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Chicago See And Do

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The downtown Loop is a living museum of beautiful and significant buildings. Two great periods of innovation mark Chicago's architecture. The first followed the 1871 fire, when young architects including Louis Sullivan and Daniel Burnham rebuilt the city with modern "skyscrapers." The second began after WWII, when Mies Van der Rohe's International Style had its heyday with such buildings as the Lake Shore Drive Apartments and Crown Hall.

The best way to appreciate the city's fabulous skyline is by boat. From a 90-minute river cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady, you can see the landmark IBM Plaza building, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and Marina City, built in the 1960s by Bertrand Goldberg, with the maxim "there are no straight lines in nature." Its two round, 61-story towers, known as "the corncobs," are Chicago architectural icons.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation runs a gazillion bus, bike, river, and walking tours. All are led by volunteers, and no reservations are required for walking tours. Many depart from the CAF's storefront across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute. Chicago Neighborhood Tours offer an up-close-and-personal look at the city's local tapestry. Chicago Trolley Charters stop at all the downtown attractions. Another don't-miss: A guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, conducted by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

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Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 443 3600

It takes several days to navigate this superb museum housing some 260,000 artworks—including some of the world's most famous masterpieces: Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, and Grant Wood's American Gothic. There's an extensive Impressionist collection, and Asian holdings spanning five millennia that include one of the world's finest collections of Japanese woodblock prints. Don't miss the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room (a reconstruction of the Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor) or the Thorne Miniature Rooms, dollhouse-size re-creations of European and American interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s.

The museum's steps are home to two photogenic lions (circa 1893) and provide a first-rate spot for people-watching. The even better spot, though, may be the Renzo Piano–designed Modern Wing of the Art Institute, which has helped draw a fresh crowd of art-lovers to the venerable museum since its 2009 inauguration. Like a big gulp of fresh air after the dark galleries of the original building, the wing is a homage to natural light. A flying carpet of aluminum blades mounted on the glass roof, a staircase suspended on slender rods, and high picture windows set a buoyant, clean tone for the collection of postwar and contemporary art, which includes all the approved masters, from Jasper Johns to Gerhard Richter and David Hockney. An additional big plus is Terzo Piano, a contemporary Italian-accented brasserie, headed by hometown former Top Chef contender Tony Matuano; the restaurant finally offers the hangout the Institute always needed.—Updated by Raphael Kadushin

Open Mondays through Wednesdays and Fridays 10:30 am to 5 pm, Thursdays 10:30 am to 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 5 pm.


Chicago has 22 miles of lakefront bike paths. Rent a set of wheels (for about $10 per hour) at Bike Chicago (five locations including Navy Pier and North Avenue Beach). The company also conducts guided bike tours daily April through October. For a free bike map, safety tips, and rules of the road, contact the Department of Transportation's Chicago Bike Program.

Field Museum
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 922 9410

Lions and tigers and bears are the main attraction at this huge natural history museum, filled with interactive exhibits about planet Earth. Highlights include the Bushman (a stuffed gorilla) and the Lions of Tsavo, which devoured 140 British railway workers in East Africa in 1898. The crown jewel of the museum is Sue, the largest T. rex ever assembled. Her huge skull is displayed on another floor (it was too heavy to mount on the skeleton). Underground Adventure, another popular exhibit, takes you on a subterranean journey into the critter world (for an extra charge).

Open daily 9 am to 5 pm, last admission at 4 pm.

Lincoln Park Zoo
2200 N. Cannon Drive
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 742 2000

Occupying a beautifully landscaped strip of park in between the perfectly manicured streets of tony Lincoln Park and the shimmering waters of Lake Michigan, the Lincoln Park Zoo is the nation's oldest zoo (it was founded in 1868). It's also one of the last of its kind: A free—and incredibly well maintained—neighborhood zoo. Although it's charmingly small, you should still allow yourself two to three hours to wander the paths among landmark Georgian Revival brick buildings and colorful flower gardens. Main attractions include the Great Ape House (completely rebuilt in 2004) and the centrally located Sea Lion Pool.

Grounds open 9 am to 6 pm, buildings open 10 am to 5 pm. Call ahead for restricted hours in the winter and extended weekend hours in the summer.

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Millennium Park
Michigan Avenue
Chicago , Illinois

This 24.5-acre park, built on top of a former rail yard beside the Art Institute, is a welcome oasis downtown. Although the focal point is Frank Gehry's dramatic Jay Pritzker music pavilion, the real attraction is Spanish artist Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain: Digital faces of Chicago residents are projected onto the side of a 50-foot-high tower, and periodically, often to the surprise of onlookers, the faces spit water into a shallow pool. British sculptor Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate, another popular sight, is a 66-foot-long, 33-foot-high ovaline sculpture that looks like a silvery reflective bead of mercury; it reflects the Chicago skyline and clouds above like a fun-house mirror. The park has an ice-skating rink in winter and a 300-space bike garage where two-wheel commuters can park, take a shower, rent or repair bikes, and grab a snack.

Museum of Contemporary Art
220 E. Chicago Avenue
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 280 2660

The MCA recently reasserted its position as one of the country's leading contemporary art museums with a highlights show that trotted out permanent-collection pieces by everyone from Francis Bacon to Andy Warhol. The museum, though, is more interested in keeping things cutting-edge and fun than in surveying even the recent past. More characteristic exhibits include Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967, which used photos, paintings, film, sculpture, and music to explore the convergence of the two art forms. The museum's busy social calendar includes summer concerts on the lakeview terrace, First Friday events with DJs and drinks; and Sunday brunch at the ground-floor Puck's Café. Not enough fun? Try the MCA's double-decker gift shop, which stocks serious art books and artfully silly tchotchkes, including lots of Japanese action figures alarmingly armed with rocket launchers.

Open Tuesdays 10 am to 8 pm, Wednesdays through Sundays 10 am to 5 pm.

Museum of Science and Industry
57th Street and Lake Shore Drive
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 773 684 1414

Tour a captured U-505 German Sub, take a trip into a coal mine, walk through a model of the human heart, or watch genetically engineered chicks hatch at this huge hands-on science museum. Lines form early for the A-list exhibits: a renovated Pioneer Zephyr train; a full-size 727 airplane that replays recordings from United Flight 9457's black box; and Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle, a lavishly decorated dream dollhouse built in 1928 with real diamonds and emeralds in the chandeliers. View fruit flies under a microscope or digitize yourself at Networld, an immersion into the Internet. You'll feel like you're flying the space shuttle at the center's five-story Omnimax Theater.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 9:30 am to 4 pm, Sundays 11 am to 4 pm.

Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 939 2438

Encased in a handsome marble octagon overlooking the Lake, the Shedd is the world's largest indoor aquarium. If it's been a while since you've ogled aquatic life, you're in for a treat. Thanks to floor-to-ceiling viewing windows and high-tech advancements like roving underwater video cameras and a movie-theater–quality sound system, it's a much more engrossing experience than you may remember. Avoid weekends, when lines can be over an hour long, and try to catch one of the daily feedings (times vary; you'll have to ask), where you can watch divers feed nurse sharks, barracudas, and stingrays in the 90,000-gallon Caribbean Coral Reef. The newest signature exhibit is Wild Reef—Sharks at Shedd, which features over two dozen sharks and hundreds of other things you wouldn't want nibbling at your toes.

Open early September through late May Mondays through Fridays 9 am to 5 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 9 am to 6 pm; late May through early September daily 9 am to 6 pm. Late June through late August, Thursdays 9 am to 8 pm.


Chicago offers some of the best live theater and concerts in the nation. Steppenwolf Theatre is the city's most famous performance venue, counting John Malkovich and Gary Sinise among its members. The Goodman Theatre consistently stages high-quality productions in both its 400-seat studio and its intimate 830-seat space. Chicago Shakespeare Theater stages first-rate productions at Navy Pier in a seven-story, glass-walled structure with panoramic views of the skyline. The Lyric Opera also aspires to a world-class standard, performing in the grand old Civic Opera House, and the Chicago Symphony is considered one of the three best in the world, next to Berlin and Vienna.

For comedy clubs and live music nightclubs, see our Nightlife section.

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
233 S. Wacker Drive
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 312 875 9696

Designed by renowned architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, this 1,353-foot landmark tower is one of the five tallest in the world (though Chicagoans, who measure buildings by the highest occupiable floor, would beg to differ). Some 1.5 million visitors take the ear-popping trip up to the 103rd-floor Skydeck every year. On a clear day you can see all the way to Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois (about 40–50 miles); step onto one of the glass-floored balconies, and you can peer past your feet all the way to the ground. Inside, there are knee-high peepholes for kids, multilanguage maps and kiosks, and interactive exhibits. The best time to beat the crowds—and catch the sunset—is after 4 p.m.

Open daily April through September, 10 am to 10 pm; October through March, 10 am to 8 pm.

Wrigley Field
1060 W. Addison Street
Chicago , Illinois
Tel: 773 404 2827

Regardless of how the Cubs play (both the team and its fans are long-suffering), catching a game on a sunny afternoon at historic Wrigley Field is a quintessentially American, not-to-be-missed experience. All brick and ivy, Wrigley is the country's second-oldest ballpark. The scoreboard is still hand operated, all-beef hot dogs are $2.50, and Old Style is still the beer of choice for the indefatigable fans. Some locals have dubbed it the "world's largest bar," and you don't have to care about the game to have a great time.

Visit the park April through September for guided tours.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.