Millennium Park#1 in Best Things To Do in Chicago
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.
On a gorgeous spring, summer or fall day, grab a blanket and picnic basket to enjoy on the park's grounds. Overall, former visitors said their time in the park was relaxing and worthwhile, though some mention that you'll likely encounter a few solicitors and homeless people.
Millennium Park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The park and its exhibits are free to visit, and complimentary guided garden and architecture tours are available on select days between May and September or October. Free audio tours can also be downloaded from the City of Chicago's website. You can also download free smartphone apps from the Google Play or iTunes stores for walking tour ideas, event listings and maps. Additional fees apply for items purchased at the park's concessions stands and restaurant. Restrooms and a bike parking area are offered on-site. To get to the park, travelers can bike, drive and park in one of several adjacent garages, walk from the Loop or take the L to the Lake, Randolph/Wabash, Monroe or Adams/Wabash subway stations.
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#2 Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain
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.
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