Top 10 Things to Do in Chicago in Spring and Summer

June 30, 2021  |  By Peg Kern
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Spring and summer in Chicago are our favorite times of year. There are so many things to do in Chicago in the springtime and summer, and so many Chicago attractions that re-open with the good weather. 

Yes, we sometimes have snow in the spring, but it can also be wonderfully warm and sunny! The trees are leafing, the birds are singing, and, more importantly, restaurants are putting out their outside tables. In summer the beaches are hopping, and both locals and tourists are out enjoying Chicago’s many parks. 

Chicago lakefront explored on a foodie tour of Chicago with TIKChicago is a great restaurant city and Chicagoans definitely appreciate dining al fresco once the weather turns nice. And that is reason #1 you should visit Chicago on our foodie tours. But it’s only one of many Chicago attractions that make our hometown so special in the springtime. (Another thing? Chicago’s great breweries.)

Here at The International Kitchen we’ve all lived in Chicago for decades, so we are the experts in what to see in Chicago. Check out our list of things to do in Chicago during the spring and summer and let us know if you can think of others!

Disclaimer: we’re featuring spring and summer Chicago attractions in this list, so you will find mostly outdoor activities. Don’t worry, if you’re visiting Chicago in the winter, there is still plenty to do (hello, museums and Willis Tower!). 

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Top Things to Do in Chicago in Spring and Summer

Or course any list of things to do in Chicago will be a bit subjective. Some people like art. Some people like baseball. We like both! But here is our list of the 10 best things to do in Chicago in the spring or summer.

Visiting the Chicago lakefront on a sunny day.#1 The Lakefront

We love the lakefront all year long, and in the spring and summer it is definitely one of the top things to do in Chicago. Miles of bike paths and walking paths run right along the shores of Lake Michigan. The city’s recent public arts push means that you’ll find it all peppered with unexpected sculptures as well.

Enjoying the lakefront in Chicago.Chicago’s lakefront really is one of the best places to visit in Chicago, whether you want to bike, hike, run, or swim. There are beaches from north side to south side, which you can enjoy as soon as the weather warms up.

  • When: The lakefront parks are generally open dawn to dusk. The beaches are open 6 am to 11 pm, but swimming is only permitted when a lifeguard is on duty (11 am to 7 pm Memorial Day through Labor Day).
  • Where: All along the lake.
  • Cost: Free!

The Chicago lakefront during a summer festival

#2 The Festivals

One thing to do in Chicago in spring and summer is to enjoy the multitude of events and festivals that are scheduled. Whether you want to “Bike the Drive” in May or want to hold off for the many summer music festivals, the city is full of music, art, dance, movies, food and wine fests, and neighborhood parties.

Some of the most famous of Chicago’s spring and summer events are Blues Fest, Lollapalooza, Ravinia, and Taste of Chicago, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Chicago summer festivals.

  • When: Varies, see https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/provdrs/chicago_festivals.html for schedule
  • Where: Varies: Grant Park, Milennium Park, the Lakefront, many Chicago neighborhoods.
  • Cost: Varies. Some are free, some require a modest entry fee. Some events, like Lollapalooza, can cost hundreds of dollars.

The famed Wrigley Field in Chicago#3 Baseball

Springtime also means baseball! Whether you are a “north-sider” or a “south-sider” (Go Sox!) you can cheer on your favorite team come springtime, and heading to the “friendly confines,” as Wrigley Field is known, is definitely one of the top things to do in Chicago.
Another bonus: if you’re up in Wrigleyville for a Cubs game or in Bridgeport to see the Sox, you’ll have plenty of great eating options before you hit the ball park as well.

  • When: Varies, see https://www.mlb.com/ for schedule.
  • Where: Wrigley Field (1060 W Addison St) and Guaranteed Rate Field (333 W 35th St).
  • Cost: Varies. If you go during the week Cubs tickets start at $37 and Sox tickets start at $13.

#4 Millennium Park

On of the most popular Chicago attractions, and one of our favorite things to do in Chicago with kids, is visit Millennium Park. Opened in 2004 (yes, four years behind schedule, as it was supposed to celebrate the new millennium), it is full of fun, free things to do.

Visiting Crowne Fountain in Millennium Park, Chicago.Head to the Anish Kappor Cloud Gate sculpture, more popularly known as “The Bean,” to view yourself framed by the reflection of the city’s skyline. Visit Crowne Fountain on a hot day to watch the city’s children frolic in this quirky public space. Or stroll through the lush, beautiful Lurie Garden.

Sit on the lawn or grab a seat at the stunning Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, for an open-air concert.
Cross the Gehry-designed BP bridge to Maggie Daley Park, considered by Chicago’s youth the best thing to do in Chicago bar none. It has a gigantic playground, climbing walls, and ice staking/roller skating ribbon.

Or simply wander through the many gardens and admire the public art.

  • When: Year-round, 8am to 9pm.
  • Where: 201 E Randolph St.
  • Cost: The park is free, some concerts in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion require an admission fee.

Chicago's Museum Campus seen from a distance.#5 Museum Campus

If you are looking for the top places to visit in Chicago, you could spend a whole day at Museum Campus. You could even catch several top things to do in Chicago without leaving this lake-front park!

It’s a beautiful place for a walk or a bike ride, but what makes it a top Chicago attraction are the museums.

The Field Museum of Natural History is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, and home to the famous “Sue,” the largest and best-preserved T-Rex skeleton.

The Adler Planetarium will dazzle you with its displays featuring the planets, galaxies, stars, and deep space.

Watching the beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.And the Shedd Aquarium, which is another of our top things to do in Chicago with kids, is perfect for exploring the underwater world, including fish, sharks, turtles, dolphins, penguins, walruses, and Beluga wales.

  • When: Year round. The park is open 8am to 6 pm. Field Museum: 9am to 5pm (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Adler Planetarium: daily 9am to 4pm (but temporarily closed as of June 2021). Shedd Aquarium: daily 9am to 6pm (except Tuesdays 9am to 5pm).
  • Where: Field Museum: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr. Adler Planetarium: 1300 S Lake Shore Dr. Shedd Aquarium: 1200 S Lake Shore Dr.
  • Cost: Museum Campus park is free. Field Museum: $26-$40 (adults), discounts available for children, students, seniors, and Chicago residents. Adler Planetarium: $19-$50 (adults), discounts available for children, students, seniors, and Chicago residents. Shedd Aquarium: $39.95 (adults), discounts available for children and Chicago residents.

View of Navy Pier during a culinary tour of Chicago#6 Navy Pier

One of the iconic views of the Chicago skyline is that of Navy Pier and its giant Ferris Wheel. Navy Pier is one of the top things to do in Chicago, and one of the best things to do in Chicago with kids. It features several Chicago attractions to explore, including:

  • A mini-amusement park with rides, including the famed Centennial Ferris Wheel and carousel.
  • The Chicago Children’s Museum, which is particularly fun for younger children.
  • Children’s Funhouse Maze, a 4000 square-foot interactive maze.
  • The Crystal Gardens, an indoor botanical garden.
  • The Chicago Shakespeare Theater which performs Shakespeare productions.
  • Multiple restaurants and a food court.
  • Boat tours and evening dinner cruises.
  • The Ohio Street beach, which is located just to the north of the pier.
  • Seasonal festivals and shows.
  • Summer fireworks – and not just on the Fourth of July!

The Pier is a fun place to explore whether as a couple or as a family, with plenty for everyone to see and enjoy, particularly when the weather is nice.

  • When: Year round, although some attractions are only open during certain months.
  • Where: 600 E Grand Ave
  • Cost: Entry to the Pier itself is free. Parking is $37 for 2-6 hours. Chicago Children’s Museum tickets: $19 for adults and children. Centennial Wheel: $15 (children) – $18 (adults). Children’s Funhouse Maze: $12.99-$14.99. Ticket packages also available.

The South Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago.#7 Art Institute

It’s true, we’re featuring mostly outdoor things to do in Chicago during spring and summer, but what you may not have realized is the Art Institute, one of the premier art museums in the world, has things to enjoy outdoors as well. The South Garden, designed by Dan Kiley and perhaps his most famous design, is an oasis of shade, green, color, and water. The Fountain of the Great Lakes, designed by Lorado Taft, is one centerpiece, but it is the lush vegetation and sense of serenity that makes this garden a real hidden gem of Chicago.

To the north of the museum is the Stanley McCormick Memorial Garden, a sculptural garden designed by Laurie Olin and featuring several works of public art. And noteworthy also is the Nichols Bridgeway, designed by Renzo Piano, which connects the third floor of the Art Institute’s Modern Wing to the nearby Millennium Park.

Of course, while you’re there we recommend stopping in the museum itself to see the world-class collection, an absolute staple when it comes to Chicago sightseeing.

  • When: Year-round. The gardens are open daily, the museum is open Thursday through Monday, 11 am to 6 pm.
  • Where: 111 South Michigan Ave.
  • Cost: The gardens and bridgeway are free. The Museum is $25 standard entry, some discounts available.

Visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.#8 Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo, in the city’s northern Lincoln Park, is on of the best places to go in Chicago in the spring and summer. It is both one of the country’s oldest zoos, as well as one of the few free zoos! What I’ve always liked about it is the fact that it’s free, so you don’t feel like you need to spend a whole day there to get your money’s worth. You can easily pop in for a couple hours to see the exhibits that most interest you.

The lions at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo is well funded with many amazing exhibits to explore, including:

  • Regenstein African Journey
  • Regenstein Center for African Apes
  • Helen Brach Primate House
  • Walter Family Arctic Tundra
  • Pritzker Penguin Cove
  • Farm-in-the-Zoo
  • South Pond
  • Waterfowl Lagoon
  • Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo
  • Kovler Seal Pool
  • and many more!!

And you might want to pop over to the nearby Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, or Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool while you are in the neighborhood. They are also among our favorite things to do in Chicago.

  • When: Year round. Open daily 10am to 5 pm. Summer extended hours: open until 7 pm on Saturday and Sundays.
  • Where: 2001 N Clark St.
  • Cost: Free!

Walking in the Garfield Park Conservatory.#9 Garfield Park Conservatory

Head away from the downtown area to one of the best outdoor activities in Chicago and visit the Garfield Park Conservatory. We think it’s one of the best places to visit in Chicago even in the winter, when its warm, humid greenhouses are a boon to Chicagoans aching for a tropical environment. But in the spring and summer its outdoor gardens are a treat to explore.

Visiting the Garfield Park Conservatory.The indoor greenhouses include the Palm House, Fern Room, Aroid House (home to a stunning fish pond decorated with 16 gorgeous Chihuly yellow glass lilly pads), Desert House, and Sugar from the Sun. The outdoor gardens include more than 10 acres of grounds to explore.

  • When: Year round, normally open daily, but currently open Thursday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm. Wednesdays 5 am to 8pm.
  • Where: 300 N Central Park Ave
  • Cost: Free, with a suggested donation. Currently, due to COVID restrictions, reservations are required.

View of the Chicago river on Food Lover's Chicago culinary tour#10 Water Tours

One of the best ways to see Chicago attractions in the spring and summer is from the water! There are a number of boat tours available in Chicago. Some feature dinner, some are on the river, some are on Lake Michigan, and some are on both.
Our favorite is by the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center, which partners with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises to offer a 90-minute, super-informative river cruise. You learn a lot about Chicago’s top sites, its history, and its ground-breaking architecture.

  • When: Generally, March/April through October/November.
  • Where: For the Chicago Architecture Foundation cruises, the riverwalk dock is located at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.
  • Cost: For the Chicago Architecture Foundation cruise, tickets start at $48.18 per person.

Bonus! Foodie Tours & Cooking Classes

What can complete your exploration of the best things to do in Chicago in the spring and summer? A foodie tour and cooking class. We offer both during our Food Lover’s Chicago tour. Take a hands-on cooking class with fellow foodies and enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner to follow.

Or explore the food of Chicago on a driving or walking tour featuring some of Chicago’s classic dishes, its ethnic neighborhoods, and more. We can even design custom food tours to urban farms, local breweries, farmer’s markets and more.

Conclusion

Mother and daughter dining out in Chicago. Our 3-night Food Lover’s Chicago is a great way to explore the many famous Chicago attractions. We’ve kept plenty of free time for you to pursue your own interests and visit some of our top places to go in Chicago. 

The culinary tour includes fabulous accommodations at a downtown hotel, a foodie tour, and a cooking class; and we can make so many suggestions on how to spend the rest of your time! It is also easily customizable if you want a longer (or shorter) trip.

Read more about our foodie tours in Chicago.

Contact us for details on our Food Lover’s Chicago foodie tour or to get started planning your trip to Chicago!

By Peg Kern

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