Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit, as well as being my city of birth. Loaded with fascinating things to see and do, it is impossible to see all the highlights of Chicago in a day. Unfortunately, that was all we had, so we made some hard choices.
Dividing the city geographically, we opted for Chicago’s key downtown locations over the museums, as we have visited them before. Both are presented below. We began our day in the western suburbs and took the Metra train into Union Station.
Option 1 – Downtown Chicago in a Day
Our carefully planned route allowed us to hit what I believe are the downtown highlights of Chicago:
Skydeck on Wills Tower
Formerly the Sears Tower, it was once the world’s tallest building. It is now the second tallest in the USA. The views from the Skydeck on the 103 floor can include four states. However, it is the glass ledge that really got my heart pumping.
Art Institute of Chicago
Considered to be one of the world’s best art museums, this not to be missed museum is loaded with famous works. Most noted as housing the world’s second largest collection of impressionists work, the museum actually has over 300,000 works from Byzantine to modern art.
- The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the United States (Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) in New York is the largest).
- There are three dining options inside the Art Institute including two cafes (lower and second levels) and Mediterranean fine dining on the top level.
- Audio guides are available for rent or use your smartphone and their free downloadable app. Check it out on their official website here. There is free wifi in the Art Institute.
CAF River Cruise
Chicago is famous for an eclectic mix of architectural styles including being the birthplace of the American skyscraper. There is no better way to see the variety of architecture than from the Chicago River. The best of the cruise options appears to be the Architecture Foundation (CAF) River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises.
Read Next: Chicago Architecture: Enjoyed from the River
This huge reflective sculpture in Millennium Park is the current number one tourist attraction in Chicago. The best part – it’s free.
If you ask me, I will insist that the world’s best pizza is a stuffed mushroom and spinach pizza from Giordano’s. Honestly, I was so excited to have my favorite pizza that we gobbled it up before I remembered that I wanted a photo. The empty pie plate just wasn’t so attractive.
Chicago in a Day Option 2 – Take a Tour
Chicago in a Day Option 3 – Museum Row:
If you have two days, or if you prefer museums, my other favorite highlight of Chicago is Museum Row. Located a few miles away from the places we visited on this trip, the first three museums listed here are within walking distance of each other:
- Field Museum: The first in the row, it started as part of a part of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. With the financial support of Mr. Marshall Field, the exhibit became Chicago’s first permanent museum.
- Adler Planetarium: The oldest modern planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, it also boasts the best views of the Chicago skyline, both day and night.
- Shedd Aquarium: Home to 32,000 animals including Beluga Whales and Granddad, Jellies.
- Museum of Science and Industry: Not on museum row, and a drive away, but certainly a museum worth visiting.
Tour Chicago’s Best Museums
What do you consider to be the highlights of Chicago? Did you spot the problem with the globe?
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Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary entry on several locations in Chicago to aid in the writing of this page. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.
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