Chicago is known for its incredible architecture and high-reaching skyscrapers, but that doesn't mean the Windy City is lacking in green space.
When the city was incorporated in 1837, 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 are plenty of outdoor spaces to explore when you visit.
Here’s our list of the best parks in Chicago.
Best park for artsy sights
Millennium Park, Chicago's showpiece, is a trove of free and artsy sights. It includes Pritzker Pavilion, Frank Gehry's silver bandshell, 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 waterpark that projects video images of locals spitting water, gargoyle-style.
The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink fills with skaters during winter (and alfresco diners in the summer). The hidden Lurie Garden blooms with prairie flowers and tranquility. The Gehry-designed BP Bridge spans Columbus Drive and offers splendid 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 daily activities for kids in the summer.
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Best park for the beach
Lincoln Park gave the neighborhood its name, and the park is Chicago's largest. Its 1200 acres stretch for six miles, from North Avenue to Diversey Parkway, where it narrows along the lake and continues 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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Best park for bird watching
Northerly Island, a hilly, prairie-grassed park, has a walking and cycling trail, an outdoor venue for big-name concerts and provides great opportunities for bird-watching and fishing. 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, open 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Friday, for tour information. Bicycles are available at the Divvy bike-share station by the Adler Planetarium.
Maggie Daley Park
Best park for families
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; check the park's website for fees. Multiple picnic tables make the park an excellent spot to relax. It connects to Millennium Park via the pedestrian BP Bridge.
Garfield Park Conservatory
Best park to admire plants and flowers
Built in 1907, the Garfield Park Conservatory is a lovely spot to spend a few hours sauntering around two acres of glass-covered rooms brimming with flowers, ferns, palms and orchids.
The 10 acres of outdoor grounds are open between May and October, 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.
Best park for a walk
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 a park, home to an ice rink and college students kicking around soccer balls in the grassy expanse.
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Best park for cultural celebrations
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. Street vendors and food trucks sell fried plantains, Pastelillos de Carne (meat dumplings) and other Puerto Rican specialties around the park's edges.
Best park for fishing
Once upon a time, this was an old limestone quarry. Today, Palmisano Park unfurls an urban prairie landscape with great views of the Chicago skyline. Locals come here in the summer to fish for bluegill in the lagoon and in the winter to sled the hills. The winding walkways, made of recycled construction debris, make for a fun stroll in the city.
Best park for a wedding
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.
Best park for festivals
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.
Ping Tom Memorial Park
Best park for skyline views
Ping Tom Memorial Park stretches along the Chicago River and offers dramatic, bridge-strewn skyline views. 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.
Best park for a bike ride
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 vibrant northwest neighborhoods. 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. 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 for those wanting to cycle the trail.
South Shore Cultural Center Park
Best park for community events
Once upon a time, this vibrant cultural hub was a private country club. Today, the park’s Mediterranean Revival Field House, located on a picturesque stretch of Lake Michigan, houses two dance studios, a theater, a fine arts gallery, music practice rooms and a visual arts studio.
A golf course, beach, gardens and nature center are open to the public. The former country club horse stables are now occupied by the Chicago Police Department's mounted unit.
Best park for fitness fanatics
In the heart of the charming northside neighborhood of Lincoln Square, Welles Park is a center for outdoor cultural events during the summertime.
Its wrought-iron gazebo often doubles as a main stage for plays and concerts. It's also a year-round sports and fitness venue, thanks to its running track and baseball fields and the Welles Park Fieldhouse's indoor swimming pool and fitness center.
The Nature Play Space invites kids to get dirty as they build, dig and climb the many playful elements of nature, including wide tree trunks, long logs, and splash-worthy puddles in the springtime.