Home | North America | Things to do in Chicago, Illinois

As America’s third largest metropolis, the Windy City will surely blow you away.

Chicago is the perfect blend of everything there is to love about cities: great food, astonishing architecture, widespread multiculturalism, prestigious institutions, and a beautiful skyline. Once the fastest growing city in the world, it was here that the skyscraper was invented. Besides high-rise buildings, it also counts with public green spaces, the scenic Chicago River, and the absolutely breath-taking Lake Michigan.

As if that weren’t enough, Chicago can also boast some of the friendliest city dwellers in the world. Here, the rudeness you expect from people in big cities seems to have been vanished into the strong winds. Instead, you’ll find that the city is divided into distinct neighborhoods that each have their own personality and that offer unique goods. Go to Pilsen for street art and mouth-watering Mexican food or to Chinatown for noodles and trinkets— everywhere you go you’ll find different tastes. To top it all off, enjoy a comedy club or climb a high-rise to take in the sight of the city at night.

Here are the top 5 things to do in Chicago.

1. Art Institute of Chicago

A monet in display in the Art Institute of Chicago A Turner in the Chicago Institute of Art A van Gogh in the Chicago Institute

One of the most prestigious institutions of its kind in the world, the Art Institute is a must for art lovers.

The second largest art museum in the United States (preceded by the Metropolitan Museum of Art), it is one of the country’s cultural gems. It receives more than a million visitors each year, who come flocking to see the 300,000 pieces that make up the permanent collection. Ranging from Byzantine paintings to European decorative pieces to African American and Amerindian works, the museum has placed an emphasis in offering diversified exhibitions.

Perhaps what the museum is best known for, however, is its impressionist and post-impressionist collections, which contain some of the most important works of the turn of the century. Visitors delight in seeing pieces like Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Cassatt’s The Bath, Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, and Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait. There are also numerous works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Monet, Degas, El Greco, Toulouse-Lautrec and many more.

where? The Art Institute of Chicago is located close to Millennium Park on 111 S Michigan Ave. It is close to Crown Fountain. To arrive, you can take the bus or the subway to the Adams/Wabash station.

when? The museum opens daily from 10:30am-5:00pm. On Thursdays, it closes at 8:00pm. Keep in mind that the museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

£$€¥ General admission for adults is $25. Seniors, students, and teenagers 14-17 are offered the reduced price of $19. Children under 14 get in for free. Entrance to the museum is included in the Go Chicago Card. .

2. Sky Deck

Chicago's Willis Tower The Willis Tower at night Chicago's skyline at night

Brave the vertigo and enjoy having Chicago sprawling at your feet— literally.

Considered one of the best views of the city, the Skydeck attracts millions of people. From curious tourists to wedding parties, people trip over themselves for the opportunity to take a picture with the metropolis glittering on the background. The attraction is located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower. The building is the second tallest in America, after the One World Trade Center. The view is so impressive that on clear days you can often see across four states.

The highlight of the Skydeck is, of course, the Ledge. Protruding outside of the building’s walls, it is made entirely out of glass and thrills visitors while giving them a unique view of the city.

where? The Skydeck is located at 233 S Wacker Dr, in the Willis Tower. You can take the L to the Quincy/Wells station.

when?  From March to September, the deck opens from 9:00am-10:00pm. From October to February, it opens from 10:00am-8:00pm. Because this is one of Chicago’s most popular attractions, arriving early is advisable, so as to avoid long lines.

£$€¥ The price of admission for adults is $22, for children from 3-11 it is $14. Those who wish to avoid lines above all, can arrive before opening and pay the early bird price of $65. Admission is included in the Go Chicago Card.

3. Millennium Park

A giant christmas tree in Chicago's Millennium Park Marlins Park, Miami (© Roberto Coquis, CC-BY-ASA-2.0) Domino Park, Little Havana, Miami (© Infrogmation, CC-BY-ASA-3.0)

A harmonious marriage of art, architecture, and nature make Millennium Park a perfect allegory of Chicago.

Expanding through 24.5 acres, Millennium Park is a place you can’t avoid, even if you wanted to. Sprawling along the shore in Downtown it is in many ways the heart of the city. It is located next to many of Chicago’s most important landmarks, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, and Adler Planetarium.

Most famously, it contains two of the most iconic public art pieces in the city: Crown Fountain, and Cloud Gate, better known as “The Bean.”

The park is also a place for people to congregate. Jungle gyms keep children amused, food stands keep visitors happy, and the vast blue of Lake Michigan seems to keep worries away. On nice days, the city comes out to picnic, play games, exercise, of simply walk around.

What’s best: all this happens with the Chicago skyline on the background.

where? Millennium Park is located in Downtown Chicago. It is thin and long, so it expands through several neighborhoods. It is serviced by numerous subway and bus stations, which will take you to whatever part of the park you’re interested in.

when? The park is open from 6:00am-11:00pm. It is generally safe, but, as common sense dictates, you should avoid solitary areas when it’s dark.

£$€¥ Visiting the park is free, as are many activities offered, including guided walking tours. However, you will also find food stands, vendors, bike rentals, specialized tours, and such, so bringing money is a good idea.

4. Chicago Architecture River Cruise

Chicago Architecture River Cruise (© piet theisohn, CC-BY-ASA-3.0). Chicago River Cruise (© piet theisohn, CC-BY-ASA-3.0).

One of the most interesting and scenic ways to learn about the architectural history of Chicago.

If you take one tour in Chicago, let this one be it. After all, it’s not often that a tour makes it to a top list, and this one most definitely deserves it. Taking you on a cruise along the Chicago River, these 70-90 minute tours tell you the history of the city through its architecture.

You’ll learn all about the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, the Chicago School, the modernists, the postmodernists, and  everything in between. At the end of the tour, you’ll not only appreciate the city’s unique and innovative styles, but will also be able to tell these styles apart.

The architecture boat tour is also a great way to observe life in the city. From the boat, you can get a wider perspective of the coming and going of locals, see people sitting on park benches, crossing bridges on their bikes, and going on a coffee run. You’ll experience Chicago as locals know it.

where? Where you set off depends on the tour company you decide to go with. Most architecture tours are located either by DuSable Bridge or at Navy Pier.

when? Fairchild is open every single day of the year except for Christmas day from 9:30am to 4:30pm. The garden stays open later on select Thursday nights when there are special events.

£$€¥ Tours operate year-round, but are less frequent during the winter, when the cold wind can make it uncomfortable to be on the water. Check times for the specific company you’re interested in.

5. The Magnificent Mile

Chicago's Magnificent Mile (© Pavel Kuritsyn, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

With a vast array of retailers and architecture galore, The Magnificent Mile lives up to its name.

Magnificence is indeed what this stretch of Michigan Avenue strives for. It is often called a shopaholic’s paradise because it is the perfect place for some retail therapy. Stores along the mile include Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Graff Diamonds. With the constant coming and going of hundreds of people, it is an exciting place to walk around, whether you’re indulging in buying luxury products or merely window shopping.

Lined with some of the city’s most impressive buildings, including the Tribune Tower and the John Hancock Center, it also appeases architecture buffs. As can be expected, besides retailers, there are numerous luxury hotels and a wide array of delicious dining experiences. Overall, this is a place to treat all of your senses to a wonderful experience.

where? The Magnificent Mile is located on Michigan Avenue, between Shore Drive and the Chicago River. It is serviced by several public transit lines. If taking the L, use the Red Line to head to either Grand or Chicago stops.

when? The great thing about the Magnificent Mile is that there is truly no bad time to visit. Whether it is during daytime when everyone is busy shopping, or at night, when locals and visitors put on their best self to go out, it is always interesting. Of course, individual stores, restaurants, and other places of commerce each adhere to their own schedule, and it is advisable that you check if you have a specific place in mind.

£$€¥ While walking around the mile is completely free, chances are you will be tempted to buy something. Because of the high-tier shopping experience it offers, and its central location, prices tend to be steep.