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Photograph: Shutterstock

The 23 best Chicago attractions

The best Chicago attractions include museums, vast city parks, jazz clubs and observatories.

By Zach Long

March 2021: Many Chicago attractions are beginning to welcome back guests, thanks to relaxed restrictions for cultural institutions and the arrival of warmer weather. This month, you can return to the Lincoln Park Zoo, walk through the indoor gardens at Garfield Park Conservatory or step inside moving paintings at the "Immersive Van Gogh" experience. Keep in mind that many attractions and institutions are operating at reduced capacity and typically require an advance reservation for entry. If you have any questions ahead of your 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

Art Institute of Chicago
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

1. Art Institute of Chicago

Museums Art and design Grant Park

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. The reopened museum currently hosts “Monet and Chicago,” an exhibition that opened briefly in 2020.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago
Photograph: Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo/Christopher Bijalba

2. Lincoln Park Zoo

Things to do 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? You'll need to secure a reservation as Lincoln Park Zoo reopens at reduced capacity. Once you're inside, you'll be able to visit all of the outdoor areas—unfortunately, the indoor sections of the zoo like the reptile and bird houses remain closed to visitors at the moment.

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

3. 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.

garfield park conservatory
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

4. Garfield Park Conservatory

Attractions Parks and gardens 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? Make sure to secure a reservation online and then stop by to admire the gigantic trees that fill the Palm Room or window shop for succulents and cacti in the Desert Room.

Photograph: Grace DuVal

5. The Field Museum

Museums Science and technology 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? 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. And don't forget to visit SUE the T. rex in their new home inside the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet.

chicago, skyline, chicago skyline, millennium park, the bean, bean, cloud gate, attraction, tourist, downtown, city
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Millennium Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Millennium Park

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 or relax on the lawn in front of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

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

7. Museum of Science and Industry

Museums Science and technology 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. Currently, MSI is hosting a traveling exhibit devoted to Marvel superheroes.

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

8. 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.

Shedd Aquarium
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

9. 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 Rockhopper 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.

Photograph: Max Herman

10. 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? If you love arthouse releases, documentaries and foreign language films, the Music Box is one of the best spots in town to see movies that don't typically make it to the multiplex. Currently, the theater is opperating at a reduced capacity due to city restrictions—and if you don't feel comfortable seeing a flick in-person yet, you can rent one through the Music Box Direct streaming platform.

Photograph: Martha Williams

11. 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 limited at the moment.

Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit
Photograph: Vladimir Kevorkov

12. “Immersive Van Gogh”

Art Lighthouse ArtSpace, Old Town

What is it? A high-tech display featuring animated version of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings projected on the 35-foot walls of a space within the Germania Club Building in Old Town.

Why go? If you want to stand inside of iconic works like Starry Night and The Bedroom in Arles being beams through more than 50 digital projectors, "Immersive Van Gogh" is a feast for the eyes and ears (thanks to its booming classical and electronic soundtrack). The price of admission is a bit steep, but the 35-minute show is unlike anything else on display in Chicago.

Statue of the Republic
Photograph: Shutterstock

13. Jackson Park

Things to do Literary events Woodlawn

What is it? A sprawling park that once served as the site of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Jackson Park is one of our favorite spots to get lost in nature without leaving the city.

Why go? Take a cold walk through the Garden of the Phoenix and see Yoko Ono's stunning Skylanding sculpture, see the iconic Statue of the Republic at the intersection of Hayes and Richards Drives or take a detour to the nearby Midway Plaisance Park which leads to Washington Park.

Lakefront Trail
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

14. Lakefront Trail

Things to do South Shore

What is it? An 18-mile-long trail stretching from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street where you'll find walkers, runners and cyclists soaking in the lakeside views.

Why go? With chilly weather setting in, the Lakefront Trail is less crowded in the winter and still offers the same epic views. Bundle up, go for a jaunt and spend some (socially-distanced) time outdoors.

garfield park conservatory
Photograph: Time Out/Jaclyn Rivas

15. Garfield Park

Attractions Parks and gardens East Garfield Park

What is it? One of the largest parks on the city's West Side that's also home to the Garfield Park Conservatory—one of the largest plant conservatories in the U.S.

Why go? The beautiful Garfield Park Conservatory may be closed to visitors, but the rest of the park is still open. Take a lap around the large lagoons, admire the golden dome atop the field house and pay a visit to the small bandshell on the south end of the park.

Hideout Chicago, Cosmic Country Showcase
Photograph: Sarah Larson

16. Hideout

Bars Dive bars River West/West Town

What is it? One of Chicago's smallest and most hallowed independent music venues, situated in a tiny house on a nondescript industrial corridor.

Why go? Like music venues throughout the world, the Hideout's doors have been shut since March, but some of its programming has transitioned to the Hideout Online platform. For a small fee, you can watch concerts recorded at the venue, DIY talk shows and a weekly happy hour hosted by longtime bartender Lawrence Peters.

Photograph: Callie Lipkin Photography, Inc.

17. Museum of Contemporary Art

Museums Art and design 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 MCA Stroe, where you'll find everything from ceramics made by local artist to apparel from internationally-renowned designers.

art on the mart
Photograph: Courtesy Art on theMart

18. Chicago Riverwalk

Things to do 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 observe some of the city’s most gorgeous architecture from a new perspective. Plus, it's the best spot to take in Art on theMart, which will begin projecting images on the side of Merchandise Mart on April 1.

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

19. 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? Humboldt Park becomes a community hub as the weather grows warmer, attracting crowds who come to enjoy the views of the lagoons from the Humboldt Park boathouse, eat Puerto Rican food sold by vendors throughout the park and walk along the winding paths.

Chicago History Museum
Photograph: Joseph Aaron Campbell

20. Chicago History Museum

Museums History Lincoln Park

What is it: This museum was once 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, the History Museum is worth a visit.

wndr museum
Photograph: Courtesy wndr museum

21. WNDR Museum

Art Installation 1130 W Monroe St, West Loop

What is it? An interactive experince based around art and technology that encourages guests to reconsider the world around them. Currently, all of the installations on display are touchless.

Why go? The WNDR Musuem is the home of Chicago's only Infinity Mirror Room, created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. After you snap a selfie inside of it, check out more one-of-a-kind art installations, including a room of digital projections and a virtual choir experience.

Goose Island has added a new taproom to their Fulton Market brewery.
Photograph: Martha Williams

22. Goose Island Fulton Street Brewery

Bars Breweries United Center

What is it? One of Chicago's oldest craft breweries produces many of its beloved beers at this facility, which also contains a barrel aging warehouse and a sleek taproom where visitors can grab a drink.

Why go? If you're looking for fresh pours of Goose Island beers and some rarities (including the sought-after Bourbon County Stour and its many variants), you can make a reservation and grab a seat on the Fulton Street Brewery's patio. Tours aren't being offered at the moment, but could return later this year.

Robie House
Photograph: Tim Long

23. Robie House

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Hyde Park

What is it? Inspired by the flat Midwestern plains when it was constructed in 1910, this house is widely considered to be the greatest example of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's signature Prairie-style architecture.

Why go? You can admire the building from outside, but if you snag a ticket for a tour offered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, you can go inside and see the original art glass accents, restored furniture and a fireplace that divides the home's living and dining areas.

GYG Chicago TTD


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