A whopping 13 million people visit Chicago’s 25-acre Millennium Park every year, which makes it the most-visited attraction in the Midwest, surpassing Navy Pier. This area, once controlled by the Illinois Central Railroad and littered with railroad tracks and parking lots, has been for 15 years now a hotspot for tourists and locals alike who want to enjoy its green spaces, pavilions, fountains and, of course, The Bean. Read on to learn more about Millennium Park, the wonderful programs that are held there throughout the year, and why you should visit now. . . and later.
photo: courtesy of Choose Chicago
Top Things to See and Do
The best part about Millennium Park, is seeing the design, architecture, art and green spaces throughout. If you want to have an insightful experience, meet a Millennium Park Greeter at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Visitor’s Information Center, for a free guided walk. Here are the most popular Instagram-worthy and family-friendly hot spots.
photo: Chait Goli via Pexels
Cloud Gate: This stainless steel sculpture inspired by liquid mercury, in the shape of a bean, was created by Sir Anish Kapoor and is the most-loved centerpiece of Millennium Park. The exterior is polished, power-washed daily and has no visible seams, which creates an ethereal mirror from which to view the park and the city. Walk under the 12-foot high arch, take a selfie, and marvel at the design.
Boeing Galleries: The north and south galleries, on either end of Millennium Park, are outdoor exhibition spaces, with visual arts and sculpture events occurring in the spring and summer months. Walking through these alfresco galleries gives you an up-close, tangible, insight into rotating creative works.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion: Chicagoans and tourists come in droves to see this bandshell in the park, which is home to the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the Grant Park Music Festival. A number of free outdoor events—concerts, yoga, food festivals—are held here every year. There’s a large grassy seating area called the Great Lawn, which is a fun place to hang, toss a frisbee or have a picnic.
Fun fact: to get around the strict historic limitations for building heights in Grant Park, Chicago classifies the bandshell as a work of art, which it definitely is.
photo: Crown Fountain courtesy of Roman Boed via flickr
Crown Fountain: In the warm days of summer, you’ll see kids running through the shallow black granite reflecting pool and standing under both 50-foot towers that project images of Chicago citizens—the public art towers, made out of glass bricks, have fountains that cascade water out of the mouths of the video sculpture.
Millennium Monument at Wrigley Square: This park is a relatively quiet reprieve from the rest of the city, with its row of 40-foot Doric-style semi-circular limestone columns. The monument is a nod to Chicago’s landmark district and Millennium Park’s founders and donors, but what’s more, it’s a lovely place to sit and enjoy the day with your family.
Lurie Garden: On the southern end of the park, sits Lurie Garden, a 2.5-acre haven for flowers, trees, tall grasses and perennials. The garden was named after Ann Lurie, who donated $10 million dollars for the design and upkeep. Enjoy a guided walk, listen to a lecture and bring your family to a festival or organized picnic.
BP Pedestrian Bridge: This unique, snaking, 935-foot footbridge, made out of shiny sheet metal and a wooden walkway, connects Maggie Daley Park with Millennium Park (both part of the larger Grant Park). The bridge also serves another purpose: it creates a sound barrier from Columbus Drive traffic noise.
McCormick Tribune Ice Rink and Plaza: Winter is prime season for a visit to this section of the park because the space morphs into one of Chicago’s largest open-air ice skating rinks in the city, luring 100,000 skaters annually—plus it’s free and open to the public. During the summer, the rink is transformed into an alfresco dining venue, in front of Park Grill.
photo: courtesy of Regina W. via Yelp
Summer Events and Festivals
Millennium Park Summer Music Series: From mid-June to mid-August, pop a squat at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and enjoy a free weekly concert, highlighting musical stylings of various artists—experienced and up-and-coming.
Millennium Park Summer Film Series: Throughout the summer, visitors can also enjoy outdoor movie nights at Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Bring a comfy blanket, nibbles and drinks, and see Black Panther, Wonder Woman, The Wiz, 10 Things I Hate About You, Moonlight, Pan’s Labyrinth, Inside Out, The Muppet Movie and more.
Workouts at Millennium Park: Join one of the totally free workout sessions—Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, Zumba—held on the Great Lawn. Afterward, if you have any fuel left in the tank, climb the wall at Maggie Daley Park, open April—October.
photo: courtesy of Paul Barnes
Ice Skating: Open November-March, ice skating is one of the best things to do in Millennium Park during the winter (in the summer the ribbon becomes a walking and rollerblading path).
McCormick Tribune Ice Rink is round, with skyline views, set right in front of the Park Grill. This is the place to go if you want to watch your kids at all times on the rink.
The Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon, in contrast, is a winding, narrow ice band that is fun for older speedsters, with slight inclines and declines.
Pro Tip for both: bring your own skates if you have them to skip the lines and skate for free.
photo: Art Institute of Chicago courtesy of Chait Goli via Pexels
Other Nearby Things to See and Do
Since you’re in the area, the Millennium Park campus also includes several other highlights.
The Chicago Cultural Center, home to the largest Tiffany-stained glass dome in the world, hosts more than 700 humanities-focused free programs every year.
The world-class renowned Art Institute of Chicago is another gem, which can be accessed on foot by taking the Nicholas Bridgeway—the link between The Art Institute of Chicago’s modern wing and Millennium Park.
If you’ve been on the hunt for a kid’s play space, look no further than Maggie Daley Park, accessible via the BP Pedestrian Bridge. Maggie Daley Park is huge, yet separated by age level, and you can easily spend an hour or more here, climbing, sliding, and using your imagination.
photo: Terzo Piano courtesy of Isabel K. via Yelp
Dining at Millennium Park
Park Grill: Located in McCormick Tribune Plaza, Park Grill hits the spot for even the pickiest of eaters—there are loads of options here (veggie-friendly and gluten-free as well). Open year-round, this grill serves up American-style fare in the heart of the park—easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
Terzo Piano at the Art Institute of Chicago: Walk from Millennium Park to the Art Institute’s modern wing and enjoy noshes at Tony Mantuano’s restaurant. The summer months are delightful, with its flower-filled Bluhm Family Terrace dining.
The Great Lawn: Plan ahead and pack a picnic and park it on the Great Lawn at Jay Pritzker Pavilion. This is the best way to enjoy the park and the surroundings, plus your kids can run around the grass and stretch out.
Getting to Millennium Park
Getting to the park is super easy. Take the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to the Millennium Park stop at Washington and Wabash. Drive and park at the Millennium Park, Grant Park North, Grant Park South, or East Monroe Garages. Or, best yet, bike to the park—use your own bicycle or bike share with Divvy.
— Wendy Altschuler