Chicago attractions: The 25 best sights and attractions in Chicago

Among the city's parks, museums and skyscrapers, these are the very best Chicago attractions to help you fast-track your sightseeing around town



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Best Chicago attractions: A top-down view of Navy Pier belies the logo-T insanity below.

Best Chicago attractions: A top-down view of Navy Pier belies the logo-T insanity below.

Whether you're entertaining out-of-town guests or simply want to act like a tourist in your hometown by revisiting the best Chicago attractions, iconic venues and historical spots, make sightseeing a lot easier by consulting Time Out's definitive guide to Chicago's best sights, top attractions and things to do. We've compiled our favorite popular sights in the city, featuring the best parks, museums, and hubs of arts and culture.

Adler Planetarium

Though it’s staffed by world-class researchers at the forefront of their field, the museum’s real draw will always be the virtual-reality trips through time and space in the Sky Theater, which—thanks to a 2011 rehab—features the "highest resolution and quality possible."

Brookfield Zoo

Set on 216 acres, the zoo is home to nearly 6,000 animals, including 3,000 invertebrates, representing 436 species. The star of the show is the Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, a 7.5-acre replication of a North American habitat for the zoo’s polar bears, grizzlies, Mexican gray wolves, bison, bald eagles and ravens.

Chicago History Museum

Not so long ago this vibrant museum was the stodgy ol' Chicago Historical Society, which let you cull through thousands of archived photographs and curio. Well, that library still exists, but joining it are several permanent and temporary exhibits, the largest of which is "Chicago: Crossroads of America," a treasure trove of historical objects.

DuSable Museum of African American History

When this institution opened in 1961, African-American history was suffering serious neglect at the hands of the city’s—and for that matter the nation’s—cultural institutions. The Hyde Park cultural hub is now one of the oldest African-American–focused museums in the country, displaying documents and artifacts from the lives of overlooked or unjustly marginalized movers and shakers.

Grant Park

Spanning 319 acres of lakefront property, Chicago's "front yard" is filled with notable landmarks like the Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute and Museum Campus. In the summer, Grant Park's sprawling terrain plays host to festivals like Lollapalooza, Blues Fest and the Taste of Chicago. 

360 Chicago

  • Price band: 2/4

Formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, 360 Chicago offers dining, sights and an interactive tour far above the city streets. From 1,000 feet up on the 94th floor, you can see up to 55 miles out and four states—you'll feel as if you're along for the ride as you watch airplanes whiz by. A recent addition is the Tilt attraction, which allows visitors to step onto an enclosed platform that extends from the building at a 30-degree angle.

  1. 875 N Michigan Ave, (94th floor at Chestnut St)
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Lincoln Park Zoo

See some 1,200 animals, from apes to zebras, at the oldest—and one of only a few free—zoos left in the country. It is small, only 35 acres, but attractions like the Kovler Lion House and the Regenstein Center for African Apes are worth the trip.

Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art houses one of the largest collections of modern art in the nation and frequently hosts major touring exhibits. In addition to its galleries, the MCA also boasts a gift store, bookstore, restaurant, 300-seat theater, and a picturesque sculpture garden.

Music Box

For movie lovers who don't care for traditional Hollywood blockbusters there's no better theater than the Music Box, a two-screen cinema that shows the latest art house films and documentaries. The theater's gorgeous, main theater regularly hosts director Q&A's as well as weekly midnight screenings of cult classics.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

From prairie and river ecosystems to the biology of Ice Age–mammals, nature and its conservation, the focus at this Lincoln Park museum situated alongside a lagoon is vast and varied. Hands-on interactive displays on marsh and river ecosystems engage kids, while the thousand fluttering beauties of the 2,700-square-foot Judy Istock Butterfly Haven appeal to all ages.

Water Tower Place

If you're downtown and looking for a place to go on a shopping spree, this Michigan Avenue mall is just the ticket. Tourists flock to the seven-story complex to take their kids to the American Girl and Lego stores or grab a bite at the upscale food court.

Wrigley Field

Even when baseball’s not in season, there’s plenty to do at this legendary stadium, erected in 1914 and reinvigorated by an ownership change in 2009. Seasonal tours offer an insider peek at the Friendly Confines, and, come winter, you can skate on an ice rink just outside of the field.

Art Institute of Chicago

You could spend the next four years getting to know this encyclopedic institution, which owns more than 300,000 artworks and artifacts from all over the world and every era from antiquity to the present. Our favorite pieces include the Japanese prints, fragments of local buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Thorne Miniature Rooms.

Chicago Cultural Center

Since being converted to the Cultural Center in 1991 (it used to be the Chicago Public Library), this city-block-wide institution now offers free classical concerts. Most of the center’s classical offerings take place in Preston Bradley Hall on the second floor, but the Claudia Cassidy Theater on the Randolph Street side is used for experimental concerts, too.

Chicago Riverwalk

If you're looking for breathtaking views of some of Chicago's most gorgeous architecture, take a stroll along the Riverwalk. A series of public walkways and seating areas offers access to boat tours and water taxis as well as waterfront cafes and restaurants. 

The Field Museum

Founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this massive natural history museum still packs ’em in with more than 30 permanent exhibitions. Inside the displays, you can see glowering dinos, marvel at ancient artifacts from a royal Egyptian tomb, or undergo a lesson in cannibalism in the “Pacific Spirits” gallery.

Green Mill

Al Capone and other gangsters used to hang here in the 1920s, but these days it’s all about the music. Owner Dave Jemilo, who returned the club to its original luster in the 1980s, books smart bebop and free jazz with a discriminating ear. Come early, as it’s usually understandably busy.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park was named for the 16th President of the United States shortly after his assassination in 1865. The park stretches along the lakeshore and contains the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Cultural Center.

Millennium Park

This 24.5-acre park features Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion and serpentine bridge; sculptor Anish Kapoor's 110-ton Cloud Gate (a.k.a. “The Bean”); and Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain, with its ever-changing array of locals' faces spewing water very five minutes in the summer months. The Lurie Garden wows with year-round flower displays and monthly garden walks.

Museum of Science and Industry

If you’re into exhibits loaded with interactive bells and whistles, this expansive Hyde Park locale is your ticket. The museum’s focus is broad, with permanent displays that include the popular, health-focused new "You! The Experience" gallery, the new whiz-bang "Science Storms," plus the old faves: a restored U-505 German submarine, a simulated coal mine and a glass-covered hatchery of chicks.

National Museum of Mexican Art

The largest Latino cultural organization in the U.S. is located in Pilsen. Visit the museum and you'll find a 6,000-piece permanent collection, rotating exhibits, performing-arts showcases and educational programming that represents an illustrious Mexican culture.

North Avenue Beach

As one of Chicago's most popular beaches, North Avenue Beach features a unique beach house inspired by a beached ocean liner. Visitors can hit the volleyball courts, grab a snack, rent a bike or take a dip in the waters of Lake Michigan. 

Shedd Aquarium

Anchoring the aquatic offerings at this 75-year-old institution are enduring favorites such as piranhas, frogs and snakes of the Amazon; rays, turtles and moray eel of the Caribbean; frightening predator sharks and, the most storied of them all, a 100-plus-year-old Australian lungfish believed to be the longest-living fish in any aquarium in the world.

Willis Tower Skydeck

The second-tallest building in the country, this 1973 landmark put the city in an uproar when insurance broker Willis Group Holdings Ltd acquired the Sears Tower naming rights in 2009. Skydeck views from the 103rd floor allow you to see as far as 50 miles out, and its newest feature, the Ledge, allows you to crawl into a glass cube structure suspended 1,353 feet off the ground.

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