Memorial Day weekend marks the official start of summer in Chicago. and the city knows how to celebrate. Each year, Chicago comes to life with spectacular fireworks displays, buzzing rooftop bars, sunset kayak tours, fun neighborhood festivals, waterfront restaurants with unforgettable views, and so much more. Here’s our roundup of what to do in Chicago for Memorial Day weekend.
See the Chicago Memorial Day fireworks
One of the city’s top attractions is Navy Pier, a waterfront stretch of rides, restaurants, and entertainment, and more. The Pier is known for its spectacular summer fireworks displays, which kick off with the Memorial Day fireworks show.
Hit the beach
Chicago has more than two dozen free public beaches, and they officially open for the summer season on Memorial Day weekend, so make sure to pack your swimsuit. Swim, tan, play volleyball, or head to a nearby beachfront 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 along the city’s 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Check out a festival
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of festival season in Chicago. Check out some of these cool events, tastings, and shows happening over the holiday weekend.
- Suenos Music Festival: Chicago’s first-ever reggaeton fest is taking over Grant Park with a lineup of Latin hitmakers.
- Belmont-Sheffield Music Fest: The waterfront Lakeview neighborhood plays host to this Memorial Day festival, with tribute bands, artisans, and beer and wine vendors.
- Mole De Mayo: In the historic Pilsen neighborhood, this outdoor food fest is dedicated to finding the best of the Mexican staple, plus live entertainment and craft vendors.
- Chicago Memorial Day Parade: The long weekend in Chicago is always marked by a downtown parade and wreath-laying ceremony.
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, where you’ll enjoy up-close views of the bustling Chicago Riverwalk and some of the city’s most iconic buildings. You can also join a sunset or twilight tour, fireworks tour, happy hour paddle, historic Chicago tour, and more.
Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to dine outdoors in Chicago, whether you want to sip wine on a waterfront patio or enjoy craft cocktails on a scenic rooftop.
- Check our outdoor dining guide to some of the city’s best patios
- Want to dine with a lakefront view? Explore beachfront restaurants
- Or discover restaurants and bars on the Chicago Riverwalk
Or just stroll through any neighborhood in Chicago, and you’ll find plenty of stellar alfresco spots, from charming sidewalk cafes to hidden garden patios.
Cruise along on a boat tour
Take a daytime 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 are plenty of cruises and boat tours to choose from on the river and lake. Here are just a few:
- Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady
- Lakefront Speedboat Tours from Seadog Cruises
- Classic Skyline Lake Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing
- Dinner Cruise on the Chicago River with City Cruises
Check out more Chicago boat tours and cruises.
Catch a baseball game
There’s no better place to spend a summer afternoon than one of Chicago’s iconic ballparks. The city is home to two MLB teams — the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. This year, the Chicago Cubs will play at home in Chicago during Memorial Day weekend. Their ballpark, Wrigley Field, is one of the oldest and most iconic stadiums in the country — definitely a bucket list experience for any baseball fan.
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.
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.
Shop Memorial Day Sales
Don’t forget to take advantage of Chicago’s famous shopping scene as stores promote Memorial Day sales. From the big names that line The Magnificent Mile to the trendy boutiques and locally owned shops in our neighborhoods, start your summer with a fresh new wardrobe.
Get on the lake
There’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the vast waters of Lake Michigan. You can rent a variety of water sports equipment right on the beach, including jet skis, kayaks, and paddle boards. There are also banana boat rides, paddle board yoga, water jetpacks, and more. Plus, the skyline view from the lake is spectacular.
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. Or rent a Divvy bike and 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.
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 this time of year, including the Osaka Garden. Check out more Chicago parks and gardens.