Sitting at the tip of one of North America’s Great Lakes, Chicago is a city of endless contrasts. The skyscraper’s birthplace and home to some of America’s most iconic buildings, it also boasts one of the world’s best collections of modern architecture, starting of course with that of its most famous son Frank Lloyd Wright.
Chicago has an edge that makes it one of the best places to visit in the US, a metropolis that defines Midwestern friendliness, from world-class shopping to its diverse neighborhoods and top-notch sports teams.
There is more to Chicago than taking a reflection selfie at Cloud Gate – also known as the Chicago Bean. We spent a week in Chicago and had lots of fun exploring the windy city. Read and enjoy the things to do in Chicago with kids or without.
See it all from 360 Chicago Observation Deck at John Hancock Center
The Best place to see the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan (the fifth-largest lake in the world) is from the 360 Chicago Observation Deck at John Hancock Center. We visited and had a great time watching a 360-degree view of the city while eating ice cream.
The Observatory Deck, located on the 94th floor of John Hancock Center, has spectacular views of the crowded skyline. From the 1300 foot high platform, you can see four states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Wisconsin) and, of course, the great lakes. You can take the swinging platform to an exciting height, relax on a lounge table and enjoy the sunset.
Explore Chicago’s Museums
Chicago is home to many art galleries and some of the most impressive museums in the country, with things to do for people of all ages and interests. The best museums in Chicago include
The Field Museum
The Field Museum is one of the best museums in Chicago and is worth a visit. It’s home to some of the most impressive collections of dinosaurs, ancient cultures, and natural history in the world. There are also many things to do for kids, including interactive exhibits and cool dinosaur dig pits.
Art Institute of Chicago
The permanent collection at The Art Insitute is a treasure trove for those who love art. With over 300,000 pieces, you’ll find lots to explore and enjoy in all six galleries. You can spend here the whole day, and you still won’t see everything in the Art Institute of Chicago – it’s the 3rd largest museum in the USA.
The Art Institute includes such iconic works as Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist or The Bedroom by Vincent van Gogh.
Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is one of the city’s most popular museums, with a diverse and ever-changing collection of art from around the world, so there’s always something new to see. MCA also offers a range of educational programs for all ages, concerts, and other special events.
The Oriental Institute Museum
The Oriental Institute Museum is a unique Chicago museum focusing on ancient Near Eastern cultures. The museum has an impressive collection of artifacts from civilizations like Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt and there are also exhibits on ancient art and culture and contemporary Islamic art.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Frank Lloyd Wright was a junior architect here in the office of Louis Sullivan, where he was fired for taking on house design work for his own private clients – a misdemeanor discovered because of his unique style. Nevertheless, you can find examples of FLW’s moonlighting work still serving as private houses in the Chicago suburbs, and a great place to begin is with a visit to his own home and studio at 951 Chicago Avenue in the Oak Park suburb. If you like his work, there are more comprehensive tours available.
Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is one of the most popular museums in Chicago, focusing on science, technology, and industry. The museum has an impressive collection of exhibits on everything from aviation through transportation to energy. In addition, there are interactive exhibits for kids, a planetarium, and an IMAX theatre.
National Museum of Mexican Art
The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago is one of the city’s best museums, with exhibits ranging from pre-Columbian art to 20th-century decorative arts. One of the things to see at this museum is the Dia de Los Muertos exhibition.
Take an architecture cruise
The Windy City’s architectural style is unique, historic, and complex, and the waters of the Chicago River offer the perfect view. When you cruise under city buildings, you will see East Bank clubs, Old Post Office buildings, towers, and more. Touring typically lasts an hour or more, and the guides are surprisingly informative and entertaining.
Explore the Chicago River by kayak
Take a quiet paddle through Chicago’s famous cityscape in one kayak or a tandem kayak. This tour company provides all the equipment and a knowledgeable guide who will share architectural, cultural, and historical details. The Chicago River is a complex of natural rivers and canals. It used to flow into nearby Lake Michigan, but the whole flow was deliberately reversed in an enormous engineering feat in the 1890s. It now discharges into the Des Plaines River – a tributary of the Mississippi, linking Chicago and the great lakes with the deep south by navigable waterways.
Spend an afternoon at Navy Pier
The iconic Lakeside destination of Chicago Navy Pier offers famous restaurants a variety of activities such as shopping, boating excursions, etc. The waterway was initially designed to be a freight dock but gradually expanded through the last century. Today, it offers exhibitions, rides parks, and a spectacular view of the glittering Michigan lake. This area is also the leading destination for cruises. This Explorer Pass gives you access to the attractions at Navy Pier, as well as to other 25 places in Chicago.
See real Chicago on a Street Art Tour
Illinois is an urban hub of art. Get off the beaten path with the unique tour where you step out of the crowd. Guides not only introduce you to the most beautiful murals in town, but they also explain their meaning as well as their history. When the walk gets you thirsty, you can choose where you stop at the beer shop or bring your car for lunch. Of course, if you’re an Instagrammer, you’ll probably choose between everything found on your way out of Chicago!
Explore Lakefront on a Segway tour
With almost three million citizens, Chicago is one of the US’s three largest cities. Walking this place is impossible. So take a segway tour. Gliding along the riverfront downtown and exploring other destinations, you can learn more about the city from experienced local guides. They’re easy for the entire family to operate – or so we are told. Unfortunately, we weren’t quite brave enough to try ourselves.
Go to the Chicago Theatre
The Chicago Theatre is a historic movie palace in the Loop area of downtown Chicago is known for its elaborate architecture and decor and its large and distinctive marquee. The theatre was opened in 1921 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Learn the true stories behind the city’s mob past
Immerse yourself in Chicago’s criminal culture by taking a specially organized gang saga through ruined streets. Then, follow infamous criminals’ footsteps by visiting crime sites and learning about the mobsters of the notorious era of alcohol prohibition.
Go for a stroll in the Chicago Park district
Chicago’s Park District is home to more than 580 parks and facilities, making it one of the largest park districts in the country. From world-famous parks like Millennium Park and Grant Park to smaller neighborhood parks, there’s a park for everyone in Chicago.
Millennium Park is Chicago’s most popular park, located in the heart of downtown. It features things to do like Cloud Gate aka The Bean, an interactive Crown Fountain with light and water fountains, Lurie Garden, Pritzker Pavilion bandshell, the Wrigley Square Footbridge over Lake Shore Drive, Chase Promenade, Chase North Garden, and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Grant Park is one of Chicago’s most popular city parks, with things to do like Buckingham Fountain, Maggie Daley Park Playlot, and the Museum Campus. The park is also home to the world-famous Art Institute of Chicago and Shedd Aquarium.
Lincoln Park is a large urban park on the North Side of Chicago. Lincoln Park is home to things like the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and Promontory Point, with its great views of Lake Michigan.
Washington Park is a large urban park located in Chicago’s Washington Park community area on the South Side. Things to see in Washington Park include the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Garfield Park Conservatory, and Promontory Point, located near Burnham Park.
Jackson Park is a large urban park located in Chicago’s Washington Park community area on the South Side. The most notable attraction in Jackson Park is the Yoko Ono “Skylanding” sculpture installed in 2018.
Get a bird’s eye view on a helicopter tour
Take your eyes into the sky to get a breathtaking view of Windy City. The dazzling skyline offers an entirely different perspective. Pilots show all the city’s icons while providing fascinating insights into the city’s history.
Go crazy shopping
If you’re looking for some world-class shopping while in Chicago, you need to check out the Magnificent Mile. This exclusive stretch of Michigan Avenue is home to some of the best shopping in the city, with stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom all calling it home. You’ll find everything from high-end fashion to home decor, so be sure to bring your credit card!
Extra fun things to do in Chicago with kids
This is where things get fun. Chicago has some extraordinary things in store for them if you have kids! From the live animals of the Lincoln Park Zoo to the giant dinosaurs at the Field Museum, things are happening all around town that kids will love.
And don’t forget to treat yourself to the Chicago style hot dogs, which tastes delicious!
Visit Lincoln Park Zoo
The zoo is home to over 1,000 animals worldwide, and it’s open 365 days a year. The zoo’s most popular exhibits include the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, Regenstein African Journey, and the Kovler Lion House.
It’s one of the best zoos in the world and a must-see if you visit Chicago with kids.
Feed a giraffe at Brookfield Zoo
The Brookfield Zoo is a zoo located in the Chicago suburb of Brookfield, Illinois. The zoo covers 212 acres (86 ha) and is home to over 2,000 animals, representing nearly 300 species.
Catch kangaroos at Australia House, feed the giraffe on Habitat Africa, see the alligator in The Swamp, and visit the prestigious Brookfield Zoo. Brookfield Zoo is a beautiful place to go for kids. Make zoo scavenger hunts a great experience!
Chicago children’s museum
The Chicago Children’s Museum is a museum that is geared specifically for kids. Located in the downtown area of Chicago, it features exhibits and activities that will keep kids entertained for hours. The museum’s most popular exhibits include the Art Studio, the WaterWorks play area, and the Block Party exhibit.
Admire Belugas in Shedd aquarium
The Shedd Aquarium is a world-renowned aquarium located in the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s home to over 32,000 animals from around the world, and it offers visitors a chance to see them up close and learn about their biology and ecology. Some of the aquarium’s most popular exhibits include the Oceanarium, the Stingray Touch Pool, and the Wild Reef exhibit.
Play at Legoland Discovery Center
The Legoland Discovery Center is a family-friendly amusement park located in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg. It’s geared specifically towards kids aged 3-12, and it features over 3 million Lego bricks in its exhibits. Some of the center’s most popular attractions include the 4D cinema, the Duplo Village, and the Master Builder Academy.
It is a great place for indoor fun when it’s rainy or cold outside.
Things to do in Chicago – Summary
Chicago is a great city for tourists of all ages. There are plenty of things to do, including shopping on the Magnificent Mile, visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo, and checking out the exhibits at the Shedd Aquarium. Kids will love Legoland Discovery Center and the Chicago Children’s Museum, while adults can enjoy an afternoon at the theatre or a night out on the town. So no matter what you’re looking for, Chicago has something to offer!
If you are on a tight budget, you can always enjoy one of Chicago Park Districts or Chicago Riverwalk.