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Chicago welcomed nearly 32 million visitors in 2004 and a whopping 44 million plus in 2006. As the third largest convention destination in the nation, a favorite for weekenders, and a popular city for overseas travelers, it’s no wonder the Chicago tourism scene is off-the-charts 365 days a year. Besides the city’s architecture and skyscrapers, tourists also come to Chicago to shop, tour the city’s many historic landmarks, and dine at some of the most famous restaurants in the world.

Whether you’re visiting for a week or just the weekend, the following Chicago attractions should be at the top of your list of must-sees:

  • The Magnificent Mile
  • John Hancock Center
  • Water Tower Place
  • Old Water Tower Building
  • Navy Pier
  • Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Shedd Aquarium

The Magnificent Mile

The best way to experience this mile-long avenue is on foot. The stores are so packed together, that driving won’t do your tour any justice. The Magnificent Mile (aka Mag Mile) is chock full of designer stores from Gucci and Giorgio Armani to Bottega Veneta and Burberry, as well as popular stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Steve Madden, and H & M. You’ll also find museums, and world class hotels, as well as the famous Michigan Avenue Bridge. Take a stroll across this bridge and see why this Chicago Landmark can be seen in so many Hollywood movies. Also located along the Mag Mile are the John Hancock Center, Water Tower Place, and the Old Water Tower Building.

The John Hancock Center is the third largest building in Chicago and the fourth largest in the U.S. Of the tallest buildings in Chicago, this one is by far, everyone’s favorite skyscraper. Built in 1969, the John Hancock stands at 1,127 feet tall, with 100 floors including: apartments, offices, shops, a hotel, a swimming pool, an ice rink, and the wildly popular Signature Room at the Ninety-Fifth Floor. This upscale restaurant features spectacular panoramic views of the city (and a few others), as well as live jazz, and gourmet brunch, lunch, and dinner entrees ranging in price from $29-$44 per entrée. Visit the John Hancock Center Observatory to experience unforgettable views spanning up to 80 miles and 4 states. The John Hancock Center is located at 875 N. Michigan Avenue.

Located nearby at 835 N. Michigan Avenue is Water Tower Place. Water Tower Place is the most popular shopping destination in Chicago for locals and visitors alike. This gorgeous eight-level shopping mall features more than 100 retail stores, boutiques, and restaurants. Across the street from Water Tower Place is a Chicago landmark -- the Old Water Tower Building. Located at 800 N. Michigan Avenue, this is one of the few buildings that survived the great Chicago Fire of 1871. This gothic style tower stands at 154 feet tall and houses a 40-meter standpipe, and a visitor information center. It became a Chicago Landmark in 1971 and is the First American Water Landmark.

Navy Pier Chicago

Navy Pier isn’t just an attraction -- it’s an adventure. This 3,000-feet long recreational Pier houses more than a dozen sightseeing cruise ships, several elaborate performance stages, seafood restaurants, festive bars, and dozens of stores and souvenir shops/kiosks. The 70-story Lake Point Tower Condominium building is also located on (the peninsula leading to) Navy Pier, along with the Piers biggest attraction -- the 150-ft high Ferris wheel. The Ferris wheel alone attracts more than 8 million visitors a year.

Navy Pier also hosts numerous festivals and parades throughout the year, and it the prime location for Venetian Night, and Air & Water Show spectators. During the summer months, fireworks shows are plentiful, and cruises around Lake Michigan are extremely popular. Check out Shoreline Sightseeing for architectural cruises, Lake Michigan Cruises, and Fireworks Cruises.

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)

Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, stands at 108-stories and is1,451 feet tall.Willis Tower is the tallest building in North America, and if you don't count the antennae, the thrid tallest in the world. The Willis Tower Skydeck is the tallest in the city featuring interactive displays and numerous attractions for kids. Willis Tower is located at 233 S. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60611.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago attracted nearly 1.5 million visitors in 2006 and currently houses more than 300,000 works of art. The museum’s permanent collection is one of the most impressive, and extensive in the country -- if not the world. The brilliant bronze lion statues at the entrance, (along with the structure itself), is one of the most photographed scenes in Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago is located at 111 S. Michigan, Chicago, IL 60613.

Chicago Shedd Aquarium

Built in 1929, the Chicago Shedd Aquarium attracts more than 2 million visitors per year. Shedd Aquarium was the largest indoor aquarium in the world (for decades) until the Georgia Aquarium opened in 2005. With more than 2,100 species under one roof, the Chicago Shedd Aquarium holds around 5 million gallons of water and roughly 20,000 fish. The Aquarium features several exhibits including: Wild Reef, Lizards & the Komodo King, Amazon Rising, Waters of the World, and the two of Shedd’s most popular exhibits -- The Caribbean Reef and the Oceanarium. The Shedd Aquarium is located at 1200 South Lake Shore Drive on Chicago’s Museum Campus. Because they are so close by, visitor’s can also stop by the Field Museum at 1400 South Lake Shore Drive or visit Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park -- yet another popular Chicago attraction.

Other Chicago Attractions:

Millennium Park
This 24.5-acre, $475 million park features art, architecture, performances, festivals, restaurants, and an ice-skating rink.

Wrigley Building
Located on the southern end of the Magnificent Mile, the grand Wrigley Building is one of America’s most famous office towers.

Tribune Tower
The Tribune Tower is the headquarters for the one of the most powerful media companies in the world, The Tribune Company. 

Museum of Science and Industry
Located on Chicago’s south side, along the lakefront at 57th and Lake Shore Drive, MSI is one of the most popular museums in the country attracting nearly 2 million visitors a year. The museum features more than 800 exhibits and 2,000 interactive units.

Union Station
Built in 1925, Chicago’s Union Station is one of the “last remaining grand American railway stations.”

Prairie Avenue Historic District
This Chicago landmark district was home to 75 of the country’s millionaires during the last several decades of the 19th century.

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