Planning a trip to the Windy City? Bring out your travel planner and jot down all the best things to do in Chicago, Illinois. Street-style hotdogs, deep-dish pizzas, live jazz, central parks, and cloud-reaching skyscrapers only scratch the surface of what makes Chicago one of the most famous tourist destinations in the United States.
With cultural museums, art galleries, world-famous thrill rides, and lively city life, there’s no end to the Windy City’s fascinations. To top it all off, many top tourist attractions in Chicago go hand-in-hand with Lake Michigan, bringing a whole new level of aesthetic sceneries and enjoyable water activities for the locals and tourists.
Can’t seem to decide where to go and what to do? Plan the perfect trip itinerary with this guide on the best places to visit in Chicago, IL.
Got more travel plans on the horizon? Check out all our other attractions guides and our Illinois Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Best places to visit in Chicago, IL
Even if you’ve only got one day in Chicago, you don’t want to miss out on one of the most raged-about attractions for locals and tourists alike: Millennium Park. Whether you’re taking a much-needed solo break or taking time off with your family, this top-listed attraction has something for everyone.
Buckle up and stride towards a mesmerizing overview of Chicago’s skylines through Cloud Gate. One look at this centric attraction, and it’ll be a no-brainer why it’s also known as “The Bean.” The striking 66-foot-long and 33-foot-high stainless steel sculpture is a masterpiece of renowned British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor.
Head towards the Crown Fountain to cool off from sweating in the summer heat. Inspired by the Gothic culture, the fountain is one-of-a-kind, with water emerging from gargoyles’ mouths.
Get soaked while you enjoy the digital displays on 50-foot glass towers surrounding the fountain area.
The transformation of Navy Pier from its wartime past to a present-day entertainment hub is unreal. Located beside Lake Michigan, it’s the ideal place to make the most of Chicago nights.
Unleash your inner child with a fun-filled day at Pier Park. Take a seat at the Centennial Wheel and watch Chicago in all its glory at a height of 200 feet. Experience a full-on sensory experience in its mazes.
If you’re more invested in cultural attractions and museums, you won’t be disappointed at Navy Pier either. Watch a classic play with modern twists at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.
The outdoor attractions at Navy Pier are second to none, too. Book a boat cruise and revel in the beauty of Lake Michigan in style. Or get inspired by the public art and exhibition display.
End your Navy Pier tour with a lively musical session with drinks by your side and one of the best views of the city at Miller Lite Beer Garden.
Ever dreamt of standing on top of the world, high above in the clouds? Plan a visit to Skydeck Chicago and make it happen!
Begin the visit with the museum before going up for a collective overview of the city’s rich culture and history. The captivating exhibits will take your breath away. Let’s not forget that this is just the start of a tour filled with Instagrammable pictures!
Take in all that the city has to offer with a trip to the Skydeck. Located on the 103rd floor of the iconic Willis Tower at 1353 feet, the spot has a spectacular 50-mile view of—count it!—four different states.
Challenge yourself to step out on The Ledge, the glass viewing block balcony extending 4.3 feet from the Skydeck. What awaits are unforgettable views from the streets right up to Chicago’s esteemed skyline!
Lincoln Park Zoo
Once you’re tired of the city’s skylines and revelry, slide over to Lincoln Park Zoo and fall in love with nature.
One of the top points of interest in Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo has tons to offer, not just for kids but for adults as well. Wonder while you wander through the acres of space, home to thousands of animals from across the world.
Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of wildlife, an incomparable experience to indulge yourself in nature up close. From majestic lions and playful meerkats to dancing flamingos and raging rhinos, you’ll discover animals you might not even know the names of in their natural habitat at Lincoln Park Zoo.
Not “just another zoo,” Lincoln Park Zoo continues to attract visitors with special events throughout the year. You’re likely to find new animals and an ongoing event or activity every few months, making its first-time visitors come again and again.
An all-in-one spot in the heart of Chicago, Grant Park is a must-see when it comes to famous landmarks, cultural experiences, and contemporary festivals.
Need to take a time-out? Grant Park can become your go-to for that, too! Relax amidst the acres of a green oasis by having a picnic in the park, taking a walk or a bike ride on its paved paths, or watching the Lake Michigan waterfront on Lakefront Trail.
A sucker for French-inspired architecture? Head straight for the Buckingham Fountain. Being one of the largest fountains in the world isn’t the only factor that makes people add it to the top of their list of must-see Chicago attractions. If the combination of eye-catching lights and water shows wasn’t enough, the music brings together the whole vibe.
Maggie Daley Park
While Maggie Daley Park is a new addition to Chicago’s famous green spaces, it’s leading the race in the city’s top sightseeing spots.
Ideally located in the middle of downtown Chicago, Maggie Daley Park is a few minutes away from other top places to go in Chicago, including Millennium Park via BP Bridge. The park is popular amongst all age groups—and rightfully so!
Maggie Daley Park offers a multitude of immersive experiences. Its initial success was thanks to its one-of-a-kind ice Skating Ribbon, with elements of chilly ice-cold winds and a rolling landscape. With activities like rock climbing, miniature golf courses, and picnic groves added later on, it’s become a Chicago favorite.
If Skydeck wasn’t enough to satisfy your need for exhilarating views from the top, 360 CHICAGO is another thrill ride that should make it to your Chicago sightseeing bucket list.
Located on the 94th floor of John Hancock Center on Michigan Avenue, 360 Chicago promises unparalleled views over the city. From over 1,000 feet, the panoramic breathtaking sight will sweep you off your feet.
That’s not all there is to this iconic Chicago attraction. Take it a step further and step onto the TILT, otherwise known as the highest thrill ride in Chicago. Lake Michigan, the Chicago skyline, and three states; you’ll get to see it all!
Not one for daring adventure? Not to worry! Grab a drink from BAR 94 and relax while you enjoy a front-row seat of Chicago’s best views from the clouds.
This city has a lot more to offer for outdoor spaces enthusiasts than you’d think. For one, the Chicago Riverwalk boasts an assortment of spectacular lakefront views, public art exhibits, cruises, boat rides, and mouthwatering cuisine.
Stop by Art on theMART when you’re exploring the Chicago Riverwalk. The colorful displays light up at night and grab their viewers’ attention through creative art projections.
Another beautiful and less-crowded site lies towards the Jetty Portion: the Floating Garden. The greenery and benches make for a quiet little spot to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Don’t deprive your tastebuds of the eccentric taste of the restaurant food found along the Chicago Riverwalk. You can get a light snack, but why not try the specialties like rich, creamy gelatos from Sweet Home Gelato.
The local breweries here brew up some craft beers that you’re bound to recall when you leave the city; don’t just walk past The Northman Beer and Cider Garden when you spot it.
North Avenue Beach
Leaving out North Avenue Beach from your Chicago trip is like not watching that one TV series everyone’s going on about. Even if you’re not a beach person, this stretch of sand is worth visiting at least once.
North Avenue Beach is located in Lincoln Park, meaning you’re killing two birds with one stone when you visit.
Chicago has several beaches, but North Avenue Beach is its prized possession. Besides the golden sand and clear blue water, the unique beach house in the center is one of the reasons North Avenue Beach doesn’t lose it’s charm among other Chicago attractions.
What’s so cool about this beach house, you may ask? It’s an ideal photo op background, with a sleek white and blue ship design. But even more so, it’s famed for its mesmerizing views of the lakefront trail and the city.
It’s been a wild ride for the Field Museum from its opening in 1894—and you’re in for an adventure, too, once you step inside. Turn off National Geographic for the time being: This museum offers everything you’d craze over as a natural history fanatic!
Walk through civilizations, starting from as early as the prehistoric era down to ancient civilizations. You’l learn a ton about history and see ancient artifacts with your very eyes.
The Field Museum will surprise you with displays you won’t see anywhere else, such as dinosaur skeletons, Egyptian tombs, rare insects, and much more!
If you’ve got wiggle room in your Chicago travel plans, try to time your visit to the Field Museum with its seasonal exhibitions. Along with permanent displays, the museum occasionally offers temporary exhibits tha’ll reawaken your love for natural history.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Thinking about what to see in Chicago and pushed aside the Art Institute of Chicago? Don’t make the mistake: The Art Institute has repeatedly made the list of the world’s top museums.
This popular art gallery has a near-endless collection that ranges across timelines and countries. The Art Institute of Chicago a haven for anyone looking to find inspiration and extend their creative abilities.
Whether you want to see Van Gogh’s work in person or explore lesser-known artists, the Art Institute combines thousands of artworks in one place.
Besides the permanent collection, the Art Institute of Chicago has temporary exhibitions from time to time featuring exquisite masterpieces. To know more about the upcoming exhibitions, visit their website.
Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
Who knew science could be exciting instead of those painful memories of memorizing concepts? Well, that’s what the Museum of Science and Industry promises: Understanding science through hands-on immersive experiences that make it fun.
The Museum of Science and Industry brings a plethora of activities that transport you through the fascinating world of science. You might be planning a trip here for your kids, but you’ll likely enjoy the activities as much as them—if not more!
Find your way through a mathematical mirror maze. Learn more about how your body works with the YOU! exhibit. Get a real-life experience of WWII through an actual U-boat. Or dive into a coal mine to see how the technology works.
Don’t rush the experience; there’s so much to see & do here that it’ll deserve a good chunk of your day in Chicago.
You might never hear this elsewhere, but there’s a very high chance that Shedd Aquarium was named so as you’re bound to shed a tear or two while leaving.
At this top-rated Chicago attraction, you’re surrounded by a calm and peaceful aura of sealife. From small tiny snails to big majestic whales and from crawling turtles to diving dolphins, the Shedd Aquarium houses a wide variety of animals. You can even meet “Granddad,” the oldest living fish in any aquarium or zoo.
Above all, you can even engage in different exciting activities. Head up to the Polar Play Zone to play, pretend, and discover with your kids and family. Observe the attention-grabbing aquatic show to see belugas and dolphins putting up a performance of their lives.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the “Jellies” exhibit—it’s one of the most fascinating things to see in Chicago.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Want more insight on the best things to do in Chicago? Add Garfield Park Conservatory to the list and prepare to be flabbergasted by nature’s wonders. One look at this modernist attraction and you won’t believe that it was built back in the early 1900s!
Even if you don’t have a thing for plants and gardens, you’ll have the time of your life at the Garfield Park Conservatory. There are several different environments, each with a unique characteristic theme, connected to each other by doors. In them, you’ll get a chance to look at exotic plants and flowers from all over the world.
If you feel drained during your Garfield Park Conservatory trip (which is possible considering it’s the 3rd largest garden in the world under glass!), sip a cup of tea or coffee with delicious croissants and muffins.
Chicago Cultural Center
The most interesting part about traveling to another city or country is learning about the traditions and blending in with the culture. A visit to Chicago Cultural Center, as the name suggests, can give you a quick dose of the Windy City’s unique culture.
Before your cultural deep-dive, you’ll be left in awe by the brilliance of the building’s architecture. Once you lay your eyes on the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome, you’ll realize how marvelous it is; words can’t do it justice.
After you’ve taken in the architectural splendor, you’ll be mesmerized by the exhibits and performances. There are numerous art exhibits in the four major galleries of the Chicago Cultural Center, showcasing works of local and national artists.
Chicago Children’s Museum
If you’ve visited Chicago with kids and are looking for a decent enough tourist spot, look no further than Chicago Children’s Museum.
At Chicago Children’s Museum, your kids can have some of the most engaging, outside-the-box, and fun experiences of their lives. If your little ones love playing with water, they’ll love playing around in the WaterWays playground. The enchanted forests of Treehouse Trails are an excellent place for your children to gain an insight into how their (and our) ancestors used to live in primitive times.
RELATED: Best Time of the Year to Travel to Chicago
The most-loved activities at the Chicago Children’s Museum is the Dinosaur or the Saharan Expedition. At this hands-on exhibit, kids can uncover their inner scientists while digging for dinosaur bones and conducting archaeological research.
Chicago is home to one of the best baseball stadiums in the world. If you’re a sports fan, there’s no way you don’t make a pilgrimage to the home of the Chicago Cubs: Wrigley Field.
Even if you visit after the baseball season has ended or on a non-game day, you can enjoy an interesting tour of the grounds. Join the Ivy Tour for a detailed look around the field. In the end, you’ll even get a picture in front of the stadium’s historic ivy wall!
RELATED: Top-Rated Day Trips from Chicago
On a game day, you’re in for a treat. Surrounded by passionate and dedicated Chicagoans, you can cheer the Cubs until your throat gets hoarse. If you’re feeling exhausted from all the cheering, wash down a mouthwatering Chicago-style hot dog with a refreshing beer.
Where to stay in Chicago for sightseeing
For most travelers, many of the top choices for where to stay in Chicago lie within The Loop and River North. Other popular areas in the city for visitors include Streeterville, Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, and West Loop.
Hotel Blake, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member
Watch history and luxury collide at this boutique hotel in The Loop. Despite its central location and sleek decor, the Hotel Blake offers excellent value for the downtown area. Rest easy in your modern room, featuring newspaper-style wallpaper that highlights the hotel and building’s history.
Staypineapple, An Iconic Hotel, The Loop
For a stylish and chic pick in the heart of the city, look no further than the Staypineapple. To get you in the mood for your Chicago sightseeing adventure, grab an in-room coffee in their signature pineapple mugs before embarking on your day. For an extra dash of luxury, splurge for the Millennium Park King Suite to marvel at breathtaking views of The Bean and Lake Michigan.
The Langham Chicago
The ultimate in big-city five-star luxury comes to the fore at The Langham. In every room, floor-to-ceiling windows shine in views of Lake Michigan or the Chicago River. With the hotel’s prime location, some of Chicago’s finest places to eat & drink are within quick walking distance.