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The Bean
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 17 best Chicago attractions

The best Chicago attractions include vast city parks, intriguing museums, soaring skyscrapers and sightseeing venues

By Zach Long and Morgan Olsen
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July 2020: With many Chicago attractions still closed to the public, we've updated our list to reflect the current conditions within the city. While some museums, observatories and venues have reopened, they've all implemented new safety precautions and limited attendance. In most cases, you're going to need to make a reservation, bring along a face covering and practice social distancing. If you have any questions ahead of a visit, we encourage you to call ahead to get the most up-to-date information.

It’s no surprise that Chicago is one of the finest tourist destinations in the country. There are Chicago museums that rank among the world's best, gorgeous parks in Chicago and some of the friendliest city-dwellers out there (if we do say so ourselves). With so much to see and do, it can be tough for visitors to decide which Chicago attractions are really worth experiencing. Whether you’re an out-of-towner or a tried-and-true Chicagoan planning a staycation, we’ve assembled a list of the best Chicago attractions for your touring convenience. Oh, and if you’re feeling decadent, cap off your day of sightseeing with a meal at one of the best restaurants in Chicago. Ready to dive into the Windy City? Here are the Chicago attractions you simply shouldn't miss.

Best Chicago attractions

Millennium Park
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

1. Millennium Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Millennium Park

Guests must enter at Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street or via the BP Bridge.

What is it? This vast 24.5-acre section of Chicago’s front yard is one of the most popular places to spend time outdoors in the city, hosting well-known pieces of public art and a long list of special events.

Why go? Gaze at Cloud Gate (a.k.a. the Bean) from afar, go for a stroll through the serene Lurie Gardens, relax on the lawn in front of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion (in the summer) or skate on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (in the winter).

Art Institute of Chicago
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

2. Art Institute of Chicago

Museums Art and design Grant Park

The Art Institute will reopen on July 30.

What is it? One of the city’s most well-known cultural institutions, which houses more than 300,000 artworks.

Why go? Acquaint yourself with classic paintings like Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (as seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and Grant Wood's American Gothic, or explore an expansive collection of contemporary works in the museum’s Modern Wing. Check the museum's website for more information on temporary exhibitions.

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Lincoln Park Zoo Lion
Photograph: Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo

3. Lincoln Park Zoo

Things to do Lincoln Park

Admission is still free, but online reservations are required.

What is it? Located in the middle of Lincoln Park, this 35-acre zoo houses more than 1,000 animals and is one of the few remaining free zoos in the country.

Why go? Watch cute African penguins frolicking in Penguin Cove, observe majestic cats in the Kovler Lion House or visit the scaled residents of the McCormick Reptile House—all entirely free of charge. Trust us, it’ll get wild.

garfield park conservatory
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

4. Garfield Park Conservatory

Attractions Parks and gardens East Garfield Park

Outdoor gardens are open to the public with a free reservation.

What is it? Among the largest conservatories in the United States, this giant greenhouse in Garfield Park provides a home for some 600 species of plants (most of which aren’t indigenous to the region).

Why go? Stop by to admire the gigantic trees that fill the Palm Room, see a depiction of ancient Illinois vegetation in the Fern Room or window shop for succulents and cacti in the Desert Room.

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MCA
Photograph: Callie Lipkin Photography, Inc.

5. Museum of Contemporary Art

Museums Art and design Streeterville

The Museum of Contemporary Art will reopen on July 24

What is it? Hosting one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the United States, this Chicago museum is a destination for cutting edge exhibitions and programming.

Why go? Take in a constantly changing lineup of exhibitions, including touring shows from the likes of Takashi Murakami and Kerry James Marshall, or stop by the museum’s in-house restaurant, Marisol, where chef Lula Cafe chef Jason Hammel serves an inventive menu.

the 606, bloomingdale trail, 606, wicker park, trail
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. The 606

Attractions Parks and gardens Humboldt Park

What is it? A 2.7-mile stretch of an abandoned elevated rail line that has been transformed into a pedestrian path that connects Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park.

Why go? It’s a great place to go for a jog, zip around on your bicycle and quickly transverse some of the most popular North Side neighborhoods. Plus, you’ll spot some art installations as you go.

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GreenMill.venue01.jpg
Photograph: Martha Williams

7. The Green Mill

Bars Cocktail bars Uptown

What is it? This Uptown cocktail lounge is a fixture of Chicago’s live jazz scene and has been slinging drinks since before Prohibition (Al Capone and other gangsters used to hang out at the Green Mill).

Why go? Once you’ve snapped a picture of the iconic Green Mill marquee, head inside, order a cocktail and take in a set from some of the city’s top jazz musicians. The music typically goes late, but you’ll need to show up early if you want to score a good seat (capacity is extremely limited at the moment).

Photograph: Grace DuVal

8. The Field Museum

Museums Science and technology Museum Campus

The Field Museum will reopen on July 24.

What is it? Founded to house the biological and anthropological collections assembled for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, this massive natural history museum has more dinosaur bones and ancient artifacts than any other institution in Chicago.

Why go? Travel back in time by descending into a recreation of an ancient Egyptian tomb, stand beneath a towering titanosaur skeleton or stare at sparkling stones in the Grainger Hall of Gems.

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Chicago Riverwalk
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

9. Chicago Riverwalk

Things to do Loop

The Riverwalk is open to pedestrians, runners and cyclists from 5 to 10am and is reserved for dining from 11am to 9pm.

What is it? Hugging the banks of the main branch of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk provides a pedestrian path along the city’s most popular waterway, lined with restaurants, bars and gathering spaces.

Why go? The waterside walkway allows you to observe some of the city’s most gorgeous architecture from a new perspective. You can also sip a glass of merlot at City Winery or board a Water Taxi for a leisurely trip to Chinatown.

Shedd Aquarium
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

10. Shedd Aquarium

Attractions Zoo and aquariums Museum Campus

What is it? This Museum Campus staple is the home to thousands of aquatic creatures from all around the world, including adorable penguins and a giant Pacific octopus.

Why go? Watch tropical fish swim through a 90,000-gallon aquarium in the gigantic Caribbean Reef exhibition or pony up some extra cash to have a face-to-face encounter with a beluga whale.

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Museum of Science and Industry
Photograph: J.B. Spector

11. Museum of Science and Industry

Museums Science and technology Hyde Park

The Museum of Science and Industry reopens on August 1.

What is it? Interactivity is the name of the game at the Museum of Science and Industry, a Hyde Park institution that boasts a mirror maze, a simulated tornado and a WWII-era U-505 German on display.

Why go? Step inside a building that dates back to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and explore exhibits that depict a Chicago street circa 1910 and a massive model railroad that depicts the 2,200-mile journey from Seattle to Chicago.

chicago, skyline, lake shore drive, lake, lake michigan, waterfront, city, shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. 360 CHICAGO

Things to do Streeterville

What is it? Sitting atop one of the tallest buildings on Michigan Avenue, this observatory places you 1,000 feet in the air, allowing visitors to see four different states on a clear day.

Why go? Daredevils will want to test their mettle on 360 CHICAGO’s TILT attraction, which dares guests to lean over the side of the building and look down at the busy streets below. If you’ve got a fear of heights, you might want to rethink your trip.

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13. Willis Tower Skydeck

Things to do Loop

What is it? You can’t get much higher in Chicago than the Willis Tower’s Skydeck, which is located on the building’s 103rd floor—1,353 feet above the city.

Why go? You’re essentially obligated to snap a selfie in the Skydeck’s Ledge—a glass box that hangs over the side of the building, giving you some breathtaking views of the urban expanse surrounding you (and beneath you). Bella vista.

MusicBox.venue02.jpg
Photograph: Max Herman

14. Music Box Theatre

Movie theaters Independent Wrigleyville

What is it? This beloved two-screen Lakeview movie house doesn’t usually show the latest blockbusters, but it does screen a curated selection of films in a vintage theater with clouds projected on its ceiling.

Why go? Fans of arthouse, limited-release and 70mm films will love the Music Box’s lineup of screenings and midnight movies. Before (or after) the show, check out the adjacent lounge, where you can order a beer and munch on popcorn topped with real butter.

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navy pier fountain
Photograph: Jordan Avery

15. Navy Pier

Things to do Literary events Streeterville

What is it? Tourists flock to this stretch of attractions, which juts out into the waters of Lake Michigan. Navy Pier is home to a 200-foot Ferris wheel, the city’s only real IMAX screen, Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and plentiful dining options.

Why go? The sheer concentration of interesting things to do makes Navy Pier a great place for the whole family. See the city from a new perspective on the Ferris wheel, book a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, board a boat tour or sip a drink at Offshore—the world's largest rooftop bar.

humboldt park, humboldt, park, green space, outdoors, outside, nature, lagoon, water, beach, shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Humboldt Park

Things to do Humboldt Park

What is it? Filled with lagoons, pedestrian paths, wide-open fields and a boathouse, Humboldt Park is one of the biggest stretches of green space on Chicago’s West Side.

Why go? Set in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, this park comes alive in the summer. You’ll find vendors selling mofongo (fried plantains that are stuffed with meat), dogs running through the fields and people dining at the boathouse’s restaurant.

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Chicago History Museum
Photograph: Joseph Aaron Campbell

17. Chicago History Museum

Museums History Lincoln Park

What is it: Not so long ago this vibrant museum was the stodgy old' Chicago Historical Society, which let you cull through thousands of archived photographs and curio. 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, including a chunk of the original Fort Dearborn.

Why go: Calling all history buffs! If you want an in-depth look at the places and people that make Chicago what it is today, it's worth a visit.

GYG Chicago TTD

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