Like any big city, Chicago is home to both amazing — and seriously overhyped — travel destinations. Here are the top tourist attractions in Chicago to strike off your list, along with some more satisfying alternatives.
- Navy Pier. Sure, there are some worthy Chicago tourist spots to visit along this boardwalk (think Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Children’s Museum) but don’t stay too long: the overall vibe is that of a cheesy, overpriced carnival. Try this instead: Head to a more serene walkway at the Lincoln Park Zoo. On its acclaimed nature boardwalk, you’ll be able to stroll among birds, turtles and other wildlife. When you’re finished, continue the rest of your afternoon at the zoo.
- Willis Tower. It’s a tall building with a silly name and it’ll cost you over $20 just to walk out on the ledge. Try this instead: If you must get your heights fix, head to the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock building. It’s touristy in its own right, but your $20 will get you a martini to sip on while you enjoy the view from 96 floors above the city.
- Gino’s East may boast Chicago-style pizza, but locals usually shy away from eating a slice of this gut-busting pie on a regular basis. It’s right off of Michigan Avenue and attracts tourists from all over the world, which translates to: incredibly long waits for a mediocre experience. Try this instead: Those in the know head to Pequod’s. This hearty deep dish is just as iconic, but with a chewy caramelized crust (rather than a flaky buttery one) you’ll just want to rip off and eat for days.
- Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s and Rainforest Cafe. Sure, these top tourist attractions in Chicago take up a good portion of real estate on Clark Street with massive, colorful buildings, luring you into thinking there is something special inside. But take them for what they are — glorified chain restaurants. You’ll get to sample a lot of food, but it certainly won’t be a curation of Chicago’s finest eats. Try this instead: Create your own “taste” of Chicago by heading to Randolph Street where you can sample cuisine from some of the city’s best chefs and restaurateurs. Your stomach will thank you. Trust us.
- Double Decker Bus Tour. This isn’t London and double-decker buses aren’t native in this town. Sure you’ll learn a few facts about Chicago on the tour, but your time is better spent on the water. Try this instead: The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers incredible boat tours with very knowledgeable docents who can dole out the history of Chicago’s architecture and make it interesting. Plus, you get to be out cruising the river — fun any day, but pure heaven when it’s sunny.