The brainchild of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, Millennium Park is the largest public space within the 319 acres of downtown Chicago's Grant Park. It was established in 2004 and is now one of the biggest free attractions of the city, rivaling only Lincoln Park Zoo. That's mostly because of its popular "Bean" installation, Cloud Gate.
Millennium Park is on the east side of downtown, bordered on the west by Michigan Avenue and the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, on the east by Columbus Drive, on the north by Randolph Street, and on the south by Monroe Street. Primary Chicago public transportation to the park is either the Michigan Avenue CTA bus No. 151 or the Red Line subway train, Randolph stop. It is about a five-minute walk from the Magnificent Mile. Ample parking is available in nearby Millennium Park Garage.
Admission to Millennium Park is free, and it is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The BP Bridge
The BP Bridge connects Millennium Park to Maggie Daley Park and makes for easy access to Columbus Drive. The bridge is right next to the Monroe Street parking garage, so it is the logical first stop on a tour of the park.
Designed by award-winning architect Frank Gehry, the BP Bridge is 935 feet long and rises high enough to provide great views of the surrounding area. The outer part of the bridge is brushed stainless steel, which ties the BP Bridge into another Gehry designed work, the Pritzker Pavilion.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Just like the BP Bridge, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion was designed by Frank Gehry and is made of brushed stainless steel. The pavilion was named in memory of Jay Pritzker, a prominent Chicago businessman whose family is well-known around the city for their philanthropy.
The pavilion rises 120 feet into the air and evokes ribbons flowing in the wind, not an easy feat for a metal structure. The 11,000-person seating area (4,000 seats in front of the stage with room for 7,000 on the Great Lawn) is covered with crisscrossing pipes that support the pavilion's high-end sound system. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion hosts a number of free music events from spring through fall, including the Grant Park Music Festival and the popular Gospel Fest.
The 2.5 acre Lurie Garden is a surprisingly tranquil spot, due in large part to the 15-foot-high hedge enclosing it on two sides. The hedge protects the perennial garden from pedestrians and is meant to symbolize Carl Sandburg's description of Chicago as the "City of Big Shoulders." Along the east side is a hardwood footbridge running over shallow running water, which is popular during Chicago's hot summers, with people sitting on the edge and dipping in their toes.
Cloud Gate—referred to by locals as "The Bean" for obvious reasons—is a public sculpture by talented British artist Anish Kapoor. Cloud Gate weighs in at more than 110 tons and is 66 feet long and 33 feet high. The Bean was created using a huge number of individual stainless steel plates. Cloud Gate's seamless surface is the result of thousands of hours of polishing.
The sculpture has the appearance of a giant drop of liquid mercury, and the mirrored surface offers an amazing reflection of the city's skyline, even more breathtaking on a bright, clear day. Visitors can walk underneath the Cloud Gate, which is surprisingly concave. Kids especially enjoy the funhouse mirror effect that this creates.
Cloud Gate is one of the more popular photo opportunities in the city. Nearby restaurants are Shake Shack, Cindy's Rooftop in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, and Rural Society in the Loews Chicago Hotel.
Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the Crown Fountain is a unique tribute to the people of Chicago. The artist was inspired by historic fountains that have gargoyles with water spouting out of their open mouths. Plensa's version is made up of two 50-foot glass block towers that display rotating video images of 1,000 residents.
Kids are big fans of the Crown Fountain, which is less than a block away from the Art Institute of Chicago, and parents should plan accordingly because their children will probably wind up soaking wet. While the images on the towers are shown throughout the year, the water portion is only turned on mid-spring through mid-fall, weather permitting.
Maggie Daley Park
The Chicago Park District manages one of the best public parks in the city for kids: Maggie Daley Park. This 20-acre family-friendly paradise, sandwiched between Millennium Park and the lake shore, features: a skating ribbon, a larger-than-life rock climbing wall, a huge playground divided by appropriate age levels, a play ship, a mega slide, a mirror maze and an "Enchanted Forest". Plus, you can't beat the Chicago skyline views.
Oasis in the City
The skyscrapers looming in the background are one of the only reminders that a visitor to Millennium Park is still within city limits. The city of Chicago has done a fabulous job creating an island amid downtown congestion.
Hotels within walking distance include:
- Chicago Athletic Association Hotel: The historic building housing what was once a members-only club is now a luxury boutique hotel with 241 guest rooms and six long-awaited dining and drinking establishments.
- Hilton Chicago: Hotel amenities include Hilton Chicago's Athletic Club, boasting an indoor running track, full-length heated indoor pool, and whirlpool and sauna with seasonal sundeck. There is complimentary WiFi throughout the property and three restaurants.
- Hyatt Regency Chicago: Chicago’s largest hotel and the world’s largest Hyatt property got a $168 million renovation, which includes 2,019 guest rooms, meeting spaces, and restaurants.
- Intercontinental Chicago: Serving as a gateway to the Mag Mile from the south, the Intercontinental Hotel is a sophisticated luxury hotel in a historic building.
- Loews Chicago Hotel: Located in the upscale, well-to-do Streeterville neighborhood, Loews Chicago Hotel is situated on the first 14 floors of a new 52-story tower. It boasts many amenities for the leisure and business traveler
- Peninsula Hotel Chicago: The Peninsula is located just steps away from hundreds of upscale boutiques and premier shops, including Tiffany & Co., Neiman Marcus, and American Girl. Rooms range from luxurious to even more luxurious, with a $400,000 package that includes a Bentley and his and her diamond rings.