Chicago at anytime of the year is always a good idea. But there’s just something a little extra special about spring in Chicago. It’s like the city comes alive as it wakes up from the long cold and snowy winter. In place of snow are spring flowers, blue sky and low humidity. So pack your bags – and a coat just in case – we’re going to the Windy City!
Why Visit Chicago in the Spring
Located on Lake Michigan in the Midwestern United States, Chicago is notorious for its freezing temperatures and fickle winter weather. The change from gray cold days to the warmer spring temperatures is a special time with a slew of fun springtime experiences.
In spring, the city hosts various festivals and cultural events, such as the Chicago Latino Film Festival, the Chicago Kids and Kites Festival and the Memorial Day parade to name a few. And don’t forget about opening day of two of the biggest rivalries in baseball, the Cubs and the White Sox.
Besides Atlanta, Chicago is my most visited big U.S. city and I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything there is to do – and eat – there. If you’re lucky enough to visit, here are 5 of the very best reasons to visit Chicago in the spring.
Every fall, the city of Chicago plants tens of thousands of tulip bulbs for a springtime show of color. What started as a Michigan Avenue tradition has turned into a city wide event as colorful tulips sprout up all over downtown and the suburbs.
For this amazing springtime show, thousands of bulbs are planted in the fall and then covered with sod for protection from the harsh winter weather and snow melting chemicals. Then, at just the right time, the sod is removed and the city is blanketed with vibrant blooms. Just like that – spring has arrived in Chicago. If you want to experience the tulips first hand, then the best time to visit is in April and the first part of May.
One of the other things I really appreciate about this tradition is that at times the city uses special bulbs to mark notable occasions. One year, a Dutch tulip bulb breeder produced a tulip named after the then mayor’s wife, Maggie Daley, who was battling cancer at the time. The city, knowing that she had carried tulips down the aisle at her wedding to the mayor, planted that new bulb all over in her honor as a show of support.
Look for tulips in all the parks and gardens around the city and on Michigan Avenue.
Lurie Gardens in Millennium Park
Even though it’s one of the most touristy things to do in Chicago, I’m a huge fan of Millennium Park and especially its impressive Cloud Gate aka The Bean. It doesn’t matter how many days I’m in town or what the weather is like, seeing that shiny silver bean makes my heart beat a little faster.
And while The Bean is definitely a must-do when you visit Chicago in the spring, another enjoyable thing to do in Millennium Park is Lurie Gardens. It’s my second favorite spot in the city.
Lurie Gardens is Millennium Park’s hidden in plain site “secret garden”. Located behind the Bean, the garden is a four season garden with two and a half acres full of bulbs, grasses, perennials, bushes and trees. Unless it’s covered in snow, there’s just about always something blooming. However, it’s particularly lush in the spring with the tulips and my favorite flower, peonies.
the park is the ideal setting for alfresco dining or a spring picnic with plenty of shaded areas to spread your blanket and soak up the spring sun. Pack a lunch or pick up a bite from one of the many restaurants in the area.
Architectural Tours on the Chicago River
Chicago has one of the most distinctive and beautiful skylines in the United States. And spring in Chicago is the perfect time to hop on a boat and float down the Chicago River to see some of the buildings that made Chicago famous.
One of the highlights of the tour is the opportunity to see the city’s architecture from a different perspective. From the river, visitors can see how the buildings relate to each other and how their design elements interact with the surrounding environment.
There are several tour operators to choose from but Wendella Boats is the tour company I recommend. Everything about their tours is first class. As you cruise the river on one of their two-level boats, knowledgeable guides provide insights into the history and design of each building, highlighting the unique features that have made them architectural icons.
There’s both indoor seating and an open air deck on top so no matter the weather you’ll find the best seat. The tour lasts about an hour and a half. Snacks and drinks on board are available for purchase. If you take a morning tour, there’s even mimosas. Perfect for a spring time morning in Chicago.
Outside Dining on Randolph Street
Who doesn’t enjoy sitting outside sipping a libation or two on a nice spring evening? After the long winter, Chicagoans are eager to get outside and there’s no shortage of restaurants with outdoor seating. And it’s a perfect time to sample seasonal ingredients and new spring menus at many of the city’s top restaurants. Just another great reason to visit Chicago in the spring.
For starters, head over to Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row. Located in the West Loop area, one of my favorite neighborhoods, you’ll find some of the top restaurants in the city with plenty of sidewalk tables where you can appreciate a lush spring evening.
Girl & the Goat is one of the most popular restaurants on Randolph Street (809 W Randolph St) brought to you by highly successful, Top Chef alum Stephanie Izard. This award winning chef now has three restaurants in Chicago, but Girl & the Goat was her first.
The restaurant serves small plates offering a variety of dishes, including meat, seafood, and vegetarian options. Some of the most popular dishes include a roasted pork shank, goat empanadas, and wood-fired oysters. The restaurant has received numerous awards, including a coveted James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
In addition to Chicago being one of the most awesome foodie cities, another one of the best things to do when you visit Chicago in the spring is to enjoy one – or several – of its rooftop bars. Here are a few popular options:
Located on the 13th floor of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Cindy’s has panoramic views of Millennium Park and gorgeous Lake Michigan. Their bar has a fun cocktail menu and a food menu that features American cuisine with a Mediterranean twist. A great way to brunch and lunch.
LondonHouse Rooftop is located on the 21st floor of the LondonHouse Hotel. This rooftop bar offers the best views of the Chicago River and the surrounding skyline. The bar serves classic cocktails and small plates, and often features live music or a DJ. Enjoy this roof top experience after dinner or for a special occasion.
Next, one of my favorite roof tops is located on the third floor of the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel. Raised Bar offers stellar views of the Chicago River and the surrounding cityscape. The bar serves interesting craft cocktails, beer, and wine, and has a food menu that features upscale bar bites and is the ideal spot to finish off an evening. It’s just the right mix of fun without being too club like.
These are just a few examples of rooftop bars in Chicago – there are many others to choose from depending on your preferences and where you are staying. Many of the other neighborhoods have outdoor dining and roof top options as well.
Visit Chicago in Spring
In conclusion, spring is a great time to visit Chicago, as the city offers a variety of activities and attractions to enjoy. From exploring the beautiful parks and gardens to experiencing the vibrant food and nightlife scene, there’s something for everyone in Chicago. So, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a repeat traveler, consider planning a trip to Chicago this spring and discover all that this dynamic city has to offer.