided tours of the 13-acre Victorian-era village take visitors through historical interpretations of life in a typical village in northern Illinois. Self-guided tours of the village are also permitted, though access to the buildings may be limited without a guide.

At the main museum center, there are interactive exhibits further exploring the history of Rockford, and these too can be experienced by self-guided tours.

The “Many Faces One Community” exhibition is outstanding in its depiction of the earlier lives of immigrants from various backgrounds who settled in Rockford to create the thriving community that the city is today.

If interested in the technologies of the early 1900s, venture out to the Woodward Millhouse by Lake Severin to see the waterwheel.

  • Address: 6799 Guilford Rd, Rockford, IL 61107
  • Hours: Vary with seasons. Confirm the hours online to avoid inconvenience
  • Cost: Range from $9 to $13 depending on the age of visitors, the exhibits targeted, and whether the tours are guided or not. Special events are charged separately

RELATED: 11 Interesting Things to Do in Illinois (That Aren't in Chicago)

Catch A Concert At Coronado Performing Arts Center

The 2,400-seat theater built in 1927 is a historic and significant entertainment hub in Rockford. Musical concerts, Broadway performances, comedic shows, and symphony orchestras are some of the events that revelers can catch here.

Another remarkable feature of the theater is its architecture. Its gilded interiors are reminiscent of the Spanish and Italian styles common in theater designs at the beginning of the 20th century.

To appreciate this style and ambiance, one may book a tour of the theater spaces and its stage.

  • Address: 314 N. Main St. Rockford, IL 61101-0476

To enjoy a performance or show at the theater, browse the theater’s website for upcoming events and purchase tickets in advance.

Explore Rock Cut State Park

Nestled in the outskirts of Rockford about 10 miles away, Rock Cut State Park is a sprawling 3,092-acre park that offers an array of outdoor activities. The park is home to two lakes, perfect for fishing and boating, and over 40 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing.

Its diverse wildlife and picturesque landscapes make it a haven for nature enthusiasts. The park is open year-round, allowing visitors to enjoy the changing seasons.

  • Address : 7223 West Lane Rd, Loves Park, IL 61111, United States
  • Hours : Winter: 8 am - 5 pm (daily) Summer: 6 am - 10 pm (daily)

Visit The Rockford Art Museum

The Rockford Art Museum is located in the heart of the city, and it houses a remarkable collection of contemporary and modern art. The museum, established in 1913, features over 1,900 works, including paintings, sculptures, and photography.

Visitors have the chance to immerse themselves in the world of art through the museum's changing exhibits and educational programs.

  • Address : 711 N Main St, Rockford, IL 61103, United States
  • Hours : Thu - Sun: 10 am - 5 pm (closed From Mon - Wed)
  • Admission : Free

Venture To White Pines Forest State Park

White Pines Forest State Park is a tranquil retreat known for its towering white pine trees. The park's scenic beauty is complemented by the Rock River that meanders through it, offering opportunities for fishing and canoeing.

The park also features cabins for those who want to extend their visit, making it a perfect weekend getaway.

White Pines Forest State Park is found about 34 miles from Rockford, about a 45-minute drive.

  • Address : 6712 W Pines Rd, Mt Morris, IL 61054, United States
  • Hours : 6 am to 6 pm (daily)
  • Cost : Free

Visit Macktown Living History Education Center

The Macktown Living History Education Center is a historical gem that transports visitors back to the 1830s. This site was once the hub of Stephen Mack Jr., a fur trader, and his wife, Hononegah, a Native American woman from the region.

Today, the center is a living history museum that offers visitors an opportunity to experience life as it was in the 19th century. The center's grounds are home to several original and reconstructed buildings, including the Mack house, a trading post, and a blacksmith shop.

Tourists can stroll through these structures, absorbing the atmosphere of a bygone era.

  • Address : 2221 Freeport Rd, Rockton, IL 61072, United States

Members get free admission to events and discounts at the museum shop. Those who often visit these parts may consider becoming members to enjoy these benefits.

Best Time To Go

With its location in the Midwest, Rockford has four distinct seasons. Winters in Rockford can be extremely cold with the possibility of snowstorms. January is the city’s coldest month, and temperatures can dip to just above freezing.

The period between March and June generally sees increased rainfall potential, often with the possibility of thunderstorms.

The peak times for visits to the city’s attractions are summer and the fall; as the weather is warm and fairly humid at this time. In particular, the period between July and October is an appropriate time to visit given the fall in rainfall intensity.

RELATED: Heart Of The Midwest: The Ultimate Guide To Ames & Things To Do

Nevertheless, the best time to visit is probably best determined by the attractions targeted. If interested in outdoor botanical gardens and parks, the period towards the end of spring may see the plants and flowers start to bloom beautifully. However, the high probability of rainfall may dampen outings, and visits to indoor attractions like museums are more appropriate.

In summer and towards the beginning of the fall, outdoor activities are generally more enjoyable, though charges may marginally increase because of higher demand.

What To Know When Visiting

  • After the decline of its manufacturing industry starting in the 1950s, Rockford has sought to steadily diversify its economy. Service sectors such as tourism play a key role in this regard.
  • The city’s rail system is largely dysfunctional. However, public bus transportation covers many routes and serves the city pretty well.
  • Winters may be bitterly cold, and visitors ought to take sufficient precautions if they choose to travel through Rockford at this time. Take advantage of the winter visit to Rockford to venture further to the southeast for the fancy holiday attractions in Chicago .

RELATED: Midwest United States Travel Guide - Top Sights, Restaurants & Accommodations

Best Ways To Get Around

There are several options for getting to and from Rockford’s attractions. In terms of travel from locations outside the state of Illinois, the Chicago O’Hare International Airport is the most used option by passengers. It offers connections to and from various locations both in and outside the US.

Chicago's Midway International Airport is another popular option for travel to Illinois before proceeding to Rockford. There are bus shuttle services ferrying passengers into Rockford City from both Chicago airports.

Rockford also has an airport, the Chicago-Rockford International Airport, but it is mostly served by Allegiant Air which offers travel to limited destinations. One can also travel to or from the airport aboard chartered flights.

Once within the city, there are plenty of transportation options. The Rockford Mass Transit District provides public transportation, with the Downtown Transfer Center acting as the main stop, with connections to approximately 14 routes. The eastern parts of Rockford are served by the East Side Transfer Center.

The stops provide restrooms, vending machines, and waiting areas, and travelers can also catch Van Galder Buses to destinations like Chicago.

For more private travel, there are car rental services, and ride-hailing apps can also come in handy.

Where To Stay

There are plenty of both affordable and pricey accommodation options in Rockford. Some hotels to try out include:

Hilton Garden Inn Rockford

The accommodation is located just 2.1 miles away from the Midway Village Museum and less than 20 minutes away from downtown Rockford. It also offers direct access to the Anderson Japanese Gardens which is about 25 minutes away.

A number of restaurants, parks, golf clubs, and convenience stores are within a radius of 10 miles from the inn, with Rockford Casino less than a mile away.

  • Address: 7675 Walton Street, Rockford, IL 61108
  • Amenities: internet, indoor pool, meeting rooms, pet friendly, EV charging, parking, fitness center
  • Cost: Rooms start at above $100

Radisson Hotel & Conference Center Rockford

This is the ideal accommodation for both business travelers and vacationers seeking to explore Rockford’s attractions. Its rooms provide a relaxing feel, with sufficient amenities to plan one’s adventures or work.

  • Address: 200 South Bell School Road, Rockford, IL 61108
  • Amenities: Wi-Fi, indoor pool, business center, on-site pub

Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront & Conference Center

A luxury hotel that puts guests right at the center of all the action in downtown Rockford, offering views of the Rock River. Moreover, it is close to attractions such as Rockford Theater, Rockford Art Museum, Discovery Center Museum, and Burpee Museum of Natural History all of which are less than 1 mile away. It is also right next to Davis Park which borders Rock River.

  • Address: 416 S Main St, Rockford, IL 61101
  • Amenities: Wi-Fi, fitness center, meeting rooms, golf simulator, indoor pool, hot tub, onsite restaurants
  • Cost: Suites start at above $100

Red Roof Inn Rockford East-Casino District

The family-friendly establishment is strategically located to offer proximity to various comforts like restaurants. It is a walking distance away from Rockford Casino, and just 1.7 miles from Midway Village Museum.

  • Address: 7434 E State St, Rockford, IL 61108
  • Amenities: pet friendly, Wi-Fi, free parking, snack center
  • Cost: Rooms start at below $100

Alpine Inn and Suites

This affordable accommodation is located centrally to offer easy access to plenty of Rockford’s attractions. It is near downtown Rockford at the junction of E State St and N Alpine Road, and is within easy reach of a number of conveniences such as restaurants, stores, and medical facilities. It is also close to Alpine Park and Alpine Hills Golf Park.

  • Address: 4404 E State St, Rockford, IL 61108
  • Amenities: Wi-Fi, parking

Where To Eat In Rockford

Rockford has plenty of dining options for visitors to enjoy.

Breakfast Options:

  • Eggsclusive Café, Johnny Pamcakes, Fresco at the Gardens (at Anderson Japanese Gardens), The Norwegian, Lydia’s Café, Swedish Pancake House, Alpine View Restaurant, IHOP, Stockholm Inn

Lunch, Dinner and Drink Options

Lino’s Rockford

The eatery serves various Italian delicacies, including mouthwatering pizzas and delectable wines, as well as some varieties of seafood. Moreover, one can have their special event hosted at the restaurant, or get catering services brought to their destination.

  • Address: 5611 E State St, Rockford, IL 61108
  • Hours: Sunday-Thursday
  • Cost: Main dishes start at $16 per serving

Sister’s Thai Café

The café is a great spot to sample Thai food varieties like curries and fried rice or noodles. One can get combinations of dishes made from light, but delicious and healthy ingredients.

  • Address: 514 E. State Street Rockford, IL 61104
  • Hours: Open daily, except for Sunday
  • Cost: Main dishes start at $15 per serving

Uncle Nick’s

The restaurant services Greek and American cuisines, with several fast food options for takeout. Their Gyros sandwiches are a favorite, and there are delicious appetizers on the menu too.

There are two Uncle Nick’s eateries in Rockford.

  • Address: 918 E State St, Rockford, IL 61104; 5404 E. State Street Rockford, IL 61108
  • Cost: Dishes start at $3

Irish Rose Saloon

The restaurant prepares delicious Irish and American dishes from fresh ingredients sourced in Chicago every week and prides itself on serving preservative-free delicacies. The downtown restaurant and saloon provides a cozy ambiance, plus a variety of cocktails, wines, and beers to choose from.

  • Address: 519 E State St, Rockford, IL 61104
  • Cost: Dishes start at $11

Hai Quynh Restaurant

If seeking Asian delicacies, this is the restaurant to go to for some amazing Vietnamese dishes. One can choose from rice cuisines to various soups and noodles, and the prices are pretty affordable.

  • Address: 324 7th St, Rockford, IL 61104
  • Cost: Dishes start at $2.50

How To Spend A Perfect Day In Rockford

Start the day with a mid-morning visit to the Six Flags Hurricane Harbor for some adrenaline-packed water slide activities.

Head to the Typhoon Terror slide or the Abyss with its twists and turns. Submit to the whooshing water action before plunging into the pool below. After soaking in enough fun, head to the nearby Alvarez Restaurant for some Mexican bites and drinks to replenish the lost energy.

Once done with lunch, head to the Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens on the banks of Rock River to enjoy the tropical plants and flowers on display. Be sure to check out the butterfly and orchid exhibits.

When done with the conservatory, stroll outdoors and revel in the magnificent views. Walk along the riverfront path towards the adjacent Sinnissippi Rose Gardens.

Enjoy the variety of rose flowers and take pictures. If the weather and time permit, stroll along the riverfront path some more while enjoying the beauty of Rock River.

Afterward, head to the Embassy Suites by Hilton Rockford Riverfront & Conference Center where a suite had been reserved. Shower and freshen up then head to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner.

Once done, change into something chic and comfortable and walk to the Rockford Performance Arts Center to catch a performance.

After enjoying the concert or show, head back to the hotel to retire for the night.

Q: What is Rockford IL famous for?

Rockford is the seat of Winnebago County and is located on the banks of Rock River. It is renowned for its beautiful gardens that rival Chicago's famous botanic garden , museums preserving its fascinating history, and cultural entertainment spots. Rockford was also given the nickname "Forest City" because of its greenery and parks.

Some of its top tourist attractions include Anderson Japanese Gardens, Coronado Performing Arts Center, Burpee Museum of Natural History, and the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum.

Q: Is Rockford IL worth visiting?

Rockford is one of the cities in the state of Illinois , and it is located to the northwest of Chicago. It is in Winnebago County and is largely out of Chicago metropolitan area.

Because of the proximity, however, the city's profile is significantly impacted by Chicago. For instance, many travelers into Rockford use the Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Q: What is there to do in Rockford, IL at night?

Nightlife in Rockford, IL is pretty vibrant, and there are a number of activities to try out. One can catch a concert, comedy, or Broadway show at the Coronado Theater. AMC Theaters also shows interesting movies of different genres and can be a nice spot to spend part of the night at.

If seeking a bit of rum and relaxation, head to the city's sports bars and nightclubs which routinely host musical events featuring various local talents.

Alternatively, one can head over to Hard Rock Rockford Casino or Mabel's Jackpot to try their luck at the slot machines and game tables available.

14 Things To Do In Rockford: Complete Guide To The Illinois City Just Outside Chicago

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Best of summer 2024: Top things to do and places to visit

10Best Editors

May 22, 2024 // By 10Best Editors

By 10Best Editors May 22, 2024

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy activities that celebrate getting outdoors — sometimes combined with taking in some entertainment. Some of the most popular things to do include going to a fireworks show, watching a double feature at a drive-in, going for a leisurely hike, learning about sea creatures at an aquarium, enjoying tunes at an outdoor concert series, setting out on a scenic train ride, and, of course, traveling for a summer vacation.

To find the best of these beloved pastimes, USA TODAY 10Best editors and a panel of experts nominated their favorites, then readers voted for their top picks — and the results are in.

Click on each category below to see the full winners list:

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Best Aquarium: Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri

Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium wins Best Aquarium for fifth year in a row

Founded by Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro Shops, his Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium celebrates hunting, fishing, and stewardship of the land and water through over 1.5 miles of immersive galleries featuring 4D dioramas and a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium.

Some 35,000 animals representing over 800 species are on display, including zebra sharks, sea turtles, and freshwater sport fish. Unique to the aquarium is its collection of historic boats used by Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey.

Full list of winners: Best Aquarium »

Best Drive-In Theater: Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, Illinois

Enjoy a movie and hot concessions at Skyview Drive-In

Skyview Drive-In has been part of the Belleville, Illinois, community since 1949. The venue frequently hosts special events like film festivals, live music, and movie nights with Santa. They also have a concession stand on site with hot food like cheeseburgers, fries, hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn.

Full list of winners: Best Drive-In Theater »

Best Hiking Trail: Whispering Cave in Hocking Hills State Park

Whispering Cave offers a moderate hike with plenty of scenery along the way

Whispering Cave is just one of the many hikes in Hocking Hills State Park, which stretches across 2,356 acres. This 5-mile loop is moderately challenging and offers hikers access to a fun swinging bridge, the second-largest cave in the region, and a picturesque seasonal waterfall.

Full list of winners: Best Hiking Trail »

Best Outdoor Concert Series: Hot Summer Nights in Vail, Colorado

Cool off at Hot Summer Nights in Vail

The cool mountain town of Vail hosts free outdoor concerts throughout the summer at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater aka The Amp. Bring a picnic and some chairs or blankets and enjoy live bands against the alpine backdrop.

Full list of winners: Best Outdoor Concert Series »

Best Place to See Fireworks: Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois

Navy Pier wins Best Place to See Fireworks for second consecutive year

One of Chicago's secret pleasures is that you can enjoy fireworks at the iconic Navy Pier almost any time of year, including shows twice a week during the summer and when welcoming in the new year with a blast every December 31. In addition to viewing from the pier itself, pyrotechnic lovers can watch the show from charter boats on Lake Michigan, hotel rooftops, Maggie Daley Park, or along Chicago's Lakefront Trail.

Full list of winners: Best Place to See Fireworks »

Best Scenic Train Ride: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, Colorado

For fourth year in a row, readers love Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad once hauled silver and gold between these two Colorado towns. Today, visitors can hop aboard for this nine-hour round-trip journey through some of Colorado's most impressive scenery, with a stop in Silverton to explore the historic mining town.

Full list of winners: Best Scenic Train Ride »

Best Summer Travel Destination: Mackinac Island, Michigan

While Mackinac Island, Michigan, shines in any season, our readers love it as a summer vacation spot

Between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, you’ll find Mackinac Island, where you’ll ride on horse-drawn carriages along car-free roads, observe fudge being made (and then sample it), and tour the historic Fort Mackinac. This Lake Huron-based continental island is also home to Mackinac Island State Park, where you can hike, bike, kayak, and take photos of the local natural beauty, including the stunning limestone Arch Rock.

Full list of winners: Best Summer Travel Destination »

Congratulations to all these winners! Remember to visit daily to vote in more Readers' Choice Awards.

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Travel | friday’s preholiday travel breaks record for most airline travelers screened at us airports.

Travelers move through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ahead of Memorial...

Travelers move through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ahead of Memorial Day, Friday, May 24, 2024, in Atlanta.(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Travelers move through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport ahead of Memorial...

Travelers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport Friday, May 24, 2024, in Salt Lake City. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Travelers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport Friday, May...

More than 2.9 million travelers were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, surpassing a previous record set last year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, according to the transportation security agency.

“Officers have set a new record for most travelers screened in a single day!” the TSA tweeted. “We recommend arriving early.”

The third busiest day on record was set on Thursday when just under 2.9 million travelers were screened at U.S. airports.

In Atlanta, the world’s busiest airport had its busiest day ever. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport broke a traffic record on Thursday when 111,000 passengers, airlines crew and airport employees were screened at security checkpoints. The second busiest day followed on Friday when 109,960 people were screened, according to the TSA.

With 104.6 million passengers, the Atlanta airport was the busiest in the world last year, according to Airports Council International.

U.S. airlines expect to carry a record number of passengers this summer. Their trade group estimates that 271 million travelers will fly between June 1 and August 31, breaking the record of 255 million set last summer.

AAA predicted this will be the busiest start-of-summer weekend in nearly 20 years, with 43.8 million people expected to roam at least 50 miles from home between Thursday and Monday — 38 million of them taking vehicles.

The annual expression of wanderlust that accompanies the start of the summer travel season is happening at a time when Americans tell pollsters they are worried about the economy and the direction of the country.

In what had long been celebrated every May 30 to honor America’s fallen soldiers, Memorial Day officially became a federal holiday in 1971, observed on the last Monday in May.

Jason Redman, a retired Navy SEAL who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, told The Associated Press last year that he honors the friends he’s lost. Thirty names are tattooed on his arm “for every guy that I personally knew that died.”

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The Memorial Day weekend race also offers an opportunity to visit the city’s many military monuments and other attractions.

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Keys were distributed to hotels in seven markets across the US where the Michelin Guide also reviews restaurants: New York City, California, Chicago, Florida, Colorado, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

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Why Cubs pushed Shota Imanaga's next start to Wednesday in Milwaukee

Notes: the team activated left-hander drew smyly and optioned sidearmer jose cuas to triple-a..

Chicago Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga heads to the tunnel after pitching in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Chicago.

Chicago Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga heads to the tunnel after pitching in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Saturday, May 18, 2024, in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photos

ST. LOUIS — As the Cubs discussed their options for rescheduling Shota Imanaga’s start after a rainout Friday , they, of course, were weighing the rotation implications for the coming week. But they also were looking much further ahead.

“We’ve been kind of spitballing when would be a good time to get Shota a little bit of a break with the workload,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told the Sun-Times. “And then when we found out that there was no doubleheader [this weekend], we started thinking about, OK, this is probably a really good opportunity to buy some extra days for some guys.”

The doubleheader was scheduled for the Cubs’ next time back in St. Louis, in mid-July, right before the All-Star break. So, instead of pushing back their rotation plan for the weekend, they moved Imanaga’s start to the next series , in Milwaukee.

Imanaga is set to slot in Wednesday, with Justin Steele and Ben Brown starting the first two games of the series. He will get 10 days between starts, essentially skipping a start to manage his innings with a view toward the season as a whole.

“Maybe he was a little surprised by it, and he is feeling good,” manager Craig Counsell said. “This is a proactive move.”

Imanaga (53⅔) and Javier Assad (53) lead the team in innings. The next highest is Brown (39⅓), a rookie who has served as a starter and reliever. The rest of the Cubs’ regular starters have spent time on the injured list already this season.

The Cubs jumped at the chance to manage Imanaga’s innings early in the season partly because if they’re competing for a playoff spot, they might not have the chance to do so later in the year.

“He is making a transition to a different league, to a different schedule, to a different travel schedule, to a different culture,” Counsell said. “And now that puts more on him, and if we could just take a small piece and do some things to refill the tank, so to speak, that in the long run could be beneficial.”

As the weather delay played out, Imanaga didn’t even throw a warmup Friday, Hottovy said. He is set to throw a bullpen session Sunday to be ready for Wednesday.

“I’m not worried about rust,” Counsell said.

Smyly activated

The Cubs activated left-hander Drew Smyly from the 15-day injured list Saturday. In a corresponding move, they optioned sidearmer Jose Cuas to Triple-A Iowa.

Smyly was out for a little over a month with an impingement in his right hip.

He threw three innings Tuesday in his only rehab outing, so he’s stretched out to give the Cubs multiple innings out of the bullpen.

Injury updates

Left-hander Jordan Wicks (strained left forearm) felt “great” after throwing 33 pitches in two scoreless innings in a rehab start for Iowa on Friday, according to the Cubs.

Reliever Daniel Palencia (strained right forearm) also came out of his rehab outing, his third, well.

He threw 24 pitches in 1⅔ hitless innings Friday for the I-Cubs.

Cubs starter Justin Steele pitches against the Brewers at American Family Field in Milwaukee.

Amtrak's USA Rail Pass Has A Surprising Benefit For Cross-Country Travel

For those who want to travel the US but airfare and gas prices are out of control, consider the USA Rail Pass for cheap cross-country trips.

  • Save money on domestic travel with the USA Rail Pass at under $500 for cross-country hopping over 30 days.
  • For cheaper vacations, consider riding the train from coast-to-coast and enjoy scenic views along the way.
  • Ride Portland to Chicago in coach for $499 with amazing countryside views; no need for sleeper car or roomette upgrades.

Traveling during the summer can be expensive. Whether the travel is domestic or international, the majority of the costs for many is the mode of transportation it takes to get to the vacation destination. Travelers may put off their plans simply because the transportation costs cannot be justified in the overall cost of the trip.

For those who have plans to travel domestically, a great option to consider is the train. This is because there are routes that are not only state-specific but cover getting from one coast to the other while offering affordable fares for scenic train rides . While standard tickets can be fairly expensive, there is a better option to save some money that many travelers may not be aware of: Amtrak's USA Rail Pass has a surprising benefit for cross-country travelers.

By taking advantage of the USA Rail Pass, passengers will not only be able to get to their desired location for one low cost, just like the savings seen with the California Rail Pass , but they can sit back and enjoy the countryside that passes by while doing so.

10 Scenic Overnight Train Trips In North America

What is the usa rail pass, the usa rail pass allows passengers to travel 10 segments of amtrak railways for a low price of $499.00.

The USA Rail Pass offered by Amtrak is a pass that allows for 10 segments on the train to be traveled within 30 days of the first leg being ridden and travel must be started within 120 days of purchase. By buying the USA Rail Pass for one low fee, passengers can travel throughout the nation from one stop to the next, until a desired location is reached.

Most of the Amtrak trains accept the USA Rail Pass. However, there are a few exceptions. Those exceptions include:

  • Maple Leaf (Canadian stations only)
  • Thruway Bus Series 7000-7999

When booking a trip, the tickets that passengers need to look for are regular, sale, or value fares. Flex fares are not included in the price of the USA Rail Pass, which costs $499.00. However, for those who like a good bargain, there are times during the year when the passes can be purchased for $299.00 .

As soon as you buy the USA Rail Pass, you can build an itinerary. What many do not know is that the pass will allow them to travel from the West Coast to Chicago for the cost of the pass. By doing this, passengers will not only save themselves money, but they will get to relax on the way to the Windy City.

  • Start looking for sale prices of the USA Rail Pass in January

Cheap Amtrak Tickets Can Be Yours This Summer If You Follow This ONE Trick

Passengers can ride from portland to chicago with the usa rail pass, the ride from portland to chicago uses only one segment of the 10 segments purchased with the usa rail pass.

For those passengers who choose to take the train from Portland to Chicago using the USA Rail Pass, they should know that the journey will take about 46 hours to complete . This might seem arduous to some and may not be worth saving several hundreds of dollars.

But when the price of the scenic Amtrak sleeper train journey vacation from Portland to Chicago is priced, and the fares start at $1,799.00 per person, passengers see just what a deal they are getting by using the USA Rail Pass to make their way from the West Coast to the Midwest. Granted, this includes stops and overnight stays in hotels in some instances, but the price is significantly different.

What is great about the Portland to Chicago route is that it is only one segment. This one segment allows for views of Glacier National Park and some of the most beautiful countryside in the US.

Additionally, given that this is only one segment being used on the pass, there are still nine more segments that can be used with the pass over the 30 days after the trip has been taken. Passengers can take the train to any number of stops, which could be Washington, DC, New Orleans, North Carolina, and more.

It is entirely possible to see a good portion of the US with the USA Rail Pass by planning the segments appropriately. This does mean longer train rides with no breaks. But to get from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago and any number of places from there is worth the cost of the pass for many and may mean the difference between domestic travel over the summer or having to stay home.

  • For those who cannot travel for 46 hours on the train, consider making the trip two segments and traveling the mileage over the course of two days

7 Best Amtrak Routes To Experience During The Summer

Cross-country travel with the usa rail pass means riding coach, riding from portland to chicago means saving money but riding in coach for the 40-plus hour-long train ride.

There is one caveat for those who choose to use the USA Rail Pass to ride from Portland to Chicago. That warning is that there are not any sleeper car or roomette amenities on the train available. This means that for the 40-plus hour trip across the country, passengers will be riding in their coach seats .

With that being said, the coach seats do recline. Between this and some pre-planning, like sleeping masks and earplugs, passengers may be able to have both a comfortable and convenient train trip while getting some decent sleep. Many have said that their sleep is not the best during this leg of the journey, however.

If passengers want to have access to Business Class or have a sleeping car, this will be a purchase outside the USA Rail Pass. There are no upgrade options available. When this is done, however, it may make travel costs prohibitive to some, whereas with the pass, each segment can cost between $30.00 to $50.00 per segment, depending on the price the USA Rail Pass was secured at.

It is very possible to see the entire nation for a low price of under $500.00 for transportation. Given the price of gas and the cost of airfare, this may be the most affordable way to get around the US this summer so that hard-earned money can be spent on vacation fun instead.

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Summer in Chicago: The best things to do

Experience the summer in Chicago you deserve with our guides to festivals, beaches, rooftops and more.

Jeffy Mai

Welcome to summer, Chicago! We've only got a few precious months of warm weather and long days to enjoy, so let us help you make the most of it with our guide to the city's best season. A few ideas: Maximize your time outside at  rooftop bars  and  restaurants , catch  outdoor movies  in city parks, sample bites at a  street festival  and spend your weekends dancing to live tunes at the  best summer music festivals in Chicago . And if you're looking for  free things to do in Chicago , it's tough to beat a long day at the  beach ! Summer won't stick around forever—scroll through and get ready to explore the best of the city's warm weather offerings.

RECOMMENDED: Discover the best things to do in Chicago

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Top things to do in Chicago this summer

Party at a Chicago street festival

Party at a Chicago street festival

  • Things to do

Summer in Chicago means it's street fest season. The city's neighborhoods and  parks  will be busy thanks to a stacked lineup of fests, fairs and more. You'll find everything from  favorites like Taste of Randolph and Wicker Park Fest to the Gold Coast Art Fair and Chalk Howard Street  on the calendar from May through September, so start planning your weekends now.

Have a lazy day at the beach

Have a lazy day at the beach

There are few better ways to beat the heat in Chicago than by hitting one of the many sandy beaches along the shores of Lake Michigan. From the North Shore to the South Shore, there are plenty of options to choose from, whether you’re looking for a chill day of sunbathing, want to take in the skyline from a kayak or paddleboard, or love to get competitive with a game of volleyball.

Sip a drink on a rooftop

Sip a drink on a rooftop

Nothing screams summertime in Chicago like adimiring  skyline views  with a drink in hand. As the days get warmer, it's time to lean into the season's heat at the best rooftop bars in Chicago. Grab a cocktail  at terraces high above the street and atop  downtown hotels , or escape to  hidden patios and gardens  to avoid the crowds.

Dine outdoors all season long

Dine outdoors all season long

  • Restaurants

Chicagoans love to make the most of the warmest months by eating outside.  When the weather is pleasant, you can grab a seat on a rooftop restaurant that affords great views of the skyline or on a huge enclosed patio at one of the best pizza spots in the city. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun in a lively atmosphere or want a chill outdoor bar , you’ll have lots of options.

Rock out at a summer music festival

Rock out at a summer music festival

If you're into live music, there's no better time than summer to catch performances. A countless number of artists, spanning all genres, will be headed to town for the city's various music festivals. From returning favorites like Windy City Smokeout and Summer Smash to heavy hitters such as Lollapalooza and Riot Fest, there's an event for every type of concertgoer.

Rent a boat

Rent a boat

A river cruise is a great way to get out on the water. But for a more intimate and wondrous experience, you should consider renting a boat or kayak. Businesses along the river and the lakefront will send you floating throughout the city, whether you want to head out on a solo paddle or be the captain of your own yacht. And don't worry if you're a novice—you'll get a quick lesson and tips before you leave the dock.

Dine by the water

Dine by the water

Alfresco dining is one of the best perks of summer in Chicago. And between the different branches of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, there are plenty of options for waterfront dining in Chicago—whether you’re looking for high-end seafood establishments, casual pizza spots or even a brewery adjacent to a music venue along the river.

Have a picnic in a park

Have a picnic in a park

Chicago's motto is "City in a Garden," and our public green spaces live up to such a lofty name. With more than 600 facilities throughout the city, the Chicago Parks District boasts something for everyone. Most importantly, they provide a space to relax and momentarily forget that you're in the middle of a large city filled with people, buildings and cars, so pack a picnic, lay out on the grass and soak up the sun while you can.

Take a dip in a pool

Take a dip in a pool

As the temperature and humidity tick up, it's the perfect time to cool off by the water. If heading to the lake and enjoying one of Chicago's best beaches isn't your jam, the Chicago Park District offers dozens of public swimming pools all over the city—free of charge. Whether you want serene lap lanes, kid-friendly water playgrounds and slides or just a place to lounge, you'll find it among the best swimming pools in Chicago.

See the city on a boat tour

See the city on a boat tour

  • Walks and tours

Sure, walks along Michigan Avenue and State Street are nice and rooftop bars offer plenty of pretty sights—but the best way to see downtown Chicago is from the water. Both the Chicago River and Lake Michigan offer unparalleled vantage points for taking in the city’s world-famous architecture and the breathtaking Chicago skyline , with many of the tours providing unique insights into the city’s culture and history. From architecture tours and history lessons to straightforward sightseeing affairs, romantic excursions and pirate-themed family fun, there's a Chicago cruise for every groove.

Take a stroll on the Chicago Riverwalk

Take a stroll on the Chicago Riverwalk

Ever since it was expanded in 2015, the Chicago Riverwalk has become a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The waterfront attraction boasts cocktail bars, stunning views of the Chicago skyline and is close to some of the city's best waterfront dining. You can even rent a boat or kayak and cruise down the river!

Cool off with some ice cream

Cool off with some ice cream

  • Ice cream parlors

Summer in Chicago is often a muggy scorcher, making ways to beat the heat all the more important. If you’re looking to cool off with a frozen treat, the city has a huge variety of ice cream shops, ranging from classic institutions that have served generations of families to brand new spots offering creations inspired by Japan, Thailand and Ireland.  Just make sure to eat fast before your dessert melts away!

Shop at a farmers market

Shop at a farmers market

  • Markets and fairs

It's easy to overlook the glory that is farmers market season, but that would be a mistake. Check out markets all across the city, from Andersonville to Woodlawn, to find the freshest fruits, veggies, flowers, sweets and more. It's a win-win: You'll be supporting local businesses  and getting the highest quality ingredients.

Take your bike for a long spin

Take your bike for a long spin

Chicago is a city that loves to bike — no matter the weather . The Lakefront Trail, one of our most celebrated gems that sees millions of foot and cycling traffic each year, is a must for any visitor or Chicagoan. But besides the over 20 miles of lakefront views, there are hundreds of other miles of trails to explore if you're itching to ditch the stoplights and escape the city, Just outside city limits, you’ll find flat, paved paths perfect for training for your next century ride, hilly mountain biking trails that put your skills to the test and routes ideal for taking a walk .

Go on a long run

Go on a long run

You don’t have to be a marathoner, or signed up for any race at all, in order to go on a long run. Maybe you’re interested in exploring nearby hiking trails , or just want to get some exercise  in . No matter what your motivations are, there are plenty of places to go for a lengthy run in and around Chicago, including the Lakefront Trail and the 606.

Play a game of pickleball

Play a game of pickleball

  • Sports and fitness

A fusion of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., and its popularity is especially apparent during the Chicago summer when pairs of players and groups of four can be spotted hustling around the courts throughout the city. Many Chicago parks offer free courts, so bring your own equipment and get your game on!

Hit the road for a summer getaway

Hit the road for a summer getaway

Chicago is at its best in the summertime . But if you’re ready to soak up the culture of a nearby Midwestern town, there are plenty of destinations just a few hours away from the city by car, including Door County, Galena and Madison. They're filled with rich history, great food and drinks and relaxing waterfronts, and offer the perfect escape from big city life.

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    Review of: Chicago Cultural Center. Written April 22, 2024. This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews. Nomad31517801542. 1 contribution. Brysons vacation. Read more. Review of: Medieval Torture Museum.

  13. 40 Best Things to Do in Chicago

    Take a walk in Oz Park. There may not be a yellow brick road leading to Oz in Chicago, but there is a park that pays homage to the "Wizard of Oz," which author Frank Baum wrote while living in ...

  14. 18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chicago

    3. Stroll around Navy Pier. The Navy Pier originally opened in 1916 as an amusement area and shipping facility but is now one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions. Today, the Navy Pier is made up of 50 acres of gardens, attractions, shops, restaurants, concert venues, and parks.

  15. 32 Best Chicago Attractions That You Have to See in 2023

    The Chicago Architecture Center's renowned boat cruise will take you down the Chicago River and give you the fascinating scoop on more than 50 buildings along the way. It's the perfect way to ...

  16. The 10 Best Things to Do in Chicago

    6. Skydeck Chicago - Willis Tower. Skydeck Chicago is the breathtaking, thrilling observatory atop the iconic Willis Tower. The highest observation deck in the United States, Skydeck provides views of the city spanning up to four states and 50 miles on a clear day.

  17. The 59 Essential Things to Do in Chicago (By a Local)

    Go sightseeing in Chicago's downtown Loop. The famous 'Bean' sits in front of a beautiful city backdrop. 📍 Google Maps | Phone: (312) 742-1168 | Millennium Park Website | Hours: 6 am - 11 pm daily | Entrance: Free. Situated in the loop and housed within the larger Grant Park is Chicago's Millennium Park.

  18. First-Timer's Guide to Visiting Chicago

    Millennium Park Campus. Millennium Park Campus is classic Chicago, with a long list of iconic things to see and do. Pay a visit to one of the city's most famous public artworks, Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean.". Splash around in Crown Fountain, a shallow pool flanked by two 50-foot towers where the faces of Chicago locals spout water from ...

  19. 25 Things to Do in Chicago (from a Local!)

    7. Laugh all night at The Second City. Chicago's nickname is "the second city" in reference to its having once been the second-largest city in the US. Although the reference is a bit outdated, the world-famous improv company The Second City makes a joke of the term.

  20. Top Things to Do in Chicago, IL

    11. Chicago Riverwalk. 3,107. Historic Walking Areas. Located on the south bank of the Chicago River, this bustling urban space is filled with public art, museums, water activities, and more. See full details. See ways to experience (24) 2023. 12.

  21. Things to do in Chicago

    Chicago Gourmet is putting on a delicious culinary fashion show this fall, and you're invited to the front row! Chicago Riverwalk Bar Crawl September 28, 6:00-9:00 p.m. Leaving from AceBounce, 203 North Clark Street, at 6:45 p.m. or meet them at the Riverwalk Cost: $19.99 Learn more. The Chicago Riverwalk is not just scenic, modern and ...

  22. 14 Things To Do In Rockford: Complete Guide To The Illinois City ...

    One of its highlights is a bur oak grove with trees as old as 300 years. One has several gardens to explore, with popular ones including the daylily, children's, pre-historic, and butterfly ...

  23. 24 Chicago Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors

    Chicago travel tips for first-time visitors. Photograph: Zach Long. 1. Take the "L" to and from the airports. Beat the traffic and surcharges and skip the taxi or rideshare when you arrive. Our ...

  24. From aquariums to hiking trails, best things to do this summer

    Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy activities that celebrate getting outdoors — sometimes combined with taking in some entertainment. Some of the most popular things to do include going to a fireworks show, watching a double feature at a drive-in, going for a leisurely hike, learning about sea creatures at an aquarium, enjoying tunes at an outdoor concert series, setting out on a scenic ...

  25. Find Things to Do in Chicago

    Lincoln Park Zoo. Home » Things to do » Find things to do in Chicago. There's no shortage of things to do in Chicago — take an architecture boat tour, catch live music and theatre, immerse yourself in art, relax on a sandy beach, and beyond. Discover Chicago's iconic attractions, shopping, museums, cultural activities, and more top ...

  26. Memorial Day weekend travel breaks record

    A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Travelers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport Friday, May 24, 2024, in ...

  27. The Best Things to do in Chicago This Weekend From May 20-26

    Mole de Mayo. Things to do. Festivals. Lower West Side Until May 26, 2024. Pilsen's annual Mole de Mayo street festival—which honors the traditional Mexican sauce with a mole cook-off, plus a ...

  28. Why Cubs pushed Shota Imanaga's next start to ...

    Left-hander Jordan Wicks (strained left forearm) felt "great" after throwing 33 pitches in two scoreless innings in a rehab start for Iowa on Friday, according to the Cubs. Reliever Daniel ...

  29. What To Know About Amtrak's USA Rail Pass

    The USA Rail Pass allows passengers to travel 10 segments of Amtrak railways for a low price of $499.00. A Northeast Regional train from Amtrak at Union Station. The USA Rail Pass offered by Amtrak is a pass that allows for 10 segments on the train to be traveled within 30 days of the first leg being ridden and travel must be started within 120 ...

  30. Chicago in the Summer 2024: Best Things to Do

    Play a game of pickleball. A fusion of tennis, badminton and table tennis, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., and its popularity is especially apparent during the Chicago summer ...