A woman enjoys the green spaces of Chicago
Ian Packham

The most relaxing things to do in Chicago

Relaxing may not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the windy city. But if you’re asking ‘how can I relax in Chicago’ don’t dismay. Follow our lead and you’ll soon realize there’s a real wealth of relaxing things to do in Chicago.

Know where to look and the rush hour traffic and crowds of the Magnificent Mile will become a distant memory. So what are you waiting for? Let’s check out the best ways to go zen in the home of Al Capone and the World’s Fair.

Picnic in the parks

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The obvious place to head for a bit of tranquility in any city is its parks. Since the 1830s the official motto of Chicago has been the Latin phrase urbs in horto, or ‘the city within a garden’. Tot them up and the city’s public parks come close to topping 600 in number, equivalent to almost 9% of its area.

North of downtown, Chicago Botanic Garden was only opened in 1972, although you’d never guess from its landscape of lakes, prairie and woodland. Covering 385 acres, it is made up of 25 display gardens within these habitats, bringing the world of horticulture to this part of the city. Aside from providing an attractive place to relax, it also plays an important role in helping preserve rare and disappearing species.

Constructed 50 years earlier by the architect it’s named after, the intention of Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool was always to provide Chicagoans with a space to think. Sharing the same naturalistic appearance as the Botanic Garden, the almost Japanese scene of woodland and trickling water is situated in Lincoln Park, alongside the Conservatory glass house – a perfect alternative should a rain shower sweep over.

Explore your artistic side

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Especially calm during office hours, the Museum of Contemporary Art provides exactly the right ambience for taking your time over its permanent collection of 2500 artworks, substantially supplemented by loans from other galleries.

Puzzle over Jeff Koons’ stainless steel Rabbit, Andy Warhol’s screen prints of Jackie Kennedy, and Magritte’s The Wonders of Nature before heading out into the sculpture garden or tucking into something tasty in the restaurant designed by award-winning artist Chris Ofili.

If you’ve ever lost a few hours in the comfort of a good book, you’ll understand the serenity the written word can impart. Where better to head then when looking for relaxing things to do in Chicago than the American Writers Museum? From Nobel prize winner Ernest Hemingway to poets and playwrights, it celebrates storytelling in all its forms.

With creativity sparking off every nerve ending, you may well want to roll up your sleeves with an art workshop. Lillstreet Art Center has been at the heart of the community since 1975 and is just one of a number of galleries hosting regular sessions incorporating metalwork and jewelry making, screen printing and ceramics.

Take to the water

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Edged by Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, and cleaved in part by the various branches of the Chicago River, taking to the water is another way in which to enjoy the city without setting your heart pulsing with anything but fascination.

Step aboard a Shoreline Architecture River Cruise for a jaunt along all three channels of the river. The south branch soon reveals one of the city’s most famous structures – the Willis Tower – tallest building in the world for a generation. The main branch is lined by further architectural points of note, whilst the north branch helps reveal how the city has changed over its 200 year history. Should you wish, it’s also possible to explore the river not by boat but by kayak.

However, to really absorb the Chicago skyline you’re going to need a little more distance, such as that offered by Skyline Lake Tours. Aside from the city views, these 40 minute tours give ticket holders a potted account of the growth of the city as you take in Navy Pier, Harbor Lighthouse and Museum Campus from onboard.

Enjoy a gentle stroll

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Taking in a portion of the river’s south branch is Chinatown, where there are plenty more lazy things to do in Chicago. Centered on Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue, it has an expansive range of independent stores, teahouses and dim sum restaurants very different to the offerings on the Magnificent Mile.

Check out the Chinese American Museum of Chicago for a little more on the background of how it developed, or satisfy yourself with the replica of Beijing’s 15thCentury Nine Dragon Wall.

Other spots in the city to take a leisurely walk include the 606 (or Bloomingdale) rail trail, following the westward path of an old railroad track. Replaced with the largest greenway project of its kind in the US, it runs for 2.7 miles, meaning even if you follow it to its western trailhead you still won’t be too far from the center of the city.

Turn in the opposite direction and you’ll soon reach Lakeshore Trail, following the water’s edge of Lake Michigan for more than 18 miles, giving ample opportunity whether you’re after a walk to the nearest coffee shop or a daylong hike along the whole path. For shorter ambles, Navy Pier makes for a great target. Packed with old style rides and Centennial Wheel and extending for over 3000 feet, it’s one of Chicago’s most popular attractions.

Relaxed in body, mind and wallet

With a little effort it’s possible to find a wide array of relaxing things to do in Chicago, from spending time in the city’s multitude of gardens to hitting the heights of Centennial Wheel. Another way to stay relaxed when on vacation is by traveling with Go City. Set yourself up with one of our pre-pay passes and you’ll know you've got huge discounts on entry to many of Chicago’s most popular attractions and things to do!

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