Navy Pier#6 in Best Things To Do in Chicago
Extending out onto Lake Michigan, Navy Pier offers plenty in the way of family-friendly entertainment. The first thing you'll spot once you set foot on the pier is the towering Ferris wheel (which stands 196 feet tall); you'll also find a swing-seat ride and a carousel. Once the kids have had their fill of thrill rides, you can spend some time practicing your putt at the 18-hole miniature golf course or spend a few hours exploring the Chicago Children's Museum, with hands-on exhibits ranging from treehouses to firetrucks.
But you don't have to be a kid to enjoy a visit to Navy Pier. Grown-ups can catch a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, flex some credit card muscle at a variety of shops or grab a drink at the Miller Lite Beer Garden. And be sure to check Navy Pier's website for a list of events: Concerts are often held here, and during the summer (and New Year's Eve), impressive fireworks displays are the norm. In fact, many of the city's top Segway tours offer special summer evening tours to the pier to catch the semiweekly fireworks show.
While many visitors appreciated Navy Pier's picturesque water views and plentiful kids amenities, some bemoaned the prices charged for rides, food and souvenirs. But, if you have a Go Chicago Card, you'll enjoy complimentary rides on the pier's Centennial Wheel and tickets for select thrill rides.
The Navy Pier complex is located a few blocks east of The Magnificent Mile and is open year-round from 10 a.m. to as late as midnight, depending on the day and season. You don't have to pay to enjoy the pier (or its evening fireworks), however, individual attractions along the pier charge $5 to $50 per ride. In addition to the pier's rides, shops and eateries, visitors will find restrooms, a parking garage and a cruise dock (where travelers can climb aboard one of the city's sightseeing and dinner cruises) available on-site. An L station is not situated within walking distance, so visitors should plan on driving, taking a bus or riding on the attraction's free trolley – which has multiple stops along State, Monroe and Illinois streets and Columbus and Grand avenues – to Navy Pier.
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#1 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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