Things to do

20 Best Things To Do In Chicago Downtown

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Chicago attracts thousands of tourists yearly for its stunning skyline, skyscrapers, top-notch museums, and a growing craft beer scene. The shoreline combines modern waterfront areas with beaches and landmarks.

From amazing food to a rich cultural background, the list of places to witness in Chicago is extensive. Whether exploring the food or cultural offerings, Downtown Chicago is known for its lively urban atmosphere. Explore these 20 best things to do in Chicago downtown.

1. Enjoy The Sun At Lively Millennium Park

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Enjoy budget-friendly fun in downtown Chicago at Millennium Park. Spanning 25 acres, it's not just greenery; it's packed with art and attractions. Witness the city's Christmas tree lighting and other major events.

Check out the iconic Crown Fountain, a water-spouting video tower. Experience live performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Don't miss Cloud Gate, which reflects distorted Chicago views. Visit Wrigley Square for the Millennium Monument's photo ops.

2. Embark On Chicago Architecture River Cruise Tour

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Discover Chicago's iconic buildings on an architecture river cruise! Relax on a 60-75 minute journey, gazing at iconic landmarks like Tribune Tower and John Hancock Center. Sail under historic bridges and learn about the city's architecture through live narration.

Enjoy drinks available for purchase onboard. With multiple daily departures, pick a time that suits you and soak in the stunning skyline views from the water. It's one of the best things to do in Chicago downtown.

3. Explore Chicago's Art Institute

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Famously featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Chicago's Art Institute boasts over 300,000 artworks. The grand entrance welcomes you with two huge bronze lions. You can discover one of the largest U.S. art museums, showcasing vast Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections.

Don't miss the acclaimed Modern Wing with masterpieces by Chagall, Dali, Warhol, and more. Afterward, treat yourself at Terzo Piano for fine dining, or dine on the Bluhm Family Terrace. A must-visit museum for culture enthusiasts!

4. Take A Ride On Chicago's L Train

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Hop on Chicago's L Train for a visually pleasing ride! The L Train travels from the north, passing Loyola University, Edgewater, and Uptown. It goes by iconic spots like Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, Lincoln Park, River North, and the Magnificent Mile, before entering the Loop downtown.

It's a great way to explore the city's neighborhoods and landmarks conveniently. Enjoying the scenic journey on the L Train in Chicago is an interesting things to do in downtown Chicago.

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Stretching 1,000 meters along Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is a popular year-round destination. Enjoy outdoor fun like remote-controlled boats, a drop tower, an old carousel, and the Centennial Ferris Wheel.

Explore attractions like a maze, botanical garden, and the Chicago Children's Museum. Check out the IMAX Theater or Chicago Shakespeare Theater indoors. Take a leisurely walk on the pier, featuring art installations and live music in summer. Don't miss the Schooner Windy tall ship for scenic sails!

6. Stroll Along The Scenic Riverfront

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Explore Chicago's architecture on a self-guided tour at the two km-long Riverwalk. Walk along the scenic riverfront with restaurants, cafes, and cool art installations. Enjoy the Chicago River views as you take a leisurely stroll.

It's a shorter and more relaxed way to experience the city's architecture. Whether grabbing a bite or appreciating the art, the Riverwalk offers a charming atmosphere. Take a stroll and soak in the beauty of the Chicago River at your own pace! It's a cheap things to do in downtown Chicago.

7. Explore Willis Tower Skydeck

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Experience Chicago like never before at the Willis Tower Skydeck! This 108-story tall tower is famous for its observatory, the tallest in the country. Step onto retractable glass balconies extending over 1 meter from the building with a glass floor.

Look 400 meters straight down for street views and enjoy 360-degree sights over Lake Michigan and four states on clear days. It's a thrilling must-see attraction offering a unique perspective of Chicago.

8. Tour Around Grant Park

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Walk south and east in Grant Park to discover a 319-acre green oasis centered around the captivating Buckingham Fountain. This Chicago landmark, dedicated in 1927, draws inspiration from the Latona Fountain at the Palace of Versailles.

From early May to mid-October, the fountain amazes with a 20-minute water show every hour. The center jet shoots water 150 feet high, accompanied by dazzling lights and music after dusk. Also, take a quick and fun Segway tour.

9. Explore Chicago Cultural Center

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Visit the Chicago Cultural Center at Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. It's a neoclassical gem hosting the world's largest Tiffany stained-glass dome. This captivating landmark is a hub for humanities, offering free concerts, dance, theatre, films, lectures, art exhibitions, tours, and family events throughout the year.

You can enjoy diverse performances and exhibitions without spending a penny. It's a Tiffany jewel in the heart of Chicago, showcasing the arts. It's a must-visit spot if you are searching for free things in Chicago.

10. Catch Thrilling Performances At The Chicago Theatre

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Once a lavish movie palace from 1921, The Chicago Theatre is now one of the last grand movie palaces in the US. It was originally designed for silent films with a large live orchestra. However, it underwent a major restoration in the late 1980s.

Nowadays, this iconic venue hosts music concerts, comedy shows, and stage plays. The restoration revived the opulent interior, including stunning murals, Tiffany stained glass windows, and a grand Wurlitzer pipe organ. Experience history and entertainment!

11. Step Onto 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck

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Visit the 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck for awe-inspiring views from the John Hancock Center 94th floor. Witness breathtaking 360-degree panoramas of Chicago's skyline and Lake Michigan. Situated near the top of the skyscraper, this observatory provides bird's-eye views of city landmarks and the lakefront.

Enjoy the thrill of reaching the observatory on one of the country's fastest elevators. Experience TILT, a glass platform tilting forward at 30 degrees, offering incredible downward-facing views from 1,000 meters above.

12. Chicago History Museum

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Discover Chicago's rich history at the Chicago History Museum. Dive into exhibits showcasing the city's growth, exploring pivotal moments like Lincoln's assassination. The museum offers an insightful journey into both Chicago and American history.

Engage with exhibits and artifacts that tell fascinating stories. It's a great opportunity to learn and understand the vibrant past of this iconic city. The museum also caters to kids with exhibits designed to captivate and educate.

13. Enjoy A Day At Maggie Daley Park

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A 20-acre space near Lake Michigan, Maggie Daley Park is filled with exciting activities. Skate on the half-kilometer-long ice skating ribbon, providing fun challenges with elevation changes. In summer, it transforms into a roller-skating area. Try rock climbing on structures reaching 12 meters high.

Families can have a blast with an 18-hole miniature golf course and tennis courts. The park also features an Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired play garden with water features, climbing spaces, slides, and bridges for kids of all ages.

14. Visit Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

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Explore modern art at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) for a diverse and ever-changing artistic experience in downtown Chicago near Water Tower Place. Established in 1967, it's one of the world's largest contemporary art venues.

The museum showcases thousands of post-World War II visual art pieces. Operating gallery-style, it features individually curated exhibitions throughout the year. Exhibitions include temporary loans, pieces from their permanent collection, or a mix of both.

15. Attend A Performance At Symphony Center

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Experience the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the historical Orchestra Hall in Symphony Center. The hall has hosted the orchestra and chorus for many years. Extensively renovated in the 20th century, it improved acoustics seating and added rehearsal spaces, a cafe, and better lighting.

Enjoy a concert series featuring classical masterpieces, piano concerts, kid-friendly programs, and renowned guest conductors. The orchestra performs live scores for classic films like Amadeus and Harry Potter on giant screens.

16. Spend A Day In Lincoln Park

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Explore Chicago's largest park, Lincoln Park, for a day of diverse activities. With over 1,200 acres, it features nature reserves, recreational facilities including a golf course and skate park, and public beaches like North Avenue Beach.

The park hosts the famous Lincoln Park Zoo with over 1,000 animals, a stunning Conservatory with giant palms and an orchid room, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum with a butterfly house.

17. Have A Blast By Renting A Bike

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Explore Chicago on two wheels with bike rentals from providers like Bike and Roll Chicago and 3rd Coast Cycles. Cruise along the scenic Lakefront Trail and enjoy stunning views of the lake while having a fun and active time in downtown Chicago.

Renting a bike is a fantastic way to soak in the sights and sounds of Chicago's downtown, offering a fun and active adventure. Get ready for a memorable ride through this dynamic urban landscape!

18. Take A Kayak And Enjoy The River's Scenic Beauty

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Experience downtown Chicago from a new angle with kayak rentals! Head to the Chicago River and paddle through the city for a unique perspective. Check out rentals from Kayak Chicago and Wateriders for a thrilling water adventure.

It's a fantastic downtown things to do in Chicago, offering a different view of the city's iconic skyline. Grab a kayak and enjoy the scenic beauty of the river while exploring the heart of the city. Kayaking is a fun and refreshing way to make the most of your time downtown!

19. Have An Educational And Entertaining Experience At The Shedd Aquarium

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Explore the Shedd Aquarium and meet over 30,000 animals in zones like the Caribbean Reef and Amazon Rising. Discover Chicago's local waters and interact with green sea turtles, red-bellied piranhas, and giant rays.

You can face beluga whales, dolphins, and penguins in the underwater viewing area. The 4D theater features water-themed films, and temporary exhibits highlight beautiful marine creatures. Overall, you can have an entertaining and educational tour at this spot.

20. Discover Chicago's Local Flavors On A Delicious Food Tour

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Embark on a food tour to savor Chicago's local delights like deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwiches. Walk the city streets with an expert guide, passing landmarks like the Chicago River and Millennium Park.

Enjoy Chicago deep-dish pizza, local beer, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Italian pastries. Try special tours like a 2.5-hour Taste of Chinatown or a half-day tour combining food and architecture. Don't miss the sweet donut tour for a delightful treat!