This past weekend, my friend Kathryn visited me in Chicago. It was her first time in the city, which of course gave me ample excuse to do the touristy things I can rarely justify doing on regular days. It was a much needed break from my stupidly busy schedule, and even though I feel like I’m behind on some of my never ending to-do list, it was totally worth it!
So where did we go and what did we do with only a weekend at our disposal?
After getting some breakfast, we headed to the Near North Side to visit the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, a gilded age mansion that has been preserved and restored to its 19th century grandeur.
We were most excited about a special exhibit currently on display: Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times. It was so lovely to explore this stunning home with costumes from one of my favorite shows, the BBC series Downton Abbey, in each room. The Downton costumes are here until May 8, so if you’re a historical fashion nut or a fan of the show, check it out!
Highlights: Amazing stained glass mosaic dome in the gallery, intricate woodworking details in the walls and trim of each room, pristine period furnishings, and Downton Costumes (for now).
Millennium Park/The Bean
It’s actually called “Cloud Gate,” but most people know it as The Bean, and it seems to be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Chicago. Thankfully, the weather was nice enough that we could enjoy our walk through the park, get close to the otherworldly sculpture and snap a few selfies in its iconic mirrored surface.
Highlight: Going right under the center of the sculpture and looking up into the kaleidoscopic surface.
Chicago Cultural Center
After we hit Millennium Park, it was only a short walk over to the Chicago Cultural Center, one of my favorite buildings in the city. There’s always something new happening at the cultural center, from music performances to poetry readings to art exhibits. Even if you miss a specific event, the architecture and design of the building is enough to make the trip worth it.
While wandering through the building to look for a specific room (the room of the dome pictured above), we happened upon a special exhibit, The Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen. If you haven’t seen or heard about these magnificent machines, hit YouTube and look it up. There were a number of beests on display AND we happened to be visiting the gallery during a live demonstration where we saw the beest walk on its own! The beests are here until May, so check it out if you can!
Highlight: The Tiffany glass dome (the world’s largest!) in the Preston Bradley Hall, which has been restored to its original 1897 splendor. Perhaps my favorite room in all of Chicago!
The Field Museum
Our last stop was the Field Museum, the amazing natural history museum that has been in Chicago since 1893, originally part of the Columbian Exhibition. We browsed exhibits on Ancient Egypt (complete with mummies!), Tibet, gems and minerals, and plants of the world, but there was still so much more to see by the time the museum closed for the evening.
It was both a blessing and a curse that the day we visited was a resident free day; we didn’t have to pay admission BUT the museum was PACKED, which made it harder to move around, explore, and take our time reading each exhibit. I never feel like I have enough time at the Field Museum, so I always think it’s worth a return trip.
Highlights: Sue, the largest, most complete T-rex fossil ever found, standing watch over the great hall of the Field Museum. The Architectural details, including enormous marble columns, and an imposing neoclassical pediment on the façade.
Although we only had a weekend, and we saw quite a bit, there are still a number of sites on our list for Kathryn’s next visit: The Art Institute, The Sears Tower, Buckingham Fountain and the International Museum of Surgical Science, in addition to a slew of amazing bars and restaurants.
What’s on your “must-visit” list for a weekend in Chicago?