Among the country’s best vacation destinations, Chicago is the perfect place for tourists to explore. Many of the top attractions are centrally located in the Loop or within an easy bus or train ride. Depending upon where you are staying in the city, some are within comfortable walking distance, too! Whether you’d like to see the city and the lake from above, encounter fascinating new creatures, or explore historical destinations, there’s plenty to see and do in Chicago.
Seeing the city from above is one of the most beloved Chicago tourism traditions. Fortunately, the Windy City has two excellent observation decks: Skydeck Chicago and 360 CHICAGO. Skydeck Chicago is hosted in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and features excellent views of the city from the Loop. 360 CHICAGO is found just off the Magnificent Mile near the top of the John Hancock Center. Here you can see Navy Pier and Lake Michigan in the immediate distance and out to Soldier Field farther away.
Some of the most popular attractions in Chicago are aquariums and zoos. In fact, Shedd Aquarium (located in the Museum Campus neighborhood) is one of the most-visited attractions in the entire city! Head here to find glittering jellies, playful sea otters, majestic whales, and vibrant tropical fish. There are also some excellent zoos in the Chicago area, including the modest Lincoln Park Zoo and the larger Brookfield Zoo (located a bit outside the city). Both of these zoos are home to animals both exotic and domestic, with themed, recreated habitats hosting animals from around the world.
Chicago is also known for its historic homes and significant architectural achievements. For one, the Robie House is a prime example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famed prairie style. It’s located on the University of Chicago campus and is open for tours. If you prefer literature to architecture, the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home is a lovingly-restored Queen Anne-style home where the famed American author spent his early years. If you’re interested in Chicago history, there are plenty of museums, too.
Here are some of the top Chicago tourist attractions that visitors love:
Shedd Aquarium: Without a doubt one of the country’s best aquariums, Shedd is divided into several themed sections with different types of aquatic and marine critters in each. Some of their most popular inhabitants include the colorful jellies, playful penguins, leaping dolphins, and a multitude of colorful fish.
SkyDeck Chicago: One of the city’s observation decks, Skydeck Chicago is located in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), and provides excellent views of the city spanning from Soldier Field to Navy Pier.
Art Institute of Chicago: This renowned museum is known for its extensive collections including photography, fine art, architecture, domestic craft, ancient artifacts, and paintings. Some standout pieces include the Chagall windows, Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Black Cross, New Mexico,” and Matisse’s “Bathers by a River.”
Adler Planetarium: Alder Planetarium is a kid-friendly institution that’s popular for its interactive exhibits and historical approach to teaching visitors about space travel. Exhibits include the exciting “Mission Moon” and the beloved “Planet Explorers.”
Museum of Science and Industry: This South Shore standout is actually the largest science museum in the entire country. Here you can undertake explorations of natural phenomena like tornados, scope out man’s influence on the natural world.
Field Museum: This comprehensive natural history museum is home to everything from legendary dinosaur fossils to gorgeous gemstones to a pristine collection of ancient Chinese craftwork.
360 CHICAGO: The second (but no less popular) observation deck on this list, this one is found at the top of the John Hancock Building. Head to the 94thfloor for unparalleled views of the city below, the Lake in the immediate distance, and portions of four different states beyond.
Chicago Architecture Center: This non-profit organization runs an extensive variety of acclaimed tours highlighting Chicago’s many remarkable buildings. Favorite tours include the Chicago River Cruise tour, the Art Deco Skyscrapers tour, and the Chicago Architectural Highlights tour.
Wrigley Field:One of the most famous sporting venues in the world, Wrigley Field is home to the much-loved Chicago Cubs. First opened in 1914, the Cubs have played baseball here since 1916.
Museum of Contemporary Art: A fascinating institution dedicated exclusively to contemporary art, this ever-changing museum features innovative and cutting-edge exhibitions that will provoke and inspire you.
Brookfield Zoo: Located west of the city, the Brookfield Zoo is the area’s largest zoo. It features a wide selection of animals from all across the globe, with everything from the Great Bear Wilderness to the Regenstein Wolf Woods to explore.
Lincoln Park Zoo: A smaller zoo than Brookfield but no less fascinating, this free zoo features a selection of animals in recreations of their natural habitats including lions, gorillas, and giraffes. There’s also the popular “Farm-in-the-Zoo,” which showcases the animal life found on a rural farm.