Chicago is a city full of cultural offerings, from excellent art museums to great parks and legendary nightclubs. Go to a baseball game, the zoo, or learn about the architecture and history. There’s something for everyone in Chicago.

Here’s our favorites:

1. Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago

 

Art Institute of Chicago is the 2nd largest art museum in the United States, with a permanent collection that contains over 260,000 pieces and includes preeminent examples of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, American art, Old Masters, European and American decorative arts, and Asian art. There is a separate wing that houses Modern art and its massive art collection is world-renowned. Famous paintings on display include: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Seurat, The Old Guitarist by Picasso, Water Lilies by Monet, and American Gothic by Grant Wood. The museum is centrally located in Chicago’s Grant Park, where two bronze lions stand guard flanking the entrance – read more here (Photo by Teemu008)

2. Millennium Park

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is a 25 acre urban park with green space, public art, landscaped gardens, and event space located in Chicago between the Loop and Lake Michigan and just north of the larger and older Grant Park. The park opened in 2004 and was built to celebrate the new millennium. The star attraction is the oft-photographed Cloud Gate (the Bean), but there’s plenty more to see. The 50-foot tall Crown Fountain is public art sculpture that allows kids can play in the water, and there’s also Lurie Garden, the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, the BP Pedestrian Bridge, and the Nichols Bridgeway. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by Frank Gehry and is used for free outdoor concerts. A multilevel parking garage are now located beneath the park – read more here (Photo by Calamity_sal)

3. Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field

 

Wrigley Field is widely considered to be one of the great cathedrals of baseball, and visiting the stadium is a link back to the origins of baseball. In 2014, Wrigley turned 100 years old, and it’s been the home field of the Chicago Cubs for 98 of those 100 years. For the two years before that, it was home to the Chicago Whales. It is the second oldest stadium in MLB after Fenway Park in Boston. Iconic images at Wrigley include the ivy on the outfield walls, the famous marquee out front, the hand-operated scoreboard, the bleachers and rooftops across the street, and the pennants flying above the scoreboard. Consider taking a tour of Wrigley Field. Tours include visits to the field, the locker room, and the press box – read more here (Photo by Chris Brown)

4. Willis Tower

Willis Tower

 

Willis Tower in Chicago is 1,353 feet tall and was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1973. It is currently the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 7th in the world. Visitors can take a super-fast elevator that travels from the lobby to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor in 60 seconds. Once there, fearless visitors can then step out onto one of The Ledges, which are glass boxes that extend out 4 feet from the Skydeck and have a glass floor. (One of the Ledges was closed for a short time in 2014 after the glass floor cracked.) – read more here (Photo by David Berkowitz)

5. Chicago Architecture Foundation Tours

Chicago Architecture Foundation Tours

Chicago is the “City of the Big Shoulders,” and the Chicago Architecture Foundation Tours offers a great introduction to the city’s history and culture by exploring Chicago’s massive skyscrapers, magnificent churches, grand hotels, and other historically significant buildings. The Foundation offers more than 85 different tours of the city. Tours can be taken by boat (the most popular tours), bike, €œL€, bus, segway, or walking. The Foundation is a nonprofit organization, and tour guides are very knowledgeable and accommodating – read more here (Photo by Smart Destinations)

6. The Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History

The Field Museum of Natural History contains a staggering 26 million artifacts and specimens, making it one of the premiere natural history museums in the world. The collection is so massive that only 1% of the items can be displayed at any one time. The museum was originally called the Field Columbian Museum, and it opened in 1893 as part the Chicago World’s Fair and housed a collection of artifacts and exhibits. It moved to its current location near the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium in 1921. A visit to The Field Museum is a walk through history. The favorite exhibit is probably Sue, the largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen ever found. Other favorite exhibit include Inside Ancient Egypt, which contains 23 complete mummies and an actual Book of the Dead, and The Ancient Americas, which dwells on the life and culture of the Native Americans – read more here (Photo by Allison Meier)

7. Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is the largest science museum in the western hemisphere with over 35,000 artifacts spread across 14 acres. The huge and sprawling complex opened in 1933 south of downtown in the beautiful former Palace of Fine Arts that was built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The most popular exhibits include a German U-505 submarine captured during WWII, a full-size replica Coal Mine, the Silver Streak Pioneer Zephyr Train, and the Apollo 8 spacecraft that carried the first humans to the moon – read more here (Photo by Annette Stahelin)

8. Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo is a 35-acre zoo just north of downtown Chicago that was founded in 1868, making it one of the oldest zoos in the country. It’s not as large as the Brookfield Zoo west of town, but it is more accessible and compact. And it’s free. The zoo began in 1868 with the donation of a pair of swans from New York’s Central Park, and now there are now over 1,200 animals. Wide walking paths are flanked by flowering gardens and mature shade trees and meander between the old Georgian Revival buildings and modern structures that house the indoor animals – read more here (Photo by Valerie Everett)

9. 360 Chicago

360 Chicago

360 Chicago in located on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Tower, which is a 100-story, 1,127-foot tall skyscraper on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The Tower was completed in 1968 and is now Chicago’s 4th tallest building, but it has some of the most unobstructed views of the skyline. To get to 360 Chicago (formerly John Hancock Observatory), visitors take North America’s fastest elevator, which whisks them to the 94th floor in 40 seconds. For the more brave at heart, there is TILT, which allows 8 people at a time to tilt outward from the building and look downward from 1,000 feet – read more here (Photo by Monika Thorpe)

10. Magnificent Mile

Magnificent Mile

The Magnificent Mile is world famous and a must-see for any visitor to Chicago who likes to shop. The shopping opportunities include both high-end department stores and smaller luxury boutiques, and there are also many luxury-class hotels are also in the area. The prestigious section of Michigan Avenue runs from the Chicago River to Oak Street in the Near North Side, and it serves as the main thoroughfare between the Loop business district and the Gold Coast – read more here (Photo by Stephen Hanafin)

11. Shedd Aquarium

Shedd-Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium houses 1500 species of fish, marine mammals, snakes, and amphibians and is one of the most popular attractions in Chicago. When the Shedd opened in 1930, it contained over 25,000 fish, making it the largest indoor aquarium in the world when it opened, and the only inland aquarium with a permanent saltwater fish collection. Animal highlights of a visit include Beluga whales, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Nickel the Green Sea Turtle, California Sea Lions, and Bob the Grand Caymon Blue Iguana. Maybe the most famous animal is Granddad, an Australian lungfish, who has been a resident at the Shedd since 1933. The Shedd is located at the Museum Campus on the Lake Michigan shore near the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium – read more here (Photo by Michael Gray)

12. Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center is the perfect place to start off a visit to the city. Housed in a beautiful, historic building that takes up an entire downtown block, the Center not only serves as Chicago’s official visitor’s center, it also houses art galleries and hosts hundreds of concerts, recitals, dance performances, and films throughout the best. It is considered one of the most comprehensive arts showcases in the country, and, best of all, everything is free. The Visitor’s Resource Center is located on the first floor of the Beaux Arts style building and is the perfect to get expert advice on the best Chicago sites and attractions. Be sure to note the the Tiffany-stained glass dome – it’s the largest in the world and has an estimated worth of $35 million – read more here (Photo by Velvet)

13. The Second City

The Second City

For comedy fans, Second City is a Chicago must-see attraction. The improvisational comedy company that was founded in 1959 in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood and is considered to be one of the best launching pad for comedians in the whole country. Comedians who got their start at Second City include Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, John Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. Second City has since expanded to other locations, including Toronto and Los Angeles. The shows consist of a rotation of comedy skits with a few improv segments thrown in. Tip: don’t sit in the first few rows if you don’t want to be chosen to come on stage – read more here (Photo by John)

14. The Green Mill

The Green Mill

The Green Mill is the oldest nightclub in Chicago and may be the oldest jazz club in the country. In addition to offering some of the finest jazz in town, it is a great place to try Chicago’s own Malort liqueur. The bar opened in 1907 as Pop Morse’s Roadhouse and was changed to The Green Mill in 1910 when an actual green windmill was attached to the roof. During the Prohibition era, tunnels under the bar were used to smuggle in booze, and business boomed. Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, who was Al Capone’s most trusted gunman, was a part-owner of the club, and Capone was a frequent patron. His table can still be found in the club – read more here (Photo by Señor Codo)

15. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright Home

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is located in Chicago’s Oak Park neighborhood and is where Wright developed his Prairie School of Architecture style. Wright purchased the property in 1889 at the age of 22. He and his wife, Catherine, raised six children in the home and lived there until 1909, when Wright left his wife and moved to Germany with another woman. The home itself is not a textbook example of the Prairie style, but it does include the “inglenook” fireplaces, innovative floor plans, art-glass windows, and horizontal sightlines that were to become representative of the Prairie style. In 1976, the home was declared a National Historic Landmark. Tours of the Home and Studio are inclusive enough to include explanations of the thought processes behind his designs – read more here (Photo by Teemu008)

16. Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is consistently cited as one of the greatest orchestras in the world and is known as one of the “Big Five” U.S. orchestras along with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Cleveland Orchestra. Any chance to see them will be a highlight of a trip to Chicago. The Symphony makes its home at Orchestra Hall in the Symphony Center and performs over 100 concerts annually. The CSO maintains a summer home at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park. Symphony Center is located in Chicago’s Loop and also includes Buntrock Hall, Grainger Ballroom, a rotunda, offices, and a restaurant – read more here (Photo by Mark Ordonez)

17. Oriental Institute Museum

Oriental Institute Museum

The Oriental Institute Museum is part of the University of Chicago and is dedicated to the history, art, and archaeology of the ancient Near East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Sumeria, Syria, and Anatolia. Works range from 10,000 BC to around 650 CE, and there are over 30,000 artifacts from Egypt alone. The University sponsored expeditions to the Middle East as far back as 1896, and the Oriental Institute Museum was opened in 1931 to showcase the collection to the public. One of the major expeditions of the Institute was conducted in Egypt between the years 1926 to 1933 and included the excavation of the tomb of King Tutankhamun. The excavation discovered two statues of the king – one resides at the Institute and the other at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo – read more here (Photo by benet2006)

18. Buddy Guy’s Legends

Buddy Guy's Legends

Buddy Guy’s Legends was opened in 1989 by the blues guitar legend and has since became the premiere venue for blues music in Chicago. The club features live music every day of the week with a mix of nationally known and up-and-coming acts. The cozy environment sports memorabilia on the wall and a menu of southern and Cajun food. Buddy Guy is regularly in the house, and in the last few years he has been there for a January residency. The nightclub is consistently hailed by authority sources as one of the best blues clubs in America – read more here (Photo by Matthew Ginger)

19. Merz Apothecary

Merz Apothecary

To enter Merz Apothecary is to step back in time to an era when drugstores didn’t just have pharmacists filling prescriptions written out by doctors. When Peter Merz opened his shop in 1875, pharmacists filled the role of a chemist – they would listen to the customer explain his condition and then make up a custom remedy by combining an ingredient from one glass jar with ingredients from other glass jars. The shop originally served the European immigrant community and specialized in using traditional European remedies and herbal medicines to treat his clientele. Merz moved to a new, larger location in 1982, which was built to resemble a turn-of-the-century European Apothecary. Merz has become a mecca for people who want unique and natural products for their bodies, and it’s a great place to shop for homeopathic medicine, vitamins and other natural remedies, plus European soaps, lotions, and skin care products – read more here (Photo by Andy Piper)

20. Navy Pier

Navy Pier

The Navy Pier was built in 1916 on Chicago’s shoreline, and it juts out 3,300-foot into Lake Michigan. It is Chicago’s number one tourist attraction. Stuff to do at there include plenty of touristy stuff that can be found in other cities, but there’s also attrctions that are unique to Chicago, including the Chicago Children’s Museum, Shakespeare Theater, and Crystal Gardens. Every summer the pier is home to a Beer Garden and in the winter there is a Winter Wonder Fest – read more here (Photo by Jeff Dell)

21. Grant Park

Grant Park

 

Grant Park occupies a beautiful stretch of land between the skyscrapers of the Loop and the Lake Michigan waterfront, providing a central gathering place for both Chicagoans and visitors. The park provides on-lookers with breathtaking views of one of the most revered skylines in the world. Attractions include: Buckingham Fountain – one of the world’s largest fountains, the Museum Campus of the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Millennium Park – read more here (Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar)

22. Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Steppenwolf Theatre Company was founded in the basement of a church in Highland Park in 1974 and has grown to become an internationally renowned and Tony Award-winning theatre company. Actors who began their careers at there include John Malkovich, Martha Plimpton, and Nick Offerman, and many of their productions travelling to New York, Los Angeles, and other cities. Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents modern plays using Chicago-based actors, directors, and playwrights. The acting is always professional and excellent – read more here (Photo by Seth Anderson)

Featured photo by Giuseppe Milol. All photos CC-BY-2.0.

See our list of the 49 best things to do in Chicago here.

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