Also known as The Loop, downtown Chicago is the quintessential experience of the Midwestern metropolis. Named after the elevated trains that circle it, this community area is bustling with some of the city's most notable attractions, architecture, and museums. If you only have time to visit one area of the Windy City, make sure to head downtown. Whether your interests lie in admiring the skyline, learning about nature, or exploring the city's remarkable history, you're likely to find something to love inside The Loop.
The Chicago Riverwalk perfectly blends nature with an outstanding city landscape. If you're an early riser, you may want to head to the Riverwalk first thing and experience the sun coming up from the river. Walk down the 1.25 mile-long footway alongside the Chicago River, and you'll find six themed coves, each with its own set of scenery, entertainment, and things to explore. Later, enjoy a meal or a glass of red on the riverbank in one of many restaurants in the Marina Plaza. You can also rent a boat or a kayak at the Cove, or take a respite on the sculptural staircase in The River Theatre. On a hot summer day, cool off in the zero-depth fountain featured in The Water Plaza. Then head to The Jeddy for an immersive educational experience.
If you want to fully experience the outstanding skyline of Chicago, make sure you embark on an architecture river cruise. Suited for all ages and usually lasting between 60 to 90 minutes, a river tour will teach you the history of some of the city's most prominent skyscrapers such as the Fulton House and The Wrigley Building. There are several companies you can choose to hop aboard with, like the Chicago Line Cruises, Wendella Sightseeing Co, and Chicago's First Lady Cruises. Regardless of which tour you choose, you are sure to enjoy some majestic photo-ops and views of the city.
The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower. One of the most well-known attractions in downtown Chicago and standing tall at 1,353 feet, this observation deck is the highest in the U.S. While up there, you have the unique opportunity to see the fabulous views over Illinois, across Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin under the right condition. If you feel the building move, don't worry—that's actually the skyscraper swaying in the wind. If you ever wondered how flying looks like, step onto The Ledge, an observation deck extended out 4.3 feet from the Skydeck. This unique Chicago glass box, complete with a glass floor, offers an outstanding view of the "Windy City."
Boasting a huge collection of permanent displays along with temporary exhibitions, the Field Museum it's worth putting at the top of your downtown Chicago itinerary. There you can find a range of items from age-old fossils to artifacts from ancient cultures. They even have Sue, the largest T-Rex to ever be discovered. It's no wonder that over 2 million people chose to visit every year.
You will find the most famous sculpture in Chicago at the AT&T Plaza in Millenium Park. Cloud Gate was designed by Anish Kapoor, an Indian-British artist. Its metal bean-like shape allows you to view a delightfully distorted reflection of the Windy City's Skyline. After taking your obligatory selfie with Cloud Gate, you may want to explore the rest of Millenium Park. It boasts an open lakefront, an ice skating rink, and a Ferris Wheel. If you're lucky, you could enjoy a free live classical music concert held at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion during the summer.
Right across from Millenium Park, you can admire over 5,000 years of art from cultures all across the globe at the Art Institute of Chicago. Among its 300,000 works of art in the permanent collections, the museum features original paintings by Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Goth, and Claude Monet. There are also more than 30 temporary exhibits each year. The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the country, having been founded in 1879.
The Chicago Cultural Center is a creative epicenter featuring an array of over 1,000 free art exhibitions, guided tours, and even concerts. During your visit, you can choose to take an architectural tour exploring the outstanding history of this trademark building in Chicago. If you can visit on a Monday or Wednesday, you can enjoy a free classical or jazz concert. Do you have a compelling story to tell? Then head to the StoryCorps oral history project to share it.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the most praised orchestras in the world. You can catch a concert by them at the Symphony Center located in the south Loop. But that's not all—the center hosts regular concerts by multitude classical, jazz and even pop artists. Every Tuesday, a Q&A session is held with the musicians at the Grainger Ballroom.
As the centerpiece of Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain is nothing short of spectacular. It's one of the biggest fountains in the world and was designed after a fountain from the Palace of Versailles, France. Between May to mid-October, you can enjoy 20-minute water shows. Make sure you catch them on time, as they only happen once an hour.
Located right in the heart of The Loop, the Chicago Theatre is a landmark of the Windy City. The marquee lights are considered one of Chicago's "unofficial emblem." In addition to concerts, shows and movie premieres, you can attend the weekly-run "Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour" and learn all about the venue's history since it opened its doors in 1921.