Chicago Travel Guide

USA  #3 in Best Weekend Getaways
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2-day Itinerary in Chicago

Explore the best things to do in Paris in 2 days based on recommendations from local experts.

Day 1

  • 1
    #7
    Art Institute of Chicago
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    #7 in Chicago
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Home to one of the country's most impressive collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art (plus works from numerous other genres), the expansive Art Institute of Chicago features more than 300,000 works from all over the world in its permanent collection. You'll find pieces created in the Byzantine era, as well as paintings done just a few decades ago. The Art Institute's exhibits also include all sorts of intriguing artifacts, from European armor to the Thorne Miniature Rooms, which showcase interior design and furnishings in Europe and America from the late 13th to early 20th centuries. In addition to the permanent collection, the Art Institute hosts traveling exhibitions covering a variety of subjects and showcasing a diverse array of artists and genres.

    The Art Institute of Chicago earns high praise from recent visitors, thanks in part to its impressive collection. Art enthusiasts particularly commend the museum's impressionist collection, which features pieces from famous artists like van Gogh, Monet and Renoir.

    The Art Institute of Chicago sits just south of Millennium Park and next to Grant Park in downtown Chicago. The property is easily accessible via the Adams/Wabash, Monroe and Jackson L stations, or travelers can take one of several buses to a nearby bus stop. Driving to the Art Institute is not recommended due to the limited number of parking options available within walking distance. The museum is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; on Thursdays, the museum stays open until 8 p.m. General admission – which includes entry to special exhibitions, participation in guided tours and access to restrooms, several eateries and a gift shop – is $25 for adults and $19 for seniors and children between 14 and 17. If you have a Go Chicago Card or a CityPASS, admission into the museum is included with your pass. Learn more about the Art Institute of Chicago's exhibits, special events and facilities by visiting the property's website.

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    10 minute walk
  • 2
    #1
    Millennium Park
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    #1 in Chicago
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

    ...Read More »
    15-25 minute walk
  • 3
    #11
    Chicago Architecture River Cruise
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    #11 in Chicago
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    A visit to 360 CHICAGO or Skydeck Chicago will give you a good overview of the city's layout. But if you want to learn more about Chicago's sky-high buildings, tag along on an architecture river cruise. During a river cruise, you'll gain great views and historical insight about well-known structures like The Wrigley Building, the Leo Burnett Building and the Fulton House.

    Though several companies, including Wendella Sightseeing Co. and Chicago Line Cruises, offer architecture river cruises, most travelers recommend climbing aboard a Chicago's First Lady Cruises boat with a Chicago Architecture Foundation docent. You'll learn tons of information about the area's architecture, plus catch superb skyline photo ops.

    The Chicago Architecture Foundation and Chicago Line Cruises offer tours throughout the year, although they are not as frequent during the winter. (Chicago Line Cruises, Chicago's First Lady Cruises and Wendella Sightseeing Co. do not schedule any tours from December through February.) Architecture cruises from Wendella Sightseeing – which last roughly 75 or 90 minutes and are provided multiple times a day – start at $39 per person. Go Chicago Cards include 75-minute architecture river cruises provided by Shoreline Sightseeing. Tickets can be purchased online or at boat docks by DuSable Bridge or Ogden Slip. Docks at DuSable Bridge are within walking distance of The Magnificent Mile, several bus stops and the Grand L station, while Ogden Slip sits alongside Navy Pier and a few bus stops. A limited number of parking garages are also available in the area. Seats and restrooms are provided on all river cruises, and some boats feature food and beverage concessions stands.

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    15-25 minute walk
  • 4
    #4
    The Magnificent Mile
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    #4 in Chicago
    Cafes, Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Cafes, Shopping, Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    If you can feel your credit card burning a hole through your wallet, make your way to The Magnificent Mile. This portion of Michigan Avenue – which stretches between Lake Shore Drive and the Chicago River – beckons to shopaholics with department stores and luxury retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Lord & Taylor. Additionally, The Magnificent Mile is home to several top-notch eateries and luxury hotels, including The Drake, a Hilton Hotel the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago and the InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile.

    Architecture buffs will also appreciate a stroll down this street thanks to its eclectic collection of buildings. While you're walking around, turn your eyes upward for views of the Historic Water Tower, which survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and is the longest standing structure on Michigan Avenue. Other structural highlights include the Wrigley Building (once the headquarters of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr.) and Tribune Tower (home to the Chicago Tribune daily newspaper).

    Shopaholics rave about The Magnificent Mile year-round, but for some of the area's best window displays, time your visit during the holiday season. And though you'll want to walk to get the best views of the street's architecture, if you start to tire, hop onto one of several buses – route Nos. 3, 26, 125, 143, 146, 147, 148 and 151 – to get around the area.

    You can reach The Magnificent Mile on foot from the Loop via the DuSable Bridge, by bus, by L (the closest stations are at the Red Line's Grand and Chicago stops), by taxi or by car. Multiple parking garages are available nearby for a fee, and public restrooms are provided in the Water Tower Place shopping center. The Magnificent Mile is free to explore at any time of day or night, though stores and other facilities adhere to their own hours. To learn more about what there is to see and do along this famed thoroughfare, visit the Magnificent Mile's website.

    ...Read More »
    5-15 minute walk
  • 5
    #9
    360 CHICAGO Observation Deck
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    #9 in Chicago
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    One of Chicago's most notable attractions is its skyline, and one of the best places to experience it is at the 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck. Formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, 360 CHICAGO towers 1,000 feet over The Magnificent Mile from its location on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center. Encased by floor-to-ceiling windows, 360 CHICAGO boasts expansive views of the city; on a clear day, you can see for 55 miles in any direction. Meanwhile, the interactive screens will help you identify different landmarks that appear in your panorama.

    For a different point of view (and an adrenaline rush), test out 360 CHICAGO's TILT. In this mechanized room, visitors hold on to handlebars as the top of the room's windows extend outward, tilting you toward bustling North Michigan Avenue down below. Should you prefer to experience the view without feeling your heart skip a beat, grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a snack at the cafe and bar or look for souvenirs in the gift shop.

    Past visitors say 360 CHICAGO's shorter lines, abundance of windows and better views make this attraction worth visiting over its more famous counterpart, Willis Tower's Skydeck Chicago. Some travelers bemoan the 360 CHICAGO's high ticket prices, however, if you have a Go Chicago Card or a Chicago CityPASS, your entrance fees are covered by your attractions pass.

    Parking garages are situated nearby, but the easiest way to get to 360 CHICAGO is to take the L's Red Line to the Chicago subway station or one of several bus routes to the Michigan & Chestnut or Chestnut & Mies Van Der Rohe bus stops. The property is open daily from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., but keep in mind that last entry is at 10:30 p.m. Tickets cost $21 for adults and $14 for children between 3 and 11, and you'll have to fork over an additional fee to experience TILT. To learn more, visit the 360 CHICAGO website.

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Day 2

  • 1
    #2
    Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain
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    #2 in Chicago
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

    ...Read More »
    15-20 minute walk; 5 minutes by car
  • 2
    #8
    The Field Museum
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    #8 in Chicago
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    This extensive natural history museum occupies half an acre of Grant Park's Museum Campus and houses extensive exhibits that showcase artifacts from multiple eras and destinations, making it a must-see for kids (as well as any fans of the "Indiana Jones" movies). Some of the most popular parts of the museum include the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit, which features a reconstruction of a three-story Egyptian tomb and interactive representations of life on the Nile, and the Restoring Earth area in the Abbott Hall of Conservation, where visitors can learn more about sustainability through hands-on activities. But no visit to The Field Museum would be complete without some quality time with SUE, the facility's T. rex who just happens to be the largest, most complete T. rex ever discovered. Sue is 42 feet long from nose to tail and boasts 58 terrifying teeth.

    Travelers say there's plenty to see in this museum, so allot at least a few hours here. Also, consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS or a Go Chicago Card, which include admissions to the museum. The Chicago CityPASS also covers access to a 3-D film.

    The Field Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but no visitors are admitted after 4 p.m. General admission is $24 for adults and $17 for children ages 3 to 11. Access to the museum's special exhibits and 3-D theater cost extra. Restrooms, two eateries and a gift shop are provided inside, and three main parking areas are offered on the Museum Campus. However, additional fees apply to park nearby, so taking the L to Roosevelt or using a Divvy bike and parking at the Museum Campus station is recommended. The Nos. 130 and 146 buses also drop nearby. Check out The Field Museum's website to learn more about the attraction's exhibits, facilities and policies.

    ...Read More »
    5 minute walk
  • 3
    #14
    Shedd Aquarium
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    #14 in Chicago
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    Shedd Aquarium is one of the world's largest indoor aquariums, housing around 32,000 creatures. While you're here, you can feel stingrays float beneath your fingers, listen to sea lions bark and learn all about a variety of turtles. A visit to Shedd Aquarium will lead you through a cornucopia of habitats, where you'll find additional animals like penguins, piranhas, sharks and beluga whales. Or, for an additional fee, you can participate in specialty experiences like animal encounters, feeding experiences and behind-the-scenes tours.

    Though many travelers said they enjoyed their time at the aquarium, a few bemoaned the additional fees incurred here for parking, special exhibits and hands-on experiences. Lines to get into the aquarium are also known to get long, so it's best to purchase upgraded tickets online (general admission tickets are not available online) or arrive early.

    Basic tickets include access to the property's main areas: Waters of the World, Caribbean Reef, Amazon Rising, Wild Reef, Abbott Oceanarium, Polar Play Zone. Admission costs $39.95 for adults and $29.95 children. Tours, feedings and interactive animal experiences are also offered for an additional fee. Travelers with a Chicago CityPASS or a Go Chicago Card receive a complimentary Shedd Pass; all ticket holders will have access to restrooms, a gift shop and three cafes. You'll find the Shedd Aquarium in the Museum Campus portion of Grant Park sandwiched between The Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. You can get there by taking the Green, Orange or Red L lines to Roosevelt station or by taking the No. 130 or 146 bus to the Solidarity Drive & Aquarium bus stop. A parking garage is also located on the Museum Campus. The aquarium is open daily between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., except on weekdays in the winter when the property closes at 5 p.m. For more information, visit the Shedd Aquarium website.

    ...Read More »
    15 minutes by boat; 10-20 minutes by car
  • 4
    #6
    Navy Pier
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    #6 in Chicago
    Amusement Parks, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Amusement Parks, Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

    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.

    ...Read More »
    15-20 minutes by car
  • 5
    #15
    Skydeck Chicago
    View all Photos
    #15 in Chicago
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Nearly 2 million people make their way to Willis Tower's Skydeck Chicago each year, and it's easy to see why. Occupying the 103rd floor – that's nine floors higher than 360 CHICAGO – of the 110-story Willis Tower (the second-tallest building in North America after One World Trade Center), Skydeck Chicago boasts breathtaking views of the city. Visit on a sunny day and you may be able to see far beyond Chicago's borders to Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and other parts of Illinois.

    The highlight for most visitors is the Ledge. Extending beyond the building's exterior, this platform is made entirely of glass – even the floor. Travelers also liked the video screens that show what it would be like to stand 103 floors above other Chicago attractions, including Wrigley Field and Millennium Park. However, long lines quickly form for Skydeck Chicago, so plan on arriving early or purchasing a Chicago CityPASS, which covers Fast Pass admission into the attraction. Or, visit on a Saturday or Sunday and buy an Early Bird ticket to get into the Skydeck before it opens to the public.

    Willis Tower and its Skydeck sit above South Wacker Drive on the western edge of the Loop. You'll find the Quincy/Wells L station nearby, as well as several bus stops and a parking garage. The Skydeck is open daily March through September between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. and October through February from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. General admission is $23 for adults and $15 for children ages 3 to 11, while Fast Pass tickets cost $49 each and Early Bird admission costs $65 per person. Standard entry fees are covered by Go Chicago Cards. A gift shop and restrooms are provided inside, and breakfast and dinner services are available with advance reservations. Check out Skydeck Chicago's website for more information about the attraction.

    ...Read More »

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