Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour, Chicago

Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour (Self Guided), Chicago

The city of Chicago is renowned for its outdoor green spaces. One such “forever free and open” space, is called Grant Park and was established in 1844. In fact, upon foundation, it was called Lake Park, but was renamed in 1901 after the American Civil War General and United States President, Ulysses S. Grant.

Popularly referred to as “Chicago's front lawn,” this lakefront park is the site of many of summer festivals, including Blues Fest, Taste of Chicago, and Lollapalooza. Among other notable features here are the Clarence Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago, and a monument to the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

In 2004, a section of northern Grant Park was redeveloped as Millennium Park which today accommodates four artistic highlights: the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain, and the Lurie Garden.

In essence, Grant Park represents Chicago's progressive design streak spanning from the 19th century to the 21st. To explore the park's architectural and historic features in more detail, take this self-guided walk!
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Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Chicago (See other walking tours in Chicago)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cloud Gate
  • Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument
  • Exelon Pavilions
  • Jay Pritzker Pavilion
  • BP Pedestrian Bridge
  • Maggie Daley Park
  • Lurie Garden
  • Crown Fountain
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • Buckingham Fountain
Cloud Gate

1) Cloud Gate (must see)

The Cloud Gate is a public sculpture, the centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park, constructed between 2004 and 2006. It was created by the Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, well-known for his large-scale outdoor works, including several with highly reflective surfaces. The Cloud Gate was his first public outdoor work in the United States and is considered his most famous one.

The Cloud Gate is made entirely of stainless steel; 168 plates are welded together and polished to conceal the seams. The sculpture stands three stories high, measuring 66 feet long, 33 feet high, and 42 feet wide, and weighing 100 tons. It has been lovingly dubbed by the locals as "The Bean," although the design has been inspired by a drop of mercury. Concave at the bottom, it creates a spectacular fun mirror effect for those walking underneath, reflecting distorted images of the Chicago skyline.

At the time, before its installation, the sculpture was subject to controversy among experts, some of whom believed it could not be implemented because of the technical difficulties associated with its construction, assembly, upkeep, and maintenance. Although a feasible solution was eventually found, the project fell behind schedule and was still unfinished by the time Millennium Park was opened in 2004. The Cloud Gate was completed and formally dedicated only on May 15, 2006, and has since enjoyed great acclaim both at home and abroad.
Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument

2) Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument

Nestled on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street, in the northwest section of Millennium Park, Wrigley Square is a tree-lined, public space serving as an outdoor exhibit and performance space. Inviting to those who seek relaxation with its large lawn, fountain, and stroll paths, the square also has earned a reputation of a vibrant place for cultural events, such as local and international art and photography exhibitions, as well as occasional live music shows.

Anchoring the square is the Millennium Monument (Peristyle), a nearly full-sized replica of the original peristyle that had stood in this part of Grant Park from 1917 until 1953. With its graceful semi-circular row of 40-foot Doric-style columns made of Indiana limestone and set upon French limestone bases, the Millennium Monument ties the past to the present and supports the designation of Michigan Avenue as a landmark district.

As a token of appreciation, etched in stone on the base of the Millennium Monument are the names of 122 founders of Millennium Park – private and corporate donors who supported its design and construction and continue to support the curation of the park's art and architecture. In 2017, the Millennium Monument underwent restoration to include enhanced LED color-changing lighting, new pre-cast concrete elements, and new pavers for the fountain plaza at its base. Both, Wrigley Square and Peristyle have come into being thanks to a gift from the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Foundation.
Exelon Pavilions

3) Exelon Pavilions

Exelon Pavilions, built in 2004, are located in the Millennium Park and use state-of-the-art technology to convert solar energy into electricity. The pavilions provide enough electricity annually to power 16 energy-efficient houses in Chicago.

The northwest and northeast Pavilions are minimalist black cubes designed to complement the neighboring Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The northwest Pavilion houses the Millennium Park Welcome Center, as well as an Exelon energy display area. The northeast Pavilion provides pedestrian access to the parking garage below. The two Exelon Pavilions on the park's south end also provide pedestrian access to the Millennium Park Garage, and were designed by architect Renzo Piano to complement The Art Institute's future expansion.

The North Pavilions are the first Chicago buildings to use building integrated photovoltaic cells, which are a solar energy system incorporated into the building's structural elements. Millennium Park's planners claimed that the pavilions had the first electricity-generating curtain walls in the Midwest.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion

4) Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Jay Pritzker Pavilion, also known as Pritzker Pavilion or Pritzker Music Pavilion, is a bandshell in Millennium Park in the Loop community area of Chicago. The pavilion was named after Jay Pritzker, whose family is known for owning Hyatt Hotels. The building was designed by architect Frank Gehry, who accepted the design commission in April 1999. Pritzker Pavilion serves as the centerpiece for Millennium Park and is the new home of the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra and Chorus plus the Grant Park Music Festival, the nation's only remaining free outdoor classical music series. It also hosts a wide range of music series and annual performing arts events. Performers ranging from mainstream rock bands to classical musicians and opera singers have appeared at the pavilion, which even hosts physical fitness activities such as yoga.

Why You Should Visit:
Great outdoor theater experience: interesting design, state of the art acoustics, ample seating (both seats & lawn), large stage with huge video screen and restrooms adjacent, convenient location.
Most concerts are free and well attended, and there is a wide variety of entertainment.

Look up the presentation schedule and either get there early or buy seats. The park in front is also an option to enjoy the presentations, though you might not enjoy an absolutely clear sound.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
BP Pedestrian Bridge

5) BP Pedestrian Bridge

The BP Pedestrian Bridge is a girder footbridge at Chicago's Grant Park running over the Columbus Drive between Daley Bicentennial Plaza and Millennium Park. Contrary to what one may believe, the BP abbreviation in the name has nothing to do with “Bicentennial Plaza” but stands for the energy giant British Petroleum which donated $5 million toward the bridge construction. Opened on July 16, 2004, the same day as Millennium Park, BP Bridge is a brainchild of the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, who also designed the neighboring Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Gehry was the only candidate considered for this project and agreed to work on it only after the Pritzkers had come up with the funding. Curving like a snake, the BP Bridge is designed to bear a heavy load without structural problems caused by its own weight. Generally praised for its aesthetics, the bridge has received award for the use of sheet metal – stainless steel plates – expressing biomorphic allusions quite typical of Gehry's style.

Why You Should Visit:
On a beautiful day, this is one of the most picturesque walks you can take in Chicago!
The wide curvy path provides continuous opportunities to enjoy the city skyline and lake view, as well as the nice views of both Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Maggie Daley Park

6) Maggie Daley Park

Maggie Daley Park screams fun, and if you have kids, this park is likely to become their dream playground. Curbed by Millennium Park, within Grant Park’s campus, this sprawling 20-acre lakefront is a family-friendly paradise jam-packed with whimsical play spaces divided by appropriate age levels and inspired by classic children’s books.

To reach this lakeside oasis, all you need to do is take the BP Pedestrian Bridge from Millennium Park. The first thing you’ll notice is rollerbladers (or ice-skaters in the winter) gliding down a quarter-of-a-mile (40 km) Skating Ribbon meandering through trees, lawns and a 3-acre Play Garden. The latter is every child’s dream come true (think The Enchanted Forest with upside trees, the Slide Crater with a Tower Bridge to climb, and The Harbor where full-sized play boats nestle amongst the greenery). Also found within the park are a mirror maze, mega slide, mini golf, tennis, but above all, both literally and colloquially, the larger-than-life (19,000 square foot) rock-climbing park – the first of its kind in Chicago – with two enormous walls fit to take between 25 and 100 climbers at a time!

Regardless, whether you’re a total beginner or accomplished expert – there’s a surface fit for everyone. The area is split into three climbing types: bouldering, lead-harnessed and top rope. All this is completely free and, on top of that, you can treat yourself to some great views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago city skyline from 40 feet up! Just take your pick from any of the fun things you can do at Maggie Daley Park and enjoy a family-friendly workout!
Lurie Garden

7) Lurie Garden

Lurie Garden is a 2.5-acre (10,000 m2) garden located at the southern end of Millennium Park in the Loop area of Chicago. Designed by Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf, and Robert Israel, it opened on July 16, 2004. The garden is a combination of perennials, bulbs, grasses, shrubs and trees. It is the featured nature component of the world's largest green roof. The Garden is composed of two "plates". The dark plate depicts Chicago's history by presenting shade-loving plant material. The dark plate has a combination of trees that will provide a shade canopy for these plants when they fill in. The light plate, which includes no trees, represents the city's future with sun-loving perennials that thrive in the heat and the sun. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities considers the park to be the largest green roof in the world as it covers a structural deck supported by two reinforced concrete cast-in-place garages and steel structures that span the space above Illinois Central Railroad tracks.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful example of an urban garden with native plants and serene atmosphere with amazing (and different) skyscrapers in the background. Not too big, and easy to navigate.

If you enjoy learning about plants, there are frequent walking tours in the Spring and throughout the Summer to become familiar with the many & varied flowers planted here.
Besides, a highlight is the stream where you can soak/refresh your feet in the water on a hot day.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6am-11pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Crown Fountain

8) Crown Fountain

In 1997 Grant Park by the Illinois Central Railroad was made a part of Millennium Park. The new park was conceived as a venue for the works of world-famous architects, artists, designers, and planners. In December 1999, the Lester Crown family volunteered to sponsor a water feature in Millennium Park.

The Crowns actively participated in the design and engineering of the Fountain. They were looking for modern work, animated and interactive. Their commission was awarded to Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. In the Crown Fountain, Plensa created an eternal dualist waterwork that would still be life-like in Chicago winters.

The Fountain shows the artist's penchant for dualism with two fifty-foot monolithic glass brick towers facing each other. Between the two towers is a black granite reflecting pool. The towers display digital videos on their inside faces. Waterspouts from nozzles on the outside faces while water cascades on each side.
Art Institute of Chicago

9) Art Institute of Chicago (must see)

The Chicago Academy of Design was started in a studio on Dearborn Street in 1866. It was a group studio and gallery of 35 artists. The organization of the studio was modeled after European art academies, such as England's Royal Academy. A free school with its gallery was attached to the Academy. The Academy received its charter in 1867.

The Academy building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Some members of the Academy then founded the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. In 1882 the Academy of Fine Arts changed its name to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Art Institute building at 111 South Michigan Avenue is a Beaux-Arts creation by Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, a successful architecture firm based in Boston. The western entrance of the Institute is guarded by two large bronze lions made by sculptor Edward Kemeys. The lions are often dressed in the jerseys of winning Chicago sports teams. At Christmas time they wear wreaths.

In May 2009, the Art Institute opened its new Modern Wing. This is a 264,000-square-foot annex designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The Modern Wing houses the Institute's early 20th-century European Art represented by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Rene Magritte, etc., and the Bergman Collection of Surrealist Art.
Buckingham Fountain

10) Buckingham Fountain (must see)

Buckingham Fountain is a centerpiece of Chicago's massive Grant Park, situated directly in the heart of the city's downtown business district. Officially called the "Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain," it was gifted to the city of Chicago by a wealthy philanthropist, Kate Sturges Buckingham, in her brother's memory. One of the world's largest fountains, it was dedicated in 1927.

Charles Buckingham and his sister were both zealous art collectors from a family that made their fortune from a grain elevator business. Charles was a successful businessman and a trustee for the Art Institute of Chicago. He died in 1913. The design and creation of Buckingham Fountain was a collaborative effort of several artists, including architect Edward H. Bennett, engineer Jacques Lambert, and sculptor Marcel Loyau.

Buckingham Fountain, designed in the Fine Arts classical style, is a sculptural work resembling a three-tier wedding cake. It was inspired by an ornate fountain at the Palace of Versailles in France. Decorating the lower pool are four charming Art Deco sea horse sculptures. These large bronze sculptures represent the four states that surround Lake Michigan.

Operating seasonally, Buckingham Fountain provides a 20-minute water show each hour. A magnificent display, the fountain shoots jets of water as high as 150 feet into the air. An entertaining spectacle of colorful lights and music accompanies the show after dusk. A visit to see this remarkable landmark fountain is a must-do during your exploration of Chicago.

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