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The 8 Best Things to Do in Chicago That Aren’t the Bean

Don’t be fooled by the name — Chicago truly is second to none. The birthplace of the skyscraper is also home to one of the oldest ballparks in the U.S. Along its revitalized riverfront, you’ll

Don’t be fooled by the name — Chicago truly is second to none. The birthplace of the skyscraper is also home to one of the oldest ballparks in the U.S. Along its revitalized riverfront, you’ll find the world’s largest digital art projection. Go beyond downtown and you’ll discover a dynamic melting pot, bubbling over with innovative art installations, historic live music venues, and, of course, Michelin-caliber food and drink. In other words, there’s something for everyone. Let’s have a look at some of the sights you should not miss.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Step into the humid, glass-enclosed domes of Garfield Park where the air is clean thanks to thousands of jewel-toned plant specimens filtering toxins throughout. The space is fashionably untamed across its verdant showcase of flora from wet and dry environments, and those between. Spread across twelve acres, there’s abundance year-round, from the colourful spring flower show to permanent indoor exhibits and holiday displays. Plant and garden enthusiasts should make the conservatory—easily accessed by Green Line—one of their stops.

The Morton Arboretum

Located about 30 minutes west of downtown Chicago, the Morton Arboretum feels like a world away. It’s a pastoral escape that feeds the mind and heart. Art installations on-site are rotated seasonally, several of them are dedicated to the natural sciences, such as the living exhibit dedicated to tree growth. Open from 7:00 a.m. to sunset, daily—it’s a relative bargain at $16 a ticket. With a maze garden and over 16 miles of hiking trail, this is the ideal urban getaway for outdoorsy sorts looking to decompress.

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

The MCA is one of the city’s museums that’s in a near-constant state of transition. With its relatively small permanent collection, it relies on special shows—from large-scale installations to video, fashion, music, photography, and more—that showcase just as many rising local talents and underground, avant-garde renegades as recognizable names. Past exhibits include David Bowie Is, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, and Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech. The museum is also known for its hosted talks between writers and artists, and various performance series. It also has one of the best gift shops…ever.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Located in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, this zoo offers free, family-friendly entertainment year-round including the festive Zoolights around the holidays (reservations are required for all visits though). The sprawling grounds are seamlessly woven into the park’s landscape, balancing open, natural spaces and numerous animal exhibits. If you skip the pricey concessions (but maybe spring for a paddleboat ride), Lincoln Park Zoo is a great option to keep all ages occupied while staying on a budget.

Bloomingdale Trail (The 606)

Chicago’s answer to New York’s High Line, the Bloomingdale Trail—a.k.a. The 606—is a nearly three-mile, elevated greenway running west and east on the city’s North Side. Unlike its NYC counterpart, the trails are wide enough to accommodate active patrons running, walking and cycling without running off more casual strollers, the formerly abandoned rail line is also lined with public art installations and gardens. During fairer weather, the trail also hosts various free events for families with young children.

Art Institute of Chicago

If you’re coming to Chicago for culture, you’re hitting the Art Institute first. It is the city’s grandest museum, a Beaux-Arts gem flanked by two bronze lions that are as much a symbol of the city as the Willis Tower and it has as fine an impressionist collection as you’ll find anywhere. While you’re there, plan to take a stroll through Millennium Park next door.

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Humboldt Park

One of Chicago’s prettiest parks, this 207-acre green space is located within the larger neighbourhood of Humboldt Park (both are named for German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt). It’s home to several statues—including one of its namesake, and two bison that were placed there during the 1893 World’s Fair—as well as the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, located in the park’s former stables. It’s easy to drop in if you’re headed down the 606 trail, but the park is big enough that it could take more than half a day to do all of it, so it’s best if you’re not in a rush.

Chicago Gangsters and Ghosts Walking Tour

There is definitely a laidback homespun sort of vibe to this two-hour tour. You’re going to cover a lot of ground here—1.5 miles in total, with a 20-minute break at the famed hang of an early 19th Century gangster. This is something that appeals to history buffs, but ones that pack sneakers when they travel. Not recommended for anyone who’s a bit squeamish at true tales of blood and gore, but for folks that yearn to learn more about the mobster days, don’t sleep on this one.

There are many more sights to see in the Second City. Let us know if we’ve missed your favourite one.

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