Choose from 49 Fun Things to Do in Illinois
Proudly referred to as Chicago's "front yard," Grant Park is home to three world-class museums - the Art Institute, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Shedd Aquarium - as well as the Museum Campus, a 1995 transformation of paved areas into beautiful greenspace. It’s also among the city's loveliest and most prominent parks.
Centered between the sparkling blue waters of Lake Michigan to the east and Chicago’s stunning skyline to the west, Grant Park is a lovely open space with walking paths, elm trees, and formal rose gardens.Grant Park's centerpiece is the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, built in 1927 to provide a monumental focal point while protecting the park's breathtaking lakefront views.
Throughout the summer, Grant Park is also the site of many of the city’s largest outdoor events, including the annual Taste of Chicago, the Lollapalooza music festival, and Chicago Jazz Festival.
Grant Park is located on the east side of Michigan, in the Loop. The park is easily accessible via bus and El trains. The park is north of the Field Museum of Natural History, John G. Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. Across Michigan are plenty of restaurants, shops, and other Loop attractions.
Built in 1897 as Chicago’s first public library, the Cultural Center is now home to the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, the Chicago Children’s Choir and several galleries. It hosts nearly 1,000 free cultural programs per year, including concerts, plays, art exhibits, film screenings and lectures. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1976, and is considered to be the most comprehensive free municipal cultural venue in the country.
While the cultural programs draw hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, many people also come just to see the impressive interior, which is decorated in a Beaux Arts style modeled on several classical buildings in Europe, including the Doge's Palace in Venice, the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and the Acropolis in Athens. Inside you’ll find rare colored marbles and stone, antique brass fixtures and the most famous features, the two large stained glass domes. One of these domes can claim the title of the world’s largest Tiffany glass done, which is 38 feet across and contains an estimated 30,000 pieces of glass.
With more than 20 million artifacts, the Field Museum of Natural History is an engaging museum filled with both interactive and imaginative displays. The big attraction is the Tyrannosaurus rex named "Sue," a 13 foot (4 meter) tall, 41 ft (13 m) long beast who menaces the grand space with ferocious aplomb. The most complete T-Rex ever discovered, it takes its name from Sue Hendrickson, the fossil-hunter who found the 90 percent complete skeleton in South Dakota in 1990.
Dinosaurs loom large in the Field Museum. At the Evolving Planet exhibit, you can also watch staff paleontologists clean up fossils, learn about the evolution of the massive reptiles, and even learn about Homo sapien's evolutionary ties to the extinct beasts. Away from the prehistoric giants, the “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibit recreates an Egyptian burial chamber on three levels. The mastaba (tomb) contains 23 actual mummies. The bottom level, with its twisting caverns, is especially worthwhile. Those reeds growing in the stream are real.
Other displays worth your time include “Underground Adventure,” a vast exhibit exploring the habitats of animals and insects that live underground, and the “Pawnee Earth Lodge,” which allows visitors to explore a complete dwelling of the Great Plains tribe.
The Field Museum of Natural History is located on the Museum Campus in the South Loop, just off Lakeshore Drive. Both buses and El lines get you here. Nearby attractions include the John G. Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium, which are all within walking distance.
You can easily spend a whole day at the museum. You have a few different dining options, including a dining room with view of Lake Michigan. Be sure to check out The Sue Store, which sells a mind-boggling assortment of dinosaur-related items. On the weekends, the museum hosts dinosaur-themed storytellings.
- Check the Riverwalk’s online calendar for the most up-to-date schedule of concerts and events, some of which require tickets.
- During the warmer months, it can be crowded with locals and tourists visiting for dining and entertaining.
- If you’re planning to rent kayaks or boats, arrive early to ensure a rental during peak times.
- The Water Plaza and River Theater sections make ideal locations for picnics.
The first planetarium built in the western hemisphere, the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum still captures intergalactic imaginations. From the entrance, visitors descend below the building, which has 12 sides, one for each sign of the zodiac. In the newest wing, a digital sky show recreates such cataclysmic phenomena as supernovas. Interactive exhibits allow you to simulate cosmic events such as a meteor hitting the earth (this one is especially cool).
Inside, the main attraction is the StarRider Theater, where you’ll take a 30 minute virtual reality trip through deep space, with eye-popping 3-D graphics. You’ll literally feel like you’re floating in space. The planetarium's exhibition galleries are equally engaging, with myriad displays and interactive activities. A must-see exhibit is “Shoot For The Moon,” an interactive exhibit on lunar exploration. Other exhibits include “From the Night Sky to the Big Bang,” which highlights the planetarium's extensive collection of astronomical artifacts.
Near the entrance to the Adler is a 12 foot (4 meter) sundial dedicated to the golden years of astronomy. West of the sundial, in the median, a bronze statue of Copernicus shows the 16th century Polish astronomer holding a compass and a model of the solar system.
Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum is located on the Museum Campus in the South Loop, just off Lakeshore Drive. Both buses and El lines get you here. Nearby attractions include the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History, which are all within walking distance. The whole place can be easily covered in less than two hours.
The sky show programs last about 50 minutes. On the first Friday night of every month - aka Far Out Fridays - the Adler's astronomers bring out their telescopes and let you view the skies along with them. The museum café has great views of the lakefront and skyline.
- Allow about one hour for your visit.
- The 360 Chicago site is fully wheelchair accessible.
- Architect’s Corner Bar & Café has a full bar and serves coffee, gelato, breakfast, and snacks near the viewing windows.
- The Tilt experience is not included with general admission.
- River cruises fill up fast in summer, so buy tickets or book a tour well in advance.
- River cruises depart rain or shine. As weather can change quickly in Chicago, be prepared for rain or temperature fluctuations.
- No experience is necessary to kayak on the Chicago River; tour guides provide a short lesson before each kayaking tour begins.
- Make the most of your visit with extended hours every Thursday.
- Wear comfortable shoes and clothes so you can easily explore all three floors.
- It’s packed with activities for kids ages 10 and under.
- Wheelchairs and strollers are available for free on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Hearing-assist devices are available at the Michigan Avenue checkroom and sign language tours and tours with sighted guides are available with advance notice.
- Dining options include a cafe, outdoor dining, and an upscale Italian restaurant.