17 Best Chicago Landmarks to See in 2023 (By a Local)
I’ve lived in Chicago for over 5 years, and in this guide, I overview the best Chicago landmarks worth visiting. These include famous skyscrapers, city parks, historic sites, and much more. I also share tips and resources to help you build the perfect Chicago itinerary.
Table of Contents
- 17 Famous Chicago Landmarks
- Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
- Wrigley Field
- Millennium Park
- Navy Pier
- Museum Campus
- 875 North Michigan Ave. (formerly the John Hancock Center)
- Lincoln Park Zoo
- Chicago Water Tower
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Chicago Riverwalk
- Lakefront Trail
- Museum of Science and Industry
- Marina City
- Maggie Daley Park
- Chicago Theater
- Garfield Park Conservatory
- Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain
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17 Famous Chicago Landmarks
Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
The second-tallest building in the Western hemisphere with a unique observation deck
📍 Google Maps | Willis Tower Website | 👉 Browse Tours of the Willis Tower
Willis Tower is one of the most popular destinations for Chicago tourists. It was known as the Sears Tower until 2009 — though, to this day, many Chicago locals refer to it as such. It was once the tallest building in the world, and now claims the title of the second-tallest building in the Western hemisphere.
Willis Tower has incredibly fast elevators, traveling at about 1,600 feet per minute. You can get all the way to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor in just over a minute. From Skydeck Chicago, you can see over four states, one of the most interesting Chicago facts. On a clear day, you can see everything within a 50-mile radius.
There is even a glass box that sticks out from the Skydeck called The Ledge. Here, you can directly look down at the city right below your feet, seeing architecture by greats like Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. You won’t want to miss visiting Willis Tower, one of Chicago’s most famous landmarks.
📚 Related Reading: Staying close to the city center is often advisable for first-time visitors. For more insights, check out my guide on where to stay in Chicago!
An iconic ballpark, home of the Chicago Cubs
📍 Google Maps | Wrigley Field Website | 👉 Browse Tours of Wrigley Field
Sports fans who visit Chicago will definitely want to spend some time at Wrigley Field. It’s a short drive north from downtown Chicago, Illinois. You can also take a ride on the Red Line, part of the “L” system and one of the best ways to get around Chicago.
Wrigley Field is the second-oldest ballpark in the US, with the first being Boston’s Fenway Park. This iconic ballpark preserves traditions with its hand-turned scoreboard and ivy-covered outfield walls. It is home to the Chicago Cubs, the baseball team of the North Side.
👉 Love Baseball? You may also want to see the Chicago White Sox, the baseball team of Chicago’s South Side. They play at Guaranteed Rate Field. There’s an ongoing rivalry between Cubs and Sox fans that will likely last forever!
An expansive outdoor park in the heart of the city, loved for its cultural attractions
📍 Google Maps | Millennium Park Website | 👉 Browse Tours to Millennium Park
For anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors in Chicago, Millennium Park is definitely worth one or more visits. You can simply take a walk across the park and enjoy the scenery, or you can take in a performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Wander and admire all sorts of impressive steel and glass sculptures. There’s also a space that serves as an outdoor restaurant in the summer and an ice rink in the winter.
Most notably, there is Cloud Gate, informally known as “The Bean.” This large sculpture is a true feat of engineering. It’s shaped like a bean and features a metallic surface that reflects the entire city skyline. You’ll definitely want to take a selfie with Cloud Gate when you’re in Millennium Park.
A bustling pier that will take you back in time
📍 Google Maps | Navy Pier Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
Navy Pier is located in the Streeterville neighborhood, one of the best neighborhoods in Chicago. It’s a must-visit landmark on your Chicago trip. Entrance to Navy Pier is completely free to the public. Although, you will have to spend money if you plan to purchase anything at the various shops and restaurants.
There are tons of activities here. You can catch a show at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and explore the Chicago Children’s Museum. You can also take part in one of the many events and festivals that take place throughout the year. Navy Pier is home to many rides, such as a historic carousel and the famous Centennial Wheel.
Home to the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium
📍 Google Maps | Museum Campus Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
The Museum Campus borders Lake Michigan and is home to some of the best museums in Chicago. All of these can be considered vital Chicago landmarks.
At the Field Museum, one of the biggest natural history museums in the world, you can see more than 20 permanent natural history exhibits. These include the biggest and most complete skeleton of a T-Rex that exists. The Field Museum gets more than 2 million visitors every year.
At the Shedd Aquarium, you can visit 32,000 sea animals, including sea otters, beluga whales, dolphins, and more. The Shedd Aquarium is also home to exhibits that enlighten us about aquatic life all over the world.
The Adler Planetarium was the first of its kind in the western hemisphere. You can see the largest telescope available to the public in the Doane Observatory.
875 North Michigan Ave. (formerly the John Hancock Center)
One of the most notable landmarks in Chicago, with a thrill ride on top
📍 Google Maps | John Hancock Building Website | 👉 Browse Tours of the John Hancock Building
875 North Michigan Ave. is located on the Magnificent Mile. It was previously known as the John Hancock Center and is one of the most famous landmarks of the Chicago skyline. This building is full of shops and eateries including The Signature Room, one of the best restaurants in Chicago.
On the 94th floor of this skyscraper, you can access the 360 Chicago Observation Deck. Take in a stunning panoramic view of the city. On a clear day, you can see everything within a 55-mile radius. This skyscraper also features TILT, a thrill ride that makes you feel like you’re about to fall on the city streets below.
👉 Pro Tip: The Magnificent Mile, a section of Michigan Avenue, is one of the best things to do in Chicago! It’s full of galleries, luxury shops, boutiques, and worthwhile theaters. Not only is it the site of the John Hancock Building, but also the Tribune Tower and Wrigley Building.
Lincoln Park Zoo
A fantastic place to learn about flora and fauna from all over the world
📍 Google Maps | Lincoln Park Zoo Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, this zoo is just north of downtown Chicago, Illinois. You can learn all sorts of things about different environments and animals from around the entire globe.
Lincoln Park Zoo was founded in 1868, making it one of the oldest zoos on the continent. It is now home to more than 1,100 animals, including polar bears, gorillas, hippopotamuses, and rhinoceroses. You can browse 16 exhibits of animals here, in addition to fascinating displays of flora.
For more, see our full guide to Lincoln Park Zoo. Best of all, this zoo is one of the Chicago landmarks that is completely free to the public!
📚 Related Reading: If you want more free and cheap things to do in Chicago, check out my guide on how to experience Chicago on a budget!
Chicago Water Tower
A stunning, repurposed limestone tower
📍 Google Maps | Chicago Water Tower Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
The Chicago Water Tower is an imposing, beautiful limestone building. It’s located at the intersection of North Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue. Within walking distance, you’ll find the department stores and luxury hotels of the Magnificent Mile.
The Chicago Water Tower is one of the few structures that survived the Great Chicago Fire. For many, it’s a symbol of Chicago’s resilience as a city and one of the most important Chicago landmarks.
Its original name comes from the fact that it once played a pivotal role in Chicago’s water system. The tower used gravity-fed water mains that took water out of Lake Michigan. Today, however, its main function is being home to the City Gallery, a place for local photographers and artists to display their work.
Art Institute of Chicago
A breathtaking building housing a huge, diverse art collection
📍 Google Maps | Art Institute of Chicago Website | 👉 Browse Tours of the Art Institute of Chicago
Located in Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the most famous museums not only in Chicago, but in the world. There is a permanent collection here of almost 300,000 extraordinary pieces of art.
The exterior of the museum itself is a work of art, with iconic bronze lions at the entrance. When you go inside, you’ll see works of art from all over the world and all periods of time, both contemporary and ancient.
This museum has one of the world’s largest collections of impressionist and post-impressionist art, including a large Monet gallery. Not only is there artwork from other continents, but the US as well. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s American Gothic are two of the most famous examples of American artwork here.
A cool path that gives you amazing views of the Chicago River
📍 Google Maps | Chicago Riverwalk Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
The Chicago River is a major part of the downtown area. Stretching from Lake Shore Drive to Franklin Street is the Chicago Riverwalk. It’s definitely one of the notable landmarks in Chicago. Here, you can enjoy spectacular views of the Chicago River. You can also browse fun shops and eat delectable food at the restaurants along the Riverwalk.
There are many architecture river tours that start right at the Riverwalk. Several events take place here throughout the year, too, including free festivals and concerts.
👉 Pro Tip: If you happen to be on the Chicago Riverwalk around St Patrick’s Day, you’ll see that the Chicago River is green! This is a result of environmentally-friendly dye that is poured into the water to commemorate the day.
A trail that allows you to exercise alongside Lake Michigan
📍 Google Maps | Lakefront Trail Website | 👉 Browse Tours near Lakefront Trail
Lakefront Trail stretches for 18 miles, starting at Edgewater Beach on the North Side and meandering all the way to the South Shore. It’s a long, winding path along the western shores of Lake Michigan, allowing people to enjoy views of both the water and the city’s skyline. Whether you like walking, jogging, or riding a bike, you can do it via this trail.
The trail also connects other tourist attractions to the many Chicago beaches that lie along the shores of Lake Michigan. In the summertime, Lakefront Trail is one of the top landmarks in Chicago to visit.
Museum of Science and Industry
An enormous science museum on the edge of a college campus
📍 Google Maps | Museum of Science and Industry Website | 👉 Browse Tours to Museum of Science and Industry
The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum on the continent. It’s located on the north end of Jackson Park, close to the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park. It’s considered by some to be the most notable museum in the city and is definitely one of the most worthwhile landmarks in Chicago.
The museum’s exhibits focus on the application of natural laws within industry and technology. If you decide to come here, know that you may not be able to get through everything in a day or even two. There are hundreds of interactive exhibits, both permanent and temporary.
The brain-teasing puzzle books are some of my favorite things to do at this museum. I also enjoy touring the U-505 German submarine that was captured in World War II. You can even see how tornados form at this Chicago landmark.
Twin skyscrapers known for being a “City Within a City”
📍 Google Maps | Marina City Website | 👉 Browse Tours of Marina City
Marina City is a very distinctive part of the Chicago skyline, as the two skyscrapers are uniquely shaped like corn cobs. It is a residential-commercial building complex that was designed by Bertrand Goldberg in 1959. The bottom 19 floors are basically a spiral parking ramp. Above, you’ll find public attractions like the House of Blues, Hotel Chicago, a bowling lounge, and multiple restaurants.
This complex was the first urban high-rise residential complex built after World War II in the US. Many people say that this was the start of the residential renaissance of inner cities in America.
Maggie Daley Park
An amazing outdoor activity area
📍 Google Maps | Maggie Daley Park Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
Maggie Daley Park is located in The Loop and linked to Millennium Park via a pedestrian bridge. It’s a great place for families featuring multiple playgrounds and picnic areas. There’s also 19,000 square feet of climbing walls, a miniature golf course, and a ton of surrounding greenery. You can go rollerblading in the summer, and an ice rink is set up in the winter.
A hub of culture that creates an old-time atmosphere
📍 Google Maps | Chicago Theater Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
On North State Street, you can’t miss the iconic, brightly lit sign of the Chicago Theater. Here, you can experience all sorts of entertainment. Whether you like concerts, magic shows, plays, speeches, sporting events, or stand-up comedy, you can find it here.
Both the exterior and neo-baroque interior are reminiscent of the early 20th century, as it was built in 1921. The exterior was modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with an elaborate neon sign and stained glass.
The galleries and grand lobby, including a swirling staircase, were modeled after the interior of the Palace of Versailles. The spacious auditorium is a stunning sight, with murals, gilded decor, and sparkling chandeliers.
Garfield Park Conservatory
A gorgeous green space with many fun, educational activities
📍 Google Maps | Garfield Park Conservatory Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
The Garfield Park Conservatory, open and free to the public, is a great destination for both children and adults. Anyone who appreciates nature should definitely give this place at least one visit. The space is absolutely beautiful, and it is easily one of the best landmarks in Chicago.
There are 2 acres of indoor plants and flowers here that you can admire, divided up into 8 gardens. In addition, there are indoor ponds that are home to many turtles and fish. If you happen to be here in the summer, there are 12 acres of outdoor arrangements as well.
There are so many things to do at this conservatory, including many free programs. You can go on a nature walk or take a yoga class without paying a dime!
📚 Related Reading: Though the Garfield Park Conservatory is amazing, East Garfield Park is one of the less safe neighborhoods in Chicago. However, this does not mean you can’t have a safe visit here. Read my guide to safety in Chicago to learn more!
Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain
A colossal fountain with an even more colossal presence
📍 Google Maps | Buckingham Fountain Website | 👉 Browse Nearby Hotels on Booking
More often referred to as Buckingham Fountain, this landmark is considered to be the centerpiece of Grant Park. It was modeled after the Latona Fountain at Versailles by architect Edward Bennett.
It is thought that the seahorse statues that make up the fountain represent the four states that surround Lake Michigan. The surrounding pool is supposed to be Lake Michigan itself. This is definitely considered to be one of the most spectacular landmarks in Chicago.
This fountain is famous for its gorgeous appearance, monumental presence, and the height of the water spray. During most of the day, the fountain will shoot about 15,000 gallons of water every minute, creating an incredible display.
At night, this is accompanied by lights, making the vision even more compelling. It’s no wonder that this is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions.
I hope you enjoyed my list of the best landmarks in Chicago! As you can see, they’re not all the skyscrapers of the city center. There are spectacular views all over the Windy City for you to enjoy during your visit!
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