Chicago has always been a part of my family. My grandparents and parents lived there. My brother lives there. I thought about living there once, but I decided to stay in Iowa and just visit. That doesn’t mean I don’t thoroughly enjoy it though! So, if you’re thinking of planning a Chicago trip, here are 15 places to include!
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If you’re even thinking about visiting Chicago, you’ve probably heard of Millennium Park or The Bean. Did you know that this beautiful park used to be an industrial wasteland! The park as we know it opened in July 2004. It contains the Could Gate (known as The Bean), Lurie Garden, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and the Crown Fountain which is a large LED water sculpture with reflecting pool (faces will spit out water).
Across the road (there’s a walkway connecting the two) is the Maggie Daley Park. This park is even more remarkable. It has a play garden that has a large ship, a whale, lighthouse tower, animal-themed play area with a splash pad, 3 more play boats, an enchanted forest with upside-down trees, lots of slides, a tower bridge suspended between two towers, and more! The park also has a skating ribbon, rock climbing wall, mini-golf, and tennis courts! Then, next to that is the Grant Park. This park hosts many food and music festivals (like Lollapalooza) and its centerpiece is the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain!
This observation deck is located in the John Hancock
Building 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue.
If you’re not afraid of heights and very brave, it also has the TILT
which is a platform that tilts you so you can look straight down on the
Magnificent Mile. I have not done this,
because, YIKES!, but I’ve heard from many others that have and they enjoyed it!
The TILT is a great way to see the city from above on your Chicago trip!
For another one of those bird-eye views of the city, you can visit the Willis Tower. They have the ledge. So at least it’s not moving, but you’re still just hanging out in the sky! The last time I was up there the ledges weren’t a thing, not that I think I’d be brave enough to stand on them, but great views up there!
The Chicago Riverwalk is a 1.25-mile path along the Chicago River. The area was completed in 2016, so with the hotel we typically stay at being next to the river, I was able to see it be transformed! Along the river, you can now find cocktails, coffee, a floating garden, dining, theater seating overlooking the river, kayak rentals, the beautiful Centennial Fountain and water arc, memorials, and more! It’s a great place to go on a leisurely stroll and just enjoy Chicago!
Architectural Boat Tour
Along with the Riverwalk, you should also hop on to an architectural
boat tour. On these trips, the guides
will give you details about the history behind the Chicago skyline!
Did you know that Navy Pier is the longest public pier in the world? Way to go Chicago! The reason it was renamed to Navy Pier (from Municipal Pier #2) was as a tribute to the Navy personnel in World War I. There is a beautiful fountain before you get onto the pier, that many kids play in like a splash pad. Inside the Family Pavilion, the first building, there is food and shops, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and an IMAX Theatre. In the Park area, there is a seasonal stage, the Ferris wheel, carousel, swing ride, not your average climbing walls, and a VR experience over a futuristic Chicago.
As you progress down the pier there are more shops, more food, a funhouse maze, the Shakespeare Theater, exhibit halls, beer garden, and a grand ballroom! Along the south side of the pier is where all the different boat tours dock. From here you can take a beautiful lake cruise and see the skyline from a different perspective. There is a ton to do, see and eat at Navy Pier. Unfortunately, that does also mean that there can be some VERY large crowds! Try to go in the off-season, or at least on a weekday! That might mean you’ll miss some things, but you’ll probably see and do more than when there are a gazillion people there.
If you want to visit Navy Pier on your Chicago trip, either try to go in an off time or be prepared for crowds.
From Navy Pier, we took a ride on the Spirit of Chicago. This dinner cruise takes you out onto the water so you can see some amazing views of the Chicago skyline from a different angle! Inside the climate-controlled interior decks, you get a delicious buffet dinner and desserts! There is also a bar you are able to order drinks from (or a server). When you purchase your tickets you can upgrade it to get you drinks, but I knew we wouldn’t drink enough to make it worth it, so I stuck with just upgrading the tickets to ensuring we would get a window seat. Of all the things on this list, this is definitely high up on the cost list, but was worth every penny!
When I was younger, my grandfather used to take us to the
Field Museum. The museum has nearly 40
million artifacts and specimens. One of
the coolest things you’ll see when you first walk in is the giant dinosaur skeleton.
Throughout the building you’ll also see displays about Sea Mammals, inside ancient
Egypt, Africa, Lions, Birds, dinosaurs, plants, China, traveling the Pacific,
geology, and SO much more!
You’ll be able to explore the world while on your Chicago trip when you visit the Field Museum!
This past summer we visited the Adler Planetarium (I’m sure
we went when I was younger but don’t remember it). This was the first planetarium in the western
hemisphere, and it is the first planetarium in space! They actually launched a nano-satellite
that is measuring the Earth’s brightness.
How cool is that!? There are 7
different exhibits: Mission Moon, Our
Solar System, Community Design Lab, Planet Explorers, Telescopes: Through the
looking glass, welcome gallery, and astronomy in culture. Then there are also
different shows you can see in the Sky Theater.
We saw Destination Solar System and Imagine the Moon. While there
were sometimes it was tricky, my 3-year-old niece sat in with us for both and liked
them! There’s also an Observatory there,
but we didn’t visit that part (would very much like to next time!).
For me, personally, this is a favorite! I love animals, and anything related to living in the water is just awesome in my book! There are so many different great exhibits and animals. From sharks to beluga whales, octopus to sea otters, and reptiles jellyfish! Seriously, I could spend at least an entire day in here! Sometimes it’s difficult to think about an animal that would normally be out swimming in the vast ocean, ‘stuck’ here in an aquarium. However, I love all of the work many, Shedd included, aquariums are doing to help prevent extinction, take care of those that are injured and wouldn’t make it in their natural habitat, and educate those who may never see the ocean about how our actions are affecting these beautiful creatures.
Even on your Chicago trip in Illinois, you can still see some amazing sea life at the aquarium!
Growing up, my grandparent’s condo overlooked Lincoln Park and the lake. It became such a regular staple as a part of our Chicago trip. The park itself is the largest public park in Chicago, and actually has more acreage than New York’s Central Park! It’s not just the patch of green grass you can see from high above. The park includes the North Avenue Beach, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park Cultural Center, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Theatre on the Lake Chicago History Museum, an archery range, Oak Street Beach, lots of playing fields, and so much more! Seriously, it’s huge (1,188.63 acres!).
You can visit the beach or a zoo on your Chicago trip!
Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is open 365 days a year and is a FREE zoo! They’ve got African Painted Dogs, American Black Bear, monkeys, lions, giraffes, zebra’s, seals, Eastern Black Rhinoceros’, Polar Bears, kangaroos, and many more! I like visiting the polar bears (hence an upcoming trip to the polar bear capital of the world) and monkeys. There are also many amphibians, birds, and reptiles!
SHOPPING! Sure, there
are other things to do along here, but SHOPPING! It’s also beautiful during the
Whether you’re a Cubs fan or not, everyone should visit Wrigley Field at least once! The field was built in 1914 and is the second-oldest ballpark in the MLB. My grandfather used to tell me stories about how he would go in after a game to clean the stands in return for a free ticket to the next game. He’d then come to that game, and then stay to clean, and the cycle kept repeating itself! I still, sort of, remember my first Cubs game. To me, the bleachers are more for those a little younger who maybe get a little crazier. I’ve gone to a handful of games where we’ve sat out there, but definitely not where I would want to sit now (and that sun can be tough!).
If your Chicago trip doesn’t fall during the baseball season you may still be able to get a tour of the stadium!
House of Blues
The hotel we typically stay at is located just a block down the road from the House of Blues. We’ve been staying at this hotel for about the past decade and never went inside or saw a show. This past trip we went for their World Famous Gospel Brunch. The food was great, lots of options. However, it was all buffet and got rather congested. I mean, they stuffed as many people in as they could! The music was great though, and very interactive! It definitely made you want to get up outta your chair! Personally, I thought the lobby area was very interesting. They had different posters from concerts and, what looked like, random things all over the walls. It really was a unique space.
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So those are just 15 places to visit on your Chicago trip! There are THOUSANDS of others as well, it’s just a great city! I love visiting it! (Do like coming home to my small Iowa town afterward though too.) What’s your favorite place to visit in Chicago, or what are you looking forward to visiting?
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