best tourist attractions in Chicago, Illinois

On the surface, Chicago can be summarised as a city full of hot dogs, deep-dish pizzas, sports-mad locals, snap-happy tourists, and signposted with a peculiarly reflective mirror bean. But look one notch deeper and you’ll discover the Windy City’s true essence: a vibrant melting pot of eccentric art, world-class food, diverse multicultural neighborhoods, and one of the most comprehensive architectural catalogs in the world.

Whether you’re hunting for award-winning gastronomy, searching for hidden gems in Pilsen’s street-art scene, or looking to learn a thing or two at one of Chicago’s coveted museums, charming Chicago is a city full of surprises that has something for everyone, and it’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States.

From the relaxing greenery spread over the city’s 570 different parks, to the hundreds of history and architecture-themed walking tours that dive into the city’s vast and ever-changing landscape, Chicago is a place that begs to be explored. So if you’re looking for an amazing American city vacation spot, look no further – without further ado, here are the 50 best tourist attractions in Chicago!

1 – Millennium Park

Millennium Park, Chicago

A beacon for tourists from near and far, Millennium Park is one of the first places that comes to mind for anyone visiting Chicago.

Home to a number of world-renowned attractions – most notably, Cloud Gate (the giant mirrored bean) and the quirky and artistic Crown Fountain – as well as plenty of green space, gardens, sculptures and more, there’s something for everyone at Millennium Park. During the warmer months, if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across a free performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion too!

While some visitors revel in people-watching and exploring at their own pace, others prefer a guided walking tour that blends sightseeing with a dose of history, culture and insider architecture knowledge.

Either way, Millenium Park is conveniently located in downtown Chicago, so you can easily wander to other nearby attractions; making it the perfect place to start your sightseeing adventure!

2 – Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Housing one of the most diverse collections of historical artifacts in the world – with no less than 40 million fascinating specimens lining its halls — a visit to the Field Museum is an absolute must for anyone interested in science, archaeology, or anthropology.

With exhibitions ranging from Ancient Egyptian mummies to dinosaur bones (keep an eye out for Sue the T-rex!), millennia-old fossils, the science of color, interactive displays, and a whole lot more, there’s truly something for everyone at the historic (dating back to 1893) and enormous Field Museum.

Located in Grant Park, a stone’s throw from many of Chicago’s other top attractions, the scientist-run Field Museum is a great place to stop in for a half-day of interactive learning before hitting up nearby spots like the Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, or Buckingham Fountain.

Hot tip: lock in your tickets online to skip the line and secure a potential discount!

3 – Navy Pier

Navy Pier, Chicago

Beloved by families for decades, and regularly buzzing with a vibrant atmosphere, Navy Pier has long been considered one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago.

With rides for all ages, restaurants for all tastes, and bars for all levels of socialites galore – as well as plenty of free entertainment like live music, dancing lessons, street performers and more — you’ll want to plan an entire day around this iconic landmark.

Throw in an IMAX Theater, the enchanting indoor Crystal Gardens (where you’ll find more than 80 soaring palm trees), the Children’s Museum, and breathtaking views all around atop sparkling Lake Michigan, and it’s easy to see why this 3,000-foot pier is a Windy City staple.

4 – Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago Riverwalk

Teeming with energetic city dwellers, and skirting 1.25 miles along the Chicago River from Lake Michigan to Lake Street through the middle of Downtown Chicago, the Riverwalk dishes up impressive entertainment, history, and architecture in spades.

Take a stroll down the historic banks (solo, or as part of a guided tour, whatever floats your boat) and you’ll check off an array of historic buildings, wander by open green spaces, and pass by plenty of notable restaurants, hidden wineries, cozy cafes, and more.

During the day, you’ll enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of gorgeous waterfront views; while at night, the walkway is illuminated by strings of lights and brimming with an energetic vibe.

5 – Art Institute of Chicago

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

Easily one of the city’s — scratch that, the nation’s — most renowned and respected art museums, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago is quintessential for any culture vulture with even the slightest interest in painting, sculpture, architecture, or photography.

Boasting a jaw-dropping collection of 300,000 works covering over 5000 years of artistic innovation — with pieces from ancient Greece and Rome to iconic European paintings Degas and van Gogh, and contemporary masterpieces by Warhol and Pollock — spread across an iconic Grant Park landmark covering a million square feet, as well as one of the world’s largest school of architecture (consider taking one of the classes!), it would take weeks to see everything on offer at this acclaimed museum.

6 – Chicago Children’s Museum

Chicago Children’s Museum

A Navy Pier icon that’s been etching ear-to-ear grins on kids’ faces since the early 1980s, the Chicago Children’s Museum is a top pick for family fun.

Spread out over three floors of interactive exhibits (including an indoor tree-house, a grocery store, and more), the museum caters to kiddos aged 0-13+, with a host of special areas dedicated to inspiring creativity, encouraging learning, and, of course, having a whole lot of fun along the way.

Let the youngsters build things in the Tinkering Lab before digging for dinosaur bones in the Sahara Exhibit or making a splash in the Waterways exhibit, before diving into a world of color in the arts and crafts rooms or admiring the Curious Collection of Tiny Treasures, where over 100 delightful and detailed miniatures make for fascinating viewing. As you can see, there’s plenty on offer to keep the little ones entertained for hours on end!

7 – SkyDeck at Willis Tower

Willis Tower Skydeck Chicago

Dishing up jealousy-evoking panoramic views from the 103rd floor of the infamous Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), the SkyDeck is one of Chicago’s top tourist attractions for a helluva good reason.

From this iconic vantage point, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Lake Michigan and four surrounding states (Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan) through the floor-to-ceiling clear viewing glass.

Craving an extra thrill? Peek over “The Ledge”, glass-floored balconies that allow brave visitors to see straight down to the streets 1353 feet (412 meters) below.

Once you’ve finished snapping some envy-inducing Insta shots from up here (do so on your phone with ease using the complimentary Wi-Fi), head over to interactive displays where you’ll learn more about Chicago history via an interactive screen experience and discover how this once-world-leading building was developed.

8 – Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago

Brilliant by day and majestic by night, the Buckingham Fountain is a luminous Chicago landmark that’s been a postcard-worthy attraction for the better part of a century.

The enormous fountain, which has been dazzling passerby since 1927, sits on Grant Park (which connects Lake Michigan with downtown) and provides instant elegance to any visit here. Just to ram home exactly how big this dancing landmark really is, the basin measures 280 feet in diameter – you couldn’t miss it if you tried.

During warmer months, you’ll be able to watch regular 20-minute choreographed water shows set against music every hour on the hour — a whopping 15,000 gallons of water per minute shoot 150 feet into the air, making for one incredible vista.

Directions in Google Maps

9 – 360 Chicago

360 Chicago Observation Deck

Gracing the 94th floor of the 100-story John Hancock Building, 360 Chicago (formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory) is a great way to get your bearings in the Windy City.

With sweeping, panoramic views of Lake Michigan and four surrounding states (Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan), it’s no surprise that this iconic observation deck has become known as one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago.

As well as getting up close with some magnificent cityscapes from 1000 feet in the sky via high-powered telescopes placed at strategic vantage points around the deck (including being able to view the Willis Tower), you can also learn more about notable landmarks through audio commentary and educational displays around the deck and on the elevator ride up.

With plenty of Insta-worthy photo ops here, as well as a stomach-churning angled glass wall (TILT) designed to provide a birds-eye view of the streets, it’s a bucket-list essential.

10 – Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

With over 32,000 animals aquatic animals and counting, from all corners of the world – some cute and cuddly, some a little creepy, and everything in between — the Shedd Aquarium is one of Chicago’s most renowned family attractions, open year-round with a host of ways to experience marine life first-hand.

Home to a host of colorful ocean creatures (from dolphins to penguins, and seahorses to stingrays), this globally-leading aquarium offers visitors a glimpse into the underwater world with daily shows, walkthrough tunnels, VIP animal encounters, interactive touch tanks, and a whole lot more.

Learn about how aquatic life around the globe is being protected while also coming face-to-face with them in real life — it doesn’t get much better than that! Some highlights here include getting up close with Beluga whales or visiting their Amazon River exhibit where you’ll find hundreds of brightly colored freshwater fish and other exotic species.

Hot tip: thanks to its location on the southern side of Grant Park, it’s easily combined with a stop at the Adler Planetarium!

11 – Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field, Chicago

Ask any local and they’ll tell you that, even if you’re not a baseball fan, a day out immersed in the roaring atmosphere of Wrigley Field is quintessential Chicago.

The second-oldest ballpark in America, after Boston’s Fenway Park (which opened two years earlier in 1912), this classic stadium in Lake View has been home to the beloved Cubs (who only recently broke their MLB hoodoo) for over a century.

Take in the ivy-covered walls, classic red brick facade and scoreboard while cheering on the Cubs from one of the outfield seats (or better yet, try to snag tickets for behind home plate) or enjoy a hot dog and beer in the stands.

And, if you’re feeling particularly touristy, you can even take a guided tour of Wrigley Field which will take you places other fans can only dream of!

Just check out game schedules online before your trip to see when the Cubs are playing and book tickets early to snag the best prices.

12 – Museum of Science and Industry

Museum Of Science And Industry, Chicago

Looking for something that’s both educational and highly interactive? Check out the Museum of Science and Industry! With 35 diverse and interactive exhibits that entice kids and adults alike, there’s something for everyone. Plus, it’s one of the largest science museums in the world, so rest assured that there’s plenty to explore.

If you’re looking for a way to test your brainpower, the museum has a collection of mind-boggling puzzles. Or, stretch the legs on the human-sized hamster wheel or feel the force of a tornado — just a couple of the museum’s many uniquely immersive exhibits.

To top it off, the sprawling Museum of Science and Industry is also home to an Omnimax theater and a full-size WWII German submarine. And if that’s not enough, be sure to check out the exciting temporary exhibitions that are always changing.

Hot tip: Explore the world of science and technology at the city’s top museums, a highlight among the best indoor activities in Chicago for curious minds of all ages.

13 – Tribune Tower

Tribune Tower, Chicago

Perched among the towering skyscrapers of Michigan Avenue, you’ll find the historic Tribune Tower. While far from the tallest building in Chicago, it’s undeniably one of the most architecturally significant; Originally built in 1925 as a headquarters for The Chicago Tribune newspaper (although now mostly home to luxury condos), this Neo-Gothic building has been standing proudly over Chicago’s bustling downtown streets ever since.

Unlike any building that came before (or after) it, the Tribune Tower’s facade is lined with stones from famous buildings throughout history, including parts of St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, Notre Dame, and even the Great Wall of China!

Non-negotiable viewing for architecture buffs, the century-old 36-floor skyscraper can be viewed on river cruises, walking tours, or simply a casual stroll along the Magnificent Mile.

Directions in Google Maps

14 – Chicago Architecture Center

Chicago Architecture Center, Illinois
credit to James Steinkamp / Chicago Architecture Center

As a city notorious for its architecture, it’s no surprise that Chicago has its very own Architecture Center to teach visitors (and locals) all about the city’s iconic buildings.

The center is located on the southern bank of the Chicago River, occupying some 10,000 square feet that feature fascinating exhibitions on the area’s architectural timeline, rotating displays on contemporary construction projects, as well as a quirky gift shop and cafe.

Not to be missed is the Chicago City Model Experience — a star attraction that showcases over 4,000 buildings and interactive elements that dive into the amazing layout and history of the Windy City.

But by far the most popular attraction at CAC is the 90-minute guided walking tours which take you past some of Chicago’s most famous landmarks. Take your pick from a range of different tour routes depending on your interests — whether you’re fascinated by skyscrapers, churches, postmodernism, hidden gems, Frank Lloyd Wright, Elevated Architecture, or anything in between.

15 – Legoland Discovery

LEGOLAND Discovery Center, Chicago

A surefire hit for voyaging families, the Legoland Discovery attraction over in Schaumberg — about 30 miles inland from Chicago — features countless interactive and educational activities geared toward kids aged three to 12.

With a range of themed zones dedicated to all things Lego-related, it’s a whole world filled with colorful bricks that provide hands-on fun for all ages. From creating Lego race cars to building your own city, or hopping on one of the two LEGO-themed rides, hours of fun await at this highly immersive indoor theme park.

Other notable features include the famous Miniland — a series of large-scale models depicting Chicago scenes in spectacular detail (and using no less than 1.5 million bricks!); the immersive LEGO 4D cinema, the interactive Model Builder workshop, and the test zone where kids (and kids at heart) can contract their own creations.

16 – Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago

Dishing up an enchanting and relaxing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s downtown streets, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a world-class facility dedicated to educating visitors on all things Mother Nature.

Spread out over multiple floors are interactive learning spaces, fascinating exhibits exploring Illinois’ natural history, as well as an impressive butterfly haven that showcases hundreds of colorful native critters fluttering around in their own tropical enclosure.

Step outside and you’ll discover that the museum also features an outdoor urban sanctuary featuring hiking trails, ponds and wetlands — making it a great place for nature lovers to explore (and escape) from city life.

At just $9 for adults, this slice of educational nature won’t break the bank either!

17 – Michigan Avenue

The Magnificent Mile, Chicago

The city’s focal point for food, fashion, and fun is the world-famous Magnificent Mile – AKA Michigan Avenue.

If you’re looking to explore all that Chicago has to offer, look no further than Michigan Avenue — a vibrant 13-block stretch of street that has long acted as the Windy’s City’s hub for all things food, fashion, and fun

Dotted along the diverse tourist area are world-famous landmarks like The Wrigley Building, the John Hancock Center, and Tribune Tower, as well a sleuth of high-end boutiques, speakeasy pubs, and revered underground eateries.

Be sure to wander over the DuSable Bridge, and consider signing up for a locally-led walking tour if you want to learn more about the history and culture of this amazing city from a local’s perspective!

18 – Museum Of Contemporary Art

Museum Of Contemporary Art, Chicago

In the heart of the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a must-visit for any art lovers visiting the city, with its constantly rotating exhibitions showcasing some of the most cutting-edge and thought-provoking pieces from artists around the world.

Boasting a huge permanent collection that covers everything from painting and sculpture to mixed media, digital art, and performance art, as well as regularly hosting talks, workshops, and other educational events, MCA is one of Chicago’s most comprehensive cultural institutions, showcasing the best that the contemporary art world has to offer.

Pinching pennies? Admission is free for Illinois residents on Tuesdays (and always free for kids under 18!), making it easy to experience some of the best contemporary artwork being created today without breaking the bank.

And, if you’re feeling peckish, the MCA fuses new-wave art with new-wave flavors at the Marisol restaurant and bar, a noteworthy attraction in and of itself.

19 – Historic Water Tower

Historic Water Tower, Chicago

Just one block west of the MCA, the postcard-worthy Historic Water Tower is one of the city’s oldest and most beloved landmarks.

Completed in 1869, the now-iconic limestone tower was originally designed to act as a water pump station for Chicago’s rapidly growing population – however, it soon became an important symbol of the city’s resilience following the Great Fire of 1871, which destroyed much of surrounding area.

These days, the Historic Water Tower is one of Chicago’s best-known attractions, and its handsome appearance makes it a popular photo stop on many a walking tour and architecture crawl.

Directions in Google Maps

20 – Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center

Added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, close to 80 years after it was constructed in 1893, the opulent and ornate Chicago Cultural Center is one of the city’s most impressive architectural treasures.

Originally built to house the city’s library and act as a Civil War memorial, today the sprawling Beaux-Arts building – located just across from Millennium Park – houses a variety of cultural attractions including an indoor theater, panel discussions, free public art galleries, a large ballroom, and even a café to recharge the batteries.

Undeniably its main attraction, however, is the building itself — step inside and crank your neck skywards to the magnificent mosaic glass masterpiece that is the 38-foot-wide Tiffany Dome (the largest of its kind worldwide).

And, if that wasn’t enough, admission is always free! So be sure to make time for a visit during your next trip to Chi-town.

21 – Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IllinoisWhere an intergalactic journey awaits, there’s no place quite like Grant Park’s Adler Planetarium — a longstanding Windy City icon that not only serves up stellar views of the skyline as it reflects off Lake Michigan, but provides visitors with an in-depth glimpse into the Milky Way and everything that lies beyond.

Opened to the public in 1930 – making it one of the oldest planetariums in the world – this striking Art Deco institution has been wowing visitors with its displays of celestial objects and space-themed exhibits for the better part of a century, expanding its collections and updating its technology with every passing decade since.

Today, as well as housing a range of permanent exhibitions that include everything from an exhibit on Mayan astronomy to a look at contemporary space exploration (with the real Gemini 12 space capsule on show), the Adler also offers regular shows in its three theaters (including live presentations by the famous Adler astronomers), hosts talks and neighborhood skywatching events, and even provides educational programming for schools.

22 – Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, Illinois

A sprawling zoo that’s totally free? It might sound too good to be true, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

Founded all the way back in 1868, when the city’s population was just a fraction of its current size, this venerable zoo has been delighting visitors of all ages with its impressive array of animal exhibits for more than 150 years now.

Home to 1,100‎ critters of all shapes and sizes; everything from lions and tigers to elephants and gorillas, as well as a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and marine life, the Lincoln Park Zoo is regularly regarded as one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago – especially among families with young children thanks to the children’s farm – and offers something for everyone.

Easily reached from Downtown on the L or by car, the 35-acre aminal oasis also offers picnic spots, eateries, and live feedings — and, thanks to its location in the sprawling eponymous park, it’s easy to make a day of it!

23 – Rookery Building

Rookery Building, Chicago

Built in 1888, the Rookery Building is one of Chicago’s most iconic architectural landmarks — quickly constructed after the city’s devastating fire, it became a symbol of hope and resilience, while simultaneously etching its name into folklore as one of the largest and most magnificent office buildings in the country.

Designed by legendary architects Daniel Burnham and John Root, and featuring a captivating and sky-lit interior designed by the even more famous Frank Lloyd Wright, this historic address has been home to several important tenants over the years and stand as an unmissable work of art that offers visitors a look at what modern architecture was like during its heyday.

To learn why the ROokery is regarded as one of Chicago’s most beautiful buildings (hint: it’s largely thanks to its innovative early use of steel frames and light courts) you’ll need to plan ahead and take a guided tour — otherwise, you won’t be able to see any more than the first floor.

24 – Chicago Theatre

The Chicago Theatre

Dazzling night owls for decades with its marquee lights, North State Street’s Chicago Theatre is one of the Windy City’s most iconic and instantly recognizable Downtown haunts.

Originally opening its doors in 1921 as a movie palace, this lavish Beaux-Arts theater quickly became a favorite destination for locals and tourists alike, thanks to its ornate design (including an impressive six-story lobby) and an ever-changing program of diverse events and concerts.

Over the years, the 3,600-seat theater’s stage has been graced by A-listers of Frank Sinatra and Diana Ross ilk – today, it puts on a sleuth of comedy nights, live music performances, cinema screenings, and toe-tapping Broadway shows.

A performance screams ‘date night’, while the behind-the-scenes theater tours are quintessential for history and architecture buffs.

25 – Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago

Like stepping into a fairytale of landscape art, a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory transports you into a fantastical world of lush greenery and vibrant flowers.

Commissioned in 1907 and slapped on the northern end of the much larger Garfield Park (184 acres), this widespread horticultural center is the biggest conservatory in the city (about 12 acres, to be exact) and home to an impressive array of plants from all over the world.

From towering palm trees and fragrant orchids to seasonal blooms and a traditional Moroccan fountain, not to mention the Desert House and whimsical Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, there’s something for everyone at this enchanting oasis – plus, with ample space for picnics and walking trails to soak in the fresh air, it’s perfect for spending a lazy day outdoors surrounded by natural beauty.

And the best part? Yep, you guessed it: totally free!

26 – The Morton Arboretum

Morton Arboretum, Chicago

Another slice of natural beauty, located about 25 minutes from the main haunts of Chicago, the Morton Arboretum enchants with its details and surprises with its sheer size, covering a whopping 1700 acres of lush outdoor parkland dedicated to the research, conservation, and display of trees and plants from all corners of the world.

This lush preserve is home to more than 200,000 cataloged plants throughout its sculpture-filled gardens, with a rotating program of events that range from family festivals to educational workshops and a magical winter light show.

Great for a day of stretching the legs, the arboretum’s main attractions are its miles of hiking routes (ranging from easy paved walks to more strenuous natural trails), maze garden, and educational tourist trolley, which provides a unique insight into the colorful wildflowers along the way

27 – The Wrigley Building

The Wrigley Building, Chicago

Architecturally significant thanks to its status as the first major skyscraper to touch down on what we know today as the Magnificent Mile, as well as its peculiar use of six different shades of white terracotta tiles (250,000 in total), the innovative Wrigley Building remains one of Chicago’s most iconic structures and is a staple on all kinds of downtown history and architecture tours.

Created as the headquarters for the eponymous chewing gum company (founded in 1891 by William Wrigley Jr.), this gleaming white skyscraper has been a Downtown landmark ever since it was completed in the 1920s – and with its eye-catching clock tower and elegant Art Deco details, it’s easy to see why.

These days, the building is mostly used for office space, but visitors are still welcome to walk through its lobby or grab a bite at one of the building’s eateries.

28 – Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago

A storytelling delight for the ears and the eyes, the Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the nation’s most renowned performing arts institutions, known for its world-class opera performances and high-caliber artists.

Its stunning venue, the Civic Opera House, tucked away on Upper Wacker Dr, is an attraction in and of itself; the art-deco masterpiece, with its imposing marble facade and cavernous interior, has been wowing audiences since it opened in 1929.

Capable of holding over 3500 people, the theater holds its own as the second-largest opera auditorium in North America — and its acoustics are just as impressive as its size.

The opera company itself was founded back in 1954 by a group of artistically-focused locals who recognized the need for an opera company that could serve as a cultural ambassador for the city – and close to 70 years later, it’s still going strong. Check out their upcoming performances to see what all the fuss is about!

29 – DuSable Museum of African American History

DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago

While the Field Museum and MCI bear the brunt of the attention, despite being underrated, the DuSable Museum of African American History remains one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago for museum-goers, and anyone who has paid a visit to this Washington Park instruction will echo exactly that.

Through a vast selection of permanent and rotating exhibits, themed on everything from art and music to politics, history, sport, and civil rights that cover pre-colonial times to the 21st century, the DuSable Museum unravels the story of African American life and culture in Chicago and beyond like no other institution can.

While you’re there, spare a few minutes to contemplate in the peaceful outdoor sculpture garden, grab a souvenir or book from the gift shop, or turn a few pages at the impressive research library.

30 – United Center

United Center, Chicago

Sports fans, rejoice! The United Center is one of the premier sports and entertainment venues in Chicago, home to both the Chicago Bulls (NBA) and the Blackhawks (NHL), as well as a regular host to concerts, events, conventions, circuses… you name it!

As an arena that boasts over 20,000 seats, not to mention plenty of standing room, this place gets pretty packed when something is going on. And, as you’d expect from the largest indoor arena in the country, the excitement is infectious and the roar can be deafening.

So if you’re looking forward to catching your favorite team live or simply experiencing the world-class venue for an A-list concert, make sure you book your tickets early!

Hot tip: if you’re pinching pennies and your trip happens to line up, look to snag a pre-season NHL or NBA ticket — compared to the regular season, you’ll save a few bucks hands-down.

31 – Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan sightseeing boat tour

A haven for watersports and sightseeing cruises, and a sparkling foreground to the famous Windy City skyline, Lake Michigan is one of Chicago’s favorite playgrounds. On a good day, the lake is dotted with speedboats and sailboats alike — not to mention standup paddleboarders and avid kayakers!

But it’s not all about water sports; surrounded by beaches that might even give the coastal cities a run for their money, this freshwater lake offers plenty of opportunities to kick back, relax, or catch a few rays on its sandy shores.

If you’re looking for something more adventurous (and educational), check out one of the boat tours throughout the summer months which will allow you to discover Lake Michigan from another angle while learning about aquatic ecosystems both in freshwater lakes as well as oceans.

Throw in party boats, romantic dinner cruises, and private sunset sails, and you’re guaranteed to find a lakeside adventure to suit any budget or taste.

32 – Six Flags Great America

Six Flags Great America, Chicago

Where high-octane thrills meet family-friendly fun, Six Flags Great America has been considered one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago for years, and is well worth the short drive down to Gurnee.

Spread across 300 acres of land, this amusement park has something for everyone, from the heart-pounding roller coasters to gentler rides for the little ones and everything in between — thrillseekers, make a beeline for the Raging Bull (the park’s tallest, longest, and fastest coaster) or the American Eagle (the world’s fastest racing wooden coaster); families, look no further than the Columbian Carousel, Yogi’s Yahoo River, or Little Dipper

In addition to the sleuth of rides, there are also plenty of shows and live entertainment taking place throughout the day, as well as games and arcades for when you need a break from screaming your head off on loop-de-loops and giant drops!

33 – Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

Offering a much-needed dose of zen in the concrete jungle that is Chicago, the Chicago Botanic Garden is a 385-acre paradise for plant lovers of all ages and interests.

From beautiful and exotic orchids to towering trees, and from tranquil water features to vibrant gardens bursting with color, there’s something new to discover at every turn. What’s more, the garden and its 27 zones are constantly growing and changing, so you can visit again and again and always find something new to appreciate.

As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the Garden also hosts a range of special events throughout the year (don’t miss Lightscape if visiting during the holiday season). So whether you’re an experienced horticulturist or just looking for a relaxing day out, this free-to-visit slice of Mother Nature is calling.

34 – WNDR museum

WNDR museum, Chicago
credit to credit to WNDR museum

A new-age take on the traditional art museum that lets the imagination run wild, WNDR is all about interactive exhibits and installations that are designed to get visitors thinking (and talking) about creativity and its role in society.

From playful pieces like the Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room to thought-provoking works that provide left-field representations about our world today through fascinating color and light displays, WNDR manages to pose questions, delight the senses, and unleash the inner child all at once.

What’s more, many of the exhibits are curated with social media in mind, so be sure to snap some pics and share them online — you might just start a conversation or two!

35 – Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum

One for the history buffs (duh), the Chicago History Museum, just steps from Lincoln Park, is dedicated to chronicling the constantly evolving story of this Midwestern metropolis and its melting pot of people and cultures.

Through thoughtfully curated interactive displays that bring Chicago’s past to life, and more than 22 million different items that rotate throughout the institution, whether you’re a long-time resident or just visiting for a weekend, you’re always guaranteed to learn something new at the longstanding museum.

Hot tip: with so much to see, a docent-led guided tour is the premier way to learn all about Chicago’s chapters of economy, innovation, and entertainment, and make the most of the Abraham Lincoln exhibit too.

36 – Baháʼí House of Worship

Baháʼí House of Worship, Chicago

As one of only seven Baháʼí temples in the world and the only one in North America, this architectural marvel is not to be missed.

The perfect blend of spirituality and sophisticated style, the building was designed by Louis Bourgeois and completed in 1953 — its architecture is intended as a house of worship for all people, with its stunning nine-sided building providing an enchanting backdrop for contemplation.

Be sure to take a stroll around the Lotus Temple’s garden, and then round out the day by detouring to nearby Gillson Beach or wandering around the lakeside Northwestern University campus.

37 – American Writers Museum

American Writers Museum, Chicago
credit to American Writers Museum

You know you’re in the right place when your inner bookworm starts squealing with delight: The American Writers Museum is a paradise for fans of literature, and offers visitors a fascinating look at the history of writing in America.

Explore rotating exhibits; listen to readings; take part in interactive displays that are designed to inspire creativity; or just browse through shelves upon shelves of books by authors both new and old — with insights into Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and dozens more, it’s literary heaven all around.

Writing extends far beyond books though: the interactive Word Waterfall showcases the wide variety of wordsmiths who’ve shaped more literature, from songwriters to poets, screenwriters and scriptwriters, and all of those who’ve penned something influential throughout the ages.

38 – Northerly Island

Northerly Island, Chicago

An unbeatable spot for a panoramic view of downtown Chicago, Northerly Island dishes up a well-earned break from the busy city life without needing to venture outside of the city limits.

Once home to a small airport (yes, really), the now-119-acre park is home to lush gardens, walking and biking trails, woodlands, and play areas… and that’s just the beginning.

In the summertime especially, it’s hard to resist a dip at the lifeguarded 12th Street Beach, or packing up a picnic lunch or dinner and spending an afternoon or evening lounging on one of the many green patches; on the flip side, if you’re planning to stay indoors, interactive entertainment awaits at the coveted Adler Planetarium and the Northerly Island Visitor Center right next door.

39 – Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Chicago

If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping inside one of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s iconic homes, this isn’t the next best thing — it’s the real thing! Built in 1889, the architect spent twenty years living at his Oak Park home with his family — and now it’s open to visitors.

The perfect spot for architecture or design buffs (or anyone who just likes poking around historic places), your guided tour will bring you through a handful of rooms that have been restored to their original appearance, as well as plenty more tidbits about Wright himself.

If you’re FLW itch still needs scratching, the nearly Robie House is also located in Oak Park and open for tours, or you can check out the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust’s calendar of special events!

40 – Brookfield zoo

Brookfield zoo in Chicago

Nestled in between the Brookfield and McCormick Woods, about 20 minutes drive from the city, lies one of the most underrated zoos in America — and, as such, one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago for animal lovers and families alike.

The Brookfield zoo isn’t your average concrete-and-glass affair, but rather is set in a sprawling 216 acres of lush greenery and animal habitats that are home to over 2,300 creatures comprised of 450 species from all corners of our big, beautiful world — from wetlands and swamps to tropical jungles, arid deserts, oceans and rivers, and the African wilderness, to give you a taste.

Sure to delight the little ones, the zoo also offers a glimpse back in time with an array of life-sized, animatronic prehistoric giants all over the area!

41 – Hop-on-Hop-off bus

bus tours in Chicago

Short on time? Or just want to see as much of Chicago as possible? The hop-on, hop-off bus is the perfect way to do it all!

Offering a total of 13 stops (including Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and more), you can purchase tickets for either a single day or an entire week… and with live commentary from your driver/guide on board, there’s no shortage of interesting facts about what you’re seeing.

Plus, if you get tired of walking (or it’s just too darn hot or cold), this is the perfect way to rest your feet while still taking in all the sights!

42 – The Merchandise Mart

The Merchandise Mart, Chicago

The Merchandise Mart isn’t your average shopping mall: with over four million square feet of exhibition space, 25 floors, and covering two entire city blocks, it once held the title of the largest commercial building in the world — and, to this stay, it’s easy as ever to get lost between stalls and near impossible to walk away empty-handed.

That means that if you can think of it, there’s a good chance you’ll find it at The Mart — from home decor and furniture to fashion and accessories, art and antiques, and pretty much everything in between.

In addition to browsing (or buying), The Mart is also home to a food hall with more than 10 eateries, so make sure to come hungry!

43 – National Museum of Mexican Art

National Museum Of Mexican Art, Chicago

Colorful, vibrant, and steeped in Mexican culture, the National Museum of Mexican Art is a can’t-miss spot for anyone interested in art, history, or just soaking up another country’s customs.

Opened in 1982, the museum is the largest Latino cultural institution in the United States and home to thousands of pieces of art from all over Mexico, documenting thousands of years of history and Latin American evolution.

Found over in the Pilsen neighborhood, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community, highlights include galleries devoted to pre-Hispanic art, traditional folk art, Colonial Mexico, modern and contemporary masters, as well as The Mexican Experience in the US.

44 – Holy Name Cathedral

Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago

Boasting foreboding arched ceilings and intricate stained glass windows throughout the interior, and bronze doors, and a 210-foot spire that catches your eye immediately from the street, the Holy Name Cathedral is a sight to behold, even if you’re not religious.

Constructed after the Great Chicago fire of 1871, the towering Gothic Revival cathedral — the largest in the city — today serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, and regularly welcomes locals and visitors alike for mass, services, or just a look around the stunning church.

Located in the Near North Side neighborhood just off Michigan Avenue, it’s free to wander around (although donations are accepted) and open daily from dawn until dusk.

45 – Robie House

Frederick C. Robie House, Chicago

A shining example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural genius and a great poster house for 20th-century design, the Robie House is located over in Hyde Park and considered one of his best works — designed for a young Chicago family just before WWI, it was completed in 1910 as one of the earliest works of Wright’s signature “Prairie Style” that would come to define his legacy over a century later.

A perfect blend of Arts and Crafts elements with 20th-century modernism, the house was innovative both structurally and aesthetically at the time: featuring horizontal lines that blend seamlessly into the prairie landscape around it; open interior spaces; natural materials like wood and brick; large fireplaces that serve as focal points throughout each room; built-in furniture to save space (and money); plus skylights, art glass windows, decorative screens… The list goes on!

Today you can visit this historic home and get a unique, expert-led insight into the first uniquely American architectural style.

46 – Jackson Park

Jackson Park, Chicago

Originally created in 1871 as the site of the World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair), Jackson Park is today a 500-acre public park on the South Side of Chicago that’s home to some wonderfully impressive features.

Chief among them are the large lagoons and expansive green spaces, which make for a great place to relax or go for a jog; several beautiful bridges over the lagoons provide wonderful photo ops; while the Garden of the Phoenix, Osaka Garden, and the Bobolink Meadows are all worth exploring, too.

Jackson Park is also home to the Museum of Science and Industry and, as the third-largest park in the city, nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, it’s also a popular spot for rolling out the picnic blanket.

Directions in Google Maps

47 – Marina City

Marina City in Chicago

Straddling the Chicago River downtown and originally opened in 1964, Marina City is a world-famous residential and commercial complex that’s appeared in plenty of Hollywood movies and TV shows over the years, and has long been a staple of the city’s diverse architectural catalog.

The two towers — each 65 stories in height — were designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg as cylindrical buildings composed of concrete floors stacked on top of one another to a triangular footprint.

Today they house apartments, office space for small businesses, four restaurants, the House of Blues concert hall, and a bar for anyone looking to wet their whistle.

Directions in Google Maps

48 – Lincoln Park Conservatory

Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago

Welcoming nature-seeking travelers since the 1870s, the Lincoln Park Conservatory is a beautiful greenhouse located on the North Side of Chicago that’s home to thousands of plant species from all corners of the globe.

The conservatory boasts four unique display houses — The Palm House, Orchid House, Fern Room, and Show House — where you’ll discover ancient ferns, towering palms, blooming orchids and one of the largest collections of cacti and succulents in the Midwest, making it perfect for anyone interested in plants (or just looking for a quiet place to relax).

Admission is free, year-round, and thanks to its indoor sections, it makes for a wonderful day out and one of the best tourist attractions in Chicago no matter the weather.

Directions in Google Maps

49 – The Richard H. Driehaus Museum

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, Chicago
credit to The Richard H. Driehaus Museum

A hidden gem in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast, a trip to the Richard H. Driehaus Museum is like a journey back in time to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

The museum is housed within a historic, 43-room Nickerson Mansion — a magnificent, turn-of-the-century home that has been painstakingly restored to its former glory and now houses a fascinating permanent collection of decorative arts, detailed paintings, handcrafted sculptures, and period furniture.

Steps away from the Magnificent Mile, this historical attraction is an easy walk from some of the city’s best shopping, dining, and attractions, making it perfect for an afternoon of culture that leads into a night of entertainment.

50 – Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park, Chicago

A world-class destination that’s perfect for the whole family, Maggie Daley Park is a 20-acre playground located on E. Randolph Street downtown that could act as the poster child for urban gentrification — built on the roof of an old parking garage, it’s now the site of a beautiful green space that boasts an award-winning playground, miniature golf course, ice skating ribbon, rock climbing walls, and much more.

There are a bunch of jogging paths for fitness fanatics to sink their teeth into; plenty of lush greenery if you’re in need of somewhere to relax; and stunning views across Lake Michigan for anyone looking to take some photos. Plus, thanks to its location around the corner from Millennium Park, the two make for a great combination.

Hot tip: Grab an attractions pass!

Welcome weary travelers! In this great city of Chicago, there are so many things to see and do, it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, the City Pass and Go City Chicago Explorer Pass have got you covered!

These passes offer great value-for-money deals, and allow you to see and experience as much of the city as you please. With a host of postcard-worthy options to choose from for every budget, interest, and timeframe, these passes provide a smarter way to see the best tourist attractions in Chicago — from the Field Museum to Skydeck Chicago, the MCI, Art Institute of Chicago, and Hop-on-Hop-off bus — and save a few bucks along the way. In fact, you can save up to 44% off the regular costs of each attraction!

The Chicago City Pass and Go City Chicago Explorer Pass are the best way to explore this magnificent city. Their flexibility lets you create your own itinerary and see the attractions that interest you most. Plus, with helpful guides to each attraction and a 24-hour customer service line, you’re guaranteed a smooth and easy experience.

So, what are you waiting for? Get your attractions pass now and have fun!

Looking for a place to stay in Chicago?

Don’t worry, you’ll find something to fit your budget and interests! If you’re looking for a luxurious experience, the Waldorf Astoria and the Gwen are both noteworthy options, and the Ritz-Carlton and the Langham are also top-notch choices – not just in Chicago, but all across the country.

If it’s Insta-worthy views you’re after, head to the lakeside Drake or the Blackstone, while if you want opulence and you’re on a tighter budget, the Sofitel, Marriott, and Radisson deliver all the amenities you could ask for on a luxurious vacation without breaking the bank.

For history buffs and those with an inkling for the paranormal, it’s rumored that the Congress Plaza Hotel was frequented by Al Capone, and is haunted. And, of course, for those traveling on the cheap, there are plenty of hostels and budget hotels to choose from — the HI Chicago Hostel and the Wrigley Hostel being just a couple of examples.

Final thoughts

Well, that’s all folks! We hope this article has sparked some excitement about all of the best tourist attractions in Chicago. And, as always, remember to check out our blog for more tips on traveling as you journey around the USA (and beyond).

There really is something for everyone in this world-class city. Got anything to add to the list? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks for reading and, as always, happy travels!

Evan Bryce Riddle is a versatile and ambitious content producer whose passion for globetrotting runs deep. When he’s not crafting travel content, Evan is the Content Executive at Australia’s leading digital marketing agency, managing end-to-end video production and written content to build brands to 7 and 8 figures. Evan has also spearheaded content for world-leading digital media channels (TheRichest, TheTravel), written multiple published books, photographed weddings, and hosts the coveted MegaMinds podcast – a handful of highlights from his 10+ year content and marketing career. Where does the love for travel come from? Born in Melbourne, Australia but having grown up in Hollywood, Evan fell in love with international jetsetting from a young age. Fast forward to today and he’s visited 30+ countries, highlighted by a 4-year stint in vibrant Montreal.