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 some of the top things 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, entertainment, and more. The Pier is known for its spectacular summer fireworks displays, which kick off with the Memorial Day fireworks show.

While you’re there, take a spin on the iconic Centennial Wheel, grab a drink at Offshore (the largest rooftop bar in the world), and check out more things to do at Navy Pier.

Hit the beach

Photo by Miguel Ángel Sanz

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.

Some of the city’s popular beaches include North Avenue Beach, Oak Street Beach, 31st Street Beach, Montrose Beach, Hollywood Beach, and South Shore Beach. Check out our guide to Chicago beaches for more of the best places to soak up the sun along the city’s 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Celebrate summer at a festival

Sueños Music Festival
Sueños Music Festival

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of festival season in Chicago. Check out some of these cool festivals, events, and markets happening over the holiday weekend.

  • Suenos Music Festival: Chicago’s reggaeton fest takes over downtown 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 mole, a staple of Mexican cuisine, plus live entertainment and craft vendors.
  • Randolph Street Market: This European-style outdoor market showcases the best antique and vintage finds, including fashion, art, decor, and beyond.

See the Chicago Memorial Day Parade

Memorial Day in Chicago is always marked with a downtown parade and wreath-laying ceremony that honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. This year’s Chicago Memorial Day Parade will take place on Saturday, May 25 on State Street from Lake Street to Van Buren Street beginning at noon. The wreath-laying ceremony will happen at Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington St.) at 11 a.m.

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 lively 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.

Eat outside

A woman drinks a margarita on the patio at La Vaca Margarita Bar
La Vaca Margarita Bar

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.

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:

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. This year, the Chicago White Sox will play at home at Guaranteed Rate Field during Memorial Day weekend. Get your tickets to cheer on the White Sox as they face off against the Baltimore Orioles from Thursday, May 23 – Sunday, May 26, followed by the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, May 27. Check out special offers and events throughout the long weekend, like post-game fireworks on Friday and family Sundays.

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. The museum is also hosting a temporary exhibit on War of 1812: Countering Peril on the High Seas and at Home.

Explore more Chicago military attractions.

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, waterfront restaurants, boardwalks, and cultural gems like the South Shore Cultural Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. It’s also a great way to access Chicago’s beaches, which open Memorial Day weekend.

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 some wheels from Bike and Roll Chicago to explore the scenic lakefront. Finally, borrow 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.

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 water at 31st Street Harbor, 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.

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.

Wander around the “city in a garden”

Millennium Park Lurie 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.