Chicago Green Spaces – 4 Fabulous Finds In Less Than 4 Hours

cloud gate, also know as the bean in chicago
The Bean

One of the things I love most about Chicago are its magnificent skyscrapers. But I also love green spaces and Chicago boasts some of the best in the world. If you’re visiting the city, you’ll find there is so much to see you won’t be sure how to fit it all in. Here are 4 fabulous green spaces you can visit in less than 4 hours.

#1 Millennium Park

Millennium Park is probably the most popular outdoor tourist attraction behind navy pier, and there’s good reason. First and foremost is Cloud Gate, affectionately nicknamed The Bean. You can’t come to Chicago and not go see The Bean. Really, I mean it. When you go to the airport to return home and security asks you, did you go see The Bean? If you answer no, they’re not letting you through security. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little, ok…. a lot. But just go see it.

If you want a relatively tourist-free photo of The Bean, plan to arrive before 7am on a weekday. It’s hard to say whether this piece of art is better viewed during the day or night. It’s awesome no matter when you see it, but if I could only pick one, I prefer day time. If you have time, check it out during both times.

Crown Fountain – This interactive fountain projects the images of 1,000 different Chicago residents to create a 21st century symbolic reference to the historic use of gargoyles in fountains. Within minutes of arriving at the fountain you’ll find that you won’t be able to resist kicking off your shoes and wading in the reflecting pool on a hot summer day. 

Lurie Garden – Walk along the boardwalk to take in the serene living art, set against the magnificent Chicago skyline.

And finally, your last stop in Millennium Park is Pritzker Pavilion.  Even if there isn’t some free event going on you’ll still want to check this out. You’ll be wondering….is this a pavilion or a work of art? I think it’s both. In the summer time, on any given day, there is always something going on at Pritzker Pavilion, and it’s almost always free. On Mondays and Wednesday – Saturday nights, there are free concerts in the park. On Tuesday nights there are free movies in the park. Feel free to bring picnic baskets, blankets and even alcohol to enjoy during these events. Then on Saturday mornings from 7-11am enjoy free fitness classes (Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga and Zumba).

After leaving Pritzker Pavilion, take the BP Bridge (it’s the giant metal serpentine looking thing on the east side of Millennium Park) over to Maggie Daley Park. Then run wild as you check out all the cool things to see and experience there.

#2 Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park, which opened in 2015 is one of the newest and coolest parks in Chicago. It’s the stuff that childhood dreams are made of, or grown-up dreams if you’re a kid at heart like me. There are several “attractions” in the park, with the most notable being the rock climbing wall, the skating ribbon and the play gardens. What’s a play garden you ask? Well, back in the day we used to call them play grounds. Maggie Daley Park boasts 6 different play gardens, each with a different theme.

The first time I saw these play gardens, I whined to my husband, why didn’t they have stuff like this when I was growing up!  I took one look at the slide in Slide Crater and said, I’m goin in. Then, as I marched down the hill I encountered this sign.

sign for slide crater

Which may as well have read, You can’t play, neeener neeener neeener. Hmm, where can I get a kid, I pondered.  Then a flash of brilliance….they should open a rent-a-kid shop. That’s legal, right? I just need one for 15 minutes, 30 at most. All I want is to run across that bridge, climb up the tower and zip down that awesome slide, just once, OK maybe twice. What’s that Johnny? You’re too scared to go by yourself and you need me to go with you? …Yes, YES, it was all playing out in my head perfectly. Like a mirage in the desert, I could see that rent-a-kid shop, just beyond the horizon and then…poof it was gone. My husband, tapping on my shoulder brought me back to reality and I realized I was never gonna get inside Slide Crater. Unless…well, that’s another story for another day.

So, if you’re going to hold out for the opening of one of those rent-a-kid shops and are looking for something a little more age appropriate in the meantime, check out the enchanted forest. Really cool. And the best part, it’s for ALL ages.

enchanted forest Maggie Daley Park chicago
Enchanted Forest

If you happen to be visiting Chicago in the winter (silly you) you’ll for sure want to check out the ice skating ribbon. You’ll find ice rinks scattered all over Chicago in the winter, but the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley park is the best in my opinion.

#3 Grant Park

Buckingham fountain in chicago
Buckingham Fountain

Grab a Divvy bike to ride along the lake from Maggie Daley Park to Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. The fountain is beautiful to see during both the day and night. I would recommend both if you have the time. While the fountain runs from 8am-11pm daily, if you time your arrival right, (within the first 20 minutes of each hour) you’ll get to see the center shoot 150 feet into the air.

#4 Northerly Island

northerly island chicago
Northerly Island

After the fountain, head back to the lake on your Divvy bike and ride south towards museum campus. Ride all the way to the planetarium and then continue on south along the lake towards Northerly Island. Opened in 2015, this 40-acre park has become an urban oasis devoted to the re-institution of native prairie grasses, plants, flowers and wildlife.

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Author: Nicole Bolin