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)

Cloud Gate is a public sculpture, centerpiece of AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park, constructed between 2004 and 2006. Made entirely of stainless steel – 168 plates 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 weighting 100 tons. It has been lovingly dubbed by the locals as "The Bean," although the design is said to have 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, prior to its installation, the sculpture was subject to a controversy among experts, some of whom believed it could not be implemented because of the technological 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. Cloud Gate was completed and formally dedicated only on May 15, 2006, and has since enjoyed great acclaim, both at home and abroad.

Why You Should Visit:
Fascinating piece of artwork that allows to playfully take pictures at different angles and with amazing backgrounds.

Visit on a sunny day for better photos. Note that on a rainy day if there's a thunderstorm, you won't even be allowed near the sculpture as it poses a risk of electrocution!
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

Crown Fountain is an interactive work of public art and video sculpture featured in Chicago's Millennium Park, which is located in the Loop community area. Designed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, it opened in July 2004. The fountain is composed of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of glass brick towers. The towers are 50 feet (15.2m) tall and use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to display digital videos on their inward faces. Weather permitting, the water operates from May to October, intermittently cascading down the two towers and spouting through a nozzle on each tower's front face. Residents and critics have praised the fountain for its artistic and entertainment features. It highlights Plensa's themes of dualism, light, and water, extending the use of video technology from his prior works. The use of water is unique among Chicago's many fountains, in that it promotes physical interaction between the public and the water.

Why You Should Visit:
A very nice addition to Chicago's world-renowned public art collection; fun to sit down and relax (or else bring a towel and spare clothes!).
The fountain & water jets are great for the kids to run around and frolic through, especially on a hot summer day.

The lighting is fantastic – you should go at night to see the full effect.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Art Institute of Chicago

9) Art Institute of Chicago (must see)

The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) is an encyclopedic fine art museum boasting one of the world's grandest collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in its permanent collection. The diverse holdings of the museum also include significant Old Master works, American art, European and American decorative arts, Asian art, as well as modern and contemporary art. The AIC is located in Chicago's Grant Park at 111 South Michigan Avenue within the Landmark Historic Michigan Boulevard District. At one million square feet, this is the second largest art museum in the United States behind only the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Why You Should Visit:
A world-class collection with much depth and variety of artworks, artifacts, antiquities and curiosities catering for all tastes and ages. The museum is thoughtfully laid out and you can take a guided tour starting at noon.

If you're not a member, go during the week to avoid crowds if you can.
Prioritize what you want to see! Buy the little booklet that is sold with the tickets; it will help you with the selection and makes for a nice memorabilia.
There are several restaurants inside, so pace yourself with lunch, coffee and/or drinks. The cafe in the basement is one of the nicest museum cafes in Chicago, with a wide array of grill & healthy fare.

Opening Hours:
Fri-Wed: 10:30am–5pm; Thu: 10:30am-8pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Buckingham Fountain

10) Buckingham Fountain (must see)

Buckingham Fountain is a major landmark considered to be Chicago's front door due to its location in Grant Park, the city's front yard, at Columbus Drive and Congress Parkway. The fountain was dedicated in 1927 and was designed by Jacques Lambert. Its body of water represents Lake Michigan, whereas each sculpted seahorse therein symbolizes a state bordering the lake. The design of the fountain was based on the Bassin de Latome and modeled after Latona Fountain at Versailles. The fountain runs from 8:00am to 11:00pm every day between mid-April and mid-October. During a 20-minute water display that runs every hour on the hour, the center jet shoots up to 150 feet (46 m) in the air. At dusk, a light and music show coincides with the water display. The last show of the night begins at 10:00pm.

Why You Should Visit:
Set against the Chicago city skyline in the background, this fountain forms quite a sight – one of the greatest photo op spots in the city.
Also, the water goes higher than just about any other fountain you've ever seen!

Remember that the fountain is shut down for winter months.
Otherwise, enjoy the light show after dark!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-11pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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