Chicago may be known as a metropolis, but its motto, “Urbs in Horto,” or “City in a Garden,” tells you everything about the mix of great city experiences and outdoor adventures you’ll find here.

An iconic city skyline defined by world-famous skyscrapers is framed by miles of lakefront beaches, parks, and gardens, making Chicago a beautiful balance of opposites — and a city that has a little of something for everyone.

Chicago city beaches

Miles of lakefront dotted with 25 beaches makes your city escape feel a lot like a beach vacation. You can swim, jet ski, paddleboard, kayak, play volleyball, dine, drink, and soak up the sun all along Lake Michigan’s shores, with the glittering skyline in view.

Rent jet skis, kayaks, and volleyball courts at North Avenue Beach, then drop by Castaways Bar and Grill or Shore Club Chicago (you can even reserve a VIP-worthy cabana). See rare dune habitats and bird watch at Montrose Beach. Or go paddleboarding, and even yoga paddleboarding, at 31st Street Harbor.

Chicago parks and gardens

Chicago is a big, green city with a downtown that seamlessly blends into the urban landscape.
Visit Millennium Park’s nature haven Lurie Garden, view public art like Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean” and Crown Fountain, and enjoy free summer concerts, outdoor movies, and great music festivals at Jay Pritzker Pavilion. At Maggie Daley Park (part of the Millennium Park Campus), there’s rock-climbing, mini golf, a Skating Ribbon, picnic groves, tennis courts, and a surreal Play Garden, all on the lakefront.

Then venture over to Grant Park, aka Chicago’s “front yard,” where Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, puts on nightly water, light, and sound shows from spring through fall. Catch some great summer festivals, including Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza, and visit the Skate Park to test out your skateboarding skills.

The Chicago Riverwalk is another must-see if you love a little (or a lot of) nature mixed in with your city experience. Get out on the water with Urban Kayaks, go bird watching with the National Audubon Society, or go fishing along The Jetty. Then wrap it all up touring the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, viewing public art like Art on theMART (the world’s largest digital projection), taking all sorts of boat excursions, and wining and dining on the waterfront.

Best Large City in the U.S.

Bike Chicago

Bike the Lakefront Trail

Chicago is a scenic cycling town that’s made for touring on two wheels.

Bike along the Lakefront Trail, which hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline all the way from the south side of the city to the north. On the way, you’ll pass harbors, museums, a golf course, beaches, parks, restaurants, public art, and even bird sanctuaries. Don’t have a bike? Rent one from a Divvy bike-share station.

For a unique neighborhood biking experience, visit The 606 on the city’s northwest side. It’s an elevated biking, running, skating, walking trail, connecting the hip Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park neighborhoods. Once an unused elevated train line, it’s now home to an observatory, art installations, parks, and native landscaping. Take your pick from any of the many access points, and explore the vibrant arts and nightlife-loving neighborhoods the trail travels through.

Off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods

Ping Tom Park Chinatown

Chicago’s many neighborhoods are filled with great green spaces — and lots of cultural charm. With so much diversity, there’s a neighborhood that’s just your style.

Visit Chinatown, one of the oldest Chinese communities in the United States and home to Ping Tom Memorial Park, where you can stroll, picnic, boat, and kayak.

In Humboldt Park, lunch at a historic boat house, then visit the country’s only National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture.

Then visit Hyde Park to tour museums, an authentic Japanese garden, and public art on the University of Chicago’s amazing campus. There’s the DuSable Museum of African American History, too, located in beautiful Washington Park.

Take a free Chicago Greeter tour

Make the most of your urban exploring with a free Chicago Greeter tour. This unique program matches you with a Chicago local with the inside scoop on the sights and neighborhoods you most want to visit. You can even pick your preferred language and theme.