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Best Things to Do in Chicago in July

Wondering what to do in Chicago in July? Here are the best things to do in Chicago in July (from a local).

Chicago in July

July is a popular month to visit Chicago. The weather is usually hot and sunny and locals and visitors are happy to be outside enjoying summer in Chicago.

I suggest bookmarking this blog post as I plan to update it regularly with any new events and updates.


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What to Pack for Chicago in July

For out of town visitors, please note that the weather in Chicago in July can somedays get very hot and humid. Here are some things to pack if you are visiting Chicago in July 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 very hot so it is important to stay hydrated
• Sunglasses
• A hat
• travel umbrella – It does occasionally rain in July
• Light sweater (and scarf) – For cooler nights and cold air conditioned places
• Waterproof case – For your phone if you plan to go kayaking
• Bathing suit and other beach essentials (if you are planning to spend time at the beach)
• External battery for your phone – it will be hard to find an outlet to recharge your phone’s battery when you are outdoors

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 July

Below are the best things to do in Chicago in July.

Hang Out on the Riverwalk

best things to do chicago travel blog

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.

July is one of the best times of the year to visit Chicago

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.

Hours: Open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Watch Digital Art at Art on the Mart

If you are on or near the Chicago Riverwalk in the evening, you might want to check out Art on theMART, the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, projecting contemporary artwork across the 2.5-acre river-façade of theMART. The programming changes every few months and you can see current projections here.

When: 30-minute program of projections are displayed nightly at 9:00 & 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.

Cost: Free.

Take a Kayak Tour in the River

A fun way to explore the city is to go kayaking in the Chicago River. There are several companies that offer kayaking tours in Chicago including Urban Kayaks, Kayak Chicago and Wateriders. They even offer evening tours for those that want to avoid the summer heat and sun.

Please note that you will get a little wet so bring a waterproof case for your phone and water-resistant or quick-drying clothing.

Take an Architecture River Cruise

weekend in chicago bucket list

Chicago has amazing architecture and the best way enjoy it is by going on an architecture river cruise.

 

Take a Lake Cruise

skyline from lake cruise in Chicago in the summer
If you enjoy being on the water, a lake cruise is also a fun activity. While you don’t get to see the buildings up close like on a architecture river cruise, you do get to enjoy skyline views. July is one of the best months 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 at Navy Pier

rides at Navy Pier Chicago
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), restaurants, shops, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Navy Pier has free fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday night this summer (except for July 3).

Navy Pier is also the starting point for various sightseeing tours and cruises.

 

Watch Fireworks

Chicago hosts a large fireworks show on July 3 at 9:30 p.m. for Independence Day Weekend. The fireworks will be shot higher than usual and the display will be visible from multiple locations along the lakefront, from Grand Avenue to the north to at least 55th Street to the south.

As mentioned above, Navy Pier puts on free fireworks shows every Wednesday and Saturday night during the summer. You don’t have to visit Navy Pier to enjoy the fireworks, you can see them from the lakefront and various restaurants. One of the best and most relaxing ways to see the fireworks is on a fireworks lake cruise.

 

Sundays on State

Chicago Theatre instagram photo spot

In an effort to bring people safely back to the Loop, Chicago Loop Alliance will transform State Street from Madison to Lake into an open street on Sundays beginning July 11. A portion of State Street will be closed to vehicle traffic to give pedestrians a chance to experience arts and culture, active recreation, retail, restaurants, and bars against the backdrop of State Street’s iconic architecture like the Chicago Theatre (one of the best Chicago photo spots).

Where: State Street from Madison to Lake

When: July 11, 18 and 25 from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Click here for more information.

Watch Free Movies in the Park

Every summer you can watch free movies in the evening in Chicago’s public parks with the annual Movies in the Parks series. Movies in the Parks is part of Night Out in the Parks, which will feature more than 350 outdoor cultural & arts events in parks throughout the city this summer. 

When: Movies start at dusk. Click here to see the schedule.

See the Bean at Millennium Park

The Bean at Millenium Park is a must on any one day in Chicago itinerary

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. Millennium Park is a free attraction and is a portion of the Grant Park.  In addition to Cloud Gate, Millennium Park also includes the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the Crown Fountain sculpture (more below) and Lurie Garden.

Although the Bean is very very touristy, don’t skip it.  It is one of the most instagrammable places in Chicago and it is a great photo spot.

Tip: The Bean is usually crowded especially in the summer and on weekends so if you want avoid people in your photos visit early in the morning or later in the evening.

Splash in Crown Fountain

millenium park which includes crown fountain is a Chicago must do on a hot july day

July tends to be really hot and humid making it a perfect time to splash in the water from the Crown Fountain (which is also located in Millennium Park).

Listen to Free Music Concerts in Millennium Park

You can listen to classical music performances in July 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.

When: 6:30pm on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. See the full schedule here.

Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, located at 201 E. Randolph Street.

Cost:  All seats are free of charge.

Watch the Water Displays at Buckingham Fountain

Buckingham Fountain in Chicago

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. Major displays begin daily at 9:00 a.m. and continue thereafter, every hour on the hour, except for the final major display in the evening which begins at 10:35 p.m.

Explore the Lakefront Trail

Chicago 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 Chicago skyline, people watch and get some exercise. Here is a map of the trail as well as its access points.

Hang out 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. The popular North Avenue Beach, located close to Lincoln Park, has great skyline views and has more of a party vibe.

If you are thinking of swimming or dipping in the water to cool down, you can check swimming conditions here.

Enjoy the Views from 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck

360 CHICAGO, the observatory on the 94th floor of 875 North Michigan Avenue (the former John Hancock Building), has one of the best views of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan.

 

Watch a Baseball Game

what to see in Chicago

Chicago is known for their love of their sports teams, so if you are visiting in July 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.

Look for Street Art

Moose Bubblegum Bubble by Jacob Watts one of the most famous street art murals in Chicago

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. Ida B. Wells Drive (formerly 33 E. Congress Parkway). 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 more on this street art tour.

Other neighborhoods that have a high concentration of street art include Pilsen as well as West Town.

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.

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.

Kennedy Rooftop (1551 W North Ave) on top of the Hyatt Place Wicker Park, has amazing skyline views.

Take the Water Taxi to Chinatown

There are several water taxi routes but one of the best places to visit on a water taxi is Chinatown. The water taxi drops you close to Ping Tom Memorial Park, which has great skyline views. You can also find many authentic Chinese restaurants here.

See Famous Works of Art at the Art Institute of Chicago

Want to escape the heat and head indoors to cool off? The Art Institute of Chicago (111 S Michigan Ave) is one of best indoor attractions in Chicago.  It is one of the largest art museums in the United States and is frequently found on lists of the top museums in the world. You must purchase your ticket online in advance. Click here to buy a skip the line ticket if you want to avoid long lines.

Take a Day Trip to a Nearby Sunflower Field

Sunflowers start to bloom in the Chicago area around mid-July. If you want to take pretty photos for instagram or just want a fun day trip from Chicago, you can visit several sunflower fields near Chicago.

More July Festivals and Events

In addition to the activities mentioned above, other July festivals and events include: Taste of Chicago To-Go (July 7–11, 2021), Southport Art Fair (July 10-11, 2021), Millennium Art Festival (July 16-18, 2021), Belmont-Sheffield Music Festival (July 17-18, 2021), Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Latin Jazz Festival (July 23-24, 2021), Wicker Park Fest (July 23-25, 2021), Taste Of Lincoln Avenue (July 24-25, 2021), Lollapalooza Festival (July 28-31, 2022).

As you can see there are many things to do in Chicago in July. If you are looking for more things to do in Chicago in July or the rest of the summer, see my list of the Best Things to do in Chicago in the Summer.


Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out my Chicago guides and itineraries:



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