It’s easy to fall in love with Chicago at any time of the year, but summertime is when the city shines brightest. Be here for the beginning of the season as neighborhood celebrations take over the streets, music and food festivals pop up every weekend, and the spectacular fireworks light up Lake Michigan.
Here’s our roundup of events, attractions, and activities for Memorial Day weekend in Chicago.
Watch the Memorial Day Parade
Join thousands of people to honor veterans and active duty military at the annual Memorial Day Parade on Saturday, May 23. A wreath laying ceremony begins at 11 a.m., followed by the parade at noon, which will run south on State Street from Lake Street to Van Buren Street.
The Chicago Cultural Mile Association also hosts the Annual Ceremony and Dedication of the General John A. Logan Monument on Monday, May 25 at 11 a.m. This Memorial Day wreath laying and monument rededication commemorates those who died serving the United States.
Explore a Chicago museum
On Memorial Day weekend, visit the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, where you can explore the past, present, and future of the military. Learn about the United States’ most esteemed award for valor in combat with the permanent exhibit Medal of Honor.
Explore more Chicago museums and exhibits.
Hit the beach
Chicago beaches officially open on Memorial Day Weekend, so make sure to pack your swimsuit. Swim, tan, play volleyball, or head to a nearby beach bar to enjoy a cold drink with your toes in the sand. Check out our beach guide on the best places to soak up the sun.
Visit Navy Pier and catch the summer fireworks
One of the city’s top attractions is Navy Pier, a waterfront stretch of rides, restaurants, and entertainment that attracts more than nine million people each year. Memorial Day weekend kicks off a summer of fun at the Pier, celebrated with the opening of the Miller Lite Beer Garden and the start of the Aon Summer Fireworks. The Memorial Day fireworks show begins at 10:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Rent a kayak on the Chicago River
The Chicago River is buzzing with activity during the summer. Rent a kayak and paddle through the heart of the city, past the bustling Riverwalk and some of the city’s most iconic buildings.
Shop Memorial Day Sales
Don’t forget to take advantage of Chicago’s sizable shopping scene as stores promote Memorial Day sales. From the big names that line the Magnificent Mile to the trendy boutiques and mom-and-pop shops in the neighborhoods, start your summer with a fresh new wardrobe.
Explore the Lakefront Trail
The 18-mile Lakefront Trail hugs Lake Michigan and is a popular place for walkers, bikers, and hikers all year long. The scenic path connects to boat harbors, nature sanctuaries, boardwalks, and Chicago’s beaches, which open Memorial Day weekend.
Get on the lake
There’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the vast waters of Lake Michigan. You can rent a variety of equipment right on the beach, including jet skis, kayaks, and paddle boards. There’s also banana boat rides, paddle board yoga, water jetpacks, and more. Plus, the skyline view from the lake is spectacular.
Cruise along on a boat tour
Take a day-time river cruise to learn about the city’s groundbreaking architecture. Or set sail on the lake at night for dinner, dancing, and dazzling views of the city. On Memorial Day weekend, there’s plenty of cruises and boat tours to choose from. Here’s just a few:
- Chicago Architecture Foundation Center river cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady (90 minutes, starts at $46.29)
- Lakefront speedboat tours from Seadog (30 minutes, starts at $28.95)
- Classic lake tour with Shoreline Sightseeing (30 minutes, starts at $23)
- River dinner cruise with Odyssey (2.5 hours, starts at $124.90)
Check out more Chicago boat tours and cruises.
Bike around the city
Book a guided bicycle tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike, which offers fun options like a lakefront neighborhoods tour, a night tour, and a bites and brews tour. Make your way just west of downtown to The 606, a 2.7-mile elevated trail that cuts through some of Chicago’s most hip and eclectic neighborhoods. Or, join 20,000 fellow cyclists during the annual Bike the Drive, on Sunday, May 24, when the waterfront Lake Shore Drive is closed to motorists and open to bicyclists only.
Kick off our famous festival season
Chicago’s festivals bring the whole city outside to eat, drink, and dance in the streets. And Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kick-off of the summer fest season. Here’s what the city has in store:
Check out the full festival and events guide.
Wander around the “city in a garden”
Take advantage of the seasonal tours of Lurie Garden, an urban oasis in Millennium Park. Explore the free Garfield Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Conservatory, home to hundreds of rare, native, and foreign plants. Jackson Park is also particularly beautiful in the spring — if you’re lucky, you’ll catch the cherry blossoms blooming in the Osaka Garden.