Chicago, the “Windy City” as it is often called, lies along the shores of Lake Michigan. It is known for its vibrant arts scene, numerous cultural attractions, excellent shopping, and interesting architecture. The city enjoys a worldwide reputation as a focal point of 20th century architecture and art, with architects such as Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, and artists like Picasso, Mirõ, Dubuffet, and Chagall having left their mark.
1. Millennium Park
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.
2. Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain
Often referred to as “Chicago’s front yard,” Grant Park is a 319-acre swath of green space that starts at the eastern edge of the Loop and stretches down to the northern fringes of the Near South Side. First-time visitors should plan on spending a fair amount of time in Grant Park: This is where you’ll find several of Chicago’s most popular things to do, including the The Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and Shedd Aquarium.
3. Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium, which appears ready to launch itself into Lake Michigan from its lakeside perch, brings the universe to its visitors. The planetarium is also home to one of the world’s most technologically advanced dome theaters. Adler is America’s first planetarium and is still a favorite among tourists and locals alike.
4. Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo located 2 miles north of the Loop in the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo is home to dozens of species, such as zebras, sloths and hippos. Visitors can view the zoo’s furry (or scaly) friends in their natural habitats: Check out the gorillas in the sprawling Regenstein Center for African Apes, or head to the Kovler Seal Pool to get up close and personal with harbor seals.
5. Navy Pier
Extending out onto Lake Michigan, Navy Pier offers plenty in the way of family-friendly entertainment. The first thing you’ll spot once you set foot on the pier is the towering Ferris wheel (which stands 196 feet tall); you’ll also find a swing-seat ride and a carousel. Once the kids have had their fill of thrill rides, you can spend some time practicing your putt at the 18-hole miniature golf course or spend a few hours exploring the Chicago Children’s Museum, with hands-on exhibits ranging from treehouses to firetrucks.
6. Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is a world class museum with hundreds of thousands of artworks. The diverse collection spans thousands of years and includes pieces from a variety of media including painting, prints, photography, sculpture, decorative arts, textiles, architectural drawings and more. The Institute is known for its collection of impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings including Georges Seurat’s 1884 “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grand Jatte,” Renoir’s 1879 “Acrobats at the Circque Fernando” and numerous paintings by Claude Monet.
7. Museum of Science and Industry
At the north end of Jackson Park is the Museum of Science and Industry, founded in 1933, and arguably the most impressive museum in Chicago. It is devoted to the application of natural laws in technological and industrial development. The museum is thought to be the first in the U.S. to incorporate the idea of “hands-on” exhibits. Visitors are encouraged to interact with hundreds of exhibits. The MSI features permanent and changing exhibits, as well as an OMNIMAX theater.
9. Garfield Park Conservatory
Built in the early 1900s, the Garfield Park Conservatory is an historic, publicly owned botanical garden, operated by the Chicago Park District. The gardens grow plants which are used in the numerous city parks and gardens. The glass and metal prairie-school structure was designed by noted landscape architect Jens Jensen. His revolutionary design has been referred to as “landscape art under glass”.
10. Willis Tower SkyDeck
Until 1996, when the Petronas Towers were built in Kuala Lumpur, the 110 story Sears Tower, now Willis Tower, was the world’s tallest office block. While there are now several taller buildings, the view from here is incredible. On a clear day you can see 40 to 50 miles over four states, and gain a bird’s eye view of Chicago’s impressive architecture.
The Willis Tower took three years to build and was opened to the public in 1974. The building is 1,453 feet tall with an observation area, called the SkyDeck, on the 103rd floor, 1,353 feet above the ground. A glass box with a glass floor, known as the Ledge, juts out from the SkyDeck, where visitors can stand and look directly down at the city below.