The 25 best Chicago attractions

The best Chicago attractions include vast city parks, bountiful museums, soaring skyscrapers and sightseeing venues
Chicago skyline from Lincoln Park
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/erikccooper
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It’s no surprise that Chicago is one of the biggest tourist destinations: We have miles of beachesworld-class museums, and some of the friendliest city-dwellers out there. But in such a gigantic city, it can be tough for visitors to know which of the myraid things to do in Chicago are really worth tackling. So whether you’re an out-of-towner or a Chicagoan planning a staycation, we’ve assembled the 25 must-see sites and attractions in Chicago for your touring convenience. Oh, and if you’re feeling decadent, cap off your day of sightseeing with a meal at one of Chicago’s best restaurants

Best attractions in Chicago

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Millennium Park

icon-location-pin Millennium Park

What is it? This 24.5-acre section of Chicago’s front yard is one of the most popular places to spend time outdoors in the city, look at public art and attend special events.

Why go? To take a selfie in front of Cloud Gate (a.k.a. the Bean), go for a stroll through the serene Lurie Gardens, catch a free concert in the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion (in the summer) or skate on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (in the winter).

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Museums, Art and design

Art Institute of Chicago

icon-location-pin Grant Park

What is it? One of the city’s most well-known cultural institutions, which houses more than 300,000 artworks and an on-site restaurant, Terzo Piano.

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.

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Photograph: Stephen Green
Sports and fitness, Baseball & softball

Wrigley Field

icon-location-pin Wrigleyville

What is it? Built in 1914, Wrigley Field has been the home of North Side baseball team the Chicago Cubs for more than 100 years.

Why go? To watch baseball at one of the oldest ballparks in America, sing along during the seventh-inning stretch and see one of the only manually operated scoreboards in existence, controlled by three members of the Cubs staff.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Garfield Park Conservatory

icon-location-pin East Garfield Park

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 365 days a year 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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Things to do

Lincoln Park Zoo

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

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.

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Courtesy of the Trust for Public Land
Attractions, Parks and gardens

The 606

icon-location-pin 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 travel transverse some of the most popular North Side neighborhoods.

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Comedy, Comedy clubs

The Second City

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

What is it? Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Joan Rivers are just a few of the famous folks who honed their talents onstage at this theater devoted to sketch and improvised comedy.

Why go? You’ll see some of the most talented rising comedic talents (and maybe a couple future Saturday Night Live cast members) on the Second City’s Mainstage. If you want to learn more about improv, stand-up or sketch writing, you can sign up for a class at the Training Center.

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Field Museum
Photograph: Courtesy the Field Museum
Museums, Science and technology

The Field Museum

icon-location-pin Museum Campus

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? Take a trip to the past by descending into a recreation of an ancient Egyptian tomb, explore a vast collection of taxidermy or stare at the sparkling stones in the Grainger Hall of Gems.

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Photograph: Jeremy Atherton
Things to do

Chicago Riverwalk

icon-location-pin Loop

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 see 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.

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Museums, Art and design

Museum of Contemporary Art

icon-location-pin Streeterville

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.

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Shedd Aquarium
Photograph: Brenna Hernandez
Attractions, Zoo and aquariums

Shedd Aquarium

icon-location-pin Museum Campus

What is it? This Museum Campus staple is the home to thousands of aquatic creatures from all around the world, including adorable otters 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
Museums, Science and technology

Museum of Science and Industry

icon-location-pin Hyde Park

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.

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Photograph: Mark Wright
Museums, Art and design

National Museum of Mexican Art

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

What is it? Located in the traditionally Hispanic neighborhood of Pilsen, this cultural institution hosts one of the country’s largest collection of Mexican art—and admission is always free.

Why go? Inside the permanent “Nuestras Historias” exhibition, you’ll see work from famous artists like José de Páez and Miguel Cabrera as well modern pieces by Chicago-based talent such as muralist Hector Duarte and imagist Errol Ortiz.

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Museums, Science and technology

Adler Planetarium

icon-location-pin Museum Campus

What is it? Visitors can explore astronomy and astrophysics at the Adler Planetarium, which sits at the outermost tip of Museum Campus (and offers some amazing views of the Chicago skyline).

Why go? Learn about the history of U.S. space exploration and take peek inside the tiny Gemini 12 capsule (which took two astronauts to space and back) in the “Mission Moon” exhibition. Then head over to the museum’s Grainger Sky Theater, which uses multiple projectors to screen immersive films on a 70-foot-diameter dome.

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Things to do

360 CHICAGO

icon-location-pin 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 allows guests to lean over the side of the building and look down at the busy streets below them.

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Things to do

Willis Tower Skydeck

icon-location-pin Loop

What is it? You can 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).

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Photograph: Martha Williams
Museums, Art and design

Chicago Cultural Center

icon-location-pin Loop

What is it? Cultural events and the arts are the focus of this public building, which also happens to contain the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome.

Why go? There’s always something happening in the Chicago Cultural Center, including free concerts in the Preston Bradley Hall and art exhibitions on the third floor. Best of all, you’ll never have to pay admission.

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Photograph: Max Herman
Movie theaters, Independent

Music Box Theatre

icon-location-pin 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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Photograph: Martha Williams
Bars, Lounges

The J. Parker

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

What is it? A year-round rooftop bar set atop the Hotel Lincoln that serves cocktails and small plates alongside sweeping views of the Lincoln Park neighborhood and beyond.

Why go? You can’t beat the scenic perspective the J. Parker offers—and the truffle frites aren’t bad either. Just make sure you show up early for brunch or dinner, because the seats at this popular rooftop retreat are in high demand.

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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Bert Kaufmann
Things to do, Literary events

Navy Pier

icon-location-pin 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. You can see the city from a new perspective on the Ferris wheel, take in a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, board a boat tour or kick back with a margarita on a patio.

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Photograph: Chris Strong
Museums, Natural history

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

What is it: 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.

Why go: Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city for a quick breather surrounded by nature. 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.

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Photograph: Clayton Hauck
Music, Music venues

Thalia Hall

icon-location-pin Lower West Side

What is it? Built as a bohemian public hall in 1982, the team behind local rock club the Empty Bottle has transformed Thalia Hall into of one the city’s best venues for live music, where you’ll find rock bands, American acts and comedians performing nearly every night.

Why go? Try catching one of the venue’s signature “in-the-round” performances, which places a band on the floor with the audience surrounding them. Before the show, grab a meal at the Michelin-starred restaurant Dusek’s or sip on a cocktail in the subterranean Punch House—they’re both housed in the same building.

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Bars, Cocktail bars

The Green Mill

icon-location-pin 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.

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Museums, History

Chicago History Museum

icon-location-pin Lincoln Park

What is it: 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. 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: This cultural institution shares age-old stories about the city and its inhabitants through exhibitions, programming and hands-on displays. If you want an in-depth look at the places and people that make Chicago what it is today, it's worth a visit.

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Things to do

Humboldt Park

icon-location-pin 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 are stuffed with meat), dogs running through the fields and people dining at the boathouse’s restaurant. Head to the south of the park to visit the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

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