July 7, 2012: Crowd gathered at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

©Julien Hautcoeur/Shutterstock

Millennium Park

Top choice in Chicago

There's free admission to Millennium Park, the playful heart of the city. It shines with whimsical public art, both permanent and temporary exhibits, and it hosts a mixture of free and ticketed activities and events. From the band shell to the artworks on display, here are the top things to see in Millennium Park.

Pritzker Pavilion

Pritzker Pavilion is Millennium Park's acoustically awesome band shell. Architect Frank Gehry designed it and gave it his trademark swooping silver exterior. The pavilion hosts free concerts at 6pm on Mondays and Thursdays from August to September. Take an evening picnic along and enjoy the sounds from a spot on the Great Lawn.

A large freestanding metal sculpture with smooth sides in the middle of a public square
Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park is also know as "the Bean" © roman_slavik / Shutterstock

The Bean

Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor's beloved silver sculpture in Millennium Park, is known informally as "the Bean." It reflects both the sky and the skyline, and everyone clamors to walk under it, take a picture and to touch the smoothness of its highly polished stainless-steel exterior.

A large video screen with a smiling face stands above a water fountain in a park
Crown Fountain is the perfect spot to cool off in the warmer months © f11photo / Shutterstock

Crown Fountain

Jaume Plensa’s two 50ft-high glass-block towers contain video displays that flash a thousand different faces of locals. Each mug puckers up and spurts water, just like the gargoyles atop Notre Dame Cathedral. A fresh set of non-puckering faces appears in winter, when the fountain is dry. On hot days the fountain crowds with locals splashing around to cool off. Kids especially love it.

A pathway through a garden with a city skyline rising above it
Lurie Garden is a "secret" spot away from the crowds © Chuck Eckert / Getty Images

Lurie Garden

If the crowds at the Bean, Crown Fountain and Pritzker Pavilion are too much, seek out the peaceful Lurie Garden, which uses native plants to form a botanical tribute to Illinois’ tallgrass prairie. Visitors often miss it because it's hidden behind a big hedge. Yellow coneflowers, poet's daffodils, bluebells and other gorgeous blooms carpet the 5-acre oasis; everything is raised sustainably and without chemicals. A little river runs through it, where folks kick off their shoes and dangle their feet.

A huge outdoor ice rink packed with skaters
You just pay for skate rental at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink © Miune / Shutterstock

McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

In winter time, Chicago's largest outdoor ice rink opens at McCormick Tribune Plaza and fills with skaters. It's free to skate; you just need to pay for skate rental.

BP Bridge

Frank Gehry designed the snaking pedestrian BP Bridge that spans Columbus Drive. The luminous sheet-metal walkway connects Millennium Park from the back of the Great Lawn to Maggie Daley Park. The bridge offers great skyline views, too.

Nichols Bridgeway

Renzo Piano designed Nichols Bridgeway, a silver, pedestrian-only span. It arches from Millennium Park over Monroe Street to the Art Institute’s small, 3rd-floor sculpture terrace (which is free to view). Piano, incidentally, also designed the museum's Modern Wing, which is where the sculpture garden is located.

Free exercise classes

A schedule of free yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Zumba classes take place Saturday mornings in summer on the Great Lawn.