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The best attractions and things to do in the Loop

Locals and tourists alike have a ton to see downtown, including skyscrapers, museums, parks and more of the best things to do in the Loop

Harold Washington Library Winter Reading Room
Courtesy CC/Flickr/Spiro Bolos

Millions of people come to Chicago each year and are content to spend the entirety of their visit in the Loop. While there's much more to our city, we'll admit that there is something captivating about the towering skyscrapers and pieces of public art that populate the dense downtown area. Explore the world's best museum by visiting the Art Institute or relax in the city's "front yard" as you stroll through Grant Park. Make like Ferris Bueller, take a day off and enjoy some of the best things to do in the Loop.

RECOMMENDED: Our complete neighborhood guide to the Chicago Loop

Top attractions in the Loop

Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

Harold Washington Library Center

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The main branch of the Chicago Public Library boasts nine floors of books, computer labs, meeting rooms and more. Head up to the ninth floor to see art displayed in the library's exhibit space or view the small Harold Washington museum, where memorabilia related to the building's namesake is collected. The library also includes one of the city's first Maker Labs, where 3D printers can be used during open lab hours.

Attractions, Parks and gardens

Millennium Park

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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.

Museums, Art and design

Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Founded in 1976, the Museum of Contemporary Photography collaborates with artists and photographers to present exhibitions of analog and digital images. Columbia College frequently presents works from its collection or commissions photographers to develop exhibits that display the capabilities of visual art. 

Attractions, Zoo and aquariums

Shedd Aquarium

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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; and frightening predator sharks. 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.

Sports and fitness, Stadiums

Soldier Field

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Home to the Chicago Bears, the city’s football stadium is where groups like the Rolling Stones and U2 play when the weather’s warm and they’d rather not be cooped up in the United Center. There are very few bad seats in the house, and despite the often difficult parking situation (we recommend taking the El to one of the two connecting buses), the cool lakefront breezes make concertgoing here a pleasant experience.

Music, Classical and opera

Symphony Center

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As the architectural centerpiece in Chicago’s classical-music landscape, Symphony Center is appropriately multifunctional. Its primary role, of course, is as the home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which performs in Orchestra Hall every weekend from autumn to early summer. The CSO’s main program is supplemented by occasional visits from touring soloists, small ensembles and orchestras; Saturday morning family concerts; sporadic pop and jazz shows; and occasional concerts from the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the CSO’s training orchestra for young musicians) and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Photograph: Matthew Bowie
Things to do

Willis Tower Skydeck

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This 1973 landmark put the city in an uproar when insurance broker Willis Group Holdings Ltd acquired the Sears Tower naming rights in 2009. That doesn't change the fact that the building occupies two city blocks and stretches 1,454 feet high, making it the second-tallest building in the U.S. If the Skydeck’s newest feature, The Ledge, sounds like a horror movie, there’s a reason for that: Crawl into the glass cube structure, and you’re suspended 1,353 feet off the ground.