Millennium Park: Chicago's Front Yard

A trip to Illinois would not be complete without a visit to Chicago’s famed Millennium Park.

in Arts & Culture, Chicago
March 03, 2017

Courtesy IOT.

Children leap to see their reflection in Cloud Gate, the Millennium Park sculpture affectionatrly kn

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Completed in 2004, Millennium Park is a state-of-the-art collection of architecture, landscape design and art located in the heart of the city. Chicago’s second largest visitor attraction, it is a lively gathering spot welcoming five million visitors annually to enjoy hundreds of cultural programs including concerts, exhibitions, tours and family activities.

Millennium Park, open and free to the public, is truly the front yard of Chicago.  The park features 319 acres of mixed use space including the revolutionary Jay Pritzker Pavilion and concert lawn, several major additions to the city's public art collection, a five acre urban garden, a seasonal ice skating rink, a theatre, monuments and sculptural bridges. The park is one of the largest green roofs in the world, sitting atop a railway and parking garages that service the city at large.

A Nod to Chicago’s Architectural Culture

A park of this stature would not be complete without a significant nod to Chicago’s architectural pedigree. The Pritzker Pavilion, designed by one of the world’s most celebrated architects Frank Gehry, is the true centerpiece of the park. Designed with superior outdoor acoustics, the pavilion has space for 11,000 visitors, both seated and on the lawn. Complementing the pavilion, the BP Bridge was the first bridge project completed by Frank Gehry and connects the park with the lakefront and Maggie Daley Park, where even more fun and activities await.

The park’s other famous architectural elements include the iconic sculpture officially named Cloud Gate, but known by most as The Bean, designed by Anish Kapoor. Cloud Gate is made of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, highly polished with no visible seams. A familiar sight in the park is hundreds of visitors enjoying images of themselves and the city and posing for pictures against its mirror-like surface. Also filled with crowds on a warm day is Crown Fountain, a blend of interactive art, water fountains and video sculpture designed by artist Jaume Plensa. It lies on the south end of the park and features two 50-foot video towers displaying faces of Chicagoans.  From March to October, those glass towers spout water to a shallow reflecting pool where you’ll find children splashing and cooling off in the summer.

Year-round Activities

Millennium Park is truly utilized all year round. In the winter months, Chicagoans and visitors alike come to the park for ice skating, holiday events and dining. The park’s most popular winter activity is the ice skating rink that operates for four months a year. Guests can enjoy daily skating with the backdrop of the city’s dramatic skyline. More advanced ice skaters might enjoy the change of elevation and length of Maggie Daley Park ice skating ribbon.

Millennium Park has become home to the City of Chicago Christmas Tree in recent years. The tree is adorned with 48,375 multi-colored lights and topped off with a brightly lit star, serving as a backdrop for events running throughout the season. Another popular winter happening is Caroling at Cloud Gate, part concert, part sing-along. Usually held Fridays in late November through December, Caroling at Cloud Gate is a perfect reason to bundle up and belt out some holiday classics alongside famed Chicago choral groups.

In the summer, Millennium Park comes alive with concerts and daily activities for kids. A visit to Millennium Park in the summer would not be complete without attending a Grant Park Music Festival concert held in the Pritzker Pavilion June through August. Perfect to enjoy with a picnic on the lawn, the pavilion’s trellis sound system delivers acoustics that match the sound of an indoor performance venue in an outdoor setting.  During the summer, visitors can also enjoy the transformed Maggie Daley Park ribbon as a walking and rollerskating path.

While You’re There

If you get hungry during your visit, stop by the Park Grill restaurant in the center of the park for lunch or dinner. The Park Grill offers delicious fare year round, moving outside in the summer months to The Plaza at the Park Grill, the city’s largest al fresco dining venue. Both options offer the ultimate room with a view.

A little-known secret about visits to Millennium Park are free-of-charge, seasonally-operated tours conducted through the City of Chicago’s Instagreeter program. Visitors can meet an Instagreeter for a guided tour of the park and its attractions provided by a friendly local looking to share the city they love with others.

Another great feature of Millennium Park is its connection to other attractions. Added in 2009, the Nichols Bridgeway connects the south end of Millennium Park with the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. The bridge design by Renzo Piano, the architect of the museum’s Modern Wing, was inspired by the hull of a boat. Visitors can also explore Maggie Daley Park via the BP Pedestrian Bridge. Maggie Daley Park, part of the larger Grant Park, is east of Millennium Park and features activities including a climbing wall, tennis courts, ice skating ribbon, interactive kids play areas, picnic groves and more.

Before You Go

Before you go, be sure to check out what’s happening the day of your visit to maximize your time at the park. Once you arrive, head to the Millennium Park visitor’s center at 201 E. Randolph Street to get maps, schedules and additional information about the park.

While there, be sure to take in all of the sights and sounds the park has to offer. Millennium Park is truly the pride and joy of the city and a jewel on the city’s crown. The park is sure to excite all who visit and leave you with memories that last a lifetime.

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