Chicago overflows with wonderful attractions, neighborhoods, and parks that make the city such a special place to live or visit. Yet for all the different things there are to see and do here in Chicago, there’s no denying that Millennium Park is one of the city’s crown jewels. Situated squarely at the core of the city, snugly between Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago’s famous Loop area, Millennium Park has been delighting locals and newcomers alike ever since it opened in 2004.
There’s so much to explore here, in fact, that you might find the following guide helpful. Keep reading for a quick rundown of the seven absolute most essential things to do in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
If you’ve heard just one thing about Millennium Park, it’s probably the giant piece of sculpture known fondly as The Bean. This stainless-steel work was designed by artist Anish Kapoor and is actually officially entitled Cloud Gate. Regardless of what you call it, though, it’s something to behold: The Bean checks in at 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, and 66 feet long, all while weighing a whopping 110 tons.
When you see The Bean in person, however, you won’t be worrying about remembering its stats. You’ll be busy snapping selfie after selfie and basking in the sight of the Chicago skyline and your own smiling face reflecting off this beloved attraction!
Just a few hundred feet south of The Bean you’ll find the one-of-a-kind Crown Fountain. Designed by Jaume Plensa and constructed by the Chicago-based architectural firm of Krueck and Sexton, Crown Fountain consists of a 232-foot-long by 48-foot-wide black granite reflecting pool set between two 50-foot-tall LED video screens. These state-of-the-art video screens routinely display images of local Chicagoans, and periodically expel a spray of water perfect for splashing around in on a hot summer day.
The waterworks portion of Crown Fountain is active between the months of May and October, but no matter the time of year this is a terrific meeting place for visitors of all ages.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Another essential Millennium Park stop is Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Located at the north end of the park, Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry and is, in many ways, the centerpiece of the entire attraction. Throughout the year it hosts a number of special events, film screenings, and music concerts, including the ever-popular Grant Park Music Festival, a ten-week summer series of classical music concerts free to everyone that has, in one form or another, been in existence since 1935.
But nothing of any real note need be happening to make Jay Pritzker Pavilion an attractive spot to spend the afternoon. Its lawn is a wonderful place to have a picnic, lounge while watching the people come and go, or just sip a coffee while catching up with a friend.
Nestled in the midst of one of the world’s most memorable skylines, Lurie Garden is a botanical treasure just waiting for you to discover it. Whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely solo stroll, desire to take a guided group tour, or simply want to procure a private park bench for a few moments of quiet contemplation and peaceful meditation during an otherwise busy afternoon, you’ll love Lurie Garden’s many charms.
A 15-foot-tall hedge—called the “shoulder hedge” as an homage to the poet Carl Sandburg’s iconic description of Chicago as “The City of Broad Shoulders”—surrounds Lurie Garden on two sides and lends it a private, secluded air. Other highlights here include the Boardwalk, which runs over a gentle pool of water, and the garden’s two primary “plates,” physically distinct areas but conceptually linked natural spaces.
McCormick Tribune Plaza
McCormick Tribune Plaza is such an important segment of Millennium Park that it essentially pulls double duty. During the winter months—think between November and March, depending on the weather—this is the site of an outdoor ice-skating rink that’s pretty hard to beat when it comes to ambiance. Throughout the rest of the year, this prime piece of real estate is transformed into the home to one of Chicago’s largest outdoor dining establishments, a truly remarkable setting from which to enjoy a meal, grab a drink, or just chill out for an unforgettable afternoon of fun. Add it all together, and it doesn’t really matter when you find yourself at McCormick Tribune Plaza, because year-round it’s a great spot to be!
The following two attractions aren’t technically in Millennium Park, but they’re located so close nearby that you’ll want to keep the good times rolling by checking them out just as soon as you’ve finished enjoying all Millennium Park has to offer.
The Art Institute of Chicago
This world-class institution is located just south of Millennium Park. It’s well worth a visit no matter where you’re coming from, but let’s get real, you can’t find yourself in Chicago, one block away at Millennium Park, and not make time to stop at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center is an architectural masterpiece of a building is home to numerous art exhibits, film screenings, lectures, live performances, and more. It’s also where you’ll see the largest Tiffany stained glass dome found anywhere in the world, and best of all, most of the Chicago Cultural Center’s programming is free of charge! It’s situated on the west side of Michigan Avenue, just one block from Millennium Park.