Chicago is rich in arts and culture. Whether you’re visiting from out of town or you’re a local looking for things to do in Chicago, this city has much to offer. Here’s a list of our top seven cultural destinations in Chicago.

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo was founded in 1868 alongside a gift of two swans and has grown with Chicago. Over the years, the size and mission have evolved, but it remains the only privately managed admission-free zoo in the country. The zoo is home to hundreds of animals, including endangered species from around the world. Animal caregivers, zoo scientists, and educators form a team to give exceptional care to the animals entrusted to them and educate the public about conservation projects abroad and biodiversity initiatives at home. 

The zoo is open every day and has seasonal hours. In the fall, the gates open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. The buildings open at 10 a.m.

Location: 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

Hyde Park Art Center

At the Hyde Park Art Center, hundreds of artists from all disciplines gather to create, connect, and share their art with the public at the many free shows and exhibitions every year. Since its inception in 1939, the Center has embraced the philosophy that “arts are a normal and fundamental part of life,” as explained by Bruce Thorn. Featuring adult and youth education programs, artists in residency, and thought-provoking exhibitions, it serves as a vital part of Chicago’s art scene.

The Center is open to the public seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Location: 5020 S. Cornell St., Chicago, Illinois.

Joffrey Ballet

The world-renowned Joffrey Ballet just celebrated 25 years as Chicago’s dance company in residence, with a belief in the positive, transformative power of the arts. Classically trained ballet dancers perform to the highest standards. They also promote diversity and inclusivity through outreach education programs. Each season sees the dancers perform multiple ballets at the Lyric Opera House, finishing the year with the holiday tradition of The Nutcracker. Tickets and showtimes are available on the website. 

Location: 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago Architecture Center

To grasp the historic architectural significance of the Chicago skyline, consider visiting the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC). Inside, you’ll find staff and volunteers brimming with information about important buildings and their designs. A 4,250-building scale model of Chicago gives you a chance to ponder the buildings in remarkable detail without the distractions of the city around you. The CAC’s mission includes educating visitors about urban planning and design and encourages you to appreciate and participate in their communities.

The center is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Admission is $14 for adults, $10 for students, and free for children aged 5 and under.

Location: 111 E. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois. 

River Tour on Chicago’s First Lady

Once you’ve examined the skyline from above at the CAC, you can take a river cruise on Chicago’s First Lady and see the buildings from a completely different vantage point. The expert docents from the CAC share fascinating stories about 50 of Chicago’s architectural marvels. During your 90-minute cruise, you’ll gain a new appreciation for Chicago’s growth from a small settlement to a major city in less than 100 years.

The first ride of the day is at 10 a.m., with boats leaving on the half-hour into the evening. The soft light of evening on cruises after 5 p.m. shows you Chicago in a warm and inviting glow. Tickets start at $51.96 for daytime cruises and $55.74 for evening cruises, and it is recommended to purchase tickets in advance to make sure you get the time you want. Discounted admission to the CAC is available with a boat tour purchase.

Location: 112 E. Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago Gourmet

For the foodies, there’s nothing quite like the Chicago Gourmet festival, held each year in September. Dozens of talented chefs from Chicago and around the world descend on Chicago for a two-day festival of food and drink sampling. The festival is made up of exciting events, including a rooftop taco and tequila tasting, a burger bash in a park, and an Oktoberfest-themed beer and food tasting. Each year, the festival hosts new and exciting events, and it’s worth visiting Chicago to enjoy the crisp fall air and food and drinks to fill you up.

Tickets typically go on sale in July. You must be at least 21 years old to attend the festival.


Every year from mid-November until just before Christmas, Chicago carries on a tradition dating from the 16th century in Nuremberg, Germany. Daley Plaza is transformed into the festive Christkindlmarket, bursting with gift stalls, food vendors, and festive and traditional live entertainment, including carol singers, dancers, and musical performances. You can sample a traditional German mulled wine called Glühwein, or snack on warm and toasty pretzels. It’s the perfect way to get into the Christmas holiday spirit. 

Admission to the market is free, and it’s open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., with closing hours extended to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Check the website for the exact dates and special hours for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Location: 50 W. Washington St., Chicago, Illinois.

There are many reasons why people love to visit our city. We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of things to do in Chicago for tourists. If you’re local, we hope we’ve inspired you to try one of these great cultural destinations right around the corner. Have we missed any of your favorites? Feel free to contact us to let us know your favorite places to enjoy Chicago’s rich cultural scene.


Chicago things to do

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