Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain#1 in Best Things To Do in Chicago
Often referred to as "Chicago's front yard," Grant Park is a 319-acre swath of green space that starts at the eastern edge of the Loop and stretches down to the northern fringes of the Near South Side. First-time visitors should plan on spending a fair amount of time in Grant Park: This is where you'll find several of Chicago's most popular things to do, including The Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and Shedd Aquarium. (Millennium Park also rubs elbows with the northwest corner of Grant Park.) Baseball diamonds, flower gardens, walking paths and wide-open grassy terrain are available as well.
At the heart of Grant Park is Buckingham Fountain. One of the largest fountains in the world, this tiered water feature boasts 133 jets that shoot water as high as 150 feet into the air during 20-minute choreographed displays (which take place every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 10:35 p.m. from April to October). At night, the fountain's performance is accompanied by lights and music.
Though some recent travelers said there was little to do in this park, many appreciated Grant Park's meticulously manicured grounds and superb views of downtown Chicago. Before you visit the park, be sure to check the Chicago Park District's website for events listings, since some festivals and concerts – such as Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago, which take place here – cause crowds to swell and some areas to become restricted.
Grant Park is open to visitors every day from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Admission to the park and Buckingham Fountain are free, but select attractions within the park operate set hours and may charge entry fees. Some of the park's events and festivals also cost extra. Restrooms, grab-and-go eateries, a playground and a skate park are offered on-site, and during the winter, visitors can skate on the park's ice rink. Grant Park can be accessed from a variety of L train stops, including Monroe, Adams/Wabash, Jackson and Roosevelt – all lines except for the Yellow and Blue lines service one or more nearby stations. A few parking garages and limited street parking are available within walking distance. Grant Park is also a popular stop on many of the city's top Segway tours.
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#2 Millennium Park
A first-time visit to Chicago isn't complete without a stop at Millennium Park. Situated in the Loop just north of the Art Institute of Chicago, this 24.5-acre space is used to showcase cutting-edge art, architecture and landscaping; it also acts as a backdrop for concerts and festivals. Most visitors come to Millennium Park to see the Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate, better known as "The Bean." Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain features two 50-foot towers that face each other at opposite ends of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers' LED screens project the faces of 1,000 different Chicago residents, which are perfectly aligned with spouts so that it appears they are spitting water on passersby. Cloud Gate – created by British artist Anish Kapoor – is a 110-ton bean-shaped sculpture forged from stainless steel. The Bean's elliptical shape reflects the Chicago skyline.
There are plenty of other reasons to visit Millennium Park: You can see a concert at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, stroll through the Lurie Garden or the Boeing Galleries (where contemporary sculpture is displayed outdoors), or sign up for a Segway tour at the McDonald's Cycle Center.
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