Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, Chicago is the largest city in the region. As the third largest city in the country, it’s no surprise that the Windy City is at the top of folks’ destinations for America’s Heartland. With a theater scene to rival the best in the world, countless world-class museums, and some stunning natural aesthetics, you’ll fall in love with this gem of a town too.
When someone mentions Chicago, you might think of the chilly winter, delicious cuisine, stunning architecture, and baseball games. While it does get cold here, especially in the dead of winter, downtown Chicago never sleeps.
We won’t take the nickname away from New York City, but there’s something special about a city that stays lively even when the thermometer drops well below zero. We’re a hearty bunch.
Dotted with impressive landmarks like Lake Michigan and the Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago is brutally underrated. Our city is more than Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile, though those two are two of our most prominent tourist attractions. Even so, let a Chicagoan fill you in on what you need to know about this fine city before your next big adventure.
Show Table of Contents
- Top 10 Attractions in Chicago
- Best Tourist Attractions in Chicago
- 1. Grant Park
- 2. Lincoln Park
- 3. Chicago Lakefront Trail
- 4. Shedd Aquarium
- 5. Oak Street Beach
- 6. Millennium Park
- 7. Chicago River Tour
- 8. Chicago History Museum
- 9. The 606 Hiking Trail
- 10. Paddleboarding Lake Michigan
- 11. Maggie Daley Park
- 12. See a Second City Show
- 13. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
- 14. Magnificent Mile
- 15. Lincoln Park Zoo
- 16. Navy Pier
- 17. Chicago Water Tower
- 18. Buckingham Fountain
- 19. Willis Tower
- 20. The Art Institute of Chicago
- 21. Museum of Science and Industry
- 22. National Museum of Mexican Art
- 23. Field Museum of Natural History
- 24. Adler Planetarium
- 25. John Hancock Building
- 26. Garfield Park Conservatory
- 27. Chicago Children’s Museum
- 28. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
- 29. The Chicago Theatre
- 30. Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum
- What are the best attractions in Chicago for families?
- Are there any free attractions in Chicago?
- What are the top architectural sites to visit in Chicago?
Top 10 Attractions in Chicago
|Attraction Name||Type of Attraction||Description|
|Art Institute of Chicago||Art Museum||One of the oldest and largest art museums in the US, with an extensive collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.|
|Millennium Park||Park||A popular public park featuring the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as “The Bean,” and other outdoor art installations.|
|Navy Pier||Entertainment Complex||A historic landmark and popular tourist destination on Lake Michigan, featuring a Ferris wheel, IMAX theater, restaurants, and shops.|
|Shedd Aquarium||Aquarium||One of the largest indoor aquariums in the world, with over 32,000 animals representing 1,500 species.|
|Skydeck Chicago||Observation Deck||Located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, offering panoramic views of the city and the surrounding area.|
|The Field Museum||Natural History Museum||A world-renowned natural history museum, featuring exhibits on dinosaurs, ancient cultures, and the natural world.|
|The Magnificent Mile||Shopping District||A bustling shopping district in the heart of downtown Chicago, featuring high-end retailers, restaurants, and hotels.|
|Wrigley Field||Sports Venue||Home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and one of the oldest and most iconic ballparks in the US.|
Best Tourist Attractions in Chicago
1. Grant Park
Sitting between the high-end skyline of the metropolitan city and the lakefront, Grant Park is 300 acres of recreational space for outdoor lovers. Overlooked mainly in name recognition for its sibling Millennium Park, Grant Park is a destination in its own right.
What’s more, Grant Park is home to two of the most iconic tourist attractions in Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History. It’s also home to Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. When folks visit me in Chicago, I tend to take them to one or several of these Grant Park locations, which gets costly without a Chicago CityPass to cover all the admissions.
Besides the attractions inside the park, you can enjoy a peaceful outdoor excursion. The star of the show is undoubtedly the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain. Here, you can take memorable family photos and enjoy the lakefront view while sipping your favorite beverage.
See Related: Unusual Things to Do in Chicago, IL
2. Lincoln Park
You’ve probably never heard of the Chicago city motto, urbs in horto, meaning City in a Garden. Even so, nothing demonstrates the essence of this phrase better than the exemplary Lincoln Park. Here I’m talking about the park rather than the neighborhood named after it.
Lincoln Park has many walking trails, the historic (and free) Lincoln Park Zoo, and a tranquil lakefront. This unique combination makes it an ideal place to enjoy outdoor activities, Chicago-style. For outdoor lovers, a walk through the 1200 acres while experiencing Victorian architecture and rustic pathways is bound to be a picture-perfect excursion.
Furthermore, if you’re looking for Chicago tourist attractions for kids, you can take them to the zoo and the conservatory for a day. Similarly, the park is family-friendly, with wooded areas and trimmed vegetation so you can enjoy a leisurely day out with your loved ones. If you’re hoping to avoid crowds, the best time to take little ones is on weekdays or very early on weekends before the park fills up.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the Midwest
3. Chicago Lakefront Trail
While the Chicago River might be a big tourist attraction in Chicago, Lake Michigan is equally generous. And Chicago’s Lakefront Trail further accentuates our beloved lake.
The 18-mile trail extends across several city neighborhoods. You can use the course to run, walk, or bike along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Moreover, walking along the trail, you can catch views of the Navy Pier, the Museum District, Grant Park, and the distinct skyline of this beautiful city. However, the trail can get quite crowded if you visit during the afternoon, and it doesn’t have many trees or shady spots to guard you against the sun.
But, if you’re a morning person, this is one of the best attractions in Chicago for you. That’s because the midday sun won’t be out yet, and the trail isn’t too crowded during those hours. And the water levels can cover parts of the course or be dangerously close to it if they’re too high, so be sure to watch any kiddos if you decide to venture out.
See Related: Things to Do in Michigan
4. Shedd Aquarium
Address: 1200 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
One thing that makes Chicago museums incredible is that many are housed inside unique structures. That’s especially true for one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city for families: the John G. Shedd Aquarium.
Built in 1930, the Shedd Aquarium on Chicago’s Museum Campus is 3rd largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. This Beaux Arts style building, with hints of Grecian architecture, is like a temple to Poseidon himself.
You can easily spend an entire day at Shedd Aquarium, even if it seems like a small destination from the outside. The permanent exhibits include Waters of the World, Caribbean Reef, Amazon Rising, Wild Reef, and the Abbott Oceanarium. It’s hard to see this whole place in one afternoon–especially if you visit on the weekends when it is stuffed to the gills.
My favorite exhibit area is the Polar Play Zone. It’s supposed to be a kids’ area, but this is where you’ll find the otters and penguins at Shedd Aquarium. Plus, it’s not too far from one of the aquarium cafes, making it an excellent mid-day refueling point.
See Related: Best Midwest Road Trips
5. Oak Street Beach
Address: 1000 N. Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60611
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to cool off during a brutal summer day in Chicago is to drop by one of our gorgeous beaches. You won’t believe the beautiful waters are that of a lake and not a far-off island.
They tend to become quite crowded during summer, especially on weekends. However, Oak Street should be less busy than North Avenue Beach.
But don’t let that deter you from your Chicago beach days! You can relax on the sand and bask in the sun. Chicagoans flock to the beach when the weather gets hot, so this is one of the tourist attractions in Chicago that attract locals just as frequently.
Also, you can rent speedboats, jet skis, kayaks, and paddleboards to enjoy thrilling water sports with your kids. One of Chicago’s best outdoor activities is the paddleboard yoga class on the beaches. You can stretch out all your stress and worries on the sandy beach or head on the paddleboard to continue your yoga ritual on the blue waters.
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Chicago?
6. Millennium Park
Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602
We can’t list the top tourist attractions in Chicago and ignore Millennium Park. Although you won’t need a whole day to stroll the park and see public art like Cloud Gate, it is a quintessential part of visiting Chicago.
If you plan on getting a pic with Cloud Gate (or The Bean), remember that it is one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. Your best bet is to come very early in the morning.
The city holds numerous performances and concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion throughout the year, including my favorite, the free Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert. You won’t have to go far to grab something to eat, though you could also pack a picnic to enjoy during the show.
Not that downtown is short on hotels, but one of my favorites is just a stone’s throw away from Millennium Park. Depending on your room location, you might even be able to glimpse Cloud Gate. The nearby Radisson Blu Aqua rooms are gorgeous, and the on-site pub is delicious.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Illinois
7. Chicago River Tour
If you love cruising the waters while sipping drinks and enjoying the company of your loved ones, you should consider taking a boat cruise along the Chicago River. When you are done, visit the nearly hidden Chicago River Museum near Michigan Avenue to learn more about the history of the city and the importance of its relationship with the river.
First-time visitors often opt for guided tours to discover the historical architecture of downtown. These are my favorite tours to do with out-of-towners because it’s one of those rare opportunities to see our towering city from the point of view of the river.
Besides that, there are many places along the Chicago River where you can rent a kayak. Although it isn’t safe to swim in the river, kayaking is a terrific way to see the sights at your own pace.
If you’re traveling in a larger group, you can rent kayaks and enjoy the scenery together without a guide. Regardless of your method of transport, cruising the Chicago River is an absolute must for amazing views of the Wrigley Building, Merchandise Mart, and other Windy City skyline gems.
See Related: Hidden Gems in Old Town, Chicago
8. Chicago History Museum
Address: 1601 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
Much of the original collection of the Chicago Historical Society was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and then the new collection burned in 1874. Even so, this organization, founded in 1856, persevered and eventually formed its own Chicago History Museum. Since the 1930s, this museum has lived in Lincoln Park to showcase the city’s incredible history.
Honestly, many tourists probably don’t even realize this museum is here. It’s far from one of the top tourist attractions in Chicago, making it a kind of hidden gem. A more miniature museum, you can enjoy the Chicago History Museum in just a few hours.
If you’re the kind of traveler who likes to get to know a place, take some time out when you visit Chicago to see this museum. Especially if you love quirky bits of history like the Chicago Cultural Center, you’ll truly appreciate what the history museum has to say.
See Related: Best Day Trips from Chicago
9. The 606 Hiking Trail
Address: 1805 N Ridgeway Ave, Chicago, IL 60647
Did you know you could find a hiking trail in a metropolitan city like Chicago? The 606, or The Bloomingdale Trail, is a unique 2.7-mile-long pedestrian trail built over run-down railway tracks. The trail takes you through neighborhoods and peaceful gardens. You can use the paved path to walk, run, or bike across the city.
The 606 begins at Walsh Park and ends at North Ridgeway Avenue. It is the most extended greenway project of a former rail line in the Western Hemisphere and the second longest in the world. Plans to develop the trail over the former Bloomingdale Line began in the 1990s, and in 2004 an organization finally came together to make the trail happen.
In addition to seeing the natural takeover of flora and fauna along the trail, The 606 also features public art displays. These change from time to time; however, you should pay extra attention to the embedded artworks that are permanent. These markers showcase the area’s history and help visitors get to know the plant life better.
See Related: Most Overrated Tourist Attractions & Destinations
10. Paddleboarding Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan offers lots of ways to cruise through its blue waters. But nothing matches paddleboarding for experiencing the ultimate lakeside thrill.
Especially if you visit during the summer, you’ll find the lake water refreshing against the heat. You can dedicate an entire day from your itinerary to paddleboarding and enjoying the lake with your family.
Many places have paddleboards available for rent, including Monroe Harbor and North Avenue Beach. Some sites also let you take paddleboarding classes before stepping into the water. Even if you’re apprehensive about paddleboarding with your family, you can have a learning experience together and then set out to have fun.
Remember, paddleboarding can be pretty exhausting, especially when it’s windy. If you’re not up for it, you could always watch the area paddleboarders from the safety of the Lakefront Trail.
See Related: Is Chicago Safe for Travelers?
11. Maggie Daley Park
Address: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
Millennium Park is not the only one tourists flock to, though Maggie Daley Park is more of a local spot for Chicagoans. Part of the reason folks love this park is because there is so much to do, especially for rambunctious kiddos.
The 20-acre park has a 40-foot outdoor climbing wall, with around 19000 square feet of climbing space. Additionally, this free public park offers beginner and high-level climbing options. Besides that, the climbing area has crash pads and efficient safety staff to avoid unpleasant accidents that spoil your enjoyment.
You can try out bouldering and top-rope climbing. At the same time, children and beginning climbers can try lead climbing.
You could rent the equipment from the park if you don’t bring your own. The park has affordable, high-quality rental gear like helmets, shoes, and belay devices.
See Related: Best Hotels in the Midwest
12. See a Second City Show
Address: 230 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60614
The enormity of the Chicago theater scene often gets overshadowed by popular Chicago attractions like the Art Institute. But whether you’re on the lookout for refined arts or a casual evening out, Chicago’s got it all.
Notably, Chicago is also the birthplace of The Second City. Opened in 1959, Second City has become one of the foremost institutions for improvisational theater.
Improv stars are born and trained here in the Old Town theater. Some of the world’s most famous comedians, like Steve Martin and Alan Arkin, got their start on these stages. You can see entirely improvised shows here or partly scripted performances.
One of the things I love most about Second City shows is that it is comfortable for such a wide range of audiences. The raunchier shows are good date night options, while some other shows are lighter. Every performance is also different, making return visits a terrific Chicago tradition.
See Related: Best Unique & Unknown Places to Visit in the U.S.
13. Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Address: 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Opened in 1967, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) has become one of the foremost contemporary art museums in the country. Some of the museum’s claims to fame include hosting Frida Kahlo’s first U.S. exhibition and Jeff Koons’ first solo museum exhibition. The MCA holds some of the best collections of 1940s-70s surrealism, pop art, and postmodernism.
MCA preserves over 2500 works of art across various modes from the 1920s to the present day. Given the nature of the museum, the exhibits on display change throughout the year. There are no permanent exhibits at this museum, though you can see their permanent collection on their website if they aren’t currently on display.
Since the exhibitions at MCA are constantly changing, it can be hard to grasp what you may encounter on a first or return visit. That said, you can expect a contemporary outlook on art from all around the world. A few of their past exhibitions include Chicago Works, Commons Artist Project, and MCA Screen.
See Related: Best Road Trips in the USA
14. Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile or Mag Mile is a mile-long stretch of Michigan Ave, one of the most famous streets in the United States. This popular shopping destination is home to some of the city’s best department stores, restaurants, and attractions. Also known as The Miracle Mile, this area is home to many upscale stores and restaurants and has become one of the top spots for shopaholics.
The Magnificent Mile runs from North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and Wacker Drive, just south of Chicago’s Loop business district. It’s also a haven for the city’s most iconic buildings: The John Hancock Center (now 875 North Michigan Avenue), Water Tower Place, the Wrigley Building, and Tribune Tower – the iconic former home of the Chicago Tribune Media Group.
Magnificent Mile also offers plenty of great places to stay, including some of the most luxurious hotels in the area, such as the Park Hyatt, Four Seasons, and the Peninsula Chicago. After a long day of shopping or exploring, staying at one of these luxe spots offers visitors some much-needed respite.
See Related: Top Vacations with Minimal Walking
15. Lincoln Park Zoo
Dating back to 1868, Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest public zoos in the country. This free attraction is a place I love to visit with my loved ones when they’re in town. Housing over 1000 animals, the zoo is a feast for the eyes but small enough to enjoy casually in just a few hours.
Open 365 days a year, the Lincoln Park Zoo is a beloved Chicago institution. You’re welcome to bring your food inside for a fun family picnic or grab a bite at one of the restaurants or snack stands around the zoo. Partway through, there’s even a little ice cream shop where you can enjoy a sweet treat with unbeatable views of the nearby city skyline. That’s my favorite spot.
The holiday season is my favorite time to visit the zoo, although you can’t see animals. The zoo hosts ZooLights, with lots of light sculptures around the park to enjoy and lots of hot cocoa to sip while you get into the holiday spirit.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Joliet, Illinois
Address: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Navy Pier is worth checking out if you’re looking for a fun day akin to an East Coast pier excursion in Chicago. This iconic landmark offers a variety of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, and more. You can ride on the Ferris wheel or other permanent carnival rides, enjoy a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, stroll along the Pier, and enjoy the views.
If the weather’s nice and you’re traveling with kids, there’s no better place to be than Navy Pier. The Pier can get pretty touristy, but it’s not as crowded as other parts of the city. Plus, many lake boat tours and cruises depart from Navy Pier.
One word of warning, though, on visiting Navy Pier, it’s a bit out of the way. If you plan on taking public transportation, it takes a while to get there; cabs seem to charge more to go there or depart from there, and walking from neighborhoods like Streeterville can seem treacherous for tourists.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Schaumburg, Illinois
17. Chicago Water Tower
Address: 806 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
The Chicago Water Tower is a significant landmark because it is one of the only buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It is located at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and North Wacker Drive in the Chicago Loop and is part of a historic district in downtown Chicago.
It was built to provide pressure for the city’s water supply system by gravity-fed water mains, which drew water from Lake Michigan via a tunnel beneath the Chicago River at that point. Now the Chicago Water Tower is an art gallery anyone can visit for free.
The Gothic revival-style tower was constructed of Joliet limestone in 1869 and has multiple levels with a spiral staircase that leads to the observation deck. This gorgeous (relatively) little tower is topped with a copper roof gilded in gold leaf.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Minnesota
18. Buckingham Fountain
Address: 301 S Columbus Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
As mentioned in our Grant Park section, Buckingham Fountain is one of the most visited Chicago tourist attractions. The fountain was built to memorialize Kate Buckingham, the late philanthropist who helped beautify Chicago’s parks.
The fountain was designed by architect Edward Bennett and dedicated in 1927. It features four sea horses that symbolize the four states that border Lake Michigan. Several films and tv shows have captured the unique beauty of the fountain, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Bear, High Fidelity, The Blues Brothers, and The Dark Knight.
At night, Buckingham Fountain is a stunning light and water show display with over 190 jets shooting to 150 feet in the air. From April through October, this gorgeous fountain lights up for an incredible spectacle of sound, color, and city views in the late afternoon and evening hours.
See Related: Thrifty Traveler Review
19. Willis Tower
Address: 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606
Formerly known as the Sears Tower, this 110-story Willis Tower skyscraper is a must-visit among Chicago attractions. The Willis Tower Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of this iconic building. The Skydeck is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, and for a good reason: you’ll see a beautiful view of Chicago.
If you want an even more impressive view from Willis Tower, consider walking out onto The Ledge at 1,353 feet high (or about five football fields). It’ll give you a breathtaking experience that no other attraction can match. The Ledge has glass barriers that are 4.3 inches thick with a glass bottom so that visitors can walk outside without any safety railings or guardrails to protect them from falling off.
People come to Willis Tower in droves because they want an experience unlike anything else in Chicago—and it has even been called “the most expensive thrill ride in America.” And, for the record, Chicagoans will forever call Willis Tower the Sears Tower no matter how much time passes.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to Do in Northern Minnesota
20. The Art Institute of Chicago
Address: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the world’s oldest and best art museums since its inception in 1879. This incredible art museum houses some of the world’s greatest works of art, including pieces from Rembrandt and Monet.
The Art Institute of Chicago has a permanent collection that includes over 300,000 works of art, making it one of the largest in North America. Its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection is awe-inspiring.
The museum has been at its current location since 1893 when it was moved from its original home on Michigan Avenue (the building now houses part of the University Club). It was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, who also designed Chicago’s city hall and Union Station. This building features a series of five courtyards intended to provide light and air to each gallery while promoting circulation throughout the space.
Over 5,000 years of humanity are represented in the museum’s collection. You can see pieces from the Byzantine Empire to contemporary works. The institute even houses one of the country’s best collections of paintings from the Western world.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Southern Minnesota
21. Museum of Science and Industry
Address: 5700 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60637
The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Hyde Park is one of Chicago’s most unique top attractions. It is one of Earth’s most prominent science museums inside a stunning building. Its gorgeous, almost Grecian home is one of the only remnants from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During the World’s Fair, this building was the Palace of Fine Arts.
MSI houses over 35,000 artifacts, and interactive exhibits offer everyone a unique and fun learning experience. Among their exhibits are a German U-boat, a command module of Apollo 8, and the first diesel-powered passenger train, the Pioneer Zephyr.
Don’t let MSI’s science background intimidate you. While you can learn a lot during a visit to MSI, the exhibits are made to be interactive and exciting. Little kids and adults can both enjoy a day of learning and innovation without fear that it’ll be a snooze fest.
See Related: Best Minnesota Road Trips to Take
22. National Museum of Mexican Art
Address: 1852 W 19th St, Chicago, IL 60608
Formerly known as the Mexican Fine Arts Center, the National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) lives in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. It is the largest Latino cultural institution in the country and the only one accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The museum has a wide selection of exhibits, but what sets it apart from many other museums is its focus on contemporary art and artists.
Founded in 1982, NMMA houses the country’s most extensive collection of Mexican art, with over 18,000 pieces. The artwork in this collection dates back to ancient Mexico and up to the present day. Some collection highlights include Ester Hernández’s Sun Mad, Carmen Lomas Garza’s Las Posadas, Xavier Viramontes’s Boycott Grapes, and Rafael Doniz’s Nuestra Madre.
Besides the art exhibitions, NMMA also hosts a range of cultural programs. One annual event is the Sor Juana Festival which celebrates the accomplishments of Mexican women with performances by female artists.
See Related: Ideas for Weekend Getaways in Minnesota
23. Field Museum of Natural History
Address: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest and most well-known natural history museums. The museum, located on the city’s sprawling Museum Campus, opened in 1894. The Field Museum’s extensive collection includes almost 40 million artifacts and specimens.
One of the most iconic skeletons on display at the Field Museum is that of SUE, a Tyrannosaurus rex. SUE measures an impressive 40 feet in length and has 58 teeth.
She is the most giant and most complete T. Rex skeleton ever found. Visitors to the Field Museum can’t help but be impressed by her size and majesty–she’s practically the museum’s mascot.
This is one of the Chicago attractions that is best done over two days. You can see the Field Museum in a day, but you may not see everything or feel rushed to complete it. My favorite exhibits include Meteorites, Plants of the World, Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories, and Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet & SUE.
See Related: Best Tours in Minnesota
24. Adler Planetarium
Address: 1300 S DuSable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
Adler Planetarium is a public astronomy museum in Chicago’s Museum Campus near the Field Museum area along Lake Michigan’s shore. The Planetarium was opened on May 14, 1930, and named after Max Adler. The building was designed by architect Ernest A. Grunsfeld Jr., who won the design’s gold medal from the American Institute of Architects Chicago chapter.
The Planetarium includes an incredible 23-foot Foucault pendulum that simulates Earth’s rotation to demonstrate how fast our planet rotates. Adler Planetarium is dedicated to exploring the universe and providing visitors with an out-of-this-world experience. Some of its permanent exhibits include Chicago’s Night Sky, Our Solar System, and Mission Moon.
Although the exhibits are excellent, the Planetarium’s award-winning sky shows quickly take the cake. Several kinds of films which change from time to time demonstrate on Adler’s massive dome theater how vast our universe truly is.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Lake City, Minnesota
25. John Hancock Building
Address: 875 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Formerly known as the John Hancock Center, the building was renamed 875 North Michigan Avenue in 2018. It is home to the 360 Chicago observatory deck, which offers stunning city skyline views. The deck is located on the 94th floor in a sheltered space with a ceiling-to-ceiling window, and it provides a clear picture of almost anywhere from 60 miles in virtually any direction.
The interactive displays allow for identifying and displaying different buildings and attractions at your disposal. In addition, the deck is equipped with a new, high-tech technology called tilt that allows for tilt in a sloping position within its glass panels.
Whether looking to take in the city’s sights or get a bird’s eye view of the action below, 875 is the perfect spot, even if its name is far less interesting now.
See Related: Best Things to Do in North Shore, Minnesota
26. Garfield Park Conservatory
Address: 300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago, IL 60624
Garfield Park Conservatory is an excellent place for kids and adults in the heart of Chicago’s West Side. Opened in 1908, this green space is a haven for Chicagoans, especially in the brutal winter cold. The conservatory is one of the largest in the country and has many varieties of plants, flowers, and indoor ponds for fish and turtles.
Although the flora changes throughout the year depending on which exhibit area you visit, eight gardens are here to enjoy. The most spectacular one that indeed plays into the unique architecture is the Palm House. This garden is the largest room in the conservatory and houses over 70 gorgeous palms and other plants that thrive in the heat.
The Show House is where the conservatory hosts its annual plant events. These two events, Winter Holiday Show and the Spring Flower Show transform this space. I personally love the winter show with the myriad poinsettias in all their festive vibrancy.
See Related: Minnesota vs Wisconsin: What’s the Difference?
27. Chicago Children’s Museum
Address: 700 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Chicago Children’s Museum has been one of the top picks for a family-friendly environment since its founding in the early 80s. The museum on Navy Pier offers an extensive array of interactive displays that cater to children ages 3-14.
These exhibits encourage learning through play, covering topics ranging from science and history to art and culture. In addition to the interactive exhibits, the museum also features several areas for stimulating creativity and encouraging learning.
For example, the Make Believe Chicago exhibit allows children to role-play different professionals, such as doctors, firefighters, and chefs. The Chicago Children’s Museum is an excellent place for families to explore and learn together, especially if the Pier’s carnival rides haven’t worn the kiddos out.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Wisconsin & Places to Visit
28. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Address: 2430 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a great place to spend time with family and friends exploring the wonders of nature. The museum is located in the heart of Lincoln Park, just a few blocks from the conservatory and the zoo. Its roots were established alongside the Chicago Academy of Sciences in 1857. It’s therefore considered the oldest museum in the city.
This multi-level learning space offers a variety of interactive educational activities, including an exploration of Illinois natural history, a butterfly house, and a hands-on learning center. Notebaert’s butterfly house is home to over 200 butterflies flitting about to make your day.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum also offers a variety of classes and programs for all ages, making it the perfect place to learn about nature and the environment on a different level than the Field Museum. This is an excellent spot for a fun family outing or an informative, educational experience.
See Related: Best Small Towns in Wisconsin to Visit
29. The Chicago Theatre
Address: 175 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601
Far from the only place for cultural events in Chicago’s city center, The Chicago Theatre is still one of the city’s most iconic performing arts spaces. This landmark building was built in 1921 and set the bar for the era of lavish movie palaces nationwide. Its remarkable interior is French-inspired, and its architecture is the oldest remaining example of Rapp and Rapp’s signature Neo-Baroque French-revival style in Chicago.
While plenty of shows entertain visitors here, there’s more to see and do. Tours of the venue offer a unique perspective of this breathtaking building. Spend some time here to see at least the grand lobby, which was inspired by the opulent Royal Chapel at Versailles.
The theater runs the gamut from family affairs like Bluey’s Big Play or Peppa Pig Live to incredible musicians like Van Morrison or Dolly Parton. Although it no longer serves its original purpose as a movie theater, the theater is one of the best Chicago attractions in the city center.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Madison, Wisconsin
30. Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures Museum
Address: 1155 E 58th St, Chicago, IL 60637
Once known as the Oriental Institute Museum, The Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (ISAC) was founded in 1919. The museum, housed at the University of Chicago, opened in 1931.
Its goal is to be a leader in studying ancient West Asia and North African civilizations. Expanding on its original name only made sense as the Oriental Institute Museum was not only an Inaccurate representation of its exhibits, but it was an offensive terminology as well.
Over 350,000 artifacts are preserved by the ISAC. Its public galleries are focused on different ancient areas of the world. Some exhibits highlight Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Syria, Anatolia, and the Levant.
If you want to stay at a chic Chicago hotel in the area, consider Sophy Hyde Park. This hotel is uniquely Chicago in that it displays tons of artwork by Chicago artists and is in the heart of one of our most incredible neighborhoods: Hyde Park.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
What are the best attractions in Chicago for families?
Families visiting Chicago are lucky because there is so much to do here. From window shopping the Magnificent Mile to riding the rides at Navy Pier or seeing the animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo, the whole family will love their time in the Windy City.
Are there any free attractions in Chicago?
The biggest free attraction is the Lincoln Park Zoo, though visiting Navy Pier is also free. I highly recommend Free Tours by Foot for free, informative Chicago tours. It’ll only cost you a tip for your talented tour guide.
What are the top architectural sites to visit in Chicago?
The former John Hancock Center and Willis (Sears) Tower are two of the more iconic skyscrapers in the city. You should also check out some of the museum buildings, which harken back to bygone Chicago eras.
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a seasoned traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers find their next adventure, whether it’s exploring new places or revisiting old favorites.
He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wonderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). He loves listening to people’s stories from around the world as well as sharing his own experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.