Take it from me guys, Chicago is one epic place to be, especially in the summertime. I mean, who would turn down an easy weekend getaway? Not me, that’s for certain. In any case, read along for top things to do in Chicago for first-time visitors!
(1/20) Take an Architecture River Cruise
No joke, this legit needs to be the first thing you do in Chicago. I was originally in the camp that it sounded kind of boring, but the guides are awesome and know a ton about the city. I learned more about architecture than I thought I’d ever know. Plus, it’s on a boat, and everyone knows life is better on a boat. Another option is to hop on a Chicago Lake Cruise Tour.
(2/20) Millennium Park
A first-time visit to Chicago isn’t complete without a visit to Millennium Park. You can find everything from iconic Chicago sights (the Bean) to cutting edge art to outdoor concerts. It’s an awesome spot to bring your picnic blanket on a summer day.
(3/20) Take a Photo with Cloud Gate
Also known as the Bean, taking a selfie with this giant structure is easily one of the top things to do in Chicago. Let’s be real…you haven’t really gone to Chicago unless you’ve posted an Insta of the Bean.
(4/20)Explore Navy Pier
Navy Pier juts out over Lake Michigan and is the perfect spot to spend an evening. Whether you’re looking for thrill rides, a beer garden, or fireworks, the pier has the makings for a fun evening. Another cool way to experience the fireworks is with a Segway & Fireworks tour!
(5/20) Ride the Ferris Wheel
While you’re at Navy Pier, give into your inner child and ride the Ferris wheel. You get awesome views of Chicago…bonus points if you can go at sunset!
(6/20) Check out Chicago’s Comedy Scene
So everyone told me to get tickets to Second City, but I waited until the list minute and obviously there were no tickets left. On the plus side, I went to a hilarious show “Date Me” at UP Comedy Club, and can safely recommend it. I was nearly crying by the end I was laughing so hard.
(7/20) Watch the Show at Buckingham Fountain
You can find Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park (even though it sounds like it belongs in the U.K.). The fountain puts on a show every hour on the hour 9AM – 10PM. In the evenings, it comes alive with lights and music!
(8/20) Chow Down at Billy Goat Tavern
Billy Goat Tavern is another Chicago staple…order the cheeseburger. You won’t regret it (except if you’re on a diet or wearing tight jeans, and then you 100% will, sorry.)
(9/20) Experience the Skydeck
Zoom up to the top of Willis Tower and take in the beautiful cityscape. The Skydeck is a glass-paneled box that will give you a view straight down!
(10/20) Get Your Knowledge on at the Museum of Science and Industry
Ok, so this museum is sadly not located in the Loop, but it’s an easy bus ride away! There’s a general admission fee ($18 for adults and $11 for kids), but if you have a Go Chicago Card or CityPASS, it’s included in your ticket. There’s a little bit of everything at the museum…you can learn about storms, farm technology (actually super cool!), the history of bicycles, and so much more. I’m a not so secret nerd, so I always love learning something new.
(11/20) Root for the Cubs at Wrigley Field
Bonus points if you use Lakefront Trail to bike up to Wrigley Field! I’m honestly not a huge baseball fan, but the Cubs are definitely a fun team to watch.
(12/20) Befriend the Polar Bears at Lincoln Park Zoo
My favorite thing about the zoo is that it’s free (also the polar bears melt my heart)! If you’re in the area, it’s easy to swing by for a couple hours and befriend the animals.
(13/20) Watch a Sunset from John Hancock’s Signature Room
Pop up to the 95th floor of the John Hancock Center to the Signature Room. You get awesome sunset views to go with your drink. Ladies: you also get insanely gorgeous views from the bathroom. Gents: I’m sorry, you have no views from your restroom. Finally a case where it’s lucky to be a lady!
(14/20) Grab a Hot Dog at Portillo’s
I’m definitely not typically a hot dog lover (popular nicknames in my family for hot dogs include “tube steaks” and health missiles,” but you can’t beat a classic Chicago-style dog. While you’re there, might as well splurge for the fries and shake too, am I right?
(15/20) Take a Walking Tour of the City
Check out Chicago’s walking tours—I’d recommend the Riverwalk Walking Tour, and get in touch with the city’s colorful history. Plus, it’s an excellent way to walk off all of that decadent Chicago food.
(16/20) Order a Deep Dish Pizza at Giordano’s
You’re going to have to trust me when I say that your Chicago experience will not be complete with a deep dish pizza. I’ve had one before, but it was definitely not quite like this. There was so much sauce and cheese, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
(17/20) Bike along Lakefront Trail
Lakefront Trail stretches 18 miles up Lake Michigan and is one my favorite spots in Chicago. Grab a bike and explore the lakefront while getting your exercise in. If you believe in balancing out exercise with delicious food (yes please!) check out this Bikes, Bites, & Brews Tour.
(18/20) Shop the Magnificent Mile
If you have some extra cash, the Mag Mile is the place to shop. If you’re like me, window shopping is equally fun, and a lot easier on the wallet. If nothing else, the Magnificent Mile has incredible architecture, and is always touted as one of the top things to do in Chicago.
(19/20) Visit the Chicago Theater
Even if you can’t score tickets to the theater, swing by and capture a pic with the iconic sign. There are also theater tours if you’re absolutely dying to get in!
(20/20) Enjoy the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus
There’s no easier way to see the top things to do in Chicago than taking the hop-on, hop-off bus. Jump up at iconic Chicago landmarks to make the most of the city in little time!
Other Top Things to do in Chicago:
Sadly, for long weekend trips, I can’t partake in everything the city has to offer, but there are a number of other things to do in Chicago that I’d love to check out. Here a few of my top options:
- Chicago Crimes Night Tour – Learn about Chicago’s most infamous mobsters and gangsters.
- Adler Planetarium –For the secret nerd in all of us, the planetarium is worth a visit.
- Blue Man Group – Experience the magic and entertainment that is the Blue Man Group…there’s nothing quite like it.
- Chicago Chocolate Tour – Eat your way through dessert boutiques along the Mag Mile…I never say no to chocolate.
Cheap flights: I’d recommend searching through eDreams.net. They scan tons of different travel discount sites and feature special flight deals.
Hotel Deals: My top choice is probably Priceline.com —I’ve found some insanely cheap (beautiful) hotels. Other sites I check are Expedia.com and the Hilton (for points). If you’re looking to avoid hotels and go the hostel route, I recommend checking out Hostelworld – there are a few decent options in Chicago. If you’re traveling with friends, another good option here is to do an Airbnb. (Use my link for savings on your first stay!) Personally, I stayed on the Mag Mile, and absolutely loved the location…it can be a little pricey, but the location is awesome!
So, I hope you found this guide on top things to do in Chicago helpful. If you haven’t been, it should definitely be on your bucket list! Tell me—have you visited Chicago and loved it as much as me? Let me know some of your favorite things to do in the comments!
P.S. This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own. These products/services have been useful during my travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!