Best things to do in Chicago that locals and tourists will love

Experience the best of the city with our guide to the top things to do in Chicago
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
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Like any great city, there's no reason to be bored when you're in Chicago. No matter where your interests lie, you can always find something to get excited about amid the 77 community areas that make up this Midwestern metropolis. If you're looking for culture, spend a day exploring a Chicago museum or stay out late and see a concert at a local venue. If you need to satisfy your appetite, there are hundreds of amazing restaurants to choose from (not to mention plenty of great bars for a post-meal drink). We've searched all across the city to assemble this list of the best things to do in Chicago—and we're certain that you'll find even more memorable attractions along the way.

31 best things to do in Chicago

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Things to do

Willis Tower Skydeck

icon-location-pin Loop

Look down on the city from the Willis Tower Skydeck

The Willis Tower Skydeck is the ultimate way to see the city from 1,353 feet above the streets. The observatory's Ledge attraction places visitors in a glass box that juts out over the side of the building, allowing for some pretty epic selfies and views of up to four neighboring states. To beat the crowds and experience the skyline at night, show up during the Skydeck's evening hours—it's open until 8pm October through February and until 10pm March through September.

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Carnitas Uruapan
Courtesy Carnitas Uruapan
Restaurants, Mexican

Carnitas Uruapan

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

Pig out on pork tacos at Carnitas Uruapan

The only decision you'll have to make when you visit this tiny Pilsen storefront is how many pounds of pork you want to eat. Carnitas Uruapan's specialty is juicy pulled pork, served with corn tortillas, onions and salsa if you want to make your own tacos. The shop only stays open until 5pm on weeknights (6pm on weekends), so you'll need to stop by early if you want to have authentic carnitas for dinner.

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Lincoln Park Zoo lemur
Photograph: Chris Bijalba/Lincoln Park Zoo.
Things to do

Lincoln Park Zoo

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

See animals (for free!) at Lincoln Park Zoo

Sure, you could pay for a ticket to a zoo, but more than 1,000 critters are waiting for you to visit them, free of charge, in Lincoln Park. Highlights include the expansive Regenstein Macaque Forest, where snow monkeys swing from branch to branch, and the historic McCormick Bird House, which showcases colorful winged creatures. After you're done watching flamingos and penguins frolick, relax on the patio at nearby Café Brauer, where you'll enjoy skyline views, paninis and adult beverages.

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<p>Lost Lake is the signature cocktail at Lost Lake.</p>
Bars, Cocktail bars

Lost Lake

icon-location-pin Avondale

Pretend you’re in the tropics with tiki drinks at Lost Lake

Escape to a place where the walls are plastered in palm leaves, the bartenders are clad in Hawaiian shirts and drinks are served with a barrage of colorful straws and garnishes. Helmed by bartender Paul McGee, Lost Lake makes a small storefront in Logan Square feel like an island vacation, complete with a shifting menu of tiki drinks (including flaming, sharable bowls) that range from strong, rum-forward concoctions to sippable, fruit juice-infused cocktails.

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Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Millennium Park

icon-location-pin Millennium Park

Check out concerts and public art at Millennium Park

Home to iconic public art installations such as Cloud Gate (a.k.a. "The Bean") and Crown Fountain, Millennium Park is the crown jewel of Chicago's front yard. In the summer, the area is typically teeming with visitors who come to take in free concerts and movie screenings from the lawn at Jay Pritzker Pavilion (which is usually BYOB). When it gets cold, you'll find skaters sliding across the ice at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

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Dusty Groove
Photograph: Jordan Avery
Shopping, Music and entertainment

Dusty Groove

icon-location-pin East Village

Go crate-digging for records at Dusty Groove

Spend an afternoon flipping through LPs at Dusty Groove, a Wicker Park record store where you can track down something new to put on your turntable. The shop specializes in Afrobeat, jazz, reggae, soul and blues albums, including plenty of obscure titles that you'll have a hard time finding elsewhere in the city. If the selection makes you feel overwhelmed, don't hesitate to strike up a conversation with the friendly staff—they can point you toward your new favorite record.

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Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
Sports and fitness, Baseball & softball

Wrigley Field

icon-location-pin Wrigleyville

Root for the home team at Wrigley Field

The home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, an afternoon of baseball, hot dogs and beer in Wrigley Field is a hallowed local tradition (even if you have to play hooky). Spring for a seat in the stands or snag a spot in the outfield bleachers, near the stadium's iconic hand-operated scoreboard. When summer arrives, the ballpark is used as a music venue whenever the Cubs are on the road, hosting acts like Pearl Jam, Billy Joel, Lady Gaga and more.

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Bars, Cocktail bars

Green Mill

icon-location-pin Uptown

Take in late-night jazz at the Green Mill

In the ’20s, Chicago gangsters like Al Capone were known to frequent the Green Mill, but ever since Prohibition, the club has garnered a reputation for hosting live jazz. The music typically goes until 1am (later on the weekends) and the lineup of performers includes B-3 organ players, jazz vocalists and classic big bands. Take a picture under the glittering marquee, order a cocktail and settle in for a late night at this Uptown institution.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Garfield Park Conservatory

icon-location-pin East Garfield Park

Hang out in the Palm House at Garfield Park Conservatory

Even when the weather outside is crummy, it's always warm inside the Garfield Park Conservatory. The gorgeous glass structure houses more than 100,000 plants, and admission is always free (though you're welcome to make a donation). Make sure you take a moment to walk around the tropical paradise of the Palm House, the conservatory's largest room, and take a peek inside the Fern Room, which attempts to recreate the vegetation in Illinois millions of years ago.

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Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe
Photograph: Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago
Museums, Art and design

Art Institute of Chicago

icon-location-pin Grant Park

See Medieval armor and weapons at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is filled with masterpieces from every era, from Georges Seurat’s iconic painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (notable for its appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) to Andy Warhol's print of actress Elizabeth Taylor. But did you know that the museum also houses a Medieval armory? Located just past the Renaissance Art on the second floor, you'll find an impressive collection of swords, crossbows and some gorgeous suits of armor.

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Photograph: Marc Monaghan for the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Theater, Interactive

Neo-Futurarium

icon-location-pin Uptown

Watch 30 plays in 60 minutes at the Neo-Futurarium

You never know what you'll see when you attend the Neo-Futurists' signature show, Infinite Wrench, but it's nearly always entertaining. The ensemble races against the clock to cram 30 miniature, two-minute plays into a 60-minute show that bristles with madcap energy. Over the course of the evening, you might witness a dramatic monologue, a funny song or simply stare at someone eating a sandwich. Even if you buy your tickets in advance, the pre-show dice-rolling ritual could save you a few bucks.

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Photograph: Courtesy of Christina Cou
Things to do, Literary events

Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center

icon-location-pin Pullman

Take a trip back in time at the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center

When businessman George Pullman started a railroad sleeping car factory on the South Side of Chicago, he built an entire town to house his employees. The industrial complex has since been designated a National Monument and the Pullman Foundation Visitor Center is the best place to start exploring the area. You can set out on a self-guided tour of the district, which includes historic buildings featured in films like Road to Perdition and The Fugitive.

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Half Acre
Photograph: Courtesy Half Acre
Bars, Breweries

Half Acre Brewery Balmoral

icon-location-pin Lincoln Square

See how Chicago beer is made at Half Acre Brewery Balmoral

As fun as it is to drink Half Acre's Daisy Cutter Pale Ale or its Pony Pilsner, it's even more fun to see how the beer gets into the can. The local brewery's Balmoral facility in Bowmanville offers tours every Sunday at 11am—just show up with $10 in cash and you'll get a behind-the-scenes look at Half Acre's process, as well as three samples and a pint glass to take home.

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Theater

Steppenwolf Theatre Company

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

Take in Chicago-style theater at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Founded in the basement of a Highland Park church, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company has grown to embody the hardworking ethos of the Chicago theater community. Now, the company occupies an expansive venue with three stages in Lincoln Park, where you can see groundbreaking shows nearly every night of the week. In recent years, Steppenwolf has become a place where established actors (such as Rainn Wilson, Michael Cera and Michael Shannon) come to show off their chops on stage.

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Queen!
Photograph: Erik Commer
Bars, Lounges

Smart Bar

icon-location-pin Wrigleyville

Dance to Chicago house music at Smart Bar

In the ’80s, Chicago served as the epicenter of the creation of a new genre of music that still influences the work of modern hip-hop and electronic artists. If you want to experience house music, there's no more authentic environment than Smart Bar, which hosts the weekly Queen dance party every Sunday. Within the subterranean Wrigleyville club, skilled DJs, drag performers and sweaty revelers come together to the steady pulse of a house beat.

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Museums, Science and technology

The Field Museum

icon-location-pin Museum Campus

Hang out with a mummy at the Field Museum

With 350,000 square feet of permanent exhibitions to explore, deciding what to see at the Field Museum can be a daunting task. We recommend starting in the institution's popular "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit, where you'll descend into a recreation of the 5,000-year-old tomb of pharaoh’s son Unis-Ankh. From there, you'll walk through an extensive assemblage of Egyptian artifacts, including one of the largest collections of mummies in the U.S.

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Hot "G" Dog's is an Uptown hot dog joint from some Hot Doug's vets.
Photograph: Amy Cavanaugh
Restaurants, Hot dogs

Hot ā€œGā€ Dog

icon-location-pin Uptown

Try a real Chicago-style dog at Hot “G” Dog

Beloved Chicago hot dog stand Hot Doug's shut down years ago, but owner Doug Sohn left a worthy heir to his encased meat throne. Located in Uptown, Hot "G" Dog is run by a group of cooks who formerly prepared the orders at Hot Dougs, serving a menu similar to the one offered at the old Avondale stand. You'll find great Chicago dogs, sausages made with alligator or goat meat and duck fat fries on the weekends—arrive with an appetite.

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The Second City etc.
Photograph: Todd Rosenberg
Comedy, Comedy clubs

The Second City

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

Double over laughing at a Second City mainstage show

Before they joined the cast of Saturday Night Live or became big-screen stars, folks like Tina Fey, Chris Farley and Steve Carell practiced their craft on the mainstage at the Second City. The venue's premiere revue features some of the institutions most talented performers in a series of loosely-connected, topical comedy sketches. Once the show is over, stick around for the encore, where the cast tests out new sketches and get to show off their improv talents.

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Photograph: Kevin J. Miyazaki
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Au Cheval

icon-location-pin West Loop

Eat one of the city’s best burgers at Au Cheval

There's a good reason why you'll never be able to show up at Au Cheval and immediately be seated: the West Loop restaurant's signature cheeseburger has achieved a near-legendary status as a must-eat Chicago dish. Served with a knife protruding from the top of its puffy bun, the "single" version comes with two beef patties, while the "double" includes three. Au Cheval doesn't take reservations, so plan on finding a nearby spot to grab a drink while you wait to indulge.

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Paul McCartney brings his Out There tour to the United Center, July 9, 2014.
Photographer: cousindaniel.com
Things to do, Event spaces

United Center

icon-location-pin United Center

Cheer on the Bulls and Blackhawks at the United Center

You can't see Michael Jordan play at the United Center anymore (though you can get a picture in front of his statue in the venue's public atrium), but this West Side arena still hosts plenty of stars. During basketball and hockey season, the venue serves as home turf for the Bulls and the Blackhawks—two of the city's biggest pro sports teams. It's also a destination for major pop and rock concerts, including acts like U2, the Weeknd and Madonna.

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Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Robie House

icon-location-pin Hyde Park

Explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture at the Robie House

Nearby Oak Park may be a mecca for Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts, but you can see some of the architect's finest work without leaving the city. The Robie House in Hyde Park exemplifies Wright's signature Prairie School style, both in its external appearance and interior design. You can take a peek inside the historic home (and get some decorating ideas) by taking a tour led by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, offered five days a week.

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empty bottle
Photograph: Martha Williams
Music, Rock and indie

Empty Bottle

icon-location-pin Ukrainian Village

See a rising band perform at the Empty Bottle

For more than a quarter of a century, a gig at the Empty Bottle has served as a rite of passage for local and touring musicians. The nondescript club on the edge of Ukrainian Village is far from the biggest venue in town (capacity is around 300), but the folks who book it have a knack for landing critically acclaimed rockers, electronic acts and experimental musicians. Grab an Old Style, find a spot on the stairs by the stage and take in a sure-to-be memorable show. 

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Skylanding
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan
Things to do, Literary events

Jackson Park

icon-location-pin Woodlawn

Visit Yoko Ono’s Skylanding installation in Jackson Park

Venture to the Garden of the Phoenix within Jackson Park and you're sure to come the across the gleaming metallic pedals of Skylanding, an installation created by artist and poet Yoko Ono. The photogenic sculpture was erected as a symbol of peace, taking up residence on the site of a pavilion built by the Japanese government for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

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Photograph: Courtesy the Beer Temple
Shopping, Liquor stores

The Beer Temple

icon-location-pin Avondale

Try a slew of local brews at the Beer Temple

You'll always find something new or unexpected on tap at the Beer Temple, an Avondale bar that's gained a reputation for stocking the most sought-after releases from local and out-of-state brewers. Browse the chalkboard menu at the bar, order in some food from a nearby restaurant or sit down in one of the back rooms with a board game. The bar also hosts a bottle shop, where you can browse six-packs, bombers and more booze to take home with you.

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Chicago Lakefront Trail
Photograph: Alanscottwalker
Things to do

Lakefront Trail

icon-location-pin South Shore

Bike (or walk) along the beach on the Lakefront Trail

Running from the North Side of Chicago to 71st Street on the South Side, the Lakefront Trail provides an 18-mile path along the coast of Lake Michigan that connects neighborhoods throughout the city. Once you're on the path, you'll typically find bicyclists zooming by, joggers pounding the pavement and pedestrians out for a leisurely stroll. Whatever mode of transportation your choose, don't forget to stop and take in the amazing views of the Chicago skyline.

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Photograph: Brendan Lekan
Restaurants, Seafood

Calumet Fisheries

icon-location-pin South Deering

Sample smoked seafood at Calumet Fisheries

Located near a bridge featured in The Blues Brothers just west of the Indiana border, this small white shack offers smoked shrimp, trout, sable and more. There's no seating inside, so you'll need to take your paper bag full of seafood outside, where you can find a spot along the bridge to chow down or just eat it inside your car. Don't forget to get some crackers and coleslaw to pair with your expertly smoked fish.

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Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities Shop in Andersonville.
Photograph: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay
Shopping, Antiques

Woolly Mammoth Antiques & Oddities

icon-location-pin Uptown

Find something strange at Woolly Mammoth Antiques & Oddities

You never know what you'll find at this popular Andersonville antique store, which prides itself on stocking items that are "resurrected from the past." Taxidermy, diving helmets, animal bones, military supplies and other interesting knick-knacks typically line the shelves of Woolly Mammoth. It's not a store for the faint of heart, but there's no better place in the city to find a guaranteed conversation piece.

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Photograph: Marina Makropoulos
Restaurants, Chinese

Phoenix Restaurant

icon-location-pin Armour Square

Have some dim sum at Phoenix Restaurant

During the week, Phoenix Restaurant serves Beijing Duck, Hong Kong Steak, seafood and more delicious Americanized Chinese dishes. On the weekends, the Chinatown destination hosts one of the most authentic dim sum experiences in Chicago, as carts laden with steamed barbecue pork buns, Malay steamed cake and egg tarts roam the room—just grab what you want and the servers will tally the bill for you.

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Things to do

Montrose Beach

icon-location-pin Uptown

Enjoy the sun and sand on Montrose Beach

The closer you get to the Loop, the more crowded Chicago's beaches can become, which is why it sometimes pays to travel a little farther to lay out on the sand. The crowds at Montrose Beach in Uptown are usually a bit more manageable and the amenities are comparable to the city's most popular stretches of sand. There are volleyball courts, kayak rentals, a separate dog beach and great views of the coast.

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Restaurants, Mexican

Birrieria Zaragoza

icon-location-pin Archer Heights

Get a taste for goat at Birrieria Zaragoza

Whether you're a goat connoisseur or haven't ever sampled the tasty meat, Birrieria Zaragoza is the perfect place to have a goat taco or some goat soup. The chopped meat here is served on platters, accompanied by hot sauce, limes, onions and tomato-based consommé broth. When you think about it, it's rather fitting that a city that blamed a goat for decades of baseball losses would have a place where the subject of the curse is the signature dish.

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Photograph: Adam Alexander/courtesy of The Trust for Public Land
Attractions, Parks and gardens

The 606

icon-location-pin Humboldt Park

Travel across an elevated trail on the 606

An abandoned stretch of elevated railway now functions as a convenient way to get between Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park and Bucktown. The 2.7-mile path was spruced up by the city and turned into a functional attraction that delights locals and visitors. Take a spin on your Divvy, go for a jog or simply use it to walk between a bar and a nearby restaurant during a warm night out.

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