Chicago might be known for its incredible architecture and high-reaching skyscrapers, but that doesn't mean the Windy City is lacking in green space. 

In 1837, when the city of Chicago was incorporated, it adopted the Latin motto "Urbs in Horto," meaning "City in a Garden." With more than 8000 acres of parks managed by the city, there's plenty of outdoor spaces to explore when you visit.

Here are the best parks in Chicago.

Yoga class in Millennium Park, Chicago
Millennium Park hosts many events in Chicago, including weekly summer concerts and weekend yoga sessions © stevegeer / Getty Images

1. Millennium Park

Millennium Park, Chicago's showpiece, is a trove of free and arty sights. It includes Pritzker Pavilion, Frank Gehry’s swooping silver band shell, which hosts free weekly concerts in summer; Anish Kapoor's beloved silvery sculpture Cloud Gate, aka "the Bean"; and Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain, a de facto water park that projects video images of locals spitting water, gargoyle-style.

The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink fills with skaters in winter (and alfresco diners in summer). The hidden Lurie Garden blooms with prairie flowers and tranquility. The Gehry-designed BP Bridge spans Columbus Drive and offers great skyline views, while the Nichols Bridgeway arches from the park up to the Art Institute of Chicago's small, 3rd-floor sculpture terrace, which is free to view.

Free yoga and Pilates classes take place Saturday mornings in summer on the Great Lawn, while the Family Fun Tent provides activities for kids daily in summer.

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Chicago skyline with skyscrapers viewed from Lincoln Park
Admire the Chicago skyline from Lincoln Park © Maria Sbytova / Shutterstock

2. Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park gave the neighborhood its name, and this park is Chicago’s largest. Its 1200 acres stretch for 6 miles from North Avenue to Diversey Parkway, where it narrows along the lake and continues on until the end of Lake Shore Drive.

On sunny days, locals come out to play in droves, taking advantage of the ponds, pools, paths and playing fields or visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory and beaches. It's a fine spot to while away a morning or afternoon (or both).

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Path with native plants and the skyline at Northerly Island in Chicago
View Chicago's skyscrapers above native plants at Northerly Island © James Andrews1 / Shutterstock

3. Northerly Island

Northerly Island, a hilly, prairie-grassed park, has a walking and cycling trail, bird-watching, fishing and an outdoor venue for big-name concerts. It's actually a peninsula, not an island, but the Chicago skyline views are tremendous no matter what you call it.

Stop in at the field house, if it's open, for tour information. Bicycles are available at the Divvy bike-share station by the Adler Planetarium.

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Playground at Maggie Daley Park, Chicago
Families visiting Chicago should make a beeline for the playgrounds at Maggie Daley Park © f11photo / Shutterstock

4. Maggie Daley Park

Families love Maggie Daley Park's fanciful, free playgrounds in all their enchanted-forest and pirate-themed glory. There’s also a rock-climbing wall, an 18-hole mini-golf course, a winding, in-line skating track called the Skating Ribbon (used for ice-skating in winter) and tennis courts; these features have various fees. Multiple picnic tables make the park an excellent spot to relax. It connects to Millennium Park via the pedestrian BP Bridge.

Fern Room of the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago
Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory showcases two acres of plant life © Nagel Photography / Shutterstock

5. Garfield Park Conservatory

Built in 1907, the Garfield Park Conservatory, taking over two acres under glass, is a lovely spot to spend a few hours sauntering around rooms of palms, ferns, orchids and koi-filled ponds.

Between May and October, the 10 acres of outdoor grounds are open, including the lily pool, a carnivorous plant bog and the Monet Garden, which is based on the Impressionist painter’s flower patch at Giverny, France.

The Demonstration Garden shows urbanites how to grow veggies, keep bees and compost in city plots. Kids can get dirty with roots and seeds in the indoor Children’s Garden. Newer halls contain displays of seasonal plants that are especially spectacular in the weeks before Easter.

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Japanese bridge at Osaka Garden in Jackson Park, Chicago
Jackson Park is a peaceful oasis designed by the creator of Central Park in New York City © jmbatt / Getty Images

6. Jackson Park

The 550-acre, lakefront Jackson Park is a gem. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, renowned creator of New York City's Central Park, it comprises bird-rich lagoons, busy boat harbors, sweet-smelling meadows, the Garden of the Phoenix, 63rd Street Beach and a golf course.

It's where the city held the 1893 World’s Expo, when Chicago introduced the world to wonders such as the Ferris wheel, moving pictures and the zipper.

The Museum of Science and Industry sits in Jackson Park's northern reach. If you're looking for a nice walk, Jackson Park connects to Washington Park via a mile-long boulevard called the Midway Plaisance. The Plaisance itself is basically a park, home to an ice rink and college students kicking around soccer balls in the grassy expanse.

Boathouse in Humboldt Park, Chicago
Soak up nature in Chicago's Humboldt Park © benkrut / Getty Images

7. Humboldt Park

The 207-acre Humboldt Park, which lends its name to the surrounding neighborhood, comes out of nowhere and gobsmacks you with Mother Nature. A lagoon brushed by native plants takes up much of the green space, and birdsong flickers in the air.

The 1907 Prairie School boathouse is the park’s centerpiece, home to a cafe and free cultural events. The flowery Formal Garden, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, and Chicago's only inland beach are other highlights.

For more in-depth explorations, including the park's small waterfall, wind turbine and picnic island, download the free audio tour online. Street vendors and food trucks sell fried plantains, Pastelillos de carne (meat dumplings) and other Puerto Rican specialties around the park's edges.

Stearns Quarry in Palmisano Park, Chicago
Visitors can fish in the waters covering an old limestone quarry in Palmisano Park © stevegeer / Getty Images

8. Palmisano Park

Opened on the site of an old limestone quarry, Palmisano Park unfurls an urban prairie landscape with great views of the Chicago skyline. Locals come here to fish for bluegill in the lagoon in summer and sled the hills in winter. The winding walkways, made of recycled construction debris, are great for a stroll anytime.

Exterior of Promontory Point Field House, Chicago
The Field House at Promontory Point is often used for events © James Andrews / Getty Images

9. Promontory Point

Runners, cyclists, swimmers, dog walkers and Hyde Park residents of all stripes rub shoulders on Promontory Point, a 12-acre artificial peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan.

The stone steps and castle-like Field House are favorite hangouts; wedding receptions are often held in the latter because it's so pretty. Renowned landscape architect Alfred Caldwell designed the green space. The view of the Chicago skyline from here is sublime.

Buckingham Fountain in Chicago's Grant Park at night
The beautiful Buckingham Fountain is a highlight of Grant Park © Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

10. Grant Park

Grant Park hosts Chicago's mega-events, such as Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest and Lollapalooza. Buckingham Fountain is the park's centerpiece. The skateboard park in the southwest corner draws a cool-cat crowd. Other features include a rose garden and lots of baseball diamonds.

The 606 elevated pedestrian trail running path in Chicago
The 606 is an elevated walking and cycling path along an abandoned train line © Antwon McMullen / Getty Images

11. The 606

Chicago's 606 is an urban-cool elevated path along an old train track. Bike or stroll past factories, smokestacks, clattering L trains and locals' backyard affairs for 2.7 miles between Wicker Park and Logan Square.

It's a fascinating trek through Chicago's socioeconomic strata: moneyed at the east, becoming more industrial and immigrant to the west. The trail parallels Bloomingdale Avenue (the border between Wicker Park and Bucktown), with access points every quarter mile.

The entrance at Churchill Field is a handy, sculpture-laden place to ascend. For those wanting to cycle, there's a Divvy bike-share station a few blocks from the trail's eastern end at the corner of Marshfield Avenue and Cortland Street.

St. Charles Air Line Bridge at Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chicago
Rent boats or relax by the water at Ping Tom Memorial Park © Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

12. Ping Tom Memorial Park

Ping Tom Memorial Park stretches along the Chicago River and offers dramatic, bridge-strewn views of the skyline. Rent a kayak from the boathouse, or bring a picnic to eat under the willow trees. In summer, the Chicago Water Taxi runs a groovy boat to/from Michigan Avenue. The dock is on the bridge's northwest side, by the Wrigley Building.

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