Museums and views in Chicago

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The Family in Millennium Park
Us at Millennium Park

As you will know if you read the blog posts by Jess and Robert, we spent a wonderful week in Chicago this summer. They have both written posts on what they particularly enjoyed and now it’s my turn!

It seems pointless to go over the same ground that my children did! After all, I too loved the Escape Room (which Robert writes about in detail in this blog post) and the brilliant Chicago-themed Mini Golf. And, although I’m not a teen, I especially loved the bike tour which Jess describes, the trip to the beach and comedy at Second City. But there was also a lot more that we did, and which I am going to share with you here…..

A city of beauty

Chicago is, as both my children said, beautiful. It’s a gorgeous place for a city-based holiday, and enhanced by the fact that it has extras you would never normally connect with a bustling metropolis – like its own beaches. It’s also blessed with magnificent museums and other must-dos.

And fabulous views

I always love a view when I visit a city and in Chicago, we found that the best viewing point was the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (once known as the Sears Tower) which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,353 feet. We headed there after a busy day out, doing our cycling tour, and a quick walk along Navy Pier, which is also great for views of the city (and snacks!).

Sarah at the Sky Deck in ChicagoWe arrived at the Willis Tower as the sun was starting to go down. We headed up to the 103rd floor via a speedy lift, before walking around and enjoying the views of the city from up high. We decided to queue up to wait to use one of the glass bottomed viewing panels – called “The Ledge”  – which are basically boxes which take you about four and a half feet from the Skydeck, and were blessed with some wonderful views and colours as the sun went down. We had to wait around 30 minutes and I’m not sure if I would have done this if I had been with young children. However, it was absolutely worth it for us as I loved walking onto the platform and soaking up the views.

Amazing views from Willis Tower

Amazing art (and architecture)

I knew that Chicago was home to some terrific art and, if you have any interest in art or architecture, this is a brilliant place to visit. The buildings are stunning and we would recommend a guided boat trip to fully immerse yourself. We used the Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture Tour and had a wonderful 75 minutes relaxing on the Chicago river while our guide, Kyle, told us everything we needed to know. It was absolutely worth doing – and we learnt a lot.

One of the amazing views from the Chicago architecture boat tour
One of the amazing views from the Chicago architecture boat tour

We also visited the Art Institute of Chicago – and it is mind-blowing. Not only does it host such world-famous paintings as American Gothic and Nighthawks, but it also has some incredible Impressionists (it hosts the largest Impressionist collection outside Paris) and modern art, not to mention some beautiful Chagall paintings and much, much more, including whole galleries on ancient Greece and Africa. Its collections cover hundreds of years of art, and I would have stayed longer but my children had had their fill after a couple of hours!

Brian by the "Bean" in Millennium Park in Chicago, as seen on the Family Travel Times blog
Brian by the “Bean” in Millennium Park in Chicago – as recommended by all guide books!

The Art Institute is right near Millennium Park, which is huge and wonderful. Do go there to visit Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (known more colloquially as “the Bean”) as it’s really a must-do and a wonderful piece of art. In fact, there is art that you can just come upon across the city, including a mural by Chagall and other works by Miro, Calder and a wonderful piece which spurted out water called Crowne Fountain by Jaume Plensa. We discovered many of these on a terrific Chicago Greeter guided tour with a wonderful man called Bill. These tours (on any kind of topic you like)  are all free and organised by the city. Bill wouldn’t even take a tip!

And natural history and science and industry

Another museum I would highly recommend was the Field Museum, which is Chicago’s Museum of Natural History. This is brilliant for kids and adults, and unlike its equivalent in London, it wasn’t too manic or chock-full of guests.

The museum has so many things for you to do – we visited the “brilliant bugs” exhibit and glanced at a number of others, including the hall of gems (which was very impressive). But what was really amazing was the dinosaurs, as this museum hosts SUE, the biggest and most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world! It is really astonishing, and the whole exhibit is done brilliantly, with many other fossils, dinosaur skeletons and excellent explanations which take you right through history.

SUE - the skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex
SUE – the skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex

The final museum we visited in Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. We had heard great things about this place and it was highly recommended by my friends who live in the city.

The first thing to say about it is that it is absolutely huge! There is masses to see, and there are also a number of extras (many of which cost more money) such as a coal mine or 4D films. I have a feeling that this is a museum which you would need to visit over and over again, but we were impressed (although many of the exhibits did seem dated).

A newborn chick which we saw hatch!
A newborn chick which we saw hatch!

The genetics section, where you could see chicks being born was amazing, while we also enjoyed the “Science Storms” section – watching tornados blow up around you was an experience. Seeing a real u-boat was remarkable (we didn’t pay extra to go on, just looked from the outside) and we enjoyed the Mirror Maze and “You the Experience” too, although not all of the objects worked properly. I also explored Colleen Moore’s fairy castle, which is like something you’d see in Las Vegas (I said it was a museum with lots of different parts!).

There are loads more museums in Chicago and also loads more to do overall. We had planned a visit to the Shedd Aquarium, but in the end we simply ran out of time, what with all the other places we went to, and the endless eating and general exploring. It is a beautiful place, which offers so much to people of all ages. We’d highly recommend a holiday there!

Disclosure: We were gifted a CityPASS for Chicago which gave us free entry into the Skydeck, Art Institute, Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry. CityPASS had no input whatsoever into this blog post, but we did think it was great having a pass which meant we could skip queues and visit places we might not have considered otherwise (like the Museum of Natural History). A CityPASS lasts for nine days and can also be used for the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. It costs $108 per adult and $89 per child, which works out as a lot less than if you visited the attractions and paid at each one individually.

Don’t forget to read Robert’s post on Chicago and Jess’s on what’s best for teens.

 

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12 Responses

  1. Lauren

    Chicago looks like such a neat town! I would love to climb to the top of the Willis Tower and do the SkyDeck. Beautiful photos!

  2. eileen g

    you are braver than me. I could not get out on that glass ledge on the Willis Tower. The Chicago CityPass really does include everything you want to do with kids.

  3. Harmony, Momma To Go

    I’ve been to Chicago twice (love it) but not yet with kids – definitely on my radar for an upcoming trip. Maybe not in the winter though… LOL I hate the cold!

  4. Nancy

    CityPASS is perfect for family sightseeing in Chicago – thanks for the tip. The Museum of Science and Industry sounds amazing.

  5. Julie

    We love Chicago! We just did the ledge a few weeks ago and my kids loved it!! So many fun things to do in Chicago!

  6. Diana Rowe

    Even though I grew up in a neighboring state (Iowa), I have never been to Chicago. Thanks for the inspiration to travel there sooner than later.

  7. Trish

    You all seem to have had a fantastic time. I’d love to go to Chicago for the art and architecture – love the sound of the boat tour. I really should have visited whilst my cousin, Toni (Expat Mum) was still living there!

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