The temperature is rising and the days are getting longer, so it’s time to start planning your summer of fun. There are lots of rooftop bars and al fresco dining options in Chi-Town where you can linger long into the night. But there’s also plenty of parks and green spaces to enjoy as well as the rivers and lakes. So whether you like your summers wild or mild, we’ve got some great suggestions for you. Here are 10 of the best outdoor activities in Chicago…
Things to do outdoors in Chicago:
Chill out in Millennium Park
Millennium Park is a wonderful green space that hosts some terrific activities and events. During the summer months, spread out on the Great Lawn and enjoy outdoor concerts and film screenings. Felling a bit more energetic? Join in with an outdoor workout or tour. Millennium Park is also home to the iconic Cloud Gate statue (aka “The Bean”), a visit to which is one of the top things to do in downtown Chicago.
Take to the trail at the 606
Once an abandoned railway line, the 606 is now a multi-use recreational trail and park. The former elevated railroad track runs along the Bloomingdale Trail for 2.7 miles between Ashland Avenue and Ridgeway Street. It takes you through four different Chicago neighbourhoods and it is a wonderful way to get to know the city. You can take to the trail on bike or on foot, but make sure you plan lots of stops to take in this living artwork and the beautiful green spaces. This is one of the best free things to do in Chicago.
Roam the Riverwalk
The Riverwalk is a one-and-a-quarter mile-long promenade that is made up of six coves. Each of these coves is a destination in itself with a unique urban landscape and activities. This is another great free thing to do in the city and one of the best things to do in Chicago with kids.
Along the Riverwalk you’ll find a lovely assortment of laid-back outdoor bars and cafes as well as plenty of places to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings and the public art which is on show throughout the pedestrian trail. As you stroll make sure you look up, as this is a great place to admire the city’s famed skyscrapers.
Go bird watching at The Jetty
At The Jetty (Wells to Franklin) you can enjoy some bird watching and even take a planned bird watching walk. In amongst the skyscrapers are a whole host of feathered friends and walking along the Jetty with a bird expert is a great way to spot them. Keep your eyes peeled for mallards, rock pigeons, American robins, European starlings, and ring-billed and herring gulls. If you are lucky you might see Peregrine falcons swooping around skyscrapers.
Admire the architecture from the water
If you’d prefer to give your legs a rest, but still want to admire the amazing architecture of the city, hop on a boat tour. There is a bevvy of boat tour operators along The Riverwalk and many specialise in architecture trips. As you relax and enjoy the panoramic views, you’ll hear guided commentary telling the stories behind the city’s most iconic buildings.
Check out Navy Pier
Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot-long walkway on the shores of Lake Michigan. It has 50 acres of cool attractions and experiences, for instance, events, free concerts and entertainment, amusements, dining and shopping. With its warm and welcoming atmosphere, it is a great place to bring the whole family for the day. You’ll also get some lovely views of the city especially from the Centennial Wheel, the city’s iconic Ferris Wheel.
Go kayaking on the Chicago River
Explore the city from the mighty Chicago River. Taking to the water in a kayak is a relaxing way to see the city at your own pace. As you paddle along, you’ll see the sights, including some of the city’s most iconic bridges, architecture and green spaces. If you’d like a guide to accompany you, there are lots of kayak excursions on offer, including themed ones like the spooky haunted tour.
Paddle Lake Michigan
Stand up paddleboarding on Lake Michigan is a wonderful and sometimes wild (depending on the weather) way to get a workout and take in the views. As you navigate the water you’ll drift by Navy Pier and have a great perspective of the soaring Chicago skyline. Paddleboarding is a popular activity in Chicago and you can rent boards and go alone or join a group session.
You’ll find rental companies and tour operators at Monroe Harbor (south of Navy Pier) and North Avenue Beach (east of Lincoln Park). Speaking of which…
Explore Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park is a popular community area on the North Side of Chicago. It is incredibly picturesque and a nature lover’s dream. As you explore you’ll come across landscaped gardens, a tranquil lily pond and a historic indoor botanical garden. There’s lots of lovely lakefront green space where you can sit back, relax and enjoy a picnic accompanied by sweeping views of the city.
You’ll also find the Chicago Zoo in Lincoln Park. There is so much to see and do here that you could easily fill a whole weekend with non-stop outdoor activities.
Check out the public art downtown
One of the best things to do in downtown Chicago is to enjoy a self-guided public art tour. After you have been to The Bean, head to Daley Plaza to check out the Chicago Picasso. Then, head to Federal Plaza to see Calder’s Flamingo. From here, make your way to the southern end of Grant Park and wander around the 106 headless and armless iron sculptures that make up the Agora installation.
You can also check out the Art Institute lions, the People in Your Neighborhood installation and the world’s largest permanent digital art installation, Art on theMart.
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