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The Hottest Spots to Visit in Chicago (With 21 Things to Do!)

By: Swena Kalra

Edited By: Scott Sidders

Updated on September 15, 2023

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When most people think of Chicago, the first thing that comes to mind is Windy City's world-famous architecture. From the Sears Tower to the John Hancock Center, Chicago is home to some of the most iconic buildings on earth.

But there's more to Chicago than just its skyline. The city is also packed with world-class museums, great restaurants, and beautiful parks.

Whether you're in town for a weekend or a week, here are the best things to do in Chicago below.

Top 21 Things to Do in Chicago

You're going to love Chicago. From the world-famous architecture to the world-class museums, great restaurants, and beautiful parks, there's something for everyone in this bustling metropolis. There are so many things to do that it can be hard to decide where to start – but we've narrowed down our top 21 favorites here. If you want a truly unforgettable experience, make sure to check them all out!

1. Millennium Park

Chicago Bean in Millennium Park with Reflection of Skyscrapers

Millennium Park is a breathtaking oasis in the heart of downtown Chicago. The lush green landscape and tranquil fountains make it the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. The centerpiece of Millennium Park is Cloud Gate, a 110-ton sculpture that has a polished, mirror-like stainless steel surface. The sculpture is inspired by liquid mercury and reflects the surrounding buildings, the sky, and the tourists who walk through its central arch.

Crown Fountain in Downtown Chicago Illinois

Crown Fountain is another must-see attraction in Millennium Park. The fountain gives the illusion of water flowing from the mouths of projected images of Chicago citizens. It's a fascinating modern interpretation of the ancient gargoyle. Other popular things to do in Millennium Park include seeing a performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue, and visiting Lurie Garden, which is open to the public year-round.

This area is perfect for visitors who want to be close to all the action. With plenty of shopping and attractions nearby, you'll never find yourself bored or without something to do. Plus, the hotels in this area are some of the best in the city. You'll be able to relax and enjoy your stay in style.

2. The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is a world-renowned museum that houses some of the most exquisite artwork in the world. The collection is extraordinarily diverse, spanning thousands of years, and includes pieces from a variety of media, including painting, prints, photography, sculpture, decorative arts, textiles, and architectural drawings. This art is a true testament to the human experience, providing visitors with a glimpse into the past, present, and future.

The Institute is well-known for housing an impressive collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including Georges Seurat's 1884 A Sunday Afternoon, Renoir's 1879 Acrobats, and numerous pieces by Claude Monet. These beautiful works of art are sure to leave visitors in wonder and amazement.

3. Navy Pier

Navy Pier, Chicago Illinois

The Navy Pier is a popular tourist attraction in Chicago. It's made up of 50 acres of gardens, attractions, shops, restaurants, concert venues and parks. There's a 150 ft Ferris wheel and a historic carousel in Navy Pier Park. It originally opened in 1916 as an amusement area and shipping facility.

Chicago Skyline and Navy Pier Aerial View

The Chicago Pier is a magnificent place to spend an afternoon. Stroll along the pier and admire the beautiful view of the city skyline. If you're feeling adventurous, take a cruise ship out on the lake for a unique perspective of Chicago. Or, visit one of the world-class theatres on the pier for a memorable evening. No matter what you choose to do, the Chicago Pier is sure to provide an unforgettable experience.

4. Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile

People walk the famous Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue in Chicago

Michigan Avenue is one of America's most alluring streets. The Magnificent Mile, a section north of the Chicago River, is home to countless art galleries, trendy boutiques, and high-end shops. It's a bustling place to be, especially during the holiday season when the streets are decked out in festive lights.

Tulip beds along Michigan Avenue in Chicago, during spring season

A stroll down this iconic street will take you to some of Chicago's most famous landmarks, including the John Hancock Center, the Wrigley Building, and the Tribune Tower. The avenue is split into two parts at Madison Street - North Michigan and South Michigan - and the area is renowned for its theatres, which often host touring Broadway shows, musicals, and comedy performances. It's easy to see why this street is such a beloved part of the city.

5. The Field Museum

Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History is one of the most renowned museums in the world, and for good reason. It was founded in 1893 with the intention of showcasing the incredibly vast collections of biological and anthropological specimens from the World Columbian Exposition.

The museum's name was changed in 1905 to honor Marshall Field, the generous department store owner, art patron, and benefactor of the museum. The Field Museum holds some of the most incredible and invaluable specimens in the world, making it a veritable treasure trove for anyone interested in the natural world.

Main Floor of the Famous Field Museum in Chicago with Sue, the Most Complete T Rex Ever Found

The Field Museum's permanent collection features a wide variety of specimens and artifacts, including impressive displays of Ancient Egyptian culture and the cultures of North, Central, and South America. "Sue," the world's largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, is a popular main attraction. Special rotating exhibits take place on a regular basis, providing visitors with a constantly changing experience.

6. Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field Stadium in Chicago

The Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs, is an iconic ballpark that was built in 1914. It is the second-oldest Major League Baseball park in the US, second only to Fenway Park in Boston.

Some of the most legendary moments in baseball history have taken place at Wrigley Field, including the 1917 no-hitter pitching duel. During game three of the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth hit a "called shot" that clinched the championship.

Ariel shot of Wrigley Field baseball stadium in Chicago

In-season, you can take a tour of the ballpark and visit the press box and field, as well as the dugouts if there is no game that day. This is a great opportunity to see the ballpark up close and learn about its rich history.

7. Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the most impressive museums in Chicago. It was founded in 1933 and is devoted to the application of natural laws in technological and industrial development. The museum is a powerhouse of interactive exhibits, interesting artifacts, and educational opportunities. It's the perfect place to spend an afternoon with your family.

It was the first museum in the United States to incorporate hands-on exhibits, which encourages visitors to interact with hundreds of different displays. There are permanent and changing exhibitions on display, as well as an OMNIMAX theatre.

8. Willis Tower SkyDeck

The Willis Tower and 311 South Wacker building

The Sears Tower, now Willis Tower, was once the tallest building in the world. It's hard to believe that there was a time when this massive structure wasn't even the tallest in Chicago!

Chicago cityscape aerial view, spring day, lake Michigan, view from skydeck

Standing at a proud 110 stories, this building offers visitors on a clear day breathtaking views of four states stretching out for up to 50 miles. If you're lucky enough to visit on such a day, you'll get to see the city's incredible architecture from a unique perspective.

Feet on the glass balcony at the Skydeck of the Willis Tower Chicago, Illinois, USA

When it was completed in 1974, it was the tallest building in the world at 1,453 feet. The SkyDeck on the 103rd floor offers visitors a breathtaking view of the city below, and for those feeling adventurous, there's also the Ledge - a glass box that extends out from the building with a glass floor that lets you look straight down. It's an experience, unlike any other, and one that will surely leave you with lasting memories.

9. Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain in the center of Grant Park, Chicago

The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain is a large fountain in the Art Deco style. It is surrounded by four seahorses and shoots 15,000 gallons of water per minute from nearly 200 nozzles. It is an impressive sight at any time of day, but especially at night when it is lit up.

The fountain is located in Grant Park, which is a large public space in Chicago that contains several tourist attractions, including the Museum Campus, gardens, and recreational facilities. Many events, such as music and food festivals are hosted here throughout the year.

10. 360 Chicago

Skyline view at sunset of Northern Chicago with John Hancock Center in focus

The John Hancock Center in Chicago has a 360 Chicago observation deck on the 94th floor that offers tourists stunning views of the city's skyline. The deck recently added a new feature, "Tilt," which gives visitors a unique view from more than 1,000 feet above the Magnificent Mile.

City skyline from 360 Chicago observation deck

The building is an architectural wonder that contains a variety of different shops, office spaces, and apartments. Located on the first floor is a multimedia exhibit that provides visitors with information about the city of Chicago and the construction of the building itself.

11. Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois

Located in the downtown, the Shedd Aquarium offers an unforgettable experience with belugas, bluegills, stingrays, and sturgeons. You can also get up close and personal with sea stars, sea otters, and other aquatic animals.

With its strategic vision aimed at conservation and education, Shedd Aquarium is a crown jewel of Chicago's cultural attractions. Not only does it provide an educational experience, but it also contributes to the local economy.

12. Lincoln Park Zoo

Polar Bear at the Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois

Located in the heart of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the country's oldest and most established zoos. Founded in 1868, this 35-acre zoological garden offers a free wildlife experience for visitors of all ages.

With roaring lions, playful meerkats, and majestic gorillas, it's easy to spend an entire day exploring the zoo's many attractions. There's something for everyone at Lincoln Park Zoo, from educational programs to interactive exhibits. Plus, with its convenient location just minutes from downtown Chicago, you won't have to travel far to experience the wonders of nature!

13. Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois

The Adler Planetarium is one of the world's first planetariums, located on Chicago's lakefront. The museum offers a variety of interactive exhibits that make learning about science and space exploration an exciting experience for all ages.

Visitors can explore astronomical phenomena through state-of-the-art domes and galleries, take in breathtaking views from the outdoor observatory, and even watch a 3D show. With its engaging exhibits and programs, the Adler Planetarium is the perfect place to explore the unknown.

14. Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory is a hidden gem for nature lovers in one of Chicago's oldest parks. The conservatory is home to thousands of plants, from tropical flowers and succulents to cacti and palms.

Visitors can explore the lush, climate-controlled environment while learning about the incredible variety of life on Earth. With its engaging exhibits and programming, Garfield Park Conservatory offers a great way to escape the city and explore nature without leaving Chicago.

15. The Chicago Theatre

The Chicago Theatre

The Chicago Theatre is an iconic institution in Windy City. Built-in 1921, the theatre has hosted some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Prince. The theatre's impressive interior features ornate architecture and decorative details that create a truly unique experience.

You can enjoy an evening show or experience the theatre's free events to taste culture and entertainment. In addition to its iconic concerts, the theatre hosts lectures and special events throughout the year.

16. John Hancock Center

John Hancock Center

The John Hancock Center is a unique skyscraper in Chicago that offers an unforgettable experience. At 1,127 feet tall, it's the city's fifth-highest building and provides spectacular views of downtown and the lakefront.

You can take panoramic views from its observation deck or get up close and personal with a guided tour of the building's interior. Whether looking for a unique sightseeing experience or just a great view of the city, the John Hancock Center is one of Chicago's must-see attractions.

17. Garden of the Phoenix

Garden of the Phoenix in Chicago, Illinois

The Garden of the Phoenix in Chicago is a hidden gem that will take your breath away. This Japanese garden is in Jackson Park, full of lush azaleas and tranquil beauty. It was created in 1893 as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan and as a reminder of mutual respect.

The garden overlooks two lagoons, making it an ideal spot for relaxation and reflection. Visitors can also enjoy classes such as tea ceremonies, ikebana flower arranging, and calligraphy.

18. National Museum of Mexican Art

The National Museum of Mexican Art is the largest and most comprehensive museum in the United States devoted to the art and culture of Mexico. This vibrant cultural center features various artwork, from ancient artifacts to modern pieces, and interactive exhibits that explore Mexican art and history. Visitors can participate in performances, lectures, workshops, and more to better understand Mexico's fascinating culture. With its engaging programming, the National Museum of Mexican Art is the perfect place to explore and celebrate Mexican art.

19. Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is a unique destination in downtown Chicago. It features a variety of innovative artworks from contemporary and modern artists, including multimedia installations and sculptures. The MCA also offers a range of educational workshops and lectures to deepen your understanding of the works on display. Visitors can explore thought-provoking exhibitions and take in the unique atmosphere of this renowned institution.

20. The Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center

You won't miss the Chicago Cultural Center, located in the heart of downtown. This grand building was originally built in 1897 and is now home to various cultural events, from performances and lectures to art exhibits. Its impressive Beaux-Arts architecture is also worth admiring.

From its majestic lobby to its grand staircase, the Cultural Center is a beautiful testament to Chicago's vibrant culture and history. The Chicago Cultural Center is a unique must-see attraction whether you're interested in its cultural offerings or want to explore its spectacular architecture.

21. The Chicago Riverwalk

The Chicago Riverwalk

The Chicago Riverwalk is the perfect place to see a different side of the Windy City. This beautiful park-like path runs along the banks of the iconic Chicago River and offers stunning views of downtown Chicago.

You can take spectacular sights as you stroll, from vibrant bridges to gleaming skyscrapers. The Riverwalk also has several restaurants, cafes, and other attractions. You'll want to explore the Chicago Riverwalk while in town.

Top Day Trips from Chicago

1. Chicago in a Day Tour

Downtown Chicago Cityscape From Grant Park

The Chicago in a Day Tour gives you an insider's look at the city, taking you to some of its most iconic spots. You'll explore the Magnificent Mile, stroll through Chicago Riverwalk, visit the Chicago Theatre, and even take a food tour. You'll get a fantastic overview of the city and its many attractions in just a day. This tour is a must-do for anyone looking to get the most out of their trip. With an experienced guide leading the way, you won't miss a thing!


2. Spend a Full-Day at the Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago is a dream come true for any traveler. From its vast collection of over 40 million specimens to its immersive exhibits, the museum offers an experience like no other. Explore the natural world and uncover the human story with interactive displays and engaging activities.

Discover ancient artifacts, learn about different cultures, and explore the depths of our planet's history. With its all-access pass, you can delve deep into the world of natural history and uncover secrets that have been hidden for centuries. Let your imagination run wild as you explore this incredible museum.

3. African American Heritage Tour

DuSable Museum of African American History

The African American Heritage Tour is the perfect way to experience the vibrant culture of Chicago's African-American community. You'll visit some of the city's historically significant sites, such as Bronzeville, the birthplace of jazz music.

This tour offers a fascinating insight into a part of history that often goes overlooked. From its exciting sights to its bustling neighborhoods, the African American Heritage Tour is a great way to explore and learn about an essential part of Chicago's culture.

4. Chicago's West Side Foodie Ride

People riding bicycles at night with Chicago skyline in background

Chicago's West Side Foodie Ride is a must-do for any food lover. This guided tour takes you through the city's diverse neighborhoods, giving you an up-close look at the local cuisine. You'll explore street markets, sample delicious snacks and dishes, and discover hidden eateries off the beaten path.

Learn about Chicago's diverse culinary heritage and discover hidden gems as you ride. You'll leave this tour with a full stomach and a newfound appreciation of the city's vibrant food scene.

5. LEGOLAND ® Discovery Center

Legoland discovery center store front located in Schaumburg, Illinois, USA.

The LEGOLAND ® Discovery Center is the perfect place for those young and young at heart. Here, you can explore a colorful world of LEGO® bricks filled with interactive activities, rides, games, and more.

Create your masterpiece or take part in a master builder challenge. With its unique attractions, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Enjoy a day at this fantastic park and create memories that will last a lifetime. You won't want to miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience!

6. Private Fusion Cooking Class

For something truly unique, sign up for a private fusion cooking class. This interactive class teaches how to combine classic dishes with exotic flavors and ingredients. With the help of an expert chef, you'll create mouth-watering meals that will impress your friends and family back home.

Enjoy learning the art of cooking while sipping fine wines and delicious snacks. This hands-on experience will give you impressive new skills and a tasty treat to take home. In no time, you'll be a master chef.

7. Driving Scenic Tour of Chicago

Driving in Downtown Chicago, USA

The best way to experience the beauty of Chicago is by taking a driving scenic tour. You'll get up close and personal with the city's iconic landmarks, from gleaming skyscrapers to historic neighborhoods.

Admire the stunning architecture that defines this vibrant city as you drive along its winding streets and paths. You'll get a full view of the city from its highest points and learn about its rich history and culture. With an experienced guide leading the way, you won't miss a thing!

Top 3 Hotels in Chicago

The Windy City offers a range of luxurious accommodations, from five-star hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts. Here are our top 3 picks for the best places to stay in Chicago.

1. The Peninsula Chicago

With its glamorous décor, world-class amenities, and award-winning service, The Peninsula is one of the city's premier destinations. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, this five-star hotel offers breathtaking views of Michigan Avenue and the historic Water Tower Park.

With luxurious and spacious guestrooms and suites furnished in a magnificent classical style, The Peninsula Chicago is sure to make your stay unforgettable. Relax and unwind at the rooftop terrace or indulge in deep-tissue massages at the spa. Enjoy classic Midwestern hospitality with privileged access to some of the city's best attractions.

2. Hilton Grand Vacations Club

Experience the best of Chicago from the comfort of Hilton Grand Vacations Club Chicago Magnificent Mile. Located in the heart of the city, this sky-high sanctuary offers spacious guestrooms, an on-site restaurant, a poolside bar, and a terrace.

Enjoy a prime location between Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier with easy access to top attractions like Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park. Wake up to breathtaking views of the big-city bustle and explore all these vibrant city offers. With Hilton Grand Vacations Club Chicago Magnificent Mile, you can make your dream vacation come true!

3. Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown

The Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown offers a perfect blend of style and comfort. Located near some of the city's top attractions, this hotel gives you easy access to all the Windy City offers. Choose from stylish guestrooms with modern amenities like HDTVs and free WiFi.

Enjoy cozy beds with signature Cloud Nine linens and soft pillows for a good night's sleep. Get your day started with a complimentary breakfast, or take a dip in the indoor pool and hot tub. With its unbeatable location, Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown is the perfect place to call home during your stay.

Best Places to Eat in Chicago

Chicago Style Deep Dish Cheese Pizza

Chicago is a city that is known for its amazing food. From deep-dish pizza to Chicago-style hot dogs, there are plenty of delicious dishes to choose from. But with so many restaurants to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. That's why we've put together a list of the best places to eat in Chicago, so you can make the most of your time in the city.

1. Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio

Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio transports guests to an altar of pasta. There, they are blessed by the culinary talents of Sarah Grueneberg (former Top Chef contestant and Tony Mantuano's protege at Spiaggia), who crafts every dish with affordability and seasonally-driven delight.

The boisterous, airy dining room is abuzz with excitement and laughter as guests share the tastes of their pasta dishes. At the center of the room, a slightly raised bar—or stage, depending on how you're looking at it—features Grueneberg and her team of pasta makers hard at work on that night's eight or nine offerings. The experience is one of both information and pleasure, as each guest leaves satiated and eager to return.

2. Virtue Restaurant

Erick Williams has finally opened the restaurant of his dreams in Chicago - a space where he can showcase his innovative and boundary-breaking take on Southern cuisine. This is a restaurant with a difference, offering lighter and richer fare that will excite and surprise diners. The Hyde Park eatery was named one of Eater's Best New Restaurants in America in 2019, and Williams is intent on continuing to push the boundaries of what Black cuisine can be.

If you're looking for a truly unique dining experience, head to Erick Williams' restaurant in Hyde Park. You'll find traditional Southern dishes with a twist, like the cauliflower with cashew dukkah and root cellar vegetables. Or go for something richer, like the beef short ribs with creamed spinach and crushed potatoes. Either way, you're in for a treat. And don't forget to check out Williams' other boundary-pushing dishes – this is a chef who's always innovating and experimenting, so you're guaranteed a dining experience like no other.

3. Au Cheval

Au Cheval is one of the most popular burger joints in the country, and for good reason. The burgers are made with two prime beef patties, cheese, dijonnaise, and a housemade dill pickle, and they're grilled to perfection. But that's not all - the menu also includes crispy bacon, foie gras scrambled eggs and a fried bologna sandwich that are all absolutely delicious. If you're looking for a burger joint that will satisfy your cravings, Au Cheval is the place to go.

4. Oriole

Oriole is a restaurant that should be celebrated. After closing for a few months in 2020, the Michelin-star recipient came back with a bang. Chef Noah Sandoval has created a fantastic tasting menu with dishes like foie gras with pink peppercorn and anise hyssop. This is definitely a place to celebrate in style. The wonderful thing about Oriole is that it's fine dining without the pretension. So whether you're celebrating a special occasion or just want to treat yourself, Oriole is the perfect spot.

5. Alinea

The cuisine at Alinea is an amazing lesson in culinary mastery. It's a blend of modern science and practical magic, with air-filled balloons that are edible, senses of taste, touch, smell that are tested, and mental and emotional boundaries that are pushed. The menu is always changing and evolving, as a reflection of the wizards in the kitchen, led by chef Grant Achatz himself. No two meals are ever alike, which makes dining here a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

6. Smoque BBQ

At Smoque BBQ, they are devoted to the meatier things in life. They believe in taking no shortcuts, and each rub, smoke, sauce and cut of meat has been vetted through a lengthy process. The results are lip-smacking ribs, smoky brisket and juicy pulled pork that can all be savoured via delivery, takeout and patio dining. The house-made sides and desserts are also not to be missed – the BBQ beans and peach cobbler are particularly dreamy.

7. Superdawg Drive-In

Maurie and Flaurie Berman, the founders of Superdawg, have their likenesses carved into two giant hot dog statues that stand guard over this venerable Chicago drive-in. Customers can spot those statues from blocks away, and they serve as a beacon for those looking for a throwback dining experience. At Superdawg, customers park their cars and talk to staff through crackling drive-in speakers. Carhops bring out trays of food, including the restaurant's signature all-beef sausage, which comes with mustard, pickled green tomato, and chopped Spanish onions.

Final Thoughts

Chicago from Above at Dusk

Chicago is a city with something for everyone. In this blog post, we've highlighted some of our favorite spots in the city – but there are plenty more to explore. So get out there and start exploring! Who knows, you might just find your new favorite spot.

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