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Photograph: Matthew Freer

16 things to do indoors in Chicago

When it’s pouring rain, snowing or disgustingly muggy, escape the weather at these fun indoor activities in Chicago

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
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You don't have to let a crummy weather report ruin your day when there are so many fun indoor activities in Chicago. Pouring rain or falling snow shouldn't keep you from exploring some of the best Chicago museums or catching an afternoon matinee at one of Chicago's best movie theaters. If you're feeling competitive, you can go bowling at Diversey River Bowl, pick up a paddle at SPiN or mash buttons at Logan Arcade. You can even spend some time at one of the best spas in Chicago or head to the main branch of the Chicago Public Library to do some reading. Stay entertained until the conditions outside clear up with some of our favorite indoor activities in Chicago.

Indoor activities in Chicago

  • Movie theaters
  • Independent
  • Wrigleyville

You could spend an afternoon sitting in the dark at a variety of Chicago movie theaters, but the Music Box caters to anyone with a preference for independent films, foreign cinema, vintage movies and documentaries. Have a drink in the lounge before taking your seat in the ornate main theater or the smaller screening room—and don't forget to ask for butter (the real deal, not the pungent fake stuff) on your popcorn.

  • Health and beauty
  • River West/West Town

If you're going to spend some time indoors, you might as well make it a luxurious, relaxing experience. Inspired by Greek and Roman bath houses, Aire squeezes six thermal baths into a River West building that once housed a factory. Guests get 90 minutes to take a dip in as many of the baths as they like before indulging in a massage or a variety of spa treatments (they call them "rituals").

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  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • Grant Park
  • price 2 of 4

No matter how many times you've visited the Art Institute of Chicago, it's nice to come back and see some of your favorite works on display. While some gravitate to Sunday on La Grande Jatte or the New Contemporary collection in the Modern Wing, it can be equally fun to venture to the museum's Medieval and Renaissance Art galleries or the paperweights collection in the basement. If you're going to spend an afternoon inside the Art Institute, you might as well try to see as much as you can.

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Bucktown
  • price 1 of 4

Leagues and parties take over the lanes in the evenings, but afternoons are usually a great time to lob a few balls down the lanes at this riverfront bowling alley. Once you've picked up enough spares and strikes you can grab a drink at one of the two bars housed inside the building, where you and three friends can split a 100-ounce beer tower before calling a car to drive you home.

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  • Attractions
  • Arcades and amusements
  • Lincoln Square

Escape the soggy weather by putting on a headset and enjoying a variety of virtual-reality games at Redline VR. The Ravenswood arcade charges by the hour, offering single-player and party games, including titles like Beat Saber and Drunkn Bar Fight. Bring along friends to tackle a VR escape room or put on a headset at the bar and drink a cocktail paired with complementary visuals and audio.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • North Lawndale
  • price 1 of 4

Step inside of this gigantic warehouse near Douglas Park and you'll find yourself in the middle of one of Chicago's largest breweries, where thousands of gallons of beer are created every day. The Lagunitas taproom hangs above the main floor of the brewery, surrounded by catwalks that allow visitors to look down on the action below. Grab a beer and sign up for a free tour to learn even more about the hop-filled concoctions that you're drinking.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • East Garfield Park

On those days when you want to feel like you're outdoors without actually hanging outside, a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory is the best way to experience nature with a roof over your head. The expansive collection of greenhouses are home to more than 120,000 plants spread across areas like the Fern Room, the Desert House and the Aroid House. Admission is always free and the conservatory is open 365 days a year.

  • Things to do
  • Quirky events
  • River North

You may not have the space for a rec room in your apartment, but this 18,000-square-foot River North ping-pong club has all the tables, paddles and balls you could ask for. You can rent a table by the hour and spend your time focusing on hitting the balls, not chasing them (employees keep the floors clear of bouncing orbs). Stick around to enjoy a few drinks and a menu of snacks after you finish a string of exciting matches.

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  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Museum Campus

Even if the planets don't align for a beautiful day outdoors, you can head to the Adler Planetarium to enjoy celestial bodies with a roof over your head. Exhibits devoted to the first moon lands, the solar system and the history of the universe are worth your time, but we recommend seeing an immersive show in the Grainger Sky Theater if you want to feel like you're floating in space.

  • Sports and fitness
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Uptown

Want to squeeze in some physical activity without going outside? Practice rock climbing or bouldering inside First Ascent’s indoor climbing gym in Uptown (one of many locations throughout the city). Since you don’t have to wear a harness or belay, beginners can start bouldering right away. A brief orientation session will help you master the basic skills before you begin scaling the walls.

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  • Sports and fitness
  • Golf
  • Loop

There's no need to worry about soggy links when you book a tee time at the Topgolf Swing Suite inside of the Chicago Athletic Association. The Michigan Avenue hotel houses two high-tech golf simulators, that allow you and up to seven other friends to hit birdies (or play other games like Zombie Dodgeball and Hockey Shots) rain or shine. From the suite, you can order drinks and food from the Game Room to enjoy while you play the back nine.

  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Logan Square
  • price 1 of 4

When spending time outdoors isn't an option, it's okay to stay inside and play video games for an entire afternoon. There's no better place to experience the games of yesteryear than Logan Arcade, where you'll find a blinking, beeping menagerie of lovingly restored arcade cabinets and pinball tables. Bring a bag of quarters, grab a drink at the bar (happy hour runs from 3 to 6pm) and see if you can come anywhere close to setting a high score.

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  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Loop

There are thousands of books you can read housed among the nine floors of the Chicago Public Library's main branch, but there's even more to experience if you need a break from your page-turner. Head up to the ninth floor to explore exhibits and sit in the library's Winter Garden, or go to the Maker Lab on the third floor, where guests can use a 3-D printer during workshops and open lab hours.

  • Attractions
  • River West/West Town

You can do more than jump up and down at this West Town trampoline park—there's a "Wipeout" area where you can dodge a rotating arm, an extreme dodgeball arena, a foam pit to dive into and a trampoline basketball court. While Altitude Chicago is usually packed with kids and teens blowing off some steam, adults are welcome to join in on the fun (you'll just have to sign a waiver before you start attempting backflips).

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  • Things to do
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

Spend an afternoon teaming up with your friends to foil an art heist, break out of a prison cell or blast off of Mars. The Escape Game presents five themed rooms stocked with clues and various puzzles to solve over the course of 60 minutes, and you'll need to harness some serious teamwork to do it. Even seasoned escape artists will be impressed by the level of detail on display in these custom-designed rooms—they're some of the best in the city.

GYG Chicago TTD

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