There’s a reason Chicago has been voted best large city in the US three years in a row – fantastic museums, some great architecture, plenty for families and its setting on the lake. In fact, it’s appeared in so many movies you might feel like you’ve visited before you even arrive.
And the Windy City has embraced virtual tourism as well, with some great VR tours, online art galleries and other ways to explore – check out some of the best in this city guide to virtual Chicago.
Virtual Chicago views
Start by soaking up the Chicago skyline – home to the world’s first skyscraper, the 10-storey building would be lost among the glittering towers of today.
As well as the string of videos from Choose Chicago to get a feel for the city, you can also discover its green heart.
Head to Millennium Park with this video tour and discover Cloud Gate – better known as The Bean, as well as its gardens, lakefront views and even an ice rink in winter.
Famous for its architecture, it’s not just those skyscrapers which draw people to Chicago – the Chicagoland area is home to the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structures in the world.
And if you can’t explore the iconic architect’s works in reality, you can take a series of video tours of several, including two Unesco World Heritage sites.
Or take a virtual Chicago walking tour from Chicago Detours – register to join in live via Zoom, exploring different neighbourhoods, or you can watch them on YouTube afterwards.
Chicago art & culture
Chicago’s museums and galleries are among the best in the USA, from world-class art collections to specialised history museums as well as natural history – and you can take an online tour of more than a few on a virtual Chicago break.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Almost 40,000 of the works owned by the Art Institute of Chicago have been digitised in high resolution so you can get a close-up view from the comfort of your own armchair.
The art virtually on display includes Monet’s Water Lilies, pieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse and Edward Hopper as well as the famous American Gothic.
Browse the full collection here or check out some of virtual tours of the museum, including the chance to discover interactive features and visit current exhibition El Greco: Ambition and Defiance online.
You can also take a virtual tour thanks to the Google Arts & Culture project with a stroll through the different galleries.
The Adler Planetarium
America’s first planetarium is home to interactive exhibitions and live shows but while you might not be able to touch the exhibits from home , you can still take a virtual tour of the Adler Planetarium as well as discovering some of their learning resources.
The Let’s Do Science video series is perfect for families, with experiments you can try at home as well as other online resources including virtual exhibitions and podcasts sharing more stories of the planetarium.
Chicago History Museum
Some of America’s defining moments have taken place in Chicago, and the Chicago History Museum is the perfect place for a virtual tour to discover them.
There are exhibits on the life of Abraham Lincoln, the Haymarket riots, the Great Chicago Fire and the 1933 World’s Fair, as well as the Chicago θθ Project, with its VR experiences of defining moments in the city’s history, to explore online.
Or take a virtual museum tour of the Chicago History Museum courtesy of Google Arts & Culture.
Other Chicago Museums
- The DuSable Museum of African American History – take a virtual tour of one of the first independent museums focused on African American history.
- The Oriental Institute – tucked away on the University of Chicago campus houses an impressive collection of artefacts from ancient Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia and Syria, among others, not least a massive statue of Tutankhamun, which you can see on a virtual tour or on a virtual visit to the museum.
- Chicago is also home to one of the country’s largest collections of Mexican art – and staff at the National Museum of Mexican Art are constantly coming up with creative ways for kids to entertain themselves at home as well. You can also still take a virtual tour of the museum too.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
It’s not only art galleries and museum collections to give you a virtual culture fix – tune in to one of the live performances from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra every week, as well as some extra archive performances being re-shared.
Or if you can’t take in a full performance, you can still listen to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concert with selections from over the years on YouTube.
For world-class dance, the Joffrey Ballet is sharing archive footage to tell the history of the dance company and of dance itself, as well as ballet lessons and dance inspired workouts
Virtual Chicago with kids
The Field Museum
The Field Museum of Natural History is one of the biggest in the world – heaven for kids, as well as anyone interested in the natural world.
The biggest draw are the dinosaurs, including Maximo the titanosaur – the largest dinosaur which ever lived, bigger than a blue whale. If you’ve always had a burning question about dinosaurs, you can even ask him here, whether it’s a few more facts about the Cretaceous period, his own journey to the museum or what his favourite colour is…
You can also text him on 70221 or take a virtual tour through the Field Museum to see some more of the exhibits.
With 32,600 species of sea life at the Shedd Aquarium, there’s always something new to discover as you explore from seahorses to sea otters and beluga whales.
Watch a rainbow of fish in real time on the Underwater Beauty live cam showing the reef fish as well as jellyfish and eels which live in one of the special exhibits, a shimmering darting swirl of colours.
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Wellington, meet the belugas! 🐧🐳 This weekend, Wellington—one of the oldest Shedd penguins—visited Kayavak, Mauyak and baby Annik—the youngest Shedd beluga—who were very curious about this little rockhopper. Belugas are northern hemisphere animals, so they would likely never see a penguin in the wild!
There are also a series of videos shared while the Shedd Aquarium is closed, including the chance to see the penguins exploring – often in slightly baffled fascination, although the beluga whales seemed delighted to have visitors!
There’s also the chance to see behind the scenes at the Shedd Aquarium on this virtual tour as well as a virtual walk through.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Virtual visitors can check out some of their favourite animals at Lincoln Park Zoo, but there are also chances to enjoy a few unique experiences online while the zoo itself is closed, including Facebook Lives with the Zoo Director, virtual habitat tours, keeper chats, Q&As and other videos.
Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, home to over 2,000 animals, is also running Facebook broadcasts for virtual visitors to see the animals and some of the everyday life of the zoo.
Main image courtesy Depositphotos