When visiting Chicago, IL, the birthplace of skyscrapers, there are thousands of places that tourists can visit. Many of these aren’t worth the money that it costs to get to them. So while spending a week touring Chicago with Masako, a friend from Japan, I narrowed down the list to the top ten sites to visit while in the Windy City.
Like the millions of people who visit Chicago annually, I would start with…
The Sears Tower, 233 South Wacker Drive. The bird’s-eye view of the city from the Skydeck 1353 feet above the streets is truly amazing. According to the Sears Tower web site, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois can all be seen from the Skydeck on a clear day. It was perfectly clear when Masako and I visited, and I can’t guarantee that we saw any state other than Illinois. But it does give a perspective of the city that you can’t get any other way. The price may seem steep at $11.95, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to truly feel like you are on top of the world… or at least on top of the city.
The skyline from Lake Michigan. There are dozens of cruises that tourists can choose to take, ranging from one-hour tours to three-hour dinner cruises. All of these will offer you a wonderful opportunity to view the skyline as you float by. Narrated tours will point out the unique architecture and tell stories about the city. I have fond memories of cruises on Lake Michigan from my childhood, and they were all enjoyable. However, Masako and I found the Shoreline Sightseeing Water Taxi to be just as enjoyable. For $6, you can hop on this boat and enjoy a view of the city as you ride from the Shedd Aquarium to Navy Pier. You can also ride the taxi from Navy Pier to the Sears Tower and see the architecture from the Chicago River. Masako and I opted to buy the $12 all-day pass and ride the boats back and forth between all three locations. The ride isn’t narrated, but it is cost-effective and lets you see the city inside and out.
The skyline at night. There are many different ways to see the skyline, and throughout the week Masako and I tried several different ones. You can take one of the cruises mentioned in #2, but why spend $30 or more when you could see this for free? If you are in the city with your significant other, you may opt to view it while walking along the lakefront. There are several different paths along Lake Shore Drive that allow you to see all of the skyscrapers glittering in the night.
Navy Pier. One of the most recognizable features of the Pier is its Ferris Wheel. Even though it’s only about one-tenth the height of the Skydeck, it seems high because of the lake winds blowing through your hair and the clear view of the Pier below you. At night, the wheel is lit up marvelously, shining over the entire Pier. Masako and I enjoyed the ride, even though I am afraid of heights. There is no reason to pass it up! After riding the Wheel, you can enjoy some of the other attractions, including a carousel, miniature golf, a climbing wall, a swing ride, a funhouse maze, and an IMAX theater. If attractions aren’t your taste, you can enjoy the dozens of shops inside of the Pier. City gear, jewelry, and teddy bears are abundant in the stores and on the vendor carts.
Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park. If you have ever watched Married with Children, you will recognize this beautiful fountain in a heartbeat. Even if you’ve seen the water shoot out of animals’ mouths and felt the sprays as the wind blows your way during the day, you still haven’t seen anything. The real show is at night, watching the water shoot over one hundred feet in the air and seeing every inch of the fountain light up with brilliant colors. This is a must-see for everyone, from the thrifty tourist to the wealthy businessperson.
Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive. The aquarium offers the opportunity to see hundreds of varieties of exotic and local fish and various other sea life, including whales, dolphins, penguins, frogs, and otters. Unless you have a fear of water, you will find something that you enjoy at the aquarium. The only problem with the Shedd is that it is one of the costlier attractions on this list. If you want to visit all parts of the aquarium, you will have to fork up $23 for admission. If you do this, you should make it worth your money and plan to spend several hours there. I also recommend eating in the food court. You can pay an arm and a leg to eat there, or you can bring your own food in. It doesn’t matter which you do; you will still get to enjoy the gorgeous view.
The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive. One of the best aspects of this museum is its variety of exhibits. You will be able to see dinosaur skeletons, gems and minerals, Egyptian artifacts, examples of lifestyles from around the world, a variety of artwork, and animals from every continent, all underneath one gigantic roof. Everyone will discover a favorite area of this museum. You can enjoy most of the museum for $19; however, if you’re spending that much, you may want to splurge and pay the full $25 to have complete access to all exhibits.
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark Street. While this zoo isn’t horribly unique when compared to other zoos, it does offer a day of adventure for the low price of nothing. If you’re in the Windy City with your family, the price itself must be tempting. But once you get there, you will get caught up in the excitement. It goes beyond lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Enjoy a variety of mammals, birds, and reptiles, and don’t forget a visit to the Children’s Zoo, a favorite of the young and the young at heart alike. If you’d like to continue with an inexpensive Chicago trip, why not pay $1.75 for a day of fun on…
The El. The elevated train system runs throughout the city and offers a cost-efficient way to travel from one tourist attraction to the next. What most people forget is that the El is a tourist attraction in and of itself. You will get many unique views of the city while speeding through buildings on one of the many trains. Masako and I enjoyed watching buildings speed past so close that we could have touched them if there weren’t windows almost as much as we enjoyed watching the city get larger through the windows of the Orange Line train. Buy a 2-day pass for $9 and enjoy seeing hundreds of sights while riding every train running through the city. As you’re riding, you may notice several Asian buildings near the Cermak-Chinatown stop on the Red Line. Hop off and visit…
Chinatown, near Cermak Road and State Street. Some people visit this area to enjoy the architecture, while others stop by to taste the authentic meals. Masako and I swung by to do a little shopping. There are some wonderful deals on both food and souvenirs. Regardless of why you visit, you will enjoy this area. It gives the semblance of visiting an Asian village without leaving the city- just consider it an international trip without the international airfare. If you’ve ever questioned the authenticity of Chinatown, Masako shot it down. She said that while she was there, she felt right at home because it reminded her so much of Asia.
While there are many more sights throughout the Windy City that you may enjoy, these ten will help make your visit worthwhile and memorable.
Traveler: Rebecca Jania