Travel - Destinations
By: - at July 22, 2014

Top 15 Fun Things to Do in Chicago

Top 15 Fun Things to Do in Chicago.

Chicago is a bold and cosmopolitan city that was like a phoenix during the late 1800s due to the city burning for 2 days. It started as an accident in a barn and because of the drought that left the wooden building dry, it quickly spread killing hundreds then leaving thousands homeless. Afterwards, there were donations given from around the country as well as the world and the city began to rebuild with a different mindset.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 devastated the city but led to what is considered the Golden Age of construction and growth. Architects borrowed from the classics and used brick along with metal to design stronger buildings, there were no shortage of opportunities. Businesses like Marshall Field and company were rebuilt then later expanded. Buildings like St. Michael's Church, which was gutted but still standing, was rebuilt. Chicago is a city that has been through fire and flood, it has quite a few stories to tell.

15)  Shedd Aquarium
Lincoln Park Zoo had a fantastic freshwater fish collection but Chicago needed something that would transform it into a true metropolis. Founder of Marshall Field and Company, John Shedd, had such an idea. He wanted to create Chicago's own stand alone aquarium along the lakefront and started it with a two million dollar gift back in the 1920's. He added another million to make sure that it would be just as formidable as other notable museums from the start. With the support of his business and civic colleagues, the Shedd Aquarium Society was formed in 1924.

Shedd Aquarium
The Shedd Aquarium is a fun place to visit in Chicago, IL.

The best and most innovative techniques from around the world were examined and in November of 1927, the groundbreaking took place. Two years later the Grand Beaux Arts building was completed and on May 30, 1930 was the official opening. John G. Shedd passed away in 1926 and only got to view the first drawing of the building, so his widow cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony. The aquarium hosts exhibits from the Caribbean Reef, a recreation of the Amazon along with corresponding species and special exhibits on jellies as well as other sea creatures, in 1927 it was designated as a historic landmark. The Shedd Aquarium is like sailing the waters of the world without leaving the heart of the city, quite a wonderful place to visit.

Dolphins Performing at the Shedd Aquarium
Dolphins Performing at the Shedd Aquarium.

14)  The Rookery
Located at 209 South LaSalle Street, the Rookery is a uniquely designed masterpiece built in the late 1880's. It's partly named in dubious honor of the politicians that inhabited the locations predecessor, the City Hall Building that was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Also, the number of crows and pigeons that inhabited the exterior also gave it its name. It was built by architectural firm Burnham and Root, who were going for a bolder, more modern design. They mixed iron frames, brick façade and elaborate artistry that took elements from Moorish, Byzantine, Venetian as well as Romanesque designs.

The Rookery
The Rookery in Chicago, IL.
By Beyond My Ken, via Wikimedia Commons

The design was once attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright but he only updated the interior design in 1905 by using Carrara marble to cover the wrought iron finishes. That one change along with his brilliant attempt to keep the original design while integrating his own vision helped to elevate the building's status. That renovation finished in 1931 and in 1975, the Rookery was designated as a national historic landmark. Today the Rookery is home to many well known companies including BNP Paribas and Brooks Brothers.

Inside The Rookery
Inside The Rookery in Chigaco, IL.
By Luke Gordon1, via Wikimedia Commons

13)  The Newberry Library

Inside The Newberry Library
Inside The Newberry Library in Chicago, IL.

Focusing on humanities and history, the Newberry Library is a non circulating private, independent research facility. Walter Loomis Newberry, a businessman and philanthropist, died at sea on his way to France 1868. Between the years of 1868 and 1885, his two daughters and his widow died. Their deaths set in place a $2.15 million bequest to start the library, some of the collections in the library date back to the Middle Ages and the Napoleonic Era as well as older times.

There are approximately 1.5 million books, more than 5 million pages of manuscripts and half a million historic maps in residence. They also host events such as the Newberry Book Fair where patrons can choose from over 120,000 books to purchase for two dollars or less. There are even genealogy events to help people research and discover more about their ancestors. Whether you're tracing your roots or seeing the world as it was, Newberry is one of fun things to do in Chicago. The best part is that all exhibitions are free and open to the public.

The Newberry Library
The Newberry Library in Chicago, IL.
By TonyTheTiger, via Wikimedia Commons

12)  Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows
One of the many attractions in Chicago's Navy Pier, this museum is the first of its kind in the U.S. and opened in February 2000. There are both secular and religious windows divided into Victoria, Prairie, Modern and Contemporary collections. Most displays were originally installed in Chicago's religious, residential and commercial buildings from local, national as well as international studios.

Smith Museum of Stained Glass
Smith Museum of Stained Glass in Chicago, IL.
By Mike Gonzalez, via Wikimedia Commons

When many hear the name Tiffany, they think of quality due to the famed Tiffany Glass Company. Louis Comfort Tiffany designed hundreds of businesses and residences in the late nineteenth century, he became well known in the U.S. Over a dozen of the displays are from Tiffany's Glass Company's New York Studio. Other displays include memorial windows, religious windows, triptychs and figure portraits all in glass. If you are looking for quiet things to do with the family, there are over 150 pieces to explore and enjoy.

Another Display at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows
Another Display at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows in Chicago, IL.

11)  Lookingglass Theatre Company
The company was formed in 1988 by college graduates whose approach is to create adjustable seating and stages that can properly present their work in a way that creates a unique experience for the audience. Founding ensemble member and Director of Artistic Development, Heidi Stillman, encourages members to create bold works as well as develop their skills through intensive workshops to create an enduring impact on the community. They have received numerous awards including a Tony in 2011 for Outstanding Regional Theatre, patrons can preview, see a matinee or evening show featuring great acting and writing from local talents at this unique theatre.

The Lookingglass Theatre Company
The Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago, IL.

10)  Oriental Institute Museum
In 1896, the Near Eastern studies department of the University of Chicago moved into the Haskell Oriental Museum. Originally filled plaster cast reproductions and a small exhibition of antiquities, the exhibition grew thanks in part to John D. Rockefeller. James Henry Breasted, faculty member and archaeologist, joined the university in 1894 and became the head of the Haskell Oriental Museum in 1901. He wanted to establish an institute that traced the roots of Western Civilization to the ancient Middle East.

Oriental Institute Museum
Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago, IL.
By DSC00179, via Wikimedia Commons

After World War I, he wrote to Rockefeller and proposed the idea of the institute that included a research trip to the Middle East. Rockefeller pledged $50,000 for five years for the institute and in 1919, the Oriental Institute was founded. That same year Breasted purchased some artifacts from Egypt that included the mummy case of Meresamun and a statue of Sekhmet. In addition to Egypt, the museum also houses artifacts from digs in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. Modern technology has allowed the museum to record and trace artifacts as well as employ modern techniques that will preserve the material for the future generations.

Lammasu on Display at The Oriental Institute Museum
Lammasu on Display at The Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago, IL.
By Thomas R. James, via Wikimedia Commons

9)  Chicago Cultural Center
After the Great Chicago Fire, many residents started receiving the works of distinguished authors to replace those lost. The books were held in a temporary space, an old water tank, and were made available to the public. By 1876, they had close to 120,000 volumes and the search intensified for a more permanent site. With 26 million people coming to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and the success of the World's Fair, Chicago realized that it could become a true metropolitan city rivaling any in America or Europe.

Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago, IL.
By Victorgrigas, via Wikimedia Commons

As they worked on the Dearborn Park library project, the Library Board entered into an agreement with the American Civil War veteran association that created a dual purpose building that was home to both the Chicago Public Library and an army memorial. Once the financing was set and an architectural firm was chosen, ground was broken in 1892. The library, nicknamed the People's Palace, was completed 5 years later.

In the 1970's, the Chicago Library established itself as a landmark but needed renovation to the tune of close to $30 million. The library moved to a new location in 1974 and to save the old building from demolition, it was granted historic designation in 1974. In 1977, the library became the Chicago Public Library Cultural Center. After that, new locations were built and renovated with space for theaters, dance studios and more. The People's Palace has regular events that are free of charge to visitors around the world, making it one of the top things to do in Chicago.

The Grand Staircase in the Chicago Cultural Center
The Grand Staircase in the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago, IL.
By Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons

8)  Holy Name Cathedral
The Holy Name Cathedral is the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the United States and the seat of the Archbishop of Chicago. The Chapel of the Holy Name was established at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in 1846. It became a freestanding chapel in 1849 and in 1851 the church was built on the south end of the cathedral. Because of its size, it served as the diocese cathedral until it was destroyed in 1871. Work on the new Holy Name Cathedral began with the cornerstone being laid in July 1874, Chicago then elected their first archbishop in 1880.

The Holy Name Cathedral
The Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, IL.
By Gerald Farinas, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cathedral is built in the Gothic revival style and the bronze doors are the first features to greet worshipers. Each door is 1,200 pounds but can be pushed with the push of a finger thanks to hydraulics. The sculpture Resurrection Crucifix and the Stations of the Cross that are cast in bronze as well as framed in red marble are the most striking features of the cathedral. In addition to the fine craftsmanship of the cathedral, it contains two fine pipe organs.

Nave of the Holy Name Cathedral during a Wedding
Nave of the Holy Name Cathedral during a Wedding in Chicago, IL.
By Nheyob, via Wikimedia Commons

7)  Wrigley Field

1920 Cubs Logo
1920 Cubs Logo

Behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field is the second oldest Major League ballpark. Built in 1914, it started out as Weeghman Park that was named after owner Charles Weeghman. It was Chicago's entry into the Federal League of Baseball Clubs, which was founded in 1913. Weeghman paid a quarter of a million dollars to build the stadium that seated 14,000 spectators. Thanks to an antitrust lawsuit brought by the Federal League against the other leagues that languished in the courts, the Federal League experienced financial hardship and folded in 1915.

Between 1915 and 1916, Weeghman was able to purchase the Chicago Cubs from the Taft family and move them into the ballpark. The Cubs won the pennant and the World Series in 1918. They won again in 1920 and the park became known as Cubs Park. After the Wrigley family purchased the team from Weeghman, the park was renamed Wrigley field. Since then it's been home to many historic moments, such as:  Baby Ruth's famous "called shot" in the 1932 World Series and the 500th homer from Ernie Banks. Today the park seats nearly 42,000, almost three times as many as when it was built, they built over 60 private boxes and added other amenities. Even if you're not really into the game, checking out where it all started makes Wrigley one of the fun things to do in Chicago.

Wrigley Field Today
Wrigley Field Today in Chicago, IL.
By Towpilot, via Wikimedia Commons

6)  Museum of Science and Industry
The current residence of the Museum of Science and Industry  (MSI), also known as the Palace of Fine Arts, was constructed in 1893 along lake Michigan for the World's Columbian Exposition that was designed by Charles B. Atwood of Burnham & Co. Professor Lorado Taft of the Art Institute of Chicago led a campaign to restore the building and turn it into an art museum as well as an industrial art school. Even though the referendum to sell $5 million in bonds to pay for the restoration was approved, it was not to happen.

Museum of Science and Industry
Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL.

Head of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Julian Rosenwald, took his son to Munich's Deutsches Museum in 1911 and after seeing how taken his son was with the science museum and its interactivity, Rosenwald was inspired to create a similar institution in Chicago. In 1926, Rosenwald pledged $3 million toward its creation and gathered support from local business leaders who were inspired by his dream to inspire the genius of tomorrow's engineers, scientists as well as doctors. He planned to use the old Palace of Fine Arts as the location and was successful.

Turbine Inside the Museum of Science and Industry
Turbine Inside the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, IL.

The building was designed in the Industriale style while the exterior would replicate the Columbian Exposition design using 28 kilotons of limestone. Work began in 1927-1928 but not without controversy. Some wanted to name the building the Rosenwald Industrial Museum but Julian Rosenwald did not like it. Instead they agreed to the name it goes by today and the stationery would add "Founded by Julian Rosenwald". Unfortunately, he died the year before the MSI opened its doors in 1933 with its first exhibit, Coal Mine. Over the years, the museum would host exhibits from a variety of industries, including space, flight, the Titanic and a 7,200 square-foot exhibition on the future of energy. Kids and adults will always find fun things to do, learn and see at MSI.

5)  Lyric Opera /Civic Opera House
Seal, David Byrne, Luciano Pavarotti, Zubin Mehta are just some of the performances at the Lyric Opera/Civic Opera House venues. Chicago's first opera house was destroyed in the Great Fire and the second was opened nearly 20 years later. In 1929, the Civic Opera House opened but collapsed due to the Great Depression. It wasn't until 1954 when Carol Fox, Lawrence Kelly and Nicola Roscigno cofounded the Lyric Theatre of Chicago that the city really got to see and appreciate the sophistication of the art form. That same year, Carol Fox introduced soprano Maria Callas to American audiences in Norma.

Exterior of the Lyric Opera House
Exterior of The Lyric Opera House in Chicago, IL.

In 1956 the Lyric Theatre became the Lyric Opera of Chicago, after dozens of productions, some with double and triple bills, two of the three founders left to found the Dallas Civic Opera and this left Carol Fox to head the Lyric. Rudolph Nureyev, soprano Danica Mastilovic and tenor Jose Cura all had American debuts at the Lyric. The Civic Opera House is the home of the Lyric Opera and has seating capacity of over 3,500 seats. It produces contemporary works and events in addition to the operatic repertoire, including Sweeney Todd as well as The Great Gatsby. The Civic Opera House has something for everyone and that's why it's so high on the list of fun things to do in Chicago.

Inside the Lyric Opera House
Inside the Lyric Opera House in Chicago, IL.
By Zesmeralda, via Wikimedia Commons

Exterior of The Civic Opera House
The Civic Opera House in Chicago, IL.

By Flibbert , via Wikimedia Commons

Interior of the Civic Opera House
Interior of the Civic Opera House in Chicago, IL.

4)  Millennium Park
On a hot Chicago day you can go to Millennium Park to see the kids playing around in the water of Crowd Fountain, it was reated in 1997 and was the brain child of Mayor Richard Daley. He wanted a public space for residents where families could enjoy outdoor music concerts, art and the views. With the participation of world renowned architect Frank Gehry, this 24.5 acre park is a great achievement for the city, not only because of its design but because of the public and private partnerships that made it happen.

Millennium Park
Millennium Park in Chicago, IL.
By J. Crocker, via Wikimedia Commons

The centerpiece of the park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a major donor, which is used to present outdoor concerts and is home to the Grant Park Music Festival. One of the most intriguing features of the park is Cloud Gate, a giant metal bean sculpture that looks like a hollow fun-house mirror for kids and adults. The Crown Fountain is a pair of 50 foot tall glass brick towers that use LEDs (light emitting diodes) to display digital images of anyone who chooses to be pictured. Between those towers is a black granite reflecting pool to add to the ambiance of the park and the fun.

3)  Symphony Center - Chicago Symphony Orchestra
In 1891, businessman Charles Norman Fay invited Theodore Thomas to establish an orchestra in Chicago. After touring the U.S. and performing the violin in several orchestras, he returned to New York to become the first violin in an orchestra that accompanied Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind. In 1854, at age 19, Thomas was invited to play with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Thomas led orchestras and founded his own Theodore Thomas Orchestra in 1862. He was the director for the New York Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic and was offered a permanent orchestra by Fay in 1891.

Orchestra Hall, also known as Symphony Hall
Orchestra Hall, also known as Symphony Hall.
By Beyond My Ken, via Wikimedia Commons

He led the Symphony Orchestra until his death in 1905 and during his tenure premiered the works of Grieg, Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. Since then there have been nine other conductors with the longest one being his successor, Frederick Stock. Stock established youth auditions and the first training orchestra in 1919. The orchestra has had nearly 40 overseas tours, with most trips to Europe. They made their first trip to Mexico in late 2012.

The Chicago Symphony at the Symphony Center
The Chicago Symphony at the Symphony Center in Chicago, IL.
By Jordan Fischer, via Wikimedia Commons

2)  Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
Winner of 70 Joseph Jefferson awards, three Laurence Olivier Awards and a Regional theatre Tony in 2008, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST) puts on over 600 performances a year within 48 weeks. The Chicago Shakespeare Workshop was founded in 1986 by Barbara Gaines and was renamed as theater in 1999.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier
By Jessica Curiel, via Wikimedia Commons

They were originally housed at the Ruth Page Theater but due to the growth the venue became too small, it moved to Navy Pier in 1997. CST is known for its innovative approach to theater similar to the kind shown by the bard for whom it's named. It offers personal development, career preparation and other lifelong learning opportunities to students, artists, as well as teachers in addition to bold performances to patrons. Previous productions include Dickens' Women, Murder for Two – a Killer Musical, Black Watch and few other works that include traditional Shakespeare works like As You Like It as well as Twelfth Night.

1)  Art Institute of Chicago
Ranked nationally and globally, the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) was founded in 1866 as the Chicago Academy of Design by a group of local artists. It was initially financed by members' dues, donations, classes and regular receptions, which helped it to move to its own residence in 1870. With the Great Chicago Fire came a whole host of financial and custodial issues and a board of trustees was established in the late 1870's to help stabilize the institution. It reinvented itself and became the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts whose focus was to educate as well as exhibit works of art. The shift created a multi-faceted institution and in 1882, it officially became the AIC. Banker, Charles Hutchinson, was elected president and led the AIC until his death in 1924.

The Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago
By Beyond My Ken, via Wikimedia Commons

During the 1880's, the AIC outgrew its facilities and it agreed to share the cost of a new building with the World's Columbian Exposition as it continued its mission to counter Chicago's growing materialistic image. The building had a neoclassical design with the names of famous artists carved into the building and over the years many structures were added to complement the original 1893 building. The collection of 17th century Dutch paintings was its first acquisition and with other collections came a broadened range of African, Asian and American arts as well as photographical along with architectural exhibits.

As time went on the original plan of the coexistence of education and exhibition became threatened as disagreements over leadership as well as direction resulted in a faculty strike. The result was a clearer understanding of the schools status and a different reporting structure that helped the school to expand and create more courses. This move allowed for the separate but peaceful coexistence of the school and the museum.

Interior of The Art Institute of Chicago
Interior of The Art Institute of Chicago
By Leon petrosyan, via Wikimedia Commons

Today the museum is open to the public for free on certain days and hosts a wide range of works from Picasso, Brancusi and other classical artists. There is also a section for newer forms of innovative art from the areas of engineering , architecture and emerging media. What makes the AIC tops on the fun things to do list is that not only is there something for everyone to appreciate, it's also that matter how many times you go it will always feel like the first time.

No matter how many of times you visit Chicago, there is always something you haven't seen yet. It's managed to establish itself as a dynamic local, national, and international destination if you want to experience different views of the world in one place. It can be said that the city truly came to life after the 1871 fire but it's also that the people came to really understand the city's potential and went about showing it to the world.





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