Chicago overflows with culture, cuisine, thrilling sports, and world-class entertainment for visitors to soak up. When traveling to the Windy City, be sure to include these top ten quintessential Chicago experiences on your itinerary:
1. Take in the views from Willis Tower Skydeck
At 1,353 feet tall, Willis Tower reigns as Chicago’s tallest skyscraper and home to the highest observation deck in the United States. On a clear day, the views from the 103rd floor Skydeck stretch out for over 50 miles across four states – Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. From unobstructed vistas looking straight down the chasms between mega-highrises to the sprawling expanse of Lake Michigan’s shimmering blue waters, a visit to Skydeck promises jaw-dropping panoramic views.
Get your camera ready for iconic Chicago sights like the John Hancock Center, Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building clock tower, and the winding Chicago River. The dizzying heights make this one of the most thrilling vantage points in the city. For an extra adrenaline rush, brave the glass boxes called The Ledge that extend four feet outside the building’s exterior and suspend you 1,353 feet in the air. Whether gazing out across the city sprawl or looking straight down from the exhilarating glass boxes, Skydeck at Willis Tower offers a breathtaking perspective unlike anywhere else.
2. Explore The Art Institute of Chicago
Since its founding in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago has grown into one of the most prominent art museums globally. Housed in an iconic Beaux-Arts style building in Chicago’s Grant Park, the museum contains a vast encyclopedic collection of nearly 300,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years. The collection is overseen by expert curatorial departments and includes famous works like American Gothic by Grant Wood, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. Beyond the permanent collection, special exhibitions are continually mounted to highlight new research and perspectives.
As an educational and research institution, the museum contains conservation labs, expansive art and architecture libraries, and a conservation department. Multiple building expansions have allowed the collection to grow over time, most recently with a Modern Wing addition designed by architect Renzo Piano in 2009. At nearly one million square feet, it stands among the largest art museums in the United States. Its affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as one of the last unified arts institutions in the country underscores its commitment to art education along with exhibition. Through its collection, programs, and research, the Art Institute of Chicago provides an unparalleled art experience.
3. Cheer on the Cubs or White Sox at Wrigley Field or Guaranteed Rate Field
Chicago lives and breathes baseball, with two beloved Major League Baseball teams facing off in historic stadiums that attract fiercely loyal fans. On the north side, the Chicago Cubs play in the iconic Wrigley Field, built in 1914 and known for its ivy-covered brick walls, hand-turned scoreboard, and rooftop bleacher seats across the street. Watching a game at “The Friendly Confines” is like stepping back in time, with traditions like throwing back opposing teams’ home run balls and kicking off the 7th inning stretch by singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Grab a hot dog and Old Style beer and cheer on the lovable Cubs as they aim to break their infamous championship drought.
On the south side, Guaranteed Rate Field is home to the Chicago White Sox. Opened in 1991, the sleek ballpark features fun spots like the outfield cornfield honoring Field of Dreams and fireworks shows after Friday night games. The White Sox have a colorful history as one of baseball’s original franchises, winning the World Series in 2005. Catching a White Sox game means witnessing dazzling plays and enjoying concessions like Chicago-style hot dogs.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just want to experience Chicago’s electric baseball culture, be sure to catch a Cubs or White Sox game during your Windy City visit. The roar of the crowds and the crack of the bats will give you a taste of America’s favorite pastime, Chicago-style.
4. Spend an afternoon at Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a famous Chicago landmark located on Lake Michigan in the Streeterville neighborhood. Stretching over 3,300 feet into the lake, the pier covers more than 50 acres of space. It contains expansive park areas, lush gardens, a variety of shops and restaurants, family-friendly attractions, and facilities for exhibitions and events. Navy Pier is consistently ranked among the most popular attractions in the Midwest, drawing over 9 million annual visitors as Chicago’s second most visited tourist destination. With views of downtown Chicago, proximity to the lakefront, and a wealth of entertainment options, Navy Pier offers something for everyone and has become a can’t-miss spot for both Chicagoans and out-of-town visitors alike.
5. See “The Bean” at Millennium Park
Cloud Gate is a famous public sculpture that has become an iconic symbol of Chicago’s Millennium Park. Crafted by acclaimed British artist Anish Kapoor, this mirrored sculpture was constructed between 2004-2006 and is affectionately nicknamed “The Bean” due to its shape. The sculpture is made of 168 stainless steel plates welded together to form a seamless exterior that powerfully reflects and distorts the city’s skyline.
Measuring 33x66x42 feet and weighing 110 tons, its centerpiece is an “omphalos” or navel – a concave chamber that visually warps reflections. Visitors can walk around and under the 12-foot high arch to interact with the distorting reflections and capture eye-catching photos. Cloud Gate builds on many of Kapoor’s artistic themes related to liquid mercury and reflection. Its gleaming smooth shape has become a beloved Chicago landmark and a popular spot for tourists to photograph its unique reflective qualities against the city backdrop.
6. Take a stroll along The 606
The 606 trail is an innovative urban green space transforming a former 2.7 mile elevated rail line into a spectacular pedestrian and bike path connecting various Chicago neighborhoods. As you traverse The 606, you’ll get up close views of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square while escaping the bustle of the city below. More than just a transportation corridor, the trail features gorgeous landscaping, platforms with skyline views, and fascinating public art installations spread throughout. Look out for murals, sculptures, and interactive light displays by local and international artists that showcase creative talent and inspire contemplation.
The 606 gives city dwellers room to exercise, bike, and stroll while fostering community connections. With access points along the trail, you can tailor your own experience – walk the entire end-to-end route or just enjoy a portion while admiring the public art and blooming foliage. The 606 breathes new recreational life into a former urban eyesore.
7. Go shopping on the Magnificent Mile
Nicknamed the “Magnificent Mile,” Michigan Avenue shimmers as Chicago’s upscale shopping mecca brimming with prestigious retailers and lavish flagships. This famous portion of Michigan Avenue stretches north from the Chicago River to Oak Street as a shopper’s paradise. You’ll find posh department stores like the historic 12-story Bloomingdale’s filled with high-end fashion. Luxury brands from around the world call Michigan Avenue home – shop iconic stores like Burberry, Gucci, Cartier, and Louis Vuitton. You can also browse one-of-a-kind boutiques, the massive four-story American Girl Place, and the LEGO Store featuring fun builds and merchandise.
Beyond just shopping, the Magnificent Mile provides a lively urban experience with prestigious hotels, renowned restaurants, historic landmarks, and striking architecture. Stop for a drink at the sophisticated Ralph Lauren restaurant, sample sweet creations at Dylan’s Candy Bar, or ascend to the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center for fine dining with skyline views at the Signature Room. Michigan Avenue dazzles with its concentration of elite retail in an unforgettable Chicago setting.
8. Chow down on deep-dish pizza
You can’t leave Chicago without indulging in the city’s most famous culinary specialty – deep dish pizza. Unlike typical thin, flat pizzas, Chicago deep dish is built with dough pressed up the sides of a pan creating a thick, breadbowl-like crust that can stand up to piles of cheese and toppings. The saucy pies are so substantial you’ll want to remember to eat them with a fork!
For an authentic deep dish experience, visit Chicago pizza institutions like Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Gino’s East, or Pizzeria Uno where the signature style originated. Watch as your server cuts into the built-up crust releasing steam from slathered-on layers of chunky tomato sauce, stretchy mozzarella, savory sausage, and sometimes even caramelized cheese crust edges. The indulgent ingredients meld together during the extended baking time required for the dough to cook through. Take your time savoring the molten, decadent flavors in every bite. Don’t leave the Windy City without getting a true taste of its delicious pizza legacy!
9. Step aboard a boat tour
Explore the captivating beauty of the Windy City from a unique perspective on Chicago’s renowned boat tours. These engaging excursions offer a fresh outlook on the city’s rich history and stunning skyline. Step aboard one of the specially designed boats and embark on a scenic journey along the Chicago River. These boat tours provide an opportunity to witness the city’s iconic landmarks and hear intriguing stories from your knowledgeable tour guide.
As you glide along the river, you’ll have the chance to admire Chicago’s impressive skyline, featuring some of the world’s tallest and most innovative skyscrapers. The tour often includes stops at famous landmarks like the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower, and the Marina City complex.
10. Spend a day at one of Chicago’s world-class museums
Indulge your curiosity and explore the Windy City’s array of fascinating attractions, just like the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, or the Shedd Aquarium. These renowned institutions promise an enriching and entertaining experience for visitors of all ages.
The Field Museum, often dubbed a haven for dinosaur enthusiasts, takes you on a captivating journey through time. Here, you can marvel at the colossal skeletons of prehistoric giants, from the awe-inspiring Tyrannosaurus rex to the magnificent Brachiosaurus. But it’s not just about dinosaurs; the Field Museum’s vast collection spans the entire spectrum of natural history, showcasing everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to gemstones and cultural exhibits from around the globe.
For those with a penchant for hands-on exploration and scientific wonder, the Museum of Science and Industry beckons. This colossal museum invites you to immerse yourself in the world of interactive exhibits, where you can tinker, experiment, and learn through play. Discover the marvels of aviation, explore the inner workings of a coal mine, or witness a working model of the human heart, all while gaining a deeper understanding of the marvels of science and technology.
And then, there’s the Shedd Aquarium, where the wonders of the aquatic world come to life. Here, you can get up close and personal with a mesmerizing array of marine life, from graceful beluga whales to playful sea otters. As you wander through the aquarium’s diverse exhibits, you’ll not only encounter awe-inspiring creatures but also gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of marine conservation.
In the vibrant array of Chicago’s offerings, these top 10 experiences paint a vivid picture of a city that seamlessly combines history, culture, architecture, and entertainment. From the breathtaking views atop the Willis Tower to the immersive exploration at the Field Museum, and the lively culinary scene that tantalizes your taste buds, Chicago invites you on a journey of discovery and delight. Whether you’re admiring the architectural wonders that grace the cityscape, enjoying the peaceful serenity of Millennium Park, or savoring a slice of deep-dish pizza, there’s something here for everyone. Chicago’s rich blend of tradition and innovation ensures that every visit is a unique and unforgettable adventure. So, come and uncover the city’s many facets, and leave with cherished memories that will beckon you back to the Windy City time and time again.
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