As the largest city in the American Midwest, Chicago has always held a special place in the hearts of its native sons and daughters as well as those who have adopted it as a place to live. For out-of-towners, there is a seemingly never-ending list of exciting things to do in the place that poet Carl Sandburg called “City of the Big Shoulders.” Here’s a brief taste of what can be found there.
• See concerts and public art in Millennium Park: Home to iconic public art installations such as Cloud Gate (a.k.a. “The Bean”), this 25-acre park is one of the most popular gathering spots in the city. In the summer, the area is typically teeming with folks catching free concerts and movie screenings on the lawn at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. (Psst: It’s usually BYOB). When it gets cold, skaters can be found sliding across the ice at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Don’t miss Crown Fountain, an interactive installation featuring two 50-foot-tall LED video structures.
• Hop aboard Chicago’s First Lady for an architecture tour: A boat trip is the breeziest way to survey the city’s famed architecture. An architectural tour is a must for any visit to Chicago, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation employs certified volunteer docents who narrate the history behind 50-plus downtown buildings. Hop aboard the Chicago’s First Lady from its boat docking station located along the beautiful Chicago Riverwalk for the 90-minute tour. There’s a full-service cash bar inside.
• See the city from the Willis Tower Skydeck: Where else to see the city at its most exciting than from a vantage point 1,353 feet above the streets? The observatory’s Ledge attraction places visitors in a glass box that juts out over the side of the building, allowing for some pretty epic selfies and views. How epic? Views from the 103rd floor are expansive, allowing guests to see up to four states and 50 miles out. Pro tip: Want to beat the crowds? Experience the skyline at night.
• Find serenity at the Garfield Park Conservatory: The Conservatory is a gorgeous glass structure housing more than 100,000 plants. It’s always warm inside and admission is always free (though visitors are welcome to make a donation). Make sure to take a moment to walk around the tropical paradise of the Palm House, the conservatory’s largest room, and take a peek inside the Fern Room, which attempts to recreate the vegetation in Illinois millions of years ago. Visitors can also enjoy the building’s haystack shape and walls of stratified stonework.
• Marvel to the masterpieces at the Art Institute of Chicago: Guarded by an iconic pair of bronze lions, the Art Institute of Chicago houses a permanent collection of more than 300,000 artworks. It’s filled with masterpieces from every era, from Georges Seurat’s iconic painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (notable for its appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) to Andy Warhol’s print of actress Elizabeth Taylor. The museum also houses a Medieval armory with an impressive collection of swords, crossbows and some gorgeous suits of armor.
• Hang out with a mummy at the Field Museum: This massive natural history museum was founded to house the biological and anthropological collections for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. With 350,000 square feet of permanent exhibitions to explore, deciding what to see at the Field Museum can be a daunting task. The institution’s popular “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibit, for example, takes visitors into a recreation of the 5,000-year-old tomb of pharaoh’s son Unis-Ankh. From there, they can walk through an extensive assemblage of Egyptian artifacts.
• Have a laugh at Second City: It’s the legendary club where Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Gilda Radner, Chris Farley and Steve Carell cut their comedic teeth. Before they joined the cast of Saturday Night Live or became big-screen stars, those folks above practiced their craft on the mainstage at the Second City. The venue’s premiere revue features some of the institution’s most talented performers in a series of loosely connected, topical comedy sketches. Once the show is over, stick around for the encore, where the cast tests out new sketches and get to show off their improv talents.
And that’s just a taste of what awaits visitors. Check out Chicago for some of the most appealing sights, sounds and experiences in the country.
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