Whether you’re ready to shell out some serious cash or see Chicago on the cheap, here’s some advice from a local on the places you’ll want to visit.
To a Chicago native, Navy Pier can seem like the ultimate tourist trap. To a tourist, Navy Pier can feel like an expensive disappointment. Before you go, know what to expect from this super-popular Chicago tourist destination.
Chicago Tourist Tip #1: The Ferris wheel was built for the World Fair held in Chicago in 1893, and it lives up to its reputation as a good time and something worth seeing. The rest of the attractions at Navy Pier are just carnival rides, and nothing unusual at that. Granted, Navy Pier is the like the cleanest carnival you’ll ever go to, so go and have fun if you’re really into carnival rides.
Chicago Tourist Tip #2: Past the beer garden toward the end of the pier lies Navy Pier’s best-kept secret: a free stained glass museum housing works from ye olden days to the late 1990s. Whether Navy Pier interests you or not, the stained glass museum is breathtaking and worth the walk.
Chicago Tourist Tip #3: Go at night. The crowds thin out after dinnertime, and the skyline lights up to make for a view you won’t want to miss.
Chicago Tourist Tip #4: Eat before you go, unless you want to spend $6.00 on Chicken McNuggets.
The recently completed Millennium Park lives up to its name. As Chicago’s newest major park, it will truly make you reconsider what a modern park should look and feel like with its urban sculptures and digital fountain.
Chicago Tourist Tip #1: There’s enough cool stuff at Millennium Park to see to make it worth a visit, but there aren’t any real activities to keep you there for a long time. Don’t plan a whole day here if you’re a tourist on a tight schedule. I recommend going to Millennium Park as a break between other activities, perhaps after you visit the Art Institute of Chicago and before you rush off to something else.
Chicago Tourist Tip #2: Wear clothes you won’t mind getting wet. Hands down, the best thing at Millennium Park is the fountain, which intermittently shoots and rains water from each of the two columns. With all the energy coming from the waiting kids, you’ll feel compelled to join in. And Chicago summers get just as miserably hot as the winters get cold.
Chicago Tourist Tip #3: Millennium Park is a great place for kids. Take them and let them explore the fountain and the sculptures. They will ooh and ah contagiously, and you will have more fun seeing it through their eyes.
The Sears Tower
For 25 years, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world. While it’s not quite the tallest anymore, the view from the skydeck on a clear day really is amazing.
Chicago Tourist Tip #1: Take quarters for the skydeck telescopes. It’s the one time you’ll actually want to pay seventy-five cents for a better look.
Chicago Tourist Tip #2: Don’t plan on making the Sears Tower a “quick stop” on your way into town from the Amtrak station. It’s tempting because they’re practically next door to each other, but you won’t want to drag your suitcases through all the lines, gift shops, and informational exhibits you have to walk through to get to the top. Plus, it’s never a quick trip with the serious lines to go up and come back down, and 20-minute mandatory movie you have to watch.
Chicago Tourist Tip #3: While you can get into the Lincoln Park zoo, Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park for free, you’ll have to shell out some serious cash to see the Sears Tower. It’s $12.00 for a regular adult ticket.
The Art Institute of Chicago
If this isn’t the largest art museum in the world with the largest permanent collection of art stuff, don’t tell Chicago that. In Chicago, nothing comes in second to what’s contained within city limits. That being said, the Art Institute of Chicago would be impressive anywhere and is definitely worth repeat visits.
Chicago Tourist Tip #1: Go when it’s free. Instead of paying $10.00 a person like all the other tourists, take advantage of the times you can get in for nothing. Tuesdays at the Art Institute of Chicago are always free, and Thursdays and Fridays from 5:00-9:00 p.m. are free until Labor Day.
Chicago Tourist Tip #2: Get a museum map before you start wandering around. Otherwise, you might walk miles through the German Renaissance wondering if you’ll ever see Cubism. You might even wonder if you’ll ever see the outside world again. Seriously-the Art Institute of Chicago is very, very large and you will get lost without a map.
Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is both the oldest zoo in the country and one of the last remaining free zoos. That being said, it’s not the biggest or best zoo I’ve ever seen, but it certainly is neat. Besides, it feels really well maintained for a free zoo, although the rest of Lincoln Park is a little shabby.
Chicago Tourist Tip #1: The Lincoln Park Zoo extends its hours until 6:00 p.m. through Labor Day, but if you want to actually see the animals, you need to go much earlier in the day. The zoo feeds the animals in the late afternoon (4:30-ish), and they get sluggish and disappear to their indoor habitats after that.
Chicago Tourist Tip #2: If you go on a cooler day, the overwhelming smell of “eau de zoo” isn’t so overpowering.
Chicago Tourist Tip #3: For your first visit, definitely go out of your way to pick up a map from the information building. Lincoln Park Zoo is set up with lots of winding paths and shrubbery, so a map will give you a better idea of where to find the animals you want to see.