Wondering what there is to do in Chicago in the summer? Below are the best things to do in Chicago in the summer from a local.
Summertime is one of the best times of the year to visit Chicago – and the most popular! Both locals and visitors are happy to be outdoors enjoying the weather. In addition to the top tourist attractions that you can see year round, there are many more fun events, activities and things to do in Chicago during the summer.
- What to Pack for Chicago in the Summer
- Things to Do in Chicago in the Summer
- Take an Architecture River Cruise
- Take a Lake Cruise
- Hang Out on the Riverwalk
- See Digital Art Projections at Art on the Mart
- Go Kayaking in the River
- Watch the Water Displays at Buckingham Fountain
- Take Photos at The Bean
- Splash in Crown Fountain
- Play at Maggie Daley Park
- Have Fun at Navy Pier
- Watch Free Fireworks
- Shop (or Window Shop) on the Magnificent Mile
- Explore the Lakefront
- Spend Time at the Beach
- Look for Street Art
- Watch a Baseball Game
- Listen to Live Jazz Music at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tuesdays on the Terrace
- Jazzin’ at the Shedd
- Visit Local Farmers Markets
- Visit Lincoln Park
- Walk the 606
- Listen to Free Music in Millennium Park
- Watch Free Movies Outside
- Join Free Outdoor Summer Workouts
- Watch Classic Movies on a Rooftop
- Eat or Drink on a Rooftop
- Sundays on State
- Sample Local Food at the Chicago Food Truck Festival
- Attend an Outdoor Festival
- Visit the Art Institute of Chicago
- Visit the new Chicago: Museum of Ice Cream
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What to Pack for Chicago in the Summer
Summers in Chicago are usually hot although you might need a light sweater on a cooler day or at night. Here are some things to pack if you are visiting Chicago in the summer for the first time:
• Comfortable walking shoes – Chicago is a very walkable city so you will do a lot of walking
• Reusable water bottle – It can get hot and humid so it is important to stay hydrated
• A hat
• A travel umbrella – It does occasionally rain in the summer
• Light sweater (and scarf) – For cooler days, lake cruises, indoor places with frigid AC
• Waterproof case – For your phone if you plan to go kayaking
• External battery for your phone – to recharge your phone’s battery when you are outdoors
• Mosquito repellent – If you plan to be outside around dusk and in the evening.
• Sunscreen – a must if spending a lot of time outdoors in the summer
• Bathing suit and other beach essentials (if you are planning to spend time at the beach)
If you forget to bring something essential, don’t worry. There are many drugstores located close to the popular tourist attractions if you need to pick something up.
Things to Do in Chicago in the Summer
Take an Architecture River Cruise
Chicago has amazing architecture and the best way enjoy it is by going on an architecture river cruise.
Take a Lake Cruise
If you enjoy being on the water, a lake cruise is one of the best summer activities in Chicago. While you don’t get to see the buildings up close like on a architecture river cruise, you do get to enjoy skyline views. Summer is the best season for a lake cruise as the cool breeze on the water is refreshing on a hot day. If your time is short, you can do a combination river and lake cruise. Lake cruises depart from Navy Pier or the Michigan Avenue bridge.
Hang Out on the Riverwalk
The Chicago Riverwalk is one of the best spots in Chicago for boat and people watching. There are also restaurants, bars, shops and spots to sit and relax along the way. You can also hop on a water taxi here.
Where: Along the south bank of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago from Lake Michigan to west of Franklin Street. You can see a map of attractions on the Riverwalk here.
See Digital Art Projections at Art on the Mart
Art on theMART is the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, projecting contemporary artwork across the 2.5-acre river-façade of theMART.
When: Twice nightly at 9 and 9:30 p.m.
Where: The Merchandise Mart, 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654. Spectators can watch the show from the jetty section of the Chicago Riverwalk on Wacker Drive between Wells Street and Franklin Street.
Go Kayaking in the River
A kayaking tour is a great outdoor thing to do in Chicago for those looking for something more active. There are several companies that offer kayaking tours in Chicago including Urban Kayaks, Kayak Chicago and Wateriders.
Please note that you will get a little wet so bring a waterproof case for your phone and water-resistant or quick-drying clothing.
Watch the Water Displays at Buckingham Fountain
Buckingham Fountain, a well known Chicago landmark in the center of Grant Park, is one of the largest fountains in the world.
When the water is turned on, it produces a major water display for 20 minutes every hour with a center jet shoots water to a height of 150 feet into the air. Beginning at dusk, a spectacular light and music display accompanies the major water display.
Take Photos at The Bean
If you have seen photos of Chicago on social media, chances are you have seen photos of Cloud Gate (also called The Bean), the famous mirrored sculpture in Millennium Park.
Splash in Crown Fountain
On hot summer days, kids (and some adults) love to splash in the water from the Crown Fountain (which is also located in Millennium Park).
Play at Maggie Daley Park
If you are visiting Chicago with kids, head to Maggie Daley Park, a large public park connected to Millennium Park. The park has play areas for kids of various ages as well as a climbing wall, tennis courts and pickleball courts and a 18-hole miniature golf course.
Navy Pier can be somewhat of a tourist trap but it is a must do if you are visiting Chicago with toddlers or kids. There are fun attractions at Navy Pier including a large Ferris wheel (click here to purchase a fast pass ticket and skip the long line), rides and games, restaurants, shops and the Chicago Children’s Museum.
Watch Free Fireworks
As mentioned above, Navy Pier puts on a free fireworks show every Wednesday night (at 9:00 PM) and Saturday night (at 10:00 PM) in the summer. While you can watch the fireworks show from Navy Pier, you can also watch it from various spots along the lakefront and some restaurants and bars. Another great option for watching the fireworks is a fireworks lake or river cruise which will stop on the water for passengers to enjoy the show.
Shop (or Window Shop) on the Magnificent Mile
Join the throngs of visitors and locals shopping (or window shopping) on The Magnificent Mile. The Magnificent Mile (or The Mag Mile), is an upscale section of Michigan Avenue, running from Oak Street to the Chicago River. Although some of the stores on Michigan Avenue are pricey, it is totally free to window shop. Landmarks on the Mag Mile include the 360 Observation Deck, the historic Chicago Water Tower and the Tribune Tower.
Explore the Lakefront
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail is a paved path on a 18-mile-long stretch along Lake Michigan. In the summer and especially on weekends, the lakefront is packed with locals and visitors walking, running and riding bikes. Walking or biking all or part of the trail is a great way to see the Chicago skyline, people watch and get some exercise. Here is a map of the trail as well as its access points.
Spend Time at the Beach
Most people don’t think of Chicago as a beach destination but Chicago has many beaches on Lake Michigan. Oak Street Beach and Ohio Street Beach are conveniently located close to the major tourist attractions. North Avenue Beach, located close to Lincoln Park, is more of a party beach and has amazing skylinve views of Chicago.
If you are thinking getting in the water to cool down, you can check the swimming conditions here.
Look for Street Art
Chicago is full of street art and there are always new murals popping up. One of the most famous Chicago murals is “Moose Bubblegum Bubble” (pictured above) by Jacob Watts which located at 33 E. Congress. It is part of the Wabash Arts Corridor which is walking distance to Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago and other well known tourist attractions. You can find more detailed mural walks in the Loop here.
Another famous mural is The Greetings From Chicago Mural at 2226 N Milwaukee Ave, in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. You can see this mural and other street art in Logan Square and Wicker Park on this street art tour.
Watch a Baseball Game
Chicago is known for their love of their sports teams, so if you are visiting during the summer you might want to attend a baseball game. To those unfamiliar, historic Wrigley Field is home to one of the city’s baseball teams – the Cubs. Whether a fan of the Cubs, baseball in general or just a fun atmosphere, a day at the 100 year old ballpark is a must for locals and tourists alike. You don’t need to enjoy baseball to enjoy a Cubs game – it is fun to just soak in the atmosphere. You can find their schedule here.
Listen to Live Jazz Music at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tuesdays on the Terrace
The Museum of Contemporary Art hosts the popular Tuesdays on the Terrace in the summer starting in June. Enjoy free music highlighting artists from Chicago’s internationally renowned jazz community at at MCA’s Anne and John Kern Terrace Garden. Light refreshments and a full bar with cold beverages, wine, and cocktails are available for purchase on the upper terrace.
When: Every Tuesday
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Cost: Free tickets must be reserved in advance.
Jazzin’ at the Shedd
Listen to live jazz music at the Shedd Aquarium in the summer. The popular midweek Jazzin’ at the Shedd series combines Jazz music, the city skyline, fireworks and animals. Relax with a drink on the breezy terrace and take in their unbeatable city view or stroll the aquarium.
When: Every Wednesday June 15 through August 31 from 5 – 10 p.m.
Where: Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S DuSable Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
Cost: Adult $39.95 ($19.95 for Chicago residents), children (3-11) $29.95 ($14.95 for Chicago residents), members $14.95
Visit Local Farmers Markets
From May through October, you can find many farmers markets around Chicago. These markets are a great place to buy healthy, local, farm-fresh foods from local farms.
You can see the list and schedule of all Chicago farmers markets here.
Visit Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park, a large park along the lakefront, is a must see summer attraction.
Lincoln Park has a few great instagram spots including the bridge over the South Pond which has a great Chicago skyline view. Another nearby photo spot is the Peoples Gas Education Pavilion (aka the Honeycomb) in the Nature Boardwalk.
Walk the 606
The 606 is Chicago’s version of The Highline in NYC, an elevated trail goes through 2.7 miles of the city’s northwest side neighborhoods: Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. It is a bit off the beaten tourist path but it great place to walk, run or bike. There are several access points so you can get off the trail to explore the various neighborhoods.
Listen to Free Music in Millennium Park
A great Chicago activity in the summer is listening to free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
The annual Grant Park Music Festival is the only free outdoor classical-music concert series in the US. It features the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Grant Park Chorus along with guest performers and conductors. Performances take place every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening from June 15 -August 20. You can see the full schedule here.
The Millennium Park Summer Music Series (on Mondays and Thursdays from June 20–August 18) features a wide variety of genre-defying music from established and emerging artists.
Watch Free Movies Outside
There are several places in Chicago where you can watch free movies outdoors.
You can watch free movies every Tuesday evening at Millennium Park on the state-of- the-art, 40-foot LED screen from July 12–August 30. You can see the full schedule for the Millennium Park Summer Film Series here.
Navy Pier plays free movies on Monday evenings (6:30PM – 9:00pm) from July 18-August 29.
Gallagher Way in Wrigleyville shows free movies on select Wednesdays from May to end of September. Seating on the grass is free but you can also purchase VIP seating.
Join Free Outdoor Summer Workouts
Want to join free yoga (and other exercise classes) while also spending time outside?
The Millennium Park Summer Workouts program offers free Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates and Zumba classes on Saturday mornings at Millennium Park Great Lawn.
Watch Classic Movies on a Rooftop
Want to watch classic movies against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline? Rooftop Cinema Club is bringing its outdoor screening series to a rooftop in Fulton Market in the summer starting May 26.
Rooftop Cinema Club will be located on the fifth floor terrace of The Emily Hotel (311 N Morgan St) and tickets will range from $20–$30. This will be a high end movie experience complete with tropical decor, lawn games, state-of-the-art LED screens, individual wireless headphones and a range of seating options including lounge chairs and loveseats. Guests can also order drinks and snacks.
Eat or Drink on a Rooftop
Chicago has several rooftop bars and restaurants with amazing views of Chicago. Here are some of the best rooftops in Chicago:
Cindy’s (12 S Michigan Ave) – Restaurant and bar on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel located across Millennium Park which offers panoramic instagram worthy views of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. This is a popular spot and the wait for the elevator can be long but if you visit around the time it opens you can enjoy the great views without the crowds.
LH ON 22 (85 East Wacker Drive) – Enjoy classic cocktails and small bites from the outdoor LH terrace of LondonHouse Chicago which offers great views of the Chicago River, Lake Michigan and the Magnificent Mile.
The J. Parker (1816 N Clark St) on the rooftop of the Hotel Lincoln with great views of Lincoln Park.
Sundays on State
Introducted in 2021 in an effort to bring people safely back to the Loop, Chicago Loop Alliance‘s Sundays on State series is returning with an expanded footprint when portions of State Street, close to vehicular traffic for select Sundays in the summer for a free, interactive block party.
Enjoy art, culture, active recreation, food, drinks, shopping, and local attractions in the heart of the Loop against the backdrop of State Street’s iconic architecture like the Chicago Theatre (one of the best Chicago photo spots). Click here for more information.
Where: State Street from Madison to Lake
When: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. on select Sundays in the summer (July 24, August 7, August 21, and September 4)
Sample Local Food at the Chicago Food Truck Festival
The popular Chicago Food Truck Festival in the Loop features a rotating selection of food trucks from around the city and is a great opportunity to support small local businesses. The changing list of weekly participants are shared on BACP’s social media accounts (@ChicagoBACP on all channels).
When: 11am – 3pm every Friday from May 20 -October 7
Where: Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington Street
Attend an Outdoor Festival
Summer is busy season for outdoor festivals and events – with at least one or more festivals taking place every weekend. Some Chicago festivals and events are very well known and attract thousands of visitors, but there are many festivals and events in Chicago where you will mostly find locals.
Festivals scheduled for summer 2023 include: Old Town Art Fair (June 10-11, 2023), Chicago Pride Fest (June 17-18, 2023), Chicago Pride Fest (June 25, 2023), Windy City Smokeout (July 13-16, 2023), Lollapalooza Festival (August 3-6, 2023), Northalsted Market Days (August 12-13, 2023), ARC Music Festival (September 1-2, 2023) and North Coast Music Festival (September 1-2, 2023).
If you enjoy food, music and people watching, check here to see more festivals or events are going on while you are in town.
So far I have covered outdoor activities and attractions but there are also plenty of indoor attractions and activities if you need a break from the heat and sun.
Visit the Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States. In addition to its large permanent collection of art from around the world, you can see rotating exhibitions. It is conveniently located on 111 S Michigan Avenue right next to Millennium Park.
Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines.
Visit the new Chicago: Museum of Ice Cream
Chicago’s newest attraction, Museum of Ice Cream opened last July. Step into an ice cream wonderland that is bound to ignite your senses through a theatrical experience with unlimited ice cream treats as you journey through 14 installations. Ride on the pink Sprink-L line, put your golf skills to the test on the Putt-Putt course, or take a dip in a pool filled with millions of sprinkles.
Where: Tribune Tower, 435 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Cost: You can see full prices and purchase tickets in advance here.
As you can see there are many things to do in Chicago this summer.
Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out my Chicago guides and itineraries:
- 3 Days in Chicago Itinerary + Travel Tips From a Local
- The Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Chicago (According to a Local)
- Most Instagrammable Places in Chicago
- Best Free Things to Do in Chicago