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A group of people receive instruction in front of a red, white and blue bouldering wall
Photograph: Edward Yu

18 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
Contributor
Samantha Nelson
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Chicago weather is notoriously fickle, but you shouldn’t let scorching heat, pouring rain or frigid temperatures ruin your day. While you might need to put off your stroll through one of the city’s beautiful parks and shopping districts, some of the best things to do in Chicago are entirely indoors. You can learn something new at one of Chicago’s world class museums, get competitive with a game of golf or ping pong, or immerse yourself in another world by catching a film festival at one of the city’s best movie theaters. Even if the forecast dashed your original plans, these Chicago indoor activities won’t leave you disappointed.

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 explore the art of ancient Egypt 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.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Museum Campus
  • price 3 of 4

Learn about animal behavior and how the Shedd Aquarium’s staff care for dolphins, beluga whales, penguins and other sea creatures  during animal spotlights hosted throughout the day in the Oceanarium. Explore the vibrant colors of the fish and corals in the Wild Reef, try to spot a camouflaged seahorse, meet some of the 3,500 species that call the Great Lakes home and get hands on with a starfish in the Polar Play Zone.

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  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • East Garfield Park

On 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 thousands of plant species 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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Explore outer space at the Adler Planetarium
  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Museum Campus
  • price 1 of 4

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 lunar missions, the solar system and the history of the universe are worth your time, but we recommend seeing an immersive show in the dome theater if you want to feel like you're floating in space. Admission is free for Illinois residents every Wednesday night.

  • Sports and fitness
  • Climbing
  • Loop

Want to squeeze in some physical activity without going outside? Practice rock climbing or bouldering inside First Ascent’s indoor climbing gym (one of four locations in Chicago). 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.

  • Attractions
  • Streeterville
  • price 2 of 4

Enjoy all-you-can-eat ice cream and vegan frozen treats ranging from Dove ice cream bars to a version of a Chicago-style dog as you tour the Museum of Ice Cream’s 12 installations and learn about the history of the food and varieties served around the world. The whimsical, bright pink space also features immersive video games, a giant sprinkle pool, rideable giant animal crackers, and a cafe serving sweet cocktails, milkshakes, and sundaes. It’s great for kids and adults who want to indulge their inner child.

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  • 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 6-8pm weekdays) and see if you can come anywhere close to setting a high score.

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Loop

There are hundreds of 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 3D printer during workshops and open lab hours.

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  • Museums
  • Science and technology
  • Museum Campus
  • price 2 of 4

Dinosaur lovers flock to the Field Museum to visit SUE, the world’s largest and most complete T. rex, and Máximo the titanosaur, the biggest dinosaur ever discovered. Learn more about the Earth’s massive and microscopic creatures by touring the 27,000-square-foot Evolving Planet exhibit or watching a photorealistic 3D film. Spend the day visiting the museum’s numerous galleries to see gems, meteorites and animals from around the world.

  • 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.

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