Mar 11, 2023 - Food and Drink

How to play tourist in Chicago

A view from Navy Pier on Michingan Lake and Chicago skyline in Illinois

A view of the Chicago skyline. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We know Chicago has everything you need, but sometimes it's fun to get the lay of the land from our neighbors.

Driving the news: Axios readers sent us more than 250 recommendations on the best ways to enjoy the city, from the architecture and views to the food and booze.

Why it matters: Chicago is one of the most popular destinations in the U.S., attracting more than 30 million visitors in 2021, according to city statistics.

By the numbers: The city earned an estimated $17 billion in 2022 from tourism, 40% higher than in 2021, according to Isaac Reichman, director of corporate communications for Choose Chicago, the city's official tourism office.

  • Yes, but: That's still below pre-pandemic figures. In 2019, the city earned $18.9 billion.

What they're saying: "When people visit, it forces me out of my routine and inevitably makes me realize all over again just how incredible this city is," reader Nathan Giebel told us.

  • "There's more to Chicago than just pizza and beer," said reader Elena Disabato.

The bottom line: Axios readers have made it clear there's plenty to do to entertain our visitors, plus it's always fun to be a tourist in your own city.

  • And, yes, some people even like deep-dish pizza.
What to see: Beyond the boat tours
A photo of people on the top of a Chicago River boat tour.
A portion of the Chicago River and Riverwalk. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

We've rounded up some of our readers' most-mentioned suggestions about the best things to see and the best spots to see them.

Visit the Riverwalk: The Chicago Riverwalk has quickly become a downtown gem. It's hard to image our city without it. There are blocks and blocks of places to eat, drink, lounge, and rent kayaks.

Chicago Architecture Boat Tour: This tour is great for tourists and even better for Chicagoans, teaching you about the city's development and history.

Lakefront: Take your pals for a swim at Montrose Beach, soak in the views at Promontory Point, or join in a game of volleyball at North Avenue Beach.

  • Or just stroll along the path. It's the best.

Lincoln Park: Stretching from Grand to Hollywood, Chicago's longest park offers great bike riding, picnicking, fishing, park sports, a conservatory, gardens, lagoons, the Lincoln Park Zoo and even fine restaurants.

Millennium Park: Out-of-town guests can skate on the ribbon, get silly at The Bean, get drenched at Crown Fountain or catch free concerts at the Pritzker Pavilion.

Looking for views? Readers suggest peering out from the 360 Chicago John Hancock observatory, gawking at the skyline from the 18th Street Bridge or taking it all in while standing outside Adler Planetarium.

Depending on the season, several readers recommend taking out-of-towners to a Cubs, White Sox, Bulls or Blackhawks game.

Of note: Since it's still pretty cold, we also asked readers for indoor suggestions:

  • The Chicago Cultural Center offers rotating exhibits, incredible interiors, a local artist gift shop and panel discussions, events and lectures year round. Best of all, admission is free.
  • We may be jaded by it, but visitors love the world-class permanent collection, especially the French impressionists, at The Art Institute, which is currently hosting an exhibit of Salvador Dali's work.
  • Museum of Science and Industry never fails to wow as the "largest science center in the Western Hemisphere" and it's currently hosting "Pompeii: The Exhibition."
  • Take in some improv at Second City, where you could watch the next megastars before they hit it big.
Where to eat and drink
A photo of a sign that says "Beer Garden Open!" in front of innjoy in Chicago.
The Innjoy bar. Photo: Christopher Dilts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For some tourists, food is the entire reason for visiting us. Here's where our readers recommend:

🍕Pizza: Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, Giordano's, Lou Malnati's, Pequod's Pizza

🇪🇸 Spanish tapas: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

🇮🇹 Italian: Carmine's, La Scarola, Daisies Chicago

🍔 American: Gather, Lula Cafe

🇲🇽 Mexican: Frontera Grill, Big Star, 5 Rabanitos

🥩 Steakhouse: Gibson's, Trivoli Tavern

🥙 Greek: Greek Islands

🦀 Seafood: Shaw's Crab House

🇪🇹 Ethiopian: Demera

Yes, but: What about drinks?

  • Cindy's Rooftop, located at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, offers great views and a stylish bar with eatery.
  • Green Mill offers a real Al Capone-era speakeasy vibe with live jazz.
  • Half Acre has a rotating list of house-brewed beers with a tasting room and a seasonal garden.
  • Hopleaf is "a mecca for craft beer fans." It's a pub with an old-time feel and a load of different brews.
  • Three Dots and a Dash is a speakeasy tropical bar with, yes, tropical drinks.

Got more recommendations? Send them over to [email protected].


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