When it comes to downtown Chicago, there’s something for everyone.
From a mile-long strip of shopping to a full day of museums, downtown Chicago welcomes millions of people every year. And while the entire city of Chicago is full of activities, entertainment and amazing dining, the Loop is right at the center of it all.
This downtown destination is where you’ll find Chicago’s iconic skyscrapers, attractions, hotels and deep dish pizza spots. In addition to views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Plus, the Loop gets its name because of the way public transportation loops around the neighborhood so it’s beyond easy to get around by train, bus, taxi, bike or even foot.
Whether you’re visiting for work, a romantic getaway or a trip with the family, here are the must-see spots to add to your list when visiting downtown Chicago!
Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is a premier shopping destination for anyone who visits the city. From high-end and designer boutiques to pop-up shops to everyday favorites, you don’t even have to shop to enjoy this mile-long strip of storefronts and downtown buzz. However, a little retail therapy is always nice too.
Chicago’s Navy Pier is a top destination for visitors from near and far. The Pier’s 50 acres are filled with dining, attractions, art, lakefront views and a giant Centennial Ferris wheel that even locals love. Depending on when you visit, you may even catch free firework shows over summer or Winter WonderFest later in the year.
One of the most well-known parts of Millennium Park is the stainless steel Chicago Bean, formally known as Cloud Gate, a sculpture that is a prime selfie spot. But this modern town square features an array of cool architecture, play spaces and free events throughout the year. Enjoy a picnic under Pritzker Pavilion, escape to Lurie Garden or just take a quick stop on your way to the museums or shopping.
Located right next to Millennium Park, the Art Institute is another must see—especially for art lovers. Inside, you’ll find famous masterpieces and renowned work from around the world. If you’re short on time, the Institute even has a highlights list of what to see in an hour. But we recommend giving yourself much more time than that to take everything in.
At 1,353 tall the Skydeck at Willis Tower is a pretty good way to get awesome views of the city. Snap a photo overlooking skyscrapers and take in Chicago from above. The Skydeck offers glass boxes that extend out 4.3 feet, giving you spine-tingling views of the city below and a one-of-a-kind photo op.
Many iconic theatres call downtown Chicago home including the Chicago Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Goodman Theatre and the Cadillac Palace Theatre. You can find anything from stand-up comedians to Broadway hits to concerts and classic operas all in the heart of downtown.
Just like the name suggests, Chicago’s Museum Campus is home to three of the biggest institutions in the city—and can easily be a full day of events. This is where you’ll find the Shedd Aquarium which is home to beluga whales, dolphins, penguins, jellyfish and thousands of other underwater creatures. You can also find the Field Museum and learn about the world’s natural history. And last but not least, you can round your day out with Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and the first planetarium in the country.
Pro Tip: The Chicago CityPASS can help you save on admission tickets if you plan on visiting a few of the museums and attraction in this article.
Chicago’s Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world. From it’s daily water display with a jet that shoots water 150 feet in the air to the sheer beauty of the fountain itself, this Chicago landmark is a definite must-see. In fact, the fountain is located in Grant Park along with the Museum Campus, the Art Institute and Millennium Park—which is enough to fill an entire weekend!
Chicago is full of historical and architectural landmarks, and this award-winning cruise will teach you about them all. Even if you aren’t an architecture buff, we highly recommend climbing aboard and cruising the Chicago River to hear about the city’s rich history. Plus, you’ll get some pretty cool views of the skyscrapers and downtown area.
Chicago’s newly renovated Riverwalk runs alongside—you guessed it—the Chicago River. Stroll the scene, try any of the bars and restaurants or bring your own food to hangout and people watch. The Riverwalk is a perfect pre- or post-destination if you plan on doing the Architecture River Cruise too!
While this list of must-check-off attractions and must-see spots is enough to fill a long weekend and even a week, we always recommend asking your hotel concierge for even more recommendations when you are staying at a Hilton Hotel.