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Chicago travel guide: Hot dogs, beaches, art and more to see and do

From architecture river tours to deep-dish pizza, the Windy City has lots to see, do and taste.
Chicago River Corridor
View of the Chicago River, looking east from the Wells Street BridgeCarl Larson Photography / Getty Images

Millions of people from around the world flock to Chicago each year to experience the sights and sounds of the Windy City.

America’s third largest city by population — voted among the top 10 best cities in the world by Time Out — is a source of pride for Chicagoans for its rich history and vitality. While Chicago is historically known for its jazz and deep-dish pizza scenes, there's much more to the city than meets the eye.

If you're planning to take a trip to Chicago, here are some things you won't want to miss:

Sail down the Chicago River on an architecture tour

Chicago River and River Cruise with surrounding downtown architecture in summer, Chicago, Illinois
Architecture boat tours take riders sailing along the Chicago River, explaining the rich history behind the city's iconic skyline.Jumping Rocks / Universal Images Group via Getty

Taking you down the three branches of the Chicago River, an architecture tour will provide a closer look at the city's acclaimed structures while hearing the history behind the famous skyline.

Find tickets here.

Try deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati's or Giordano's

deep dish pizza
Chicago is known for its deep-dish pizza, which features a thick layer of cheese on a moist crust, topped with tomato sauce.Angelo DeSantis / Getty Images

Chicagoans may never settle this debate: the best spot to find genuine deep-dish pizza. For many, fans of the pie are choosing between Lou Malnati's or Giordano's. However, Chicago is filled with other popular spots like Pequod's Pizza, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co., and Bartoli's.

Cheer on a Chicago sports team

From Wrigley Field to the United Center, the city's sports venues offer tons of chances to catch the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, White Sox, Cubs, Bears and Sky, among other teams.

Lucky for travelers, Chicago's L train system makes it easy to get to and from the South and North sides of the city for a game.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago Cubs
Wrigley Field, located on Chicago's North Side in the city's Wrigleyville neighborhood, is home to the Chicago Cubs.Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images

See world-renowned works at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is home to a number of impressive pieces, including George Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," Grant Wood's "American Gothic," Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" and one of Claude Monet's "Water Lilies."

Some of the most recognizable characters outside the art museum are the bronze lions, tinged green with a patina — both of which took their pedestals in 1894, according to the Art Institute. The sculptor, Edward Kemeys, said the north lion is "on the prowl," while the south is "in an attitude of defiance."

Find tickets here.

Lions of the Art Institute of Chicago look out over Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
The lions outside the Art Institute of Chicago overlook Michigan Avenue and took to their pedestals in 1894.Education Images / Education Images/Universal Image

Head to the top of the Willis Tower

As one of the tallest buildings in the world, this massive structure that many people still call the Sears Tower, its former name, attracts tons of tourists.

At the top of the tower, the Skydeck gives visitors a chance to face their fear of heights by stepping into a glass box over the city's tremendous skyscrapers.

Find tickets here.

Views From Atop The Willis Tower
The Skydeck at the top of the Willis Tower in Chicago gives people a chance to step out into a glass box over the city's massive skyscrapers.Bloomberg / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Try a Chicago-style hot dog (and a side of abuse) at Wieners Circle

Available at restaurants and stands across the city, a Chicago-style hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, relish, onions, sport peppers, tomato wedges, celery salt and an entire dill pickle spear.

Pro tip: True Chicagoans will tell you ketchup is not allowed anywhere near a hot dog. At local favorite Wieners Circle — a famously hostile fast-food joint — expect a side of shame to go along with your ketchup-laden dog.

Homemade Chicago Style Hot Dog with Mustard
A Chicago-style hot dog is topped with yellow mustard, relish, onions, sweet peppers, tomatoes and a dill pickle spear.bhofack2 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Lounge at one of the city's beaches

Lay out in the sun at one of Chicago's 20-plus beaches or take a dip to cool off in Lake Michigan. Some of the city's most popular sandy spots close to the downtown area are Oak Street and North Avenue beaches.

Lifeguard Shortage Strains Resources At Beaches And Pools
Chicago has more than 20 beaches, some of which line the border of Lake Michigan.Scott Olson / Getty Images

Take a ride on the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier

Looking at the Chicago skyline, you'll probably notice the bright red-and-white Ferris wheel, which illuminates Navy Pier at night. The Centennial Wheel dates back to the late 19th century when it arrived in the city during the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

The Ferris wheel is open for business seven days a week and takes you soaring 200 feet into the air, offering great views of the city and lakefront.

Ferris wheel against blue sky
Navy Pier's Centennial Wheel is open seven days a week on Chicago's lakefront and takes visitors soaring 200 feet into the air.Flash Parker / Getty Images

Check out the Bean

"Cloud Gate," aka the Bean, captures a breathtaking reflection of Chicago's skyline and is on display to the public in the city's Millennium Park.

Created by artist Anish Kapoor, the Bean was unveiled in 2004 and has been one of Chicago's most popular tourist destinations ever since.

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"Cloud Gate" was unveiled in Chicago's Millennium Park in 2004 and has been one of the city's most popular tourist destinations ever since.Chicago Tribune / TNS

Walk among new plant species at Garfield Park Conservatory

As one of Chicago's largest botanical gardens, Garfield Park Conservatory features thousands of plants throughout acres of gardens both outdoors and under glass.

Located on the city's West Side, the conservatory is free to explore, save for some exhibits, and is open seven days a week.

The Garfield Park Conservatory
Located on Chicago's West Side, the Garfield Park Conservatory is free to stroll the grounds.John Gress / Corbis via Getty Images

See a show at the Chicago Theatre

Chicago's theater district is home to several historic spots to catch a popular play or musical showcasing some of America's top talent.

The Chicago Theatre was deemed "the Wonder Theatre of the World" when it opened its doors in October 1921, according to its website. It was the "first large, lavish movie palace" in the U.S. and was modeled after several notable French sites like Paris’s Arc de Triomphe and the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

Chicago Continues To Idle During Coronavirus Shutdown
The Chicago Theatre was deemed "the Wonder Theatre of the World" when it opened its doors in October 1921.Timothy Hiatt / Getty Images

Catch a concert with a view of the iconic skyline

If you're in Chicago during the spring or summer, the city is filled with outdoor concerts and music festivals in Grant Park, as well as in Millennium Park, both of which showcase the skyline as a backdrop.

There are also plenty of stunning indoor venues featuring popular artists all year, such as House of Blues, the Vic Theatre and Metro.

2022 Lollapalooza - Day 4
Lollapalooza takes place in Chicago's Grant Park every summer, typically the last weekend of July leading into August.Gary Miller / FilmMagic

Grab drinks and a bite at one of many rooftop happy hours

While out seeing the sights and sounds of the city, Chicago has a wide array of rooftop bar scenes to take a break.

Many give a breathtaking view of skyscrapers, Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, including popular spots like Cerise, LondonHouse, Offshore, Cabra and Cindy's.

Wine glasses on a rooftop in the city
Chicago rooftop bars are located throughout the city, with some offering captivating views of the skyline.Page Light Studios / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hop on the Chicago Water Taxi

For a way to both cruise down the Chicago River and go from place to place, the city's water taxi does the trick. The Chicago Water Taxi takes passengers all along the waterways from the train stations to Michigan Avenue to Chinatown.

Find tickets here.

Chicago River Cityscape Water Taxi Tourboat Cruising in Summer
The Chicago Water Taxi takes passengers all along the river from the major train stations to Michigan Avenue to Chinatown. Mlenny / Getty Images

Take a walk or ride along the 606

Chicago's 606, a walking and biking route, runs 2.7 miles down the Bloomingdale Trail between Ashland and Ridgeway avenues. The path was previously an abandoned railroad after the train system was elevated.

About every quarter mile, there's an access point to the 606, equating to 12 in total — all of which are accessible to people with disabilities.

The 606 elevated pedestrian trail running path in Humboldt Park. Bloomingdale Trail. Streets of Chicago.
Chicago's 606, a walking and biking route, runs 2.7 miles down the Bloomingdale Trail between Ashland and Ridgeway avenues. Antwon McMullen / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hang out with Sue the T. rex at the Field Museum

For your dose of history, Chicago's Field Museum features exhibitions like dinosaur remains, human mummies, a shrinking machine and a full-size replica of an earth lodge resembling that of Native Americans in the 1800s.

Find tickets here.

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Sue the T. rex strikes a pose for guests at the Field Museum in Chicago.Chicago Tribune / TNS

Stroll down the Chicago Riverwalk at sunset

The Riverwalk, which is free to the public, runs about 1.25 miles beside Chicago's waterway and contains plenty of stops for food, drinks or a place to simply sit and enjoy the view.

Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
The Riverwalk features public walkways and seating areas along the water's edge, where visitors can enjoy views of skyscrapers while watching the boats pass by.Izzet Keribar / Getty Images

Cast your eyes to the sky at the Adler Planetarium

More than half a million people each year head to the Adler Planetarium to catch a glimpse of space and learn more about the universe. There are always events, exhibits and shows for visitors to check out.

Find tickets here.

88 Seconds of the Adler Planetarium
More than half a million people each year head to the Adler Planetarium to catch a glimpse of space and learn more about the universe. ShutterRunner.com (Matty Wolin) / Getty Images

Experience famous buildings and homes on a Frank Lloyd Wright tour

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark on Chicago, crafting some of the most recognizable buildings and homes. Tours are available in both the city and surrounding suburbs.

Find tours here.

Chicago Cityscapes And City Views
The Rookery Building's central Light Court and lobby was remodeled in 1905 by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

See the Nine Dragon Wall in Chinatown

A replica of a similar piece in Beijing, the Nine Dragon Wall stands close to the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line train station. Chinatown is filled with places to try delicious bites and learn more about Asian history and culture.

Chicago Cityscapes And City Views
The Nine Dragon Wall stands in Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood. Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

Jam to live blues music at Kingston Mines

Opened in 1968, Kingston Mines is one of the oldest and largest blues clubs in Chicago. Performances run Thursday through Saturday, with the last show starting at 2:30 a.m.

Nora Jean Bruso Performs In Chicago
Nora Jean Bruso performs at Chicago's Kingston Mines.James Fraher / Redferns

See animals for free at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Located on Chicago's North Side, the Lincoln Park Zoo is free to the public and open seven days a week. Aside from seeing a variety of exotic animals, there are also rides and activities, making it a perfect trip for all ages.

Lincoln Park Zoo Animals In Chicago
A male African lion sits atop a boulder at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. Raymond Boyd / Getty Images

Watch a beluga whale splash around at the Shedd Aquarium

If you're looking to take a deep dive, the Shedd Aquarium gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with jellyfish, penguins, turtles, whales and sea otters, among other creatures.

Find tickets here.

M.E. Hampton (L) and Gretchen Freimuth (
A beluga whale visits with animal care specialists at the Shedd Aquarium.JEFF HAYNES / AFP via Getty Images

Laugh at a comedy show at the historic Second City

Comedy stars from across the U.S. got their start at Chicago's Second City, including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, John Belushi, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Farley, Steve Carrell, Amy Poehler and Aidy Bryant.

Comedians take the stage in skits and improv performances throughout the week and weekend. But if you can't catch a show at Second City, there are also plenty of opportunities at spots like Laugh Factory and Zanies.

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The Second City comedy theater sits at Wells Street and North Avenue in Chicago.Chicago Tribune / TNS

Snag a taste along West Loop's 'restaurant row'

Randolph Street, located in Chicago's trendy West Loop neighborhood, showcases a variety of fun and lively restaurants, including several that have garnered the coveted Michelin star.

This block of the city has been commonly deemed Chicago's "restaurant row," though surrounding streets also feature popular places to find tasty fare and refreshing drinks.

Walk Up Ice Cream Window
Popular restaurant Duck Duck Go has a walk-up ordering window called "Duck Duck Ta Go," where people can get their favorite bites, like this ice cream, at a speedy rate.Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images

Discover how the world works at the Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has been sparking discovery and innovation since 1933. Visitors can walk through a real submarine, travel through a mirror maze, dissect an eyeball, tour a coal mine and explore a cave, among other activities.

Find tickets here.

Museum of Science and Industry
Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry has been sparking discovery and innovation since 1933.benkrut / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Find some new vinyl at Reckless Records

From hip-hop and indie to rock and country, Chicago is filled with spots to discover new tracks and artists. One of the most popular places to find vinyl is Reckless Records, located in Wicker Park, Lake View and the Loop.

Chicago Proclaims June 4th As "Rise Against Day" To Celebrate The New Album "Nowhere Generation"
One of the most popular places to find vinyl in Chicago is Reckless Records, located in Wicker Park, Lake View and the Loop.Barry Brecheisen / Getty Images

Taste some classic Chicago bites at Portillo's

Portillo's is a must-try. The 1950s-style fast-food chain is home to city favorites like the Italian beef sandwich, chopped salad, french fries, chocolate cake shakes and, of course, the Chicago-style hot dog.

10 best food cities chicago
Portillo's is home to city favorites like the Italian beef sandwich, chopped salad, french fries, chocolate cake shakes and, of course, the Chicago-style hot dog.The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Im

Splash in the water at Crown Fountain in Millennium Park

Located in Millennium Park by Michigan Avenue, two 50-foot glass block towers stand at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. Faces of Chicago residents are cast onto the fountains, which spurt water to cool people off in the city's warmer months.

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Crown Fountain is located in Chicago's Millennium Park by Michigan Avenue.Xinhua News Agency / Xinhua News Agency via Getty Ima

Shop on Michigan Avenue

Whether it's a sunny summer day or a blustery, festive holiday, Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile, is always bustling.

Shoppers have an array of storefronts from which to choose, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale's, Tiffany & Co., Nike, Apple, Garrett Popcorn and MAC Cosmetics, among others.

USA, Illinois, Chicago, Michigan Avenue illuminated at night
Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile, is always bustling. Henryk Sadura / Getty Images/Tetra images RF