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Best things to do in Chicago

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Where in the world: USA  /  Illinois  /  Chicago
Things to do in Chicago appeal to all holidaymakers regardless of age, taste, or budget. Inquisitive minds can indulge their passion for knowledge at Museum of Science and Industry. Art lovers can admire the works of Old Masters, Impressionist, Post-Impressionists, and American artists at The Art Institute of Chicago, while baseball fans must visit Wrigley Field, the history-steeped home of the Chicago Cubs. Navy Pier--with its children's museum, fountains, and fast-food eateries--is a great place for a family outing, while a guided beer-tasting tour of the Windy City combines sightseeing with sampling some quintessential Chicago treats.

Chicago is best known for its Observation Decks, Art Museums, and Parks.

Top 15 things to do in Chicago

1. The Art Institute of Chicago

Developed from a free art school and gallery started in the 1860s, The Art Institute of Chicago now holds a permanent collection of more than 300,000 artworks. One of its most beloved paintings is George Seurat's Pointillism masterpiece "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte." Exhibits spread over eight buildings include Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, with additional holdings of Old Masters, European and American decorative arts, and industrial and graphic design. Highlights include paintings by American artists Grant Wood and Edward Hopper, as well as Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, van Gogh, and Picasso. The main building itself counts among the city's major landmarks, featuring two bronze lions guarding its main entrance. Check the online calendar for special events and temporary exhibits, which often require separate time-stamped tickets. Save time by purchasing your tickets in advance. Because the museum covers so much ground, it helps to map out exhibits you particularly want to see before you start exploring.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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2. Museum of Science and Industry

Indulge your passion for the scientific world at Museum of Science and Industry, the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. The complex boasts more than 800 exhibits--many of them interactive--representing diverse subjects, such as energy, environment, transportation, and space. Travel under the earth into the museum's exact replica of a 1933 Illinois coal mine, or head to the transportation wing to view a World War II German U-505 submarine and a replica of the first plane used by the Wright Brothers. Don’t miss the Apollo 8 aircraft that carried the first humans to orbit the moon and a retired United 727. Ask at the entrance about the always-fascinating temporary exhibits (additional fee). Check online in advance for a CityPass or Go Chicago card, each offering discounts for several other Chicago attractions, including this one. Popular tours sell out, so consider buying tickets in advance.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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3. Millennium Park

Start your tour of Chicago at Millennium Park, considered one of the largest roof gardens in the world. Sitting atop a railroad yard and a network of underground parking garages, the park features several artistic highlights, most notably the popular "Bean," a legume-shaped, stainless-steel sculpture designed by artist Anish Kapoor. The sculpture's surfaces reflect and distort the city's skyline, making it a favorite backdrop for photographs. Don't miss the 15 m (50 ft) video sculpture/fountain, composed of black granite and light-emitting diodes that display digital images of Chicagoans puckering their lips and appearing to spit water.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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4. Skydeck Chicago - Willis Tower

Take a look at Chicago from the top of Skydeck Chicago - Willis Tower, the second tallest building in the country. Still called "Sears Tower" by most locals, the 108-story building looms over the city with a height of 442 m (1,451 ft). One of the world's tallest freestanding structures, the skyscraper features an observation deck on the 103rd floor. The popular skydeck is 412 m (1,353 ft) high, offering unobstructed views of Chicago and its sprawling suburbs. On clear days, the vista stretches far over the Illinois plains and across Lake Michigan, all the way to Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. For a dizzying look from a glass-floored ledge jutting out into the air, get in line for the high-speed elevator to the top.
Suggested duration: 1 hour
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5. Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium contains over 1,500 different species, including fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, amphibians, and insects. Opened in 1930, this venue was the first inland aquarium with a permanent saltwater fish collection. Located within walking distance of the city's natural history museum and planetarium, the aquarium draws over 2 million annual visitors. Highlights include an oceanarium designed to replicate the natural conditions of the waters off the northwestern coast of the U.S., containing beluga whales, white-sided dolphins, sea otters, and seals. You can also visit the shark exhibit, a replica of a Philippines reef ecosystem. Exhibits often sell out early in the morning, so ensure your entry by purchasing your tickets well in advance.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
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6. Field Museum

Field Museum contains permanent exhibits that range from the earliest fossils to present cultures around the world. Attracting nearly 2 million visitors each year, the museum houses a collection of over 20 million anthropological and cultural artifacts from distant corners of the globe. The museum includes the Tyrannosaurus Rex named "Sue," the best-preserved fossil ever discovered. Named after the person who found it in 1990, the fossil stands 4 m (13 ft) tall and is 67 million years old. You can also visit the exhibit recreating an Egyptian burial chamber, which contains 23 real mummies, and a section devoted to the natural habitats of animals and insects living underground.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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7. The Magnificent Mile

An upscale shopping district, The Magnificent Mile, lives up to its name with a selection of high-end stores, luxurious restaurants, and hotels covering multiple blocks downtown. Several of the tallest buildings in the world sit in this district like the John Hancock Center and the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which offer stunning views of the city's architecture and lakefront. The area also features iconic landmarks such as the Historic Water Tower, one of the longest-standing structures in the city, which was built in 1869 and was one of the few surviving buildings after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Watch a show at the theater, marvel at the museums, or explore the abundant and various boutiques and stores.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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8. Lincoln Park Zoo

Founded in 1868, Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in America and is celebrated for its commitment to providing free admission. With over 1,000 animals representing over 200 species, it’s easy to see why the zoo is popular among Chicago visitors and natives alike. While it does have a strong family focus, the well-kept landscaping and prime location in the heart of Chicago make visiting this zoo a lovely daytime activity for anyone. The zoo also hosts cultural and educational events.
Suggested duration: 3h 30 min
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9. 360 Chicago Observation Deck

The city's dramatic skyline awaits you at 360 Chicago Observation Deck. Atop the fourth-tallest building in Chicago, you can get unobstructed views of the town's impressive architecture, beaches, and lakefront. You'll ride up 94 floors in some of the fastest elevators in North America to the observation deck of the John Hancock Building to enjoy the panoramic sweep across four states. The deck also features plenty of the city's history in several displays.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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10. Navy Pier

A cool place to spend a hot day on Lake Michigan, Navy Pier extends for over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) along the lakefront. Designed by city planner Daniel Burnham and built in 1916, the pier first served as a cargo facility for lake freighters, with a network of warehouses stretching along the shoreline. In the pre-air conditioning years, the pier also served Chicagoans as one of the coolest places in the city, quickly becoming a popular venue for public gatherings and entertainment. Now the city's top tourist attraction, the pier features a children's museum, fountains, fast-food eateries, souvenir vendors, and a Ferris wheel. The older crowd can enjoy lakefront views, boat cruises, and a range of live shows.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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11. Boat Tours & Water Sports

Suggested duration: 2 hours
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12. Food Tours

Find out what makes Chicago a major culinary center on a guided food tour--expect more than just classic hot dogs and iconic deep-dish pizza. Guided by a local food expert, you'll explore Chicago's historic and ethnically diverse neighborhoods, sampling a range of tasty bites and stealing some tricks from local chefs. Most tours last between 2 and 3 hours. Some include beer or wine tastings, so you need to be older than 21 to join in the fun.
Suggested duration: 3 hours
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13. Buckingham Fountain

One of the largest fountains in the world, Buckingham Fountain was built in 1927. Taking its inspiration from the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles, the attraction features an ornate Rococo style. Designed to represent Lake Michigan, each seahorse that decorates the fountain symbolizes its bordering states. Every hour on the hour for 20 minutes the fountain produces a water display, with the center jets shooting 45.7 m (150 ft) into the air. The fountain also features other colored light shows.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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14. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is a historic house and design studio in Oak Park, Illinois, which was designed and owned by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. First built in 1889 and added to over the years, the home and studio is furnished with original Wright-designed furniture and textiles. It has been restored by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust to its appearance in 1909, the last year Wright lived there with his family. Here, Wright worked on his career and aesthetic to become one of the most influential architects of the 20th century.

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, declared a National Historic Landmark four years later, and contributes to the Frank Lloyd Wright–Prairie School of Architecture Historic District containing a number of his projects and related work.

Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
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15. Fourth Presbyterian Church

The Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago is one of the largest congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), located in the Magnificent Mile neighborhood of Chicago, directly across Michigan Avenue from the John Hancock Center.
Suggested duration: 30 minutes
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