Chicago for First-Time Visitors

Ask Chicagoans where they take visitors when they come to town, and these favorite Chicago things to do inevitably pop up.

The Top Spots

They represent every major category on any Chicago traveler's itinerary, including restaurants, museums, shops and theater. This is the must-do list that even those locals should keep handy. Get going and get out there exploring the best of Chicago.

Navy Pier

Go A Little Overboard At Navy Pier! It's where fun lives large, whether you're a visitor or local, with family or friends.

Art Institute of Chicago

Founded in 1879, the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the world’s major museums, housing an extraordinary collection of objects from across places, cultures, and time.

Garrett Popcorn Shops

Since 1949, this unassuming popcorn shop has been a tasty local tradition. Its famous “Chicago Mix” of caramel and cheese popcorn is a sweet and salty sensation. The Navy Pier location features a historical retrospective and original popping equipment.

The Second City

Second City has launched the careers of superstars like Bill Murray, Tim Meadows, Tina Fey and more. The theater’s three resident stages offer shows seven nights a week, with Saturday and Sunday “Best of The Second City” matinees for the earlybirds.

Chicago Trolley Double Decker Co.

The tour company offers specials and freebies including a Chicago treat bag with the city’s famous Garrett Popcorn. Operates daily year-round, it makes stops every 20 to 30 minutes between 9 am and 4 pm at 12 top attractions. Board at any stop, including Navy Pier, Water Tower and Millennium Park.

Millennium Park

The #1 tourist attraction in the Midwest! Discover a state-of-the-art collection of architecture, landscape design and art that provide the backdrop for hundreds of free cultural programs including concerts, exhibitions, tours, and family activities.

Portillo's Hot Dogs

Enjoy a Maxwell Street-style Polish, Italian beef, char-broiled burgers, fresh pastas or gourmet salads at this local chain, which has 31 city and suburban locations. Carry-out and drive-up available. L, D (daily).

Pizzeria Uno

This is the restaurant where the famous Chicago-style pizza was born back in 1943. Generous quantities of meats, spices, cheeses and tomatoes are heaped atop a dense, flavorful crust, then baked in a deep-dish pan. Sister restaurant Pizzeria Due serves the same. L, D (daily).

Magnificent Mile

Boasting some of the city’s ritziest hotels, shops—including three malls—galleries and restaurants, Chicago’s famed “Mag Mile” runs along North Michigan Avenue from Oak Street on the north to the Chicago River on the south.

360 Chicago

More than 1,000 feet above Chicago, this 94th-floor observatory features Tilt, an enclosed glass platform allowing visitors to extend out and over the Magnificent Mile and the famous Chicago skyline, a self-guided multimedia tour, cafe bar and gift shop. Daily 9 am-11 pm. General admission $22; ages 3-11 $15; under 3 free.

Lincoln Park Zoo

This 49-acre zoo in the heart of the city is one of the nation’s oldest, with more than 1,200 animals. 

Chicago Architecture Center

For more than 50 years, Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) has been celebrating Chicago’s magnificent architecture. The foundation offers 85-plus docent-led tours, including Chicago’s most popular river cruise and many downtown walking tours that depart from its current location above the CAC River Cruise dock.