Millennium Park truly is an ode to the City in a Garden. Its very existence pays homage to the men and women who have worked hard to preserve our Lakefront and in doing so, provided Chicago with the infrastructure to offer outdoor spaces to people from all walks of life. With iconic sculptures, picturesque walkways, and vendors for food and drink, Millennium Park has it all. As a bonus you’ll find an activity to tickle your fancy year-round in Chicago’s most famous park.
Where Is Millennium Park Located in Chicago?
Millennium Park is located directly east of the Loop neighborhood and couldn’t be any easier to traverse to if it tried. The most western boundary of the park is Michigan St. On its northern end is E Randolph St. East of Millennium Park you will find the newest addition to the park complex, Maggie Daley Park. Finally, the park ends on its southern border of E Monroe St. conveniently located across the St is the Art Institute.
If you are staying in the Loop or along the Magnificent Mile, then your easiest way to access the park is to simply walk over to it. The entrance to Amtrak Trains and the South Shoreline Train Station is just across Michigan Street, making it an easy destination for train commuters. If you’re traveling by the CTA El, then the closest red line station is at State and Lake. Millennium Park makes up the Northwestern corner of Grant Park.
What To Know About Millennium Park and Visiting
Millennium Park only just turned 18 years old, a fairly young park considering its reputation. The idea for this city green space was sparked in 1996 while our mayor Richard M. Daley was gazing out towards Lake Michigan from the window of his dentist office. What should have been a world class view was derailed by the railroad tracks cutting across present day Millennium Park. The idea started to form in his head of a new park that would remedy the eyesore while fulfilling the city’s legacy of public parks for the people.
Planning for this new park started in 1997 with construction making way in 1998. You may have guessed from its name that the park was completed in 2000, just in time for the new Millenia, but the original plans for the park were decidedly too small and therefore the time frame was too short. Millennium Park wouldn’t be opened to the public until July 16th, 2004.
Originally, $150 million dollars was budgeted to the construction of the park but, if you remember those railroad tracks causing the cityscape blemish, they would go on to create a construction nightmare for the architects of the park. The planners of Millennium Park had started to dream big, with the insistence from the Pritzker family. This would not only be the newest park in a city of gardens, but it would be a space to put Chicago on the culture map. An area not only for recreation but a memorial to usher in the new millennia. With all these dreams of grandeur, the area around the railroad tracks simply wouldn’t be big enough to encapsulate their vision and eventually, it was decided that we would build the park up and over the railroad tracks. The unintended but significant result from this decision was the creation of one of the largest intensive green roofs in the world. Sitting at 24.5 acres, by some metrics it is THE largest green roof in the world.
Things To Do and See In Millennium Park
Millennium Park’s total cost would ring up to over $475 million dollars. This ticket price is quite high but thanks to the sculptures that make up its heart and soul, Millennium Park has become the number one visited tourist destination in Chicago. If you’ve found your way over to our blog post here, you might be unsurprised to find that the number one thing to do in Millennium Park is to visit The Bean.
The Bean (officially named “Cloud Gate”)
This iconic sculpture was brought into reality by Indian-British artist Anish Kapoor. Officially named “Cloud Gate” the Bean has been molded in the shape of a drop of mercury right before it hits the ground. Its reflective stainless-steel surface makes up the backdrop for millions of tourists’ selfies each year. If you are trying to grab a photo by yourself in front of the Bean, you will have the most luck at sunrise.
The Crown Fountain
A truly ornate park would be remiss if it didn’t include a fountain, and Millennium Park homes an art installation unlike any other in the world: The Crown Fountain. The idea for this sculpture was to put up a fountain that would represent the people who this park was built for. The faces of over a thousand different Chicagoans flashes up on the two LED screens facing each other. If you can visit the park during the warmer months of the year, you might even be lucky enough to see these faces partake in a spitting contest, a local favorite for the population under ten.
J. Pritzker Pavilion
The J. Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park may be the last of the sculptures mentioned, but it is in fact the largest. This sculpture has more function than its counterparts as it is a concert venue. The legacy of Open, Free, and Clear resonates throughout the Great Lawn during the summer months when you can enjoy the free concert series put on by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. When the engineers were designing the pavilion’s sound system, they were sure to incorporate technology that would make sure that the sound quality was the same across the Great Lawn, so that no matter where you are standing, you can enjoy the concert equally.
Places To Grab a Bite or Beverage in Millennium Park
Now that you’ve taken a moment to view the three prominent sculptures embedded in the park, you may find you’ve worked up an appetite. The good news is you don’t even have to leave the premises to enjoy a great meal! Millennium Hall is located directly underneath The Bean. During the summer months you can enjoy Chicago favorites like a classic Chicago-style hot dog in their temporary outside restaurant addition. If you would prefer to take your meal indoors, they have a bar and restaurant that operates year-round.
If you would prefer to grab a coffee while you stroll through the park, you will be pleased to know that there is a shop called Momentum Coffee located next door to Millennium Hall and underneath The Bean. Not only do they serve your standard selection of gourmet coffee, but you can also partake in favorites like a Chai Tea Latte, or a refreshing smoothie.
The last stop to grab a drink is at the Goose Island pop up bar located across from the Bean. In a European Beer Garden style, you can sample local favorites like Goose Island’s 312 or Greenline while basking in the glory of the mighty Bean. You will also find street vendors year-round selling things like Elotes, water bottles, soda, and other snacks you can walk around in the park and enjoy. Located on Monroe St. you may even find a few local vendors selling meals outside of their food trucks.
You’ve taken your selfie at The Bean, rolled around in the dirt at the Great Lawn, washed away your inhibitions as the Crown Fountain spits down on you, and you’ve enjoyed a meal. What else is there to do in and around the Park? Across Michigan Street you will find the Chicago Cultural Center, originally the first public library in Chicago, it now is a free museum open to the public sporting exhibitions from local artists. It is also the home to one of the tiffany domes here in the city of Chicago. The architecture of the building is reason enough to wander in and look around. Across Monroe Street on the parks south entrance is none other than the Chicago Art Museum. This is a must see for anyone interested in art, hosting one of the world’s largest French impressionism collections.
If what you’ve read is interesting to you, then I recommend taking a tour to get a better picture of the park and it’s history. Here at Bobby’s Bike Hike we offer three city tours that traverse through the park. Come for a walk on the Chicago Favorites Food Tour and learn all about the preservation of the lakefront while eating classic Chicago cuisine. Or if you’d prefer, jump on our Family Food Bike tour. Eat, bike, and learn more about Chicago’s history in an engaging way that’s good for the whole family!
There is no place to legally spend the night inside the park, but if you want world class views then may I recommend staying at the Chicago Athletic Association. Located across Michigan Street, The Chicago Athletic Association is the closest hotel, and its eastern rooms boast views of Millennium Park. It also is the home to one of the best rooftop bars in the city and is worth a visit to get an aerial view to close out your Millennium Park experience.
The truth is, if you are making your way out to Chicago, Millennium Park is a must do. With Ice skating in the winter, to running around in the Crown Fountain in the Summer, there is always something to do, and with free admission to the park every day of the year, there simply is no reason not to visit. Taking a selfie at the Bean is practically a requirement for any complete trip the Windy City. Come be inspired by the largest green roof in the world and see how infrastructure and nature can work together in harmony creating spaces for both humans and nature to flourish.