A seamless amalgamation of industry, politics, culture, food, and peoples is Chicago, a self-proclaimed city in a garden, or “urbs in horto”. Connecting the city to its motto foremost is the expansive Lake Michigan that divides the city, the Millenium Park, offering solace in the midst of the towering concrete, and the Navy Pier with all the gaiety it is home to. It is this carnival-like camaraderie, which captures tourists’ hearts and leaves them scrambling for more. While every part of the city exudes warmth, Downtown Chicago can pretty much be called a microcosmic representation of the whole. Here are some fun-filled things to do in Downtown Chicago, Illinois. Use it to make your stay at the downtown an unforgettable one.
Standing proud amidst Chicago’s stunning skyline is the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower. Otherwise, an ordinary office building, what makes the Willis Tower such a major attraction is its staggering height and the stupendous views that visitors are able to enjoy from its viewing deck. Towering at a height of a phenomenal 442m (1,450ft) approximately, the building is among the world’s tallest and definitely one of Chicago’s most iconic. Head over to the building and learn amazing facts about its architects, history, and how it came to be the title holders of the world’s tallest building for a solid 25 years. You can climb up the Skydeck, on the building’s 103rd floor, which is still the highest viewing deck in all of USA and marvel at the panoramic views from “The Ledge”, the deck’s main attraction, which is a glass balcony that the visitors can climb onto and admire views from a height of about 412m (1,353ft)! Quite thrilling and definitely a must-visit.
Willis Tower Skydeck and The Ledge Experience Ticket
2. Enjoy heightened luxury at John Hancock Center
Trailing behind the Willis Tower in the vertical race, but also offering a pretty stunning vista of Chicago’s skyline and the expansive waterfront is the John Hancock Center, standing at a height of about 343m (1,128ft). The building is home to several offices, eateries, and condominiums, but its star attractions are the 360 Chicago observation deck, a five-star restaurant, an open-air skywalk, a sky lobby, and USA’s highest indoor swimming pool. Just like Willis Tower’s observation deck, the one at the John Hancock Center also has something special in-store. Hop on to the enclosed TILT moving platform on the building’s 94th floor and it will literally tilt you out over Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The John Hancock Center is located on Chicago’s historic Magnificent Mile (covered later), so you easily pair the two trips in a single day.
John Hancock Center
Address: 875 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website: John Hancock Center
3. Tour McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum
Spread across five floors is the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, which celebrates Chicago’s river and movable bridges. While the ground level is the Chicago River itself, it climbs up five floors of showcasing Chicago’s journey into becoming one of the largest metropolitan towns of USA. There are historic maps, photographs, newspaper articles, and several other exhibits that make the trip enriching. Here, you’ll even get an insider’s preview into the workings of the bridge house’s massive machinery.
McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum
Address: 99 Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Opening hours: Thu: 12pm - 7pm; Fri - Mon: 10am - 5pm (closed on Tue & Wed)
Price: 5 - 6 USD
4. Enjoy fun rides at Chicago Children's Museum
Where else can you play with a 6-foot bass drum? #ChicagoChildrensMuseumPosted by Chicago Children's Museum on Friday, 10 May 2019
Located on Chicago’s historic Navy Pier (covered later), the Chicago Children’s Museum is spread across three floors and has more than 13 open exhibits. Take your little ones to the Tinkering Lab and let them work with real equipment and tools to create products and develop ideas. Else, there’s the Art Studio where they can get their hands dirty, doing some arts and crafts. The Sound Playground and Treehouse Trails also provide for pretty interesting activities that children can indulge in. There are activities for kids of all age groups here, so don’t forget to stop by.
Chicago Children's Museum
Address: 700 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website: Chicago Children’s Museum
Opening hours: Mon - Wed: 10am - 5pm; Thu: 10am - 8pm; Fri - Sun: 10am 7pm
Price: 13.95 - 14.95 USD
5. Visit the exceptional Richard H. Driehaus Museum
What an eye! When the museum first opened to the public in 2008, the renowned architectural photography firm, Hedrich...Posted by The Richard H. Driehaus Museum on Saturday, 18 May 2019
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum or just Driehaus Museum is an architectural design enthusiast’s paradise. Preserving the relics of the American Gilded Age and the Art Nouveau era beautifully in its permanent and temporary exhibits, the museum’s elegantly furnished interiors are a testament to the most celebrated designers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Built originally as a palatial home for a wealthy American businessman, the museum was designated a Chicago landmark status in 1977 and sees many tourists visiting it to admire the richness and near-perfect restoration of the interior.
Richard H. Driehaus Museum
Address: 40 E Erie St, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website: Richard H. Driehaus Museum
Opening hours: Tue - Sun: 10am - 5pm (closed on Mon)
Price: 10 - 20 USD
6. Explore the American Writers Museum
The American Writers Museum is a celebration of literary works and their writers. Although modest in size, the museum throws light on the phenomenal works of various writers across the ages. While the Nation of Writers hall brings American literary history to the fore, the Readers Hall features theories of writing entities on wall text. The children’s gallery, too, is a cosy space to enter into with couches and banners adorning its interior along with the much-loved illustration books and other children’s books.
American Writers Museum
Address: 180 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Website: American Writers Museum
Opening hours: 10am - 5pm (daily)
Price: 8 - 12 USD
7. Tour the fabulous Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Have you stopped by our D-Day +75 exhibit recently? We recently did a refresh to the exhibition, adding 2 new videos to...Posted by Pritzker Military Museum & Library on Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Making for a unique experience is the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, aimed at spreading information about military history and detailed research on it. It is housed on the beautiful Monroe Building’s second floor and welcomes everyone to sneak a peek into the major contributions of the citizen-soldier in American history. While the museum has some great archival exhibits, the library has more than 65,000 books, covering all periods of history, countries, and basically every subject you could think of.
Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Address: 104 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603, USA
Website: Pritzker Military Museum & Library
Opening hours: Mon & Fri - Sat: 10am - 4pm; Tue - Thu: 10am - 6pm; Sun: 12pm - 4pm
Price: 5 USD
8. Visit the Charnley-Persky House Museum
On July 27, SAH will host an open house at Charnley-Persky House in celebration of our 79th anniversary. Please join us...Posted by Charnley-Persky House Museum Foundation on Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Adding to an already long list of excellent museums in Chicago is the Charnley-Persky House Museum, also known as The James Charnley Residence. What is notable about this museum is that its building design was spearheaded by the famous American architect Louis Sullivan with valuable inputs from another famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. The building’s relatively modest exteriors are in sharp contrast to richness the interior exudes. The top-quality woodwork and tasteful adornment with architectural embellishments make the interior quite a sight to behold, while the exterior is a fitting example of modern American architecture.
Charnley-Persky House Museum
Address: 1365 N Astor St, Chicago, IL 60610, USA
Website: Charnley-Persky House Museum
Opening hours: Wed: 12pm - 1pm; Sat: 10am - 1pm (closed on Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri & Sun)
Price: 8 - 10 USD
9. Explore Chicago Sports Museum
Located along the Magnificent Mile (covered later), the Chicago Sports Museum is a real treat for the sports enthusiasts. Packed with an abundance of interactive exhibits and other exciting experiences related to the Chicago sports scene, the museum combines the best of information, presented in an engaging manner. Right from sports artefacts to personal belongings of famous sportspersons, there’s everything you’ll find on display here.
Chicago Sports Museum
Address: 835 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website: Chicago Sports Museum
Opening hours: Mon - Thu: 11:30am - 8:30pm; Fri: 11:30am - 9pm; Sat: 11am - 9pm; Sun: 11am - 6pm
Price: 6 - 10 USD
10. Tour the unique International Museum of Surgical Science
It's #nursesweek2018 and the IMSS would like to thank nurses around the world for the hard work and care that they offer...Posted by International Museum of Surgical Science on Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Explore the wondrous world of medicine and the surgical sciences at the International Museum of Surgical Science. Featuring numerous exhibits about the Eastern and Western medicine, the museum’s galleries are divided theme-wise or surgical discipline-wise. Browsing through its alleys, you’ll find photographs, artefacts, medical equipment, and even medical specimens up for display among other things. There’s also a library containing a collection of more than 5,000 books that you can access.
International Museum of Surgical Science
Address: 1524 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60610, USA
Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 9:30am - 5pm; Sat - Sun: 10am - 5pm
Price: 8 - 16 USD
The Art Institute of Chicago is home to some excellent impressionist, post-impressionist, modern, as well as contemporary art. Among the various stellar pieces of art, you’ll see here would be those of famed artists, such as Monet, van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, and Picasso among others. The latest addition to the museum is the Modern Wing, which has impressive graphic and industrial design artworks on display. Go in for this fast pass tour and gain some insightful knowledge about the showcases as well as the lives of the artists who made them. There are also some kid-friendly activities you can have your little ones participate in.
Art Institute of Chicago Fast Pass Admission in Grant Park
Duration: 3 hours
12. Appreciate art at Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago
Kerry James Marshall. Mastry at The Museum of Contemporary Art ChicagoPosted by Sergio Gomez on Saturday, 23 April 2016
Strolling along the Magnificent Mile, you’ll come across the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago, which you must visit once. Established in 1967, the museum, with each of its exhibits, is a stunning ode to modern art. Decorated in the museum’s run-on gallery style are several artworks and installations, featuring some of the century’s best pieces of modern art. And, not only are the installations a sight, but also the museum’s interior design itself – every aspect is in sync with the overall harmony. Browse through the museum’s five floors with the assistance of a tour guide and gain insightful bits about everything placed there. You’re likely to find a lecture or an event happening there, which you’re free to attend!
Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago
Address: 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website: Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago
Opening hours: Sat - Mon & Wed - Thu: 10am - 5pm; Tue & Fri: 10am - 9pm
Price: 8 - 15 USD
13. Check out fabulous exhibits at Chicago Cultural Center
Bringing some of the best cultural performances to the audiences and that too for free is the Chicago Cultural Center, featuring thousands of cultural programmes each year. Right from visual to performing to literary arts, the centre hosts shows for all. Not only are the performances a treat, but also the centre’s building, which is exceptional in all its aspects. The building’s magnificent stained-glass ceilings, palatial lobbies, and sumptuous decoration make it a fitting venue for the rich performances that it showcases. Keep a tab on their Facebook page for the latest line-up and remember to catch one of the shows. Trust us, you’ll not regret it.
Chicago Cultural Center
Address: 78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602, USA
Website: Chicago Cultural Center
Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 10am - 7pm; Sat - Sun: 10am - 5pm
14. Go sightseeing at Chicago Water Tower
Hiding amidst a swarm of towering buildings yet standing out for its iconic Gothic Revival architecture is the Chicago Water Tower, which you must head over to admire. Originally built to serve as a water station for the city, the building houses the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower now. You can head inside and dig into the works of local photographers and artists that are on display. The tower sits along the Magnificent Mile, so you can easily couple the two trips.
Chicago Water Tower
Address: 806 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Opening hours: 10am - 7pm (daily)
15. Wander into Chicago's bustling Navy Pier
We called Chicago’s Navy Pier home to gaiety and we weren’t kidding. Some of the largest and liveliest events and festivals are hosted here. It can easily be called a landmark and has several eateries and other fun attractions, all for you to enjoy. Right from an amusement park to yoga and dance classes, musical shows to drama performances, fine-dining to zingy street food, there’s everything here. Set against a backdrop of the waterfront, the Navy Pier really makes for a stunning location for outdoor events, which are also regularly hosted here. Do head there for a full-blown amazing experience!
Address: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Website: Navy Pier
Opening hours: 10am - 10pm (daily)
16. Enjoy recreational activities at Chicago Riverwalk
The Riverwalk comes alive at the stunningly beautiful Riverbank which is the confluence of the three branches of the...Posted by Chicago Riverwalk on Thursday, 16 August 2018
Spend your time, leisurely strolling around the Chicago Riverwalk and partaking in the many activities that keep happening there. Stretched along the Chicago River, there’s a host of restaurants, cafes, shops, parks, and other fun stuff to do here. While The Marina Plaza has a restaurant, provides outdoor seating, and access to boat rentals, the Cove primarily offers options for kayak and canoe rentals along with a few eateries. If you’re heading to the riverwalk only to enjoy walking or sitting around, The River Theater, The Water Plaza, and The Boardwalk are the place to be. The Jetty also has some entertaining things to do. Head here and you’ll be able to pack in quite a bit in a single day.
Address: Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Website: Chicago Riverwalk
Opening hours: 6am - 11pm (daily)
17. Stroll around Millennium Park
Happy Birthday to ME! Millennium Park established July 16, in 2004.Posted by Millennium Park on Tuesday, 16 July 2019
Bask in the glory of the American sun and soak in the calming vibe of Chicago at Millennium Park, a public facility that makes for a popular spot for outdoor activities. Enjoy a picnic or indulge in a game or two, marvel at the beauty of nature or luxuriate in the manicured gardens, it makes for an ideal place for all. Not just this, it is also quite an abyss for the architecture and design enthusiast. Head over to marvel at “The Bean” and get tons of pictures clicked. Regardless of the time of year, you’re visiting, you’re likely to find an exhibition, festival, tour, or one of the other activities happening here. It is a classic family-friendly spot, so don’t miss it!
Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602, USA
Website: Millennium Park
Opening hours: 6am - 11pm (daily)
18. Enjoy a walk at Grant Park
If Millennium Park is one, Grant Park is another fantastic spot for the outdoorsy soul. It is connected to Millennium Park from the northwestern side. Grant Park is located within the city’s commercial business district and sees thousands of people coming in to enjoy the parks’ manicured greenery, well-kept trails, Chicago’s waterfront, and other aesthetically pleasing additions - the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain is being only one such feature. Other than that, Grant Park is home to some of Chicago’s biggest music and food festivals, which draw a large local and tourist footfall.
Address: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Website: Grant Park
Opening hours: 6am - 11pm (daily)
19. Play mini golf at Maggie Daley Park
We can't think of a better way to end this beautiful weekend than with a round of 18 at City Mini Golf! Open till 8:00 pm tonight.Posted by Maggie Daley Park on Sunday, 24 September 2017
Also connected to Grant Park is Maggie Daley Park, which is home to one of the best miniature golf courses you’ll find in Chicago. It is an 18-hole course that also has some interesting obstacle additions and other unique features to make the game even more fun. The park is decorated with mini-sized replicas of some of Chicago landmarks, so golfers find themselves aiming for the hole standing right underneath the not-so-towering, pseudo Willis Tower. The course is located towards the southern end of the BP Bridge. Although, do note that the park admission fee and golfing fee may slightly differ.
Maggie Daley Park
Address: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Website: Maggie Daley Park
Opening hours: 6am - 11pm (daily)
Price: 3 USD
20. Spend your time leisurely at The Mart
Also, a landmark in the city is The Merchandise Mart or just The Mart as the locals like to call it. This Art Deco building, located at the Chicago River’s junction, is a leading commercial space where you’ll find some best-kept secrets of the shopping scene in Chicago. The building’s first, sixth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth floors have some pretty amazing stores that you can raid. Right from fashion to residential design, these stores cater to clients for everything. And, if not shopping, the building is in itself quite a sight to behold.
Address: 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Website: The Mart
Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 9am - 6pm; Sat: 10am - 3pm (closed on Sun)
Also a landmark you must include in your to-see lists is The Chicago Theatre and one of the shows being performed there. Having opened its doors in 1921, the theatre has since been a popular venue for movie showcases, stage plays, music concerts, and visual art performances among others. This guided walking tour includes the best of in-depth information about the theatre’s history, architecture, the several historic performances hosted here and access to parts of the building that are otherwise not open to the public. And, once you’re done touring the place, you can also catch one of the performances too!
Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Historic Chicago Theatre
Duration: 1 hour
22. Enjoy a show at Cadillac Palace Theatre
Catch the best of Chicago’s theatre scene at one of the shows being performed at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Done up in a typical French Baroque style, the theatre has a capacity to seat up to approximately 2,350 guests! It is operated by Broadway in Chicago, a theatre production company, whose troupes stage some of the best theatre performances you’d have ever seen. Keep a tab on their website for the latest showcases and premieres, and remember to book your tickets in advance!
Cadillac Palace Theatre
Address: 151 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
Website: Cadillac Palace Theatre
23. Catch one of Chicago Symphony Orchestra's concerts
You can’t be in Chicago and not attend one of Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s exceptional performances. Part of USA’s “Big Five” and among the world’s leading symphony orchestra groups, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a solid footing in the international music scene. While their home venue is the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, they perform at several other prominent music festivals across the world. Their distinct tones and crystal-clear recordings are a world-class affair, definitely making it one of the most stellar experiences you’ll have in Chicago. Their shows are usually booked out, so remember to make your bookings well in time.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Website: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
24. Catch a game at Wrigley Field
Don’t worry sports enthusiasts, we have something for you too. Built in 1914, the Wrigley Field makes for an essential part of Chicago’s sports scene. It is a baseball park and home ground of the Chicago Clubs team. Offering seating in the two-tier roof decks and the indoor clubhouse along with a fully serviced bar, watching a game at the Wrigley Field makes for a refreshing experience. Check up the team’s website or the field’s Facebook page for the latest game schedule and book your tickets accordingly.
Address: 1060 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60613, USA
Website: Wrigley Field
25. Head to McCormick Place
Bordering the shore of Lake Michigan and touted to be North America’s largest convention centre is the McCormick Place, a complex of four interconnected buildings and an indoor arena where some of the largest public events, trade fairs, and other shows are hosted; this is where the Chicago Auto Show takes place. You can easily check up their website and plan to attend one of the ongoing shows. Head there to see the meaning of the word ginormous take shape in the form of the McCormick Place’s sheer size, amenities, and facilities.
Address: 2301 S King Dr, Chicago, IL 60616, USA
Website: McCormick Place
26. Check out the green spaces at Garfield Park Conservatory
Drinking in all the rain. #Tulips and #muscari in the Artist’s Garden getting ready to give us a big show. #SeeAtGPC #grapehyacinth #thinkspring #natureinthecity #🌷Posted by Garfield Park Conservatory on Friday, 19 April 2019
Truly, the open areas in Chicago are stunning, but taking that a notch higher is the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of USA’s largest greenhouse conservatories and home to some of the most exquisite flora exhibits. Rife with diverse plant species and cycads that are more than 2,000 years old, the conservatory is refreshing and invigorating for the eyes, lungs, and the whole being. The Garfield Park Conservatory regularly hosts showcases of new arrangements and light-and-sound shows, which you can easily attend. Both the indoor as well as outdoor gardens and their landscaping are a visual, educational as well as aesthetic delight, so you must NOT miss it for anything.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Address: 300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago, IL 60624, USA
Website: Garfield Park Conservatory
Opening hours: Thu - Tue: 9am - 5pm; Wed: 9am - 8pm
While Chicago is usually a safe city for the locals and tourists, there’s a lurking grey area in the city. Head forth this one and a half-hour tour and learn Chicago’s historical connection with a gangster past and a rampant crime scene at one point. The tour is guided by a docent who enlightens you with some very interesting yet freaky details about Chicago’s past. The tour is conducted in a luxury air-conditioned coach with participants being allowed to get off at certain points and explore the area for themselves. There’s also a shorter tour variant available for the time-pressed travellers, so opt-in for that if an hour and a half don’t work for your itinerary.
Chicago Criminals, Mobsters and Gangsters Bus History Tour
Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
Nothing screams awesome more than a helicopter ride above Chicago’s formidable skyline and landscape. Lasting about 12-15 minutes, this tour offers some of the best views of towering skyscrapers of the city and the expansive cover of the water bodies. While you soak in some fantastic views, the pilot will also be providing a commentary of information about the many buildings in your sight and the city on the whole. Quite a unique experience, this one.
Chicago Helicopter Tour
Duration: 12 to 15 minutes
If not the birds-eye-view, enjoy views from the waterfront. One hour and fifteen minutes long, the cruise ride and the on-board commentary provides some valuable insight into the varied architecture of Chicago’s buildings. Right from the John Hancock Centre to the Willis Tower, the tour covers a total of about 40 buildings and their architecture.
Chicago Architecture River Cruise Guided Tour
Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes
Chicago is an easily walkable city and making it so are the many beautiful stretches that provide the best of views and surroundings – the Magnificent Mile is one. It is also a shopping district, so keep them monies ready, shopaholics! This guided walking tour takes you through the history of the street and throws light on the many striking buildings that fall along its way. You’ll gain some important information on the inspirational architecture of these Gothic-, Parisian-, Neoclassical-, and Art Dec-style inspired buildings along with those made alike newer architectural styles. The tour is about an hour and a half long, so keep that kind of time aside.
Chicago Walking Tour: The Magnificent Mile
Plenty to do
By now, you may have realized that culture abounds every part of Downtown Chicago. Right from the many museums to the awe-inspiring skyscrapers, exploring the nature to engaging in outdoor activities, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Use this list of things to do in Downtown Chicago, Illinois, and consider your holiday sorted.
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