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 the best sights, top attractions and things to do in Chicago. We've compiled our favorite popular sights in the city, featuring the best Chicago beaches, best Chicago museums and hubs of arts and culture. End your busy day and get a delicious meal at one of the best Chicago restaurants.
Best attractions in Chicago
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.
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. We’re also in love with Renzo Piano’s light-filled Modern Wing, which is the perfect place to enjoy the Art Institute’s architecture and design collection, modern and contemporary art, and gorgeous views of Millennium Park.
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.
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 features the "highest resolution and quality possible." Themes usually center around the known and unknown universe and how humans have engaged with it throughout history. The recently renovated "Mission Moon" exhibit allows visitors to see the Gemini 12 capsule and learn more about the early days of the space race.
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.
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 covering 300,000 square feet. Inside the permanent displays, you can see glowering dinos, marvel at ancient artifacts from a royal Egyptian tomb, undergo a lesson in cannibalism in the “Pacific Spirits” gallery or take a stroll through the newly rehabbed Halls of Gems and Jade.
This tourist hot spot features shops, eateries, an IMAX cinema and a bevy of sightseeing boat tours. Pier Park is home to a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel, plus an old-fashioned swing ride and 18-hole mini-golf course. You'll also find the Chicago Children's Museum and a rotating roster of live entertainment on the Family Pavilion Stage. Most offerings may not turn locals on, but the seasonsal events, indoor activities and great people-watching provide plenty of entertainment, no matter what the weather.
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. A 2009 rehab of the Oceanarium gave Shedd a lifelike river and tide-pool, a reworked otter habitat, and an attempt to revamp its daily mammal presentations with choreography.
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 pack a big punch. The newest feature: The Regenstein Macaque Forest, where snow monkeys swing through trees and relax in a hot tub.
Housing of one of the largest collections of modern art in the nation, the Museum of Contemporary Art also hosts major touring exhibits, film screenings and performing artists. When they're not browsing the extensive galleries, visitors can grab a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant or take a stroll through a picturesque sculpture garden. Don't forget to exit through the gift shop—it boasts one of the city's best selections of offbeat tchotchkes.
Best cocktail bars in Chicago
Cocktails have come a long way from the classic martini. We still love a well-made classic, but in the past several years Chicago bartenders have been elevating mixed drinks to an art form. From tiki bars to a molecular gastronomy lounge to a gin-focused joint, Chicago's best cocktail bars do it all. We wouldn't blame you if you wanted to visit every bar on the list—just don't do it all in one night. RECOMMENDED: Best bars in Chicago