Planning a vacation to Chicago? Our local experts put together a helpful Chicago neighborhoods guide so you can make the most of your time in Chicago.
We highlighted a handful of the top attractions, places to see, and which neighborhoods in Chicago to visit during your vacation.
The North Side/Lincoln Park
North of downtown, Chicago’s North Side and Lincoln Park area is home to lots of top Chicago attractions, shopping, dining, expansive green spaces, and more.
Things to Do in the North Side/ Lincoln Park
- Explore Wrigleyville and cheer for the home team while catching a Cub’s game at beloved Wrigley Field or a sports bar close by.
- Lincoln Park is a popular (and pricey) residential area and home to famous landmarks, including Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago History Museum, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Lincoln Park Zoo (free!).
- Head to the Lakeview area to explore a neighborhood that embraces diversity and boasts some of the best lakefront property with its scenic Lakefront Trail, golf course, harbor, green fields, and more.
- Explore Old Town, an affluent and hip historic neighborhood with Victorian-era buildings, charming streets, family owned restaurants and more.
- Have any LEGO® fans in the family? Be sure to check out LEGOLAND® Discovery Center, a large indoor space filled with exhibits, construction demos, interactive areas, and more.
Chicago’s West Side/ Central area consists of lots of fun neighborhoods to explore.
Things to Do in Chicago’s West Side
- Architecture and American Literature buffs will want to head to Oak Park where you’ll find the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright’s residential home designs (including his own) and Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home and museum.
- Chicago’s largest zoo, the Brookfield Zoo, offers year-round fun with diverse animal exhibits, a large nature park, and more.
- Go on a taste tour of Chicago’s Little Italy where Chicago’s immigrant past is preserved and Italian culture reigns. From pizza and pasta to specialty treats like Italian ice and Polish sausage, the food scene in Little Italy is not to be missed.
Downtown/ The Loop/ Magnificent Mile
Chicago’s large downtown area is made up of many neighborhoods, including Gold Coast, River North, Streeterville, Navy Pier, Magnificent Mile, The Loop, South Loop, and Museum Campus.
Check out the Gold Coast, an affluent neighborhood just north of Downtown for high-end shopping, upscale dining, diverse Chicago architecture, the Chicago History Museum, the popular nightlife scene on Rush Street, and more.
The commercial district just west of the Magnificent Mile is known as River North and is an area of the city with dormant factories and warehouses turned art studios and work spaces for Chicago’s creative types.
This trendy arts-focused neighborhood is a top destination for visitors looking for fine dining, upscale drinks, clubs, art-centered shopping, and more.
Navy Pier in Streeterville is a hub of activity with unbeatable lakefront views, boardwalk style fun, souvenir shops, post card-worthy views, and more.
Below are a few ideas of top Navy Pier attractions and things to do nearby.
Things to Do in Navy Pier
- Take a ride on some memorable amusement rides located right on the pier.
- Pick up a bike rental and explore Chicago’s 26 miles of scenic, fun, and safe lakefront trails.
- Families will enjoy the entertaining and education exhibits and activities at the Chicago Children’s Museum.
- Theater buffs can see excellent productions of classic shows at the award-winning Shakespeare Theater for some thespian fun.
- Grab a drink and some classic Chicago eats at the outdoor Landshark Beer Garden, featuring free live music on Wednesdays in the summer and one of the best views of the Navy Pier’s twice weekly summer fireworks.
The Magnificent Mile district is the area immediately surrounding North Michigan Avenue and a popular destination for visitors with many of the city’s hotels, shops, restaurants, bars, attractions, and more.
Things to Do Near the Magnificent Mile
- Head to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see cutting-edge art from both ascendant artists and contemporary icons.
- For 360 degree views of Chicago, head to 360 Chicago (formerly John Hancock Observatory), for a ride in the world’s fastest elevator to the 94th floor of this Chicago must-see.
- Measure up and compare your skills to some of Chicago’s finest athletes at the Chicago Sports Museum.
The Loop, Chicago’s official downtown, is home to many of the city’s premier attractions and things to do.
When people refer to “The Loop”, they’re talking about the city’s downtown area, bordered by the Chicago River to the north and west, by Michigan Avenue to the east, and Roosevelt Avenue to the South. The Loop area is surrounded by a loop of elevated trains.
Here are some fun suggestions for things to do near Millennium Park and The Loop in Chicago.
Things to Do in The Loop
- Learn about the iconic Willis Tower and get in some spectacular views from the observatory deck at Skydeck Chicago, and its famous all-glass balcony “The Ledge”.
- Fans of the arts will enjoy a tour of the legendary Chicago Theatre, the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the recently voted number one museum in the world, the Art Institute of Chicago.
Museum Campus/ South Loop
Part of Chicago’s large Grant Park, Museum Campus is a 57 acre park along the Michigan Lake waterfront and home to three of the city’s most popular museums.
Head over to our things to do at the Museum Campus list for more info on other nearby attractions
Things to Do in Museum Campus/ South Loop
- Field Museum, one of the most prominent natural history museums in the country, features state-of-the-art exhibits, interactive galleries, and impressive displays of natural wonders from around the world.
- No trip to Chicago is complete without exploring the impressive array of aquatic life from all over the globe at Chicago’s most visited attraction, the world famous Shedd Aquarium.
- Do a little exploring beyond Chicago at America’s first planetarium, the Adler Planetarium, and experience all things space come to life.
- Just south of the planetarium, nature lovers will enjoy exploring Northerly Island, a 91-acre peninsula dedicated to nature with walking paths, play areas, views of Chicago’s skyline, and some of the best fishing in the city.
Chicago’s South Side is an integral part of the city and home to the University of Chicago.
Things to Do in South Side
- Check out the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, the Museum of Science and Industry. Housed in the only remaining building from the famous 1893 World’s Fair, this museum has something for everyone to enjoy.
- Frank Lloyd Wright fans will want to take a trip to the Robie House, one of his architectural masterpieces and an exemplary display of an American Prairie Style home.
- Lorado Taft Midway Studios, owned by the University of Chicago, was the art studio of Lorado Taft, one of the early 20th century’s most influential sculptors.