From its towering skyscrapers to the sweeping arc of its expansive lakeshore, there’s a feeling of confidence and pride that radiates from the landmark features of Chicago and from the faces of the city’s inhabitants as well. The Windy City embodies the values of the American heartland, and a trip to Chicago offer visitors the chance to see what an American city can accomplish through hard work and determination. The third-largest city in the United States boasts a wealth of not-to-be-missed attractions, many of which offer unique perspectives of the city’s memorable skyline. The following top tourist attractions in Chicago are among the best.
Located in the same lakeshore Museum Campus as the Field Museum, the John G. Shedd Aquarium is home to more than 1,500 species of sea life, including 32,500 fish, as well as an array of birds, insects and amphibians. Completed in 1930, the aquarium gets more than two million visitors each year, making it one of the most-visited aquarium in the United States. Exhibits are organized in themed areas such as the “Caribbean Reef” and the award-winning “Amazon Rising.” The Oceanarium, which features dolphins and beluga whales, is one of the aquarium’s most popular exhibits.
The Field Museum of Natural History owes its existence to the World’s Fair that was held in Chicago in 1893. Originally designed as way to showcase exhibits from the Fair, the museum quickly evolved into a collection of natural history artifacts and exhibitions. The collection was moved to its current location in Grant Park in 1921 and is part of the Museum Campus. Exhibits range from a taxidermy collection of large animals such as African elephants to an extensive collection of Native American artifacts. A 12 meter (40 foot) long Tyrannosaurus skeleton is the most popular exhibit out of the museum’s millions of specimens, and many visitors wouldn’t feel that their trip to Chitown is complete without viewing the dinosaur known as “Sue.”
Located in Grant Park, the Beaux Arts-style Buckingham Fountain was designed by architect Edward Bennett after the Latona Fountain at Versailles. The font is famous for its grand size and for the height of its spray, which can reach as high as 15 stories. The fountain’s four water-spouting sea horse statues are said to represent the four states that surround Lake Michigan, while the fountain’s pool symbolizes the lake itself. The fountain was donated to the city by Kate Sturges Buckingham, a patroness of the arts who inherited her family’s massive fortune at the age of 32. Known as “Chicago’s Grandest Spinster,” she bequeathed the Buckingham Fountain to Chicago as a memorial for her brother in 1927 and established a trust fund for the fountain’s continuous operation as well.
Designed by architect William Boyington, the 47 meter (154 foot) tall turreted Chicago Water Tower once played a critical role in the city’s water system. In 1871, a fire that began in a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary quickly spread and destroyed the city’s entire business district. One of the few surviving structures of the infamous Great Chicago Fire, the Chicago Water Tower is a symbol of the city’s resilience. Today, the beautiful limestone structure is home to the City Gallery, which exhibits works by local artists and photographers.
Standing 344 meters (1,127 feet) tall, the John Hancock Center is Chicago’s fourth-tallest building. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the skyscraper offers panoramic views of the entire city. Completed in 1968, the 100-story structure boasts a number of records, including the world’s highest indoor swimming pool and ice-skating rink. Visitors can take a 40-second elevator ride to the Observatory on the 94th floor, which features an open-air skywalk. On the 96th floor is a lounge where guests can sip a cocktail or beverage while enjoying the view.
No other feature better illustrates the character of Chicago than the waterway that runs through the city. In 1900, the city completed an incredible engineering project: reversing the flow of Chicago River. Through the installation of a series on canal locks, the water was directed to empty into the Mississippi River instead of Lake Michigan. Today, the mile-long pedestrian Riverwalk that runs along the south bank of the river as it winds through the downtown district offers visitors a lush green space where they can stroll and take in the sights of the city. River cruises are available that offer visitors historical insight about the city’s most-celebrated landmarks.
Long before it opened, Millennium Park had become notorious for delays and cost-overruns, missing its titular date by a wide margin. However, when it was finished, the biggest shock of all came when it turned out to be quite nice. Aside from plenty of grass and open space, it has modern sculptures in steel and glass, including Chicago’s newest must-photo for visitors, The Bean (properly known as Cloud Gate), and the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion for outdoor concerts. An ice rink accommodates skaters in the winter and serves as an open-air restaurant in the summer.
Chicago’s lakeshore playground, the Navy Pier includes gardens, restaurants and attractions. Built in 1916, the 1,000 meter (3,300 foot) long pier juts out of Lake Michigan and features a Ferris wheel, carousel and an IMAX theater. An ideal family destination, the site is also home to the Children’s Museum as well as the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, which features more than 150 pieces, including 11 Tiffany windows.
A section of Michigan Avenue that runs from Oak Street to the Chicago River, the Magnificent Mile is considered one the best shopping districts in the world. The street got its nickname from real estate magnate Arthur Rubloff in the 1940s. The “Mag Mile,” as its sometimes called, also provides access to many of the numerous landmarks and tourist attractions in Chicago, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Wrigley Building and the Chicago Water Tower.
While some may argue that the skyscraper, renamed Willis Tower in 2009, has lost a bit of its swagger since it lost its status as the world’s tallest building, the Sears Tower remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Chicago. Completed in 1973, the 108-story structure features some of the fastest elevators in the world, covering as much as 1,600 feet per minute. A 70-second ride takes visitors to the 103rd-floor Skydeck where they can feel the building sway beneath them on a windy day. The Skydeck offers of sweeping views of Lake Michigan and glimpses of the states of Michigan and Wisconsin beyond.