Top 12 Attractions in Chicago

Last Updated on February 23, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Chicago is one of the most vibrant and exciting cities in the United States. Known for its world-class architecture, stunning lakefront views, fantastic food scene, and lively cultural attractions, Chicago has something to offer every type of traveler.

AttractionKey Features
Millennium ParkHome to iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (“The Bean”), Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Crown Fountain, and Lurie Garden. Offers free cultural programs.
Willis Tower SkydeckOffers bird’s eye views from the 103rd floor; features the Ledge, glass boxes extending outside the building.
Navy PierFeatures shops, restaurants, gardens, amusement rides, and the Centennial Wheel.
The Art Institute of ChicagoKnown for impressionist and post-impressionist art, houses nearly 300,000 works including famous paintings like “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”.
Wrigley FieldIconic baseball stadium, home of the Chicago Cubs, offers game-day experiences and tours.
Magnificent MileChicago’s famous shopping and dining strip, includes major stores and historic landmarks like the Water Tower.
360 Chicago Observation DeckLocated on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center, offers panoramic city views and TILT experience.
Lincoln Park ZooA free, world-class zoo with over 1,000 animal species in carefully designed habitats.
RiverwalkA 1.25 mile-long public space along the Chicago River, featuring dining, art installations, and recreational activities.
Shedd AquariumOne of the largest indoor aquariums, home to 32,000 animals, with exhibits like the Caribbean Reef and the Wild Reef.
Museum of Science and IndustryThe largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, featuring a wide range of interactive exhibits including a replica coal mine and a German submarine.
Field Museum of Natural HistoryHouses over 40 million specimens and artifacts, including dinosaur fossils and the famous T. Rex named SUE.

With so many things to see and do, it can be overwhelming to decide what to prioritize on your Chicago itinerary. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the top 12 attractions you absolutely must visit when you’re in Chicago. From iconic landmarks like the Willis Tower and Navy Pier to fascinating museums and lively neighborhoods, these are the essential experiences that make Chicago such a great travel destination.

Whether you’re visiting Chicago for the first time or you’re a repeat visitor looking for new things to explore, this guide covers the attractions you won’t want to miss. So get ready to take in the best of the Windy City with this list of the top 12 attractions in Chicago!

1. Millennium Park

Name and Location: Millennium Park is located in downtown Chicago in the Loop area.

History and Significance: Opened in 2004, Millennium Park is considered Chicago’s town square and features public art like Cloud Gate (The Bean) as well as music performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

What to Expect: Visitors can see Cloud Gate, the Crown Fountain, Lurie Garden, and art exhibitions at the Chase Promenades. There are often free concerts and events.

Visitor Information: Millennium Park is open 6am to 11pm daily and admission is free.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Chicago, Millennium Park is a must-visit located right in the heart of downtown. Opened in 2004, this massive 25-acre park is home to several impressive architectural landmarks.

The park’s centerpiece is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a bandshell designed by Frank Gehry with amazing acoustics for live concerts. The iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, nicknamed “The Bean” for its reflective bean-like shape, is also located here and has become a symbol of Chicago. Other attractions include the Crown Fountain’s two glass block towers and the gorgeous Lurie Garden.

Beyond the sculptures and landmarks, Millennium Park frequently hosts free cultural programs like summer concerts, art exhibitions, and more. It’s a lively gathering place for both tourists and locals alike. Don’t miss taking a stroll and snapping an Instagram-worthy photo next to The Bean!

2. Willis Tower Skydeck

Name and Location: Willis Tower Skydeck is located at 233 S Wacker Dr in the Loop area.

History and Significance: Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, was once the tallest building in the world. The Skydeck on the 103rd floor offers views of Chicago.

What to Expect: Visitors can see views from 1,353 feet up and can even stand on The Ledge, a glass box extending out from the building.

Visitor Information: The Skydeck is open daily from 9am-10pm. Tickets start at $27 for adults.

For unparalleled city views, head to the Skydeck at the Willis Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the U.S. Located in the heart of the Chicago Loop, this 110-story skyscraper is one of Chicago’s most iconic architectural landmarks.

Ascend to the 103rd floor Skydeck to get a bird’s eye perspective of Chicago from 1,353 feet up. The views of the cityscape, Lake Michigan, and surrounding suburbs are absolutely breathtaking. Don’t miss the thrilling Ledge, which are glass boxes extending 4.3 feet outside the Skydeck, suspending you high above the city below.

In addition to the incredible views, interactive exhibits let you learn about the building and Chicago’s history and architecture. Visiting the Willis Tower Skydeck is easily one of the most memorable things to do in Chicago.

3. Navy Pier

Name and Location: Navy Pier is located at 600 E Grand Ave along Lake Michigan.

History and Significance: Navy Pier opened in 1916 as a shipping and recreation facility and showcases dining, shops and attractions.

What to Expect: Visitors can ride the Centennial Wheel, visit museums and exhibitions, dine, take cruises and enjoy free entertainment.

Visitor Information: Navy Pier is open from 10am-8pm in winter, with extended summer hours. There is no admission fee.

Located right on the shores of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is Chicago’s top tourist attraction, drawing nearly 10 million visitors annually. Originally built as a shipping and recreation facility in 1916, the 3,300-foot-long pier today features attractions like shops, restaurants, gardens, concert venues and amusement rides.

Family-friendly highlights include the iconic Centennial Wheel, a 196-foot tall Ferris wheel with spectacular lake views. The Chicago Children’s Museum is also located here and kids will love the rides at the Pier Park amusement area. Catch a show at the Shakespeare Theatre or a concert at the Festival Hall.

In addition to great entertainment and dining options, Navy Pier offers stunning views of Lake Michigan and downtown’s skyline. Take an architecture boat tour for unparalleled views of Chicago from the water. When you visit Chicago, no trip is complete without checking out this Chicago landmark.

4. The Art Institute of Chicago

Name and Location: The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S Michigan Ave in Grant Park.

History and Significance: Founded in 1879, this encyclopedic art museum houses important works with its well-known collection including American Gothic.

What to Expect: Visitors can see iconic art and artifacts spanning various cultures and time periods, including Monet, Warhol, Chagall, Picasso and more.

Visitor Information: The museum is open daily from 10:30am-5pm, closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tickets are $25 for adults.

Recognized as one of the world’s great art museums, The Art Institute of Chicago is known for its outstanding collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, American and modern art.

Housing close to 300,000 works, standout exhibits include Georges Seurat’s famous A Sunday on La Grande Jatte painting, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, and Warhol’s iconic pop art creations.

Beyond the permanent collection, the museum hosts excellent rotating exhibitions and events. Be sure to stop and see the museum’s most iconic feature, the two lions that stand guard outside the Michigan Avenue entrance. No visit to Chicago is complete without seeing these famous lion statues up close.

With great art, stunning architecture and a wonderful lakefront location adjacent to Millennium Park, the Art Institute is a must on any Chicago itinerary.

5. Wrigley Field

Name and Location: Wrigley Field is located at 1060 W Addison St in the Lakeview neighborhood.

History and Significance: Opened in 1914, Wrigley Field is one of baseball’s most historic ballparks and home to the Chicago Cubs.

What to Expect: Visitors can take a stadium tour, visit the Cubs Museum or catch a baseball game April through September.

Visitor Information: Ticket prices vary per game. Tours are available most days at $25 per adult ticket.

No trip to Chicago is complete without visiting one of the most beloved baseball stadiums in America. Opened in 1914, Wrigley Field has been the home of the Chicago Cubs franchise for over a century.

Catch an MLB game here during baseball season and you’ll be immersed in an electric, festive atmosphere surrounded by devoted Cubs fans. Take a tour on non-game days to explore the Friendly Confines yourself and see features like the ivy-covered brick outfield wall, iconic red marquee, and classic scoreboard.

While the ballpark is unmistakably old school with its vintage charm and traditions, recent updates have added modern amenities while still retaining the historic feel. Whether you take in a game or opt for a tour, channel your inner baseball fanatic and visit this legendary stadium that’s a true Chicago gem.

6. Magnificent Mile

Name and Location: Magnificent Mile refers to the upscale section of Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street.

History and Significance: Dating from the 1890s, this district features high-end shopping, dining, museums, hotels and landmarks along 13 blocks.

What to Expect: Visitors can shop luxury retail brands, dine at restaurants, people-watch and take in the city views on this bustling stretch.

Visitor Information: The Magnificent Mile is openly accessible daily. Attractions and stores may have varying hours.

Chicago’s most famous shopping, dining and attractions can all be found along the Magnificent Mile, a stretch of Michigan Avenue set against the stunning backdrop of the city skyline. This 13-block area draws millions of visitors each year.

By day, the Mag Mile is a shopper’s paradise with major department stores like Nordstrom, Gucci, Cartier, and dozens more featuring flagship locations here. There’s also plenty of dining options from casual to fine dining.

By night, the Magnificent Mile comes alive with lights aglow from stores, restaurants, hotels and attractions. Be sure to see the Water Tower, a historic landmark and one of the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire.

Don’t miss a stroll up the Mag Mile when visiting Chicago to experience the vibrant energy of this iconic Chicago street.

7. 360 Chicago Observation Deck

Name and Location: 360 Chicago Observation Deck is located at 875 N Michigan Ave, formerly the John Hancock Center.

History and Significance: 360 Chicago offers breathtaking views from the 94th floor of the city and Lake Michigan from 1,000 feet up.

What to Expect: Visitors can see unmatched panoramic views of Chicago from “The Tilt” & observation deck and also enjoy dining options.

Visitor Information: 360 Chicago is open daily with hours that vary by season. Tickets start at $20.95 for adults.

For a bird’s eye panorama from high above Chicago, visit the 360 Chicago Observation Deck located on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center.

At 1,000 feet up, 360 Chicago offers unobstructed views in every direction, providing unique vantage points of the city’s skyline, Lake Michigan and surrounding suburbs. Their state-of-the-art interactive displays let you discover city sites in an immersive way.

Some highlights are the TILT experience, which literally tilts you outward for a thrilling perspective, as well as photo ops on The Ledge, a glass box where you can stand suspended over the city 1,000 feet below. After taking in the sweeping views, stop for a drink at their trendy bar or dine at their contemporary restaurant.

360 Chicago is a breathtaking sightseeing experience and not to be missed on any Chicago trip.

8. Lincoln Park Zoo

Name and Location: Lincoln Park Zoo is located at 2001 N Clark St in Lincoln Park.

History and Significance: Founded in 1868, LPZ is one of the oldest zoos in the country and known for its naturalistic exhibits and wildlife conservation.

What to Expect: Visitors can see animals like lions, monkeys, penguins, polar bears and more roaming lush, open habitats.

Visitor Information: Lincoln Park Zoo is free and open 365 days a year from 10am-5pm.

Lincoln Park Zoo offers an outstanding free attraction in Chicago — a world class zoo in the heart of the city. Home to over 1,000 animal species, this 35-acre zoo has meticulously designed habitats that mimic animals’ natural environments.

See big cats like lions in spacious enclosures that resemble the African savanna, or watch the antics of monkeys and apes up close. Other highlights are seeing rare species like gorillas, snow monkeys, and red pandas. The Regenstein African Journey exhibit is especially impressive, immersing you in wildlife scenes from the continent.

Beyond the animals, the zoo hosts fun hands-on learning activities for kids and special events like Zoo Lights around the holidays. As a free major zoo located right in downtown Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo is easily one of the city’s top attractions for animal lovers, families, and all visitors.

9. Riverwalk

Name and Location: Riverwalk is located along the Chicago River from Lake Shore Drive to Lake Street.

History and Significance: Completed in 2016, this pedestrian waterfront connects the heart of downtown Chicago through piers, restaurants and recreational amenities.

What to Expect: Visitors can stroll, jog or bike while enjoying Chicago-style dining, public art, boat tours and events with city views.

Visitor Information: Riverwalk is openly accessible daily. Hours vary per establishment.

One of Chicago’s newer attractions, the Chicago Riverwalk is an innovative public space created along the Chicago River in the downtown area. Opened in phases starting in 2009, the 1.25 mile-long Riverwalk today offers many features for recreation, dining, art installations and events.

Stroll along the nicely landscaped riverbanks lined with restaurants, bars, retail shops and lounge spaces. Experience Chicago from a new perspective by taking an architecture boat tour or kayaking the river. The Riverwalk also hosts great public programming like free weekend concerts, art fairs and pop-up events.

Linking the downtown Loop area to recreational trail networks, the Chicago Riverwalk is a great way to take in natural scenery while enjoying Chicago’s energetic urban vibe. It’s become a popular gathering place for both Chicagoans and visitors alike.

10. Shedd Aquarium

Name and Location: Shedd Aquarium is located at 1200 S Lake Shore Dr in Museum Campus Chicago.

History and Significance: Open since 1930, Shedd is one of the oldest and largest indoor aquariums featuring an array of global aquatic life.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore exhibits showing coral reefs, Amazon wildlife, sharks, dolphins and more with 32,500 animals.

Visitor Information: Shedd is open daily from 9am, closing times vary. Tickets are around $45 for adults.

Home to 32,000 aquatic animals, Shedd Aquarium is one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. Located on Chicago’s museum campus right next to Lake Michigan, this fascinating aquarium displays an incredible diversity of sea creatures.

Top exhibits include the Caribbean Reef ecosystem with stingrays and vibrant tropical fish. The Wild Reef habitat showcases sharks, eels and other predators. Don’t miss the Oceanarium, where you can see beluga whales, dolphins and sea otters play and swim.

The 4D Experience theater provides an immersive special effects show. Shedd Aquarium also has interactive touch pools, animal encounters and feedings to engage and educate visitors. With many amazing aquatic displays and hands-on areas, it’s a wonderful attraction for visitors of all ages.

11. Museum of Science and Industry

Name and Location: Museum of Science and Industry is located at 57th St and Lake Shore Dr in Hyde Park.

History and Significance: Founded in 1933 in the former Palace of Fine Arts, MSI is the largest science museum featuring interactive exhibits.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore science by riding a real Boeing 727, commanding a WWII submarine, experimenting and watching an Omnimax film.

Visitor Information: MSI is open daily from 9:30am with close times varying by day and season. Tickets start at $22.

The largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is an immense treasure trove of interactive exploratory exhibits. With 14 acres and over 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, you can easily spend a whole day here immersed in the innovative exhibits.

Top displays include a replica coal mine, a German submarine, the Apollo 8 spacecraft, and a huge model railroad. Omnimax theater shows and science demonstrations make learning interactive and engaging. The “Science Storms” exhibit brings tornadoes, tsunamis, avalanches and more to life through innovative technology.

With countless exhibits examining everything from simple machines to cutting-edge technology, the Museum of Science and Industry is an informative and fascinating attraction guaranteed to spark curiosity and awe. Don’t miss it when visiting Chicago with kids.

12. Field Museum of Natural History

Name and Location: Field Museum of Natural History is located at 1400 S Lake Shore Dr in Museum Campus Chicago.

History and Significance: Opened in 1893 as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition, this natural history museum houses diverse artifacts and specimens.

What to Expect: Visitors can see dinosaur fossils, Egyptian mummies, rare gems and ethnographic displays from around the world across varied exhibits.

Visitor Information: The Field Museum is open daily from 9am with closing times varying seasonally. Ticket prices start around $25 for adults.

Chicago’s Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world with over 40 million specimens and artifacts. Exhibits encompass anthropology, botany, geology, zoology and biology.

The museum’s incredible collection features dinosaur fossils, dazzling gemstones, Egyptian mummies, replica tombs, taxidermied lions, bears and other wildlife dioramas. Don’t miss seeing SUE, the world’s largest and most complete T. Rex fossil ever found.

With immersive cultural exhibits, wildlife dioramas, and ancient artifacts spanning the history of the natural world, the Field Museum makes a wonderful paired visit with the Museum of Science and Industry on Chicago’s Museum Campus. Come curious and leave both entertained and enlightened!

Conclusion

From world-famous architecture and museums to vibrant neighborhoods, great food and sports, Chicago offers exceptional attractions for every type of traveler. The top 12 attractions covered in this article are the definitive places you should visit to experience Chicago’s culture, history, energy and spirit in an unforgettable way. Whether it’s your first or fifth time in Chicago, these remarkable attractions are the perfect places to start exploring this dynamic city. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your own Chicago bucket list getaway!

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