Things to Do in Illinois
Once the world’s tallest building, Willis Tower is still way up in the clouds. Though it functions as an office building, the skyscraper’s 103rd-floor Skydeck Chicago draws 1.7 million annual visitors for a trip out onto The Ledge, an enclosed glass balcony extending 4 feet (1.2 meters) out over the city, as well as panoramic views that—on clear days—extend as far as Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations—and with good reason. The 3,300-foot (1,010-meter) pier jutting into the waters of Lake Michigan, originally constructed in 1916 as a freight dock and public space, encompasses almost 50 acres (20 hectares) of exhibits, rides, parks, and family attractions.
Winding its way through the heart of the Windy City, the Chicago River flows past some of the city’s most notable architecture, including the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), Wrigley Building, and Navy Pier. The river also offers opportunities for exploration, such as river cruises, kayaking, and canoeing, along a revamped riverfront.
Opened in 1897 as Chicago’s first public library, the Chicago Cultural Center is the city’s hub for arts and cultural events as well as one of the city’s most beloved architectural monuments. The center is among Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions and features more than 1,000 free concerts, films, art exhibits, and other cultural events each year.
Fashion, architecture, and history in Chicago come together on this renowned stretch of Michigan Avenue nicknamed the Magnificent Mile. As you walk from the Chicago River to Oak Street, you’ll pass several Windy City landmarks, including the Water Tower, John Hancock Center, and Tribune Tower, as well as numerous luxury brand retailers.
Chicagoans take their baseball seriously, and one of best places to see a Major League Baseball game in the United States is at the ivy-covered home of the Chicago Cubs: Wrigley Field. Built in 1914 and known as the "Friendly Confines," Wrigley Field is the oldest baseball park in the National League and should be on the bucket list of any baseball fan.
The Hard Rock Cafe Chicago has been serving the Chicago River North area since its opening in 1986. River North borders the Magnificent Mile, is just across from the Loop, and a few blocks west of Michigan Avenue, a vibrant and popular dining and nightlife district.
Be sure to order Hard Rock’s signature food offerings like the Legendary Burger and drinks like Rockarita. Check the menu for house made local entrees that have a touch of Chicago flavor as well.
Like other Hard Rock Cafes around the world, the Hard Rock Cafe Chicago features music memorabilia on the walls, with an emphasis on funky styles. Be sure to tour the restaurant and see various guitars, platinum records, and more.
There are numerous concerts and events taking place at the cafethroughout the year, so be sure to check the Hard Rock Cafe Chicago events page for details and reservations.
Connecting Lake Michigan to downtown, the Chicago Riverwalk is an open-air pedestrian-friendly walkway that runs along the Chicago River. Composed of six main sections, the Riverwalk is a main hub for entertainment. Head to the Marina Plaza section for restaurants, outdoor seating, and boat access. Take a stroll through a series of piers and floating wetland gardens at the Riverbank, or head to the Water Plaza where the kids can splash in water fountains.
Located just a block away from Lake Michigan in the heart of downtown Chicago, Millennium Park showcases world-class art, music, architecture, and landscape design. Completed in 2004, the 24.5-acre (10-hectare) park is one of Chicago’s most popular destinations, drawing 25 million visitors per year.
Known as “Chicago’s Front Yard,” Grant Park stretches over 300 acres (121 hectares), and is the city’s primary downtown park. Located in the Loop, Grant Park is sandwiched between Lake Michigan and soaring skyscrapers. Its cultural highlights include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum Campus, and Millennium Park.
More Things to Do in Illinois
The 1920s were an important time for Chicago architecture, and when the Wrigley Building opened in 1925, it set the pace for the city’s development. When owner William Wrigley Jr. (of the Wrigley gum company) scouted locations for the building that would become his company’s headquarters, he chose a unique triangle shape of land that eventually became the bustling Magnificent Mile.
Once home to the Chicago Tribune, this neo-Gothic landmark was built as a result of the International Design Competition in 1922. Before this 462-foot (141-meter) building was constructed, reporters from the paper brought back pieces of rock from important landmarks around the world like the Taj Mahal, the Hagia Sophia, the Great Wall of China, and more.
Northerly Island is located in the heart of Chicago’s Museum Campus, near Soldier Field and just south of the Adler Planetarium. The island was designed by Daniel H. Burnham, the architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Burnham envisioned a park with harbors, beaches, lagoons, large open green spaces, and striking views of the lake and skyline. The 91-acre Northerly Island was selected as one of the sites of the 1933-34 World’s Fair in Chicago, “A Century of Progress.” The park increased to its current size of today and by the 1940’s, Northerly Island had a beach, a few paths and walkways, and a small airport known as Meigs Field.
In September 2015, a new 43-acre nature area opened on Northerly Island, creating a green oasis in the middle of the bustling city. The nature area features a mile-long interior park trail, overlooks, and a five-acre lagoon that connects to Lake Michigan. This allows for fish to enter the lagoon, providing excellent fishing opportunities. The Northerly Island visitors see today is what Burnham originally envisioned.
Located in Chicago’s Grant Park, the Art Institute showcases 300,000 works of art ranging from ancient works to pieces created by today’s foremost artists. More than 1.5 million visitors from across the globe flock to the museum annually, making it one of Chicago’s most-visited destinations.
With more than 20 million artifacts, the Field Museum is an engaging museum filled with both interactive and imaginative displays. The big attraction is the Tyrannosaurus rex named "Sue," a 13 foot (4 meter) tall, 41 ft (13 m) long beast who menaces the grand space with ferocious aplomb. The most complete T-Rex ever discovered, it takes its name from Sue Hendrickson, the fossil-hunter who found the 90 percent complete skeleton in South Dakota in 1990.
Dinosaurs loom large in the Field Museum. At the Evolving Planet exhibit, you can also watch staff paleontologists clean up fossils, learn about the evolution of the massive reptiles, and even learn about Homo sapien's evolutionary ties to the extinct beasts. Away from the prehistoric giants, the “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibit recreates an Egyptian burial chamber on three levels. The mastaba (tomb) contains 23 actual mummies. The bottom level, with its twisting caverns, is especially worthwhile. Those reeds growing in the stream are real.
Other displays worth your time include “Underground Adventure,” a vast exhibit exploring the habitats of animals and insects that live underground, and the “Pawnee Earth Lodge,” which allows visitors to explore a complete dwelling of the Great Plains tribe.
A distinctive feature of the Chicago skyline since the 1960s, the twin concrete columns of Marina City were once the tallest residential buildings in the world. Their scalloped “corn cob” exterior made them instantly recognizable and a popular setting in movies like Batman Begins, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Blues Brothers.
Home to the Chicago Bears and host to numerous concerts, festivals, and other blockbuster events throughout the year, Soldier Field is one of Chicago’s major athletic and entertainment venues. Built in 1924 and named in honor of fallen soldiers, the stadium has hosted the Windy City’s National Football League team since 1971.
Part of Chicago’s Museum Campus in Grant Park, the Adler Planetarium dates to 1930 when Chicago businessman Max Adler opened it as the first planetarium in the western hemisphere. See its family-friendly planetarium shows, celestial artifacts, and the immersive Grainger Sky Theater, which opened in 2011.
The historic Chicago Theatre, which dates back to 1921, is a popular downtown architectural landmark. With its famous dazzling marquee, French baroque architecture, and lobby modeled on a Versailles chapel, this picturesque structure today hosts concerts and comedy shows, as well as daily tours of its spectacular interior.
Chicago’s central business district, the Loop, is home to many of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, from museums and skyscrapers to parks and outdoor sculptures. Renowned for highlights like Grant Park, City Hall, and the Willis Tower, the Loop attracts both locals and visitors with its culture and entertainment offerings.
Once the world’s largest indoor aquariums, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is home to more than 1,500 species of fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, and amphibians. The aquarium sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and is part of Chicago’s famous Museum Campus, which includes the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium.
Home to the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks teams, the United Center is a premier Midwest sports venue. With nearly 1 million-square-feet (92,903-square-meters) of indoor space, it’s the largest arena in the US by size, with more than 20,000 seats. The center also plays host to a star-studded lineup of music concerts.
Formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, 360 Chicago offers an interactive experience of the Windy City’s history and culture on the way up to its 94th-floor observation deck. From here, sweeping views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan are enhanced by Tilt—moving glass lookouts that that literally tilt you out 1,000 feet (305 meters) above the Magnificent Mile.
Chicago’s largest park and a leisure destination for locals and visitors alike, Lincoln Park abuts its namesake neighborhood. This massive green space serves as a welcome escape from the urban hustle and bustle, whether it be for a short picnic lunch break or a day spent lounging and exploring.
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