I’m doubling my usual “Top Five” list…there are so many great attractions in Chicago, I had to choose ten! These are pretty touristy, but they’re the places I’ve been trying to make sure the Fab Five see at least one of each time we visit because they’re important to me. If you’re going to Chicago for the first time and/or have limited time to spend there, these are the places I think you should visit first for the quintessential Chicago experience!
- Art Institute–This museum has, in my opinion, some of the best art in the world, and also some unique exhibits, like the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Make sure to take time to see the Chagall windows while you’re there!
- Museum of Science and Industry–Where else can you tour an actual U-505, visit a coal mine, see a Tesla coil in action, and watch baby chicks hatch? If you’re lucky enough to visit at Christmastime, you can also see an amazing display of Christmas trees from around the world!
- Adler Planetarium–All about space…need I say more? Oh, and the views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline are amazing!
- Field Museum–This museum, named after Marshall Field, the Chicago department store magnate, is home to one of Chicago’s most famous residents: Sue the T. Rex. There are many other exhibits, too, which bring the history and culture of many civilizations around the world to life.
- Shedd Aquarium–If you want to see fish and other sea creatures from around the world, this is the place to be! You can also touch sea stars, stingrays, and sturgeons, and take in a show at the Oceanarium featuring dolphins and beluga whales.
- Boat or Bus Tour–I’m a fan of the Wendella boat tour, but any chance to get out on the water (Chicago River and/or Lake Michigan) or on the top of a double-decker bus and see the city from a unique point-of-view while hearing a guide share some of the city’s history is a great experience!
- Brookfield or Lincoln Park Zoo–The two Chicago area zoos are very different from each other, so you’ll have very different experiences at each. My favorite is the Brookfield Zoo, but I’ve been to both, and they’re both fantastic spots to see wild animals!
- Sears Tower Viewing Deck or John Hancock Observatory–I suppose I should refer to these as Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower and 360 Chicago at 875 North Michigan Avenue, but I’m old school. Whichever you choose, you’ll get great, bird’s-eye views of the city…just make sure to go up on a clear day!
- Wrigley Field–I feel a little guilty even mentioning this, being a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but there is something special about historic Wrigley Field. Whether you go for a Cubs game (I’ve only been once) or for a tour (something I’d like to do in the future), you’ll have a unique Chicago experience and get to see the famous “Ivy on the walls.”
- Chicago Botanic Garden–This is a new favorite Chicago-area location (it’s technically in the northern suburbs, in Glencoe), for me…I visited it for the first time last year. But it’s a beautiful place to take a walk in the winter and spring, and there’s always something new to see!
Bonus item: Christkindlmarket–I didn’t think it was fair to put this in the main list, because it’s open for such a short portion of the year. But if you find yourself in Chicago in late November or December, this is definitely worth a visit, and one of my very favorite things to do in Chicago!
Not mentioned…the FOOD! I couldn’t narrow it down to just one restaurant, or even one type of food, because there’s so much to love to eat in Chicago. But you’re going to need to stop and eat while you’re visiting all these amazing attractions, so grab a Chicago-style pizza, some Italian beef, gyros, a Chicago-style hot dog, or a Rainbow Cone while you’re out exploring!
And, yes, I know Navy Pier and especially the Centennial Wheel are missing from this list. So here’s my confession…I’ve never been to Navy Pier. I actually would like to take the Fab Five there in the future, if only to say we’ve been, and if I do, and I like it enough, I may have to modify this list at a later date!