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Best things to do in Midwest

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Where in the world: USA  /  Midwest
You'll miss out on a world of things to do in Midwest if you only visit the country's east and west coastlines. Chicago, the country's third-largest city, offers visitors a chance to check out many different festivals, which showcase everything from local food to alternative music bands. These events are also an ideal chance to try the city's famed deep-dish pizza. For those looking for natural wonders, Custer State Park in South Dakota offers tall rock formations and a protected wilderness sheltering bison, prairie dogs, and other local wildlife.

Top 15 things to do in Midwest

1. The Art Institute of Chicago, 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
Tours from $5 › Learn more about The Art Institute of Chicago

2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone

American history carved into stone, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is the work of a team of carvers, led by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The 18 m (60 ft) sculptures of the heads of four American presidents stand 1,745 m (5,725 ft) above sea level. An iconic symbol of presidential greatness, the stone memorial has appeared in dozens of books and movies, attracting over 2 million tourists each year. Carvers took over a decade to create these mammoth faces, working from 1927 until 1941. The canyon behind the carved heads contains a vault with 16 porcelain enamel panels, which record the history of the United States and the biography of the gigantic sculpture's creator.
Suggested duration: 1h 30 min
Tours from $20 › Learn more about Mount Rushmore National Memorial

3. Millennium Park, Chicago

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
Tours from $35 › Learn more about Millennium Park

4. Chicago Architecture River Cruise

FROM $50
Experience one of the world’s most beautiful cities on a cruise down the historic Chicago River. On this architecture cruise, head down the main branch of the Chicago River, up the north branch to the East Bank Club, and then south past Willis Tower (Sears Tower) to the old Post Office Building. Take in magnificent city skyline views as you see more than 40 notable buildings, including the John Hancock Center and the Wrigley Building, and learn about their distinctive architecture from your onboard guide, an expert in architecture.
Suggested duration: 1h 15min
Tours from $50 › More about this tour at viator.com ›
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5. Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

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
Tours from $5 › Learn more about Museum of Science and Industry

6. Boat Tours & Water Sports, Chicago

Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Boat Tours & Water Sports

7. Skydeck Chicago - Willis Tower, Chicago

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
Tours from $27 › Learn more about Skydeck Chicago - Willis Tower

8. Gangsters and Ghosts Tour in Chicago

FROM $35
Interested in exploring Chicago from the perspective of ghosts and gangsters? Want to really immerse yourself in the history of this great American city, right from the locations that started it all? This tour visits the locations frequented by some of Chicago's most notorious gangsters along with many of the most haunted locations in Chicago! You can get the best of both worlds with this 2 in 1, history-based guided walking tour of Chicago’s gangsters and ghost stories, right from the famous Chicago Loop Vice District! Tour departs from 71 E Wacker Drive.
Suggested duration: 2h
Tours from $35 › More about this tour at viator.com ›

9. Great Turtle Kayak Tours, Mackinac Island

Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
Learn more about Great Turtle Kayak Tours

10. Cedar Point, Sandusky

Famous for its 16 roller coasters, Cedar Point holds the title for the country's second-oldest amusement park. The site features 72 rides plus family-friendly games and attractions spread out over 147 hectares (364 acres). Connect with the dare-devil in you with a 95 degree drop on the Maverick, the steepest rollercoaster in the park, or take it easy with a ride on the giant Ferris wheel. Cool off after a day of thrill-riding with a picnic at nearby Cedar Point beach. Buy a combo pass to save money on entry tickets to adjacent waterpark, Soak City.
Suggested duration: 2 hours
Learn more about Cedar Point

11. Zipline, Rockbridge

Suggested duration: 2h 30 min
Learn more about Zipline

12. 90-Minute Chicago River Architecture Tour

Likely to sell out FROM $42
Be inspired by the captivating, visual art that is Chicago’s legendary architecture, and the exceptional architects who created this ever-changing, dynamic legacy for all to enjoy and admire. This comprehensive 90 minute tour will navigate through the heart of the city on all three branches of the Chicago River while your professionally-trained architectural guide tells the story of more than 130 years of innovation in design, style and technique and why it is important today. The Chicago River Architecture Tour is the most authentic and encompassing Chicago experience the city has to offer.
Suggested duration: 1h 30min
Tours from $42 › More about this tour at viator.com ›

13. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

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
Tours from $55 › Learn more about Shedd Aquarium

14. Navy Pier, Chicago

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
Tours from $32 › Learn more about Navy Pier

15. Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady

FROM $57
The Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady has long been the gold standard among all Chicago tour experiences, and is the only Chicago architecture boat tour led by highly trained expert docents. On this 90-minute cruise, you will enjoy an overview of historic and modern architectural styles including stories about the people who designed and built Chicago. No visit to Chicago is complete without experiencing this award winning tour, so accept no substitutes.
Suggested duration: 1h 30min
Tours from $57 › More about this tour at viator.com ›