Hundreds of thousands of visitors enjoy the beautiful architecture and free events that happen at the Chicago Cultural Center every year. Impressive neoclassical architecture from the 1890s is set among modern skyscrapers in a lovely juxtaposition of Chicago’s past and present.
In addition to viewing the two incredible stained-glass domes and mother of pearl mosaics, visitors can enjoy art exhibitions, family events, films, theater, music and much more in one of the city’s most popular attractions. Sometimes referred to as the “People’s Palace”, the building was not only the first permanent home to Chicago’s Public Library (on the Washington Street Side), but it also served as headquarters for Civil War veterans in its time.
Not to Miss at the Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Cultural Center is filled with free things to see and do, including some of our favorites:
Washington Street Lobby.
What started out as the main library entrance, this lobby is a sight to behold with 30,000 pieces of glass in a 38-foot Tiffany dome. The dome is surrounded by impressive glass, mother of pearl, precious stones and gold leaf creating mosaics that rival the Italian style. Three-story staircases that overlap each other provide inspirational decorations of authors and great thinkers in history.
Free Guided Architecture Tour.
Explore the magnificent building that houses the Chicago Cultural Center and learn from a knowledgeable guide about its architectural intricacies. Learn about the marble arches, crown molding and the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome! Tours are usually offered Wednesday through Sunday after lunch—check the website for timing details. Arrive early because space is limited!
Pop into the center on Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:15pm to enjoy a free 45-minute classical or chamber music concert in the Preston Bradley Hall. Violinists, pianists and other emerging artists will make your lunchtime so much more than average.
Did you know that the city of Chicago has its own underground pedestrian walkway system? Most people don’t know about this secret passageway spanning 40 city blocks. One of the access points is located at the Cultural Center’s Randolph Street Lobby.
Chicago Cultural Center Amenities
For restaurants and gift shops, you’ll need to leave the Cultural Center, but you can expect these services:
- Chicago Cultural Center’s building is accessible with elevators inside and outside that also connect to the underground Pedway.
- Wheelchairs for use in the center are available upon request on a first come, first served basis.
- Wheelchair accessible restrooms and water fountains are located on the first and second floors.
- Assisted Listening Devices are available for public concerts and lectures.
Nearby the Chicago Cultural Center
Because of its central location, you’ll find plenty of other things to do within a short walking distance of the Chicago Cultural Center, including:
- Millennium Park (with “the Bean” and Crown Fountain)
- The Art Institute of Chicago
- American Writers Museum
- Chicago Architecture Center
- Giordano’s Pizza
- 360 Chicago (John Hancock Center)
- Bike and Roll Chicago
- Lake Michigan
- The Chicago Theatre.
Getting to the Chicago Cultural Center
Its location right in the downtown area makes the Chicago Cultural Center easy to access no matter where you are in Chicago.
If you don’t have to drive in this area of downtown, it’s recommended to avoid it because of traffic. However, if you have your car you can get to the Cultural Center using Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. For parking, taking advantage of Spot Hero will book you a place in a nearby garage in advance. Try parking at 60 East Randolph or Grant Park North Garage for a quick walk to the center.
Hop onto public transportation to avoid hassles with traffic and parking. Using the CTA ‘L’, you can access the Cultural Center using Washington/Wabash, Lake or Washington stations. For Metra, exit at the Chicago Millennium Station. CTA has a myriad of buses that will access the center—check the transit website for more details.
When the weather is nice, you can easily grab a Divvy bike from the bike share program and make your way to the center while getting some exercise. Nearby Divvy stations are located at Michigan Ave & Washington St or Millennium Park.
When to go to the Chicago Cultural Center
Open daily from 10am-7pm, the center has a schedule that is packed full of activities! To simply see the building, feel free to go anytime during opening hours. For a lunchtime concert, try Mondays and Wednesdays, and for other activities, check the website for more information.
Chicago Cultural Center Insider Tips
- Admission to the center is always free, but booking ahead is critical for these popular events. Check online for the current schedule.
- To simply see the building and its offerings without attending an event, allowing 1 hour for a visit is ideal.
The first of its kind in the nation, Chicago Cultural Center has been delighting locals and visitors with its architecture, events and activities since 1892.
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