Chicago is one of America’s top tourist destinations for a reason. An expansive city with dozens of different neighborhoods, there’s no shortage of things to do for visitors and locals alike. It’s consistently ranked among the best cities to travel, with attractions that range from informative bus tours to inspirational art museums and well beyond. See the city from above from a stellar observation deck (or two), explore the rich theater district, or go on an architecture cruise. Whatever kind of vacation you’re envisioning, you’ll be able to craft the ideal trip in Chicago.
For one, it’s an excellent city for traveling couples. You can enjoy world-class dining, top shopping, and exciting attractions. You can rent a bike to pedal around Millennium Park or on the shores of Lake Michigan. You can wander through the Art Institute of Chicago holding hands, or snap photos with the penguins at the Shedd Aquarium. There are also plenty of exciting and even romantic cruises you can embark upon in the warmer months. Combine these top attractions with a special dinner at any of the city’s award-winning restaurants, and you’ve got a perfect romantic getaway.
On the other hand, visiting families will also find this city to be an excellent destination. Explore kid-specific places like the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Navy Pier Ferris Centennial Wheel & Rides (all located on the popular tourist destination Navy Pier). Or, enjoy the eminently kid-friendly exhibits at the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. There’s even a LEGOLAND® Discovery Center (a ways outside of the city, but worth the trek) and two exciting and educational zoos.
Here are the top things to do in Chicago.
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.
Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus Chicago: 1-Day Classic Tour: Offered by one of the best tour companies in the city, this hop-on hop-off option allows visitors to explore the most popular neighborhoods of the city at their own pace.
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.
Shoreline Architecture River Cruise: An immensely popular cruise, this boat sails down all three branches of the Chicago River to highlight the city’s famed architectural scene. You can see some of the most famous buildings of the twentieth century.
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.
Navy Pier Centennial Wheel and Rides: One of the most popular areas of the city for families to visit, Navy Pier is home to one of the country’s most recognizable Ferris wheels. Take advantage of the shopping, dining, and entertainment options that abound on the pier.
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. TLEGOLAND® Discovery Center: A bit of a drive outside the city, this is another favorite destination among families with small children. Come here to see their beloved toys brought to life, as basically everything here is made of or inspired by LEGOs.
Grand Tour: This expansive four-hour tour showcases almost the entirety of the city, encompassing both the North and South shores. It’s a must-do for those with an afternoon to devote to exploring the city for the first time.
Chicago Children’s Museum: An excellent educational destination for children and their families, this institution is filled with hands-on exhibits and interactive attractions. Kids can enhance the learning they’re doing at home and at school with exhibits that emphasize creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity.
Bike and Roll Chicago:With a convenient rental location right by Navy Pier, Bike and Roll Chicago is an easy way to explore this extraordinarily bike-friendly city. Whether you want to see more of Millennium Park or head further north on the lakefront trail, it’s an eco-friendly way to get around and get some exercise.
Robie House: Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this building is located near the campus of the University of Chicago on the South Side. It’s open for tours and is a beautiful example of Wright’s stylistic vision in the early years of the twentieth century.
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.
Chicago Theatre Tour:Chicago is home to one of the best theater scenes in the country. Among the shining jewels of this community is the historic Chicago Theatre. Take a tour of this magnificent venue, built in 1921 and home to generations of top theatrical talent in the decades since. Go behind the scenes to see the gorgeous French baroque interiors and celebrity autographs on the walls.
Chicago History Museum: Located on the southern tip of Lincoln Park, the Chicago History Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone curious about the past of this amazing city. Exhibits focus on Chicago authors, the development and growth of the city from its humble origins, and the role that Chicago played as a crossroads of America.
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.
Chicago Crime Tours: Takes visitors on guided outings to a number of famous crime scenes. Along the way, guests will learn about Chicago’s history as a hotbed for criminals like John Dillinger, Al Capone, and more.
The Escape Game Chicago: Part of an exciting new trend that teens and adults love, this Escape Game venue offers five immersive scenarios that test your wits. You’ll need to think your way out of tricky imagined situations.
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.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour: For those visitors interested in the history of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio are a must-see. Tour the spaces in which he labored to design some of his most iconic work and the area around the studio.
Panoramic and Scenic North Side Tour: This two-hour trek covers the distance from the Loop up to Lincoln Park and beyond. Top sites include Wrigley Field, the Botanical Gardens, the Magnificent Mile, the Hancock Tower, and Water Tower Place shopping mall.
Historic Chicago South Shore Tour: Also a two-hour tour, this journey begins in Grant Park with the Art Institute of Chicago and passes by the Museum Campus (featuring the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium), Soldier Field, Jackson Park, and more.
American Writers Museum: This newer museum is an excellent option for kids and adults. The institution is highly interactive, with opportunities to learn all about the history of American authors from the iconic to the lesser-known.
Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home: Located west of Chicago in Oak Park, the home of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic writers is well-worth a jaunt outside the city itself. This Victorian-era home has recently been fully restored.
Shoreline Classic Lake Tour: This 40-minute excursion is an excellent way to see Chicago’s top sites from the iconic Lake Michigan. During the warmer months, you can enjoy time out on the Great Lake as you see Navy Pier, the Lighthouse, and Museum Campus from the comfort of your vessel.
Tall Ship WINDY: Sail aboard a 150-foot schooner designed to mimic an historical vessel. You can choose from multiple themed sails, including a pirate adventure, an architecture sail, and a simple relaxing excursion. It’s a unique way to see the city with the kids.
Big Bus Chicago, Panoramic Night Tour: Chicago is a city that really comes alive at night. This Panoramic Night Tour from Big Bus showcases the city at one of its most beautiful times – when everything is illuminated and everyone is out to play.
Chicago Bus Tours: There are plenty of bus tour options throughout the city, with many choices like those from Big Bus and Gray Line. You can choose from day or night tours, neighborhood-specific tours, and tours with particular points of focus or themes.
Chicago Boat Tours: Another category with lots of choices, Chicago Boat Tours include everything from an architecture-themed cruise to an historical sail. Some are kid-specific, all are family-friendly, and they each have something unique and different to offer.
Chicago Bike Tours: Bike and Roll is the big player here, but there are other companies that offer bike rentals as well, include the popular Divvy bikes that can be rented solo. They’re a good way to explore the city in an environmentally-friendly way.
Chicago Food Tours: Chicago’s foodie scene is among the best in the country. You can find everything from authentic pierogis to deep dish pizza to the iconic Chicago hotdog. Take a food tour to see some of the most popular dining spots and cuisines in the city and nosh your way through an hour or two.
Chicago Architecture Tours: Chicago is a fantastic city for architecture buffs. Home to some of the most famous architects of the last century (including Frank Lloyd Wright) and their iconic projects, this city is full of architectural inspiration. Take a cruise, or a walking tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation to make the most of your explorations.
The Escape Game Chicago: The Chicago-location of The Escape Game franchise offers 5 distinct hour-long adventures that test guest’s powers of reasoning, logic, and team-building in an exciting and immersive setting.