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Chinatown Chicago gate
Photograph: Shutterstock

The best attractions and things to do in Chinatown

Play a game of mahjong, see ancient jade art and find more fun things to do in Chinatown

By Zach Long
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For most visitors, the best restaurants in Chinatown are the highlight of the neighborhood, but there's so much to see and do before (or after) your meal. Experience some of the area's culture by visiting the 12 sculptures symbolizing the Chinese zodiac in Chinatown Square or walk under the gate on Wentworth Avenue to get a closer look at the Pui Tak Center. You can also spend an afternoon in one of Chicago's most beautiful parks at Ping Tom Memorial Park, where you can kayak in the summer and admire the skyline views year round. If you're extremely lucky, you might even find a parade or celebration taking place during your visit. Don't just come for the dim sum—here are some of the best things to do in Chinatown.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete guide to Chinatown

The best things to do in Chinatown

Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute
Photograph: Martha Williams

Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute

Museums Natural history Armour Square

Founded to bring Chinese language and culture programs to local libraries and schools, this organization is best known for offering tours of Chinatown's attractions and restaurants. Head to the Cultural Institute's website to learn more about it's offerings, including public and private tours, as well as dumpling-making dinners and Tai Chi classes.

Chicago Chinatown library night
Photograph: CC/Flickr/Smart Chicago Collaborative

Chicago Public Library, Chinatown Branch

Attractions Libraries, archives and foundations Armour Square

This South Side Chicago Public Library branch is unlike any other in the city system. The 16,000-square-foot interior is split across two floors and features a feng shui-influenced design, as well as amazing views of the Chicago skyline. The branch also includes Chinese language materials and a mural by CJ Hungerman entitled “Universal Transverse Immigration Proclamation,” an ode to the neighborhood’s history and character.

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Chinatown Square
Photograph: Martha Williams

Chinatown Square

Attractions Public spaces Armour Square

Serving as the neighborhood's hub, Chinatown Square features a two-level mall housing a variety of local businesses, including restaurants, teahouses, beauty shops and candy vendors. The design of the area was inspired by Chinese Imperial Court and features statues representing each of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, which were created by artists in Xiamen, China. Stop by the square in the summer and you may catch an impromptu concert or dance performance.

Ping Tom Memorial Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

Ping Tom Memorial Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Armour Square

Originally a railroad yard, Ping Tom Memorial Park is named for the Chinatown resident who was the leading force behind the creation of this community space. Thanks to its location directly next to the Chicago River, the park is a popular spot for kayaking. The most recent addition to the park is a state of the art fieldhouse, which houses a gymnasium, fitness center and an indoor pool. If you're visiting when it's warm, you can take the Chicago Water Taxi directly to Ping Tom Park.

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Chinatown 9 Dragon Wall
Photograph: Shutterstock

Nine Dragon Wall

Not far from the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line station, this decorative wall sits on the edge of a parking lot, welcoming commuters to the neighborhood. A replica of a similar piece of artwork in Beijing, the Nine Dragon Wall celebrates the mythical creature that is emblematic of China's spirit, as well as the number nine, which often symbolizes longevity. While the original Nine Dragon Wall was built by Chinese emperors, this version was constructed by the local chamber of commerce and is a popular spot to snap photos.

Chinese-American Museum of Chicago
Photograph: Martha Williams

Chinese-American Museum of Chicago

Museums History Armour Square

The Chinese-American Museum of Chicago is temporarity closed to visitors.

Located near the heart of Chinatown, the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago hosts a small collection of exhibits that allows visitors to learn more about Chinese culture. The museum's permanent exhibit explores the journey taken by Chinese immigrants traveling to the Midwest, including stories submitted by individuals currently residing in Chicago's Chinatown.

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Heritage Museum of Asian Art
Photograph: Courtesy Heritage Museum of Asian Art

Heritage Museum of Asian Art

Museums Art and design Armour Square

The Heritage Museum of Asian Art is temporarily closed to visitors.

The nonprofit Heritage Museum of Asian Art showcases a variety of different Asian artforms, with a collection assembled by art dealer Jeffrey Moy. Inside the Chinatown institution, visitors will find jade and pottery that dates back to the Neolithic period, porcelain, snuff bottles, textiles and more. There are also exhibitions devoted to ojime beads (part of a small toggled cord that was attached to kimonos) and Chinese puzzle balls, which date back to the 1700s.

Pui Tak Center Chinatown
Photograph: Shutterstock

Pui Tak Center

Attractions Religious buildings and sites Armour Square

As the first piece of traditional Chinese architecture to be built in the area, the Pui Tak Center is a cornerstone of Chinatown's community and one of the most visually striking structures in the area. A Western interpretation of traditional Chinese architecture, the Pui Tak Center features gabled towers and decorative terra cotta accents. The building was restored in 2010 after being purchased by the Chinese Christian Union Church, which offers ESL classes and immigration services to area residents.

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Sun Yat-Sen Park
Photograph: Martha Williams

Sun Yat-Sen Park

Attractions Parks and gardens Armour Square

On a nice day, you'll find a group of older men playing mahjong in this small park, located directly to the south of Chinatown. The area is named for Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen, who helped overthrow the country's ruling dynasty and acted as China's first provisional president. Visitors will discover a bust of Yat-Sen located near the center of the park.

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