Museums Top the List of Places To Visit Near Chicago's United Center

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Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of Navy Pier
By Megy Karydes

Visitors to Chicago’s United Center on the city’s west side have several museum attractions to enjoy within a few miles since it’s close to the Loop, Greektown and Little Italy.

Well-known museums like the Art Institute of Chicago and lesser-known cultural institutions like the National Hellenic Museum and the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame are easily accessible and near the busy indoor sports arena and performance center.

Don’t miss your chance to get a photo taken on The Ledge at Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) which is just two miles away straight east on the United Center.

Popular sightseeing spots like Millennium Park and Navy Pier are a bit farther but still a short cab ride away. The Chicago Lakefront Trail is enjoyable any time of the year but especially during warmer days when you can walk the trail.

If hockey is part of the reason you’re visiting, don’t miss your chance to see the NFL Stanley Cup championship winners, the Chicago Blackhawks, practice for free at Johnny’s IceHouse West. 

Restaurants are plentiful within a few miles from the United Center and we list our top 10 here. Several restaurants offer free shuttle service to the UC so after you’re done sightseeing, be sure to get some great food before venturing to see the performance or game.

10. Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
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Seeing Chicago's architectural beauty from the decks of a river cruiser is a must for both locals and visitors. One of the city's most unique tours, the CAF River Cruise takes visitors along the north and south shores of the lake. Guests will learn about more than 50 buildings and their significance to Chicago's architectural landscape as well as general history about Chicago and how it grew from a small back-country outpost to one of the world's most important crossroads of today. Tours are available late April through mid-November and run about an hour and a half in length. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance as they often sell out.

9. Chicago Lakefront Trail
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The city really comes alive when the weather warms up enough for its residents to hit the Lakefront Path. Located east of Lake Shore Drive, the Lakefront Trail is an 18.5 mile linear path that stretches from the far north part of the city to the south side. Neighborhoods dot the path as well as notable cultural landmarks including the Museum of Science and Industry; the Field Museum of Natural History; Shedd Aquarium; Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum; the Chicago Children's Museum; the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum; Lincoln Park Zoo, and the South Shore Cultural Center. The paved path is very popular among walkers, joggers and bicyclists and it will and does get crowded during the warm weekends. Expect to slow down around Navy Pier, one of the most congested points on the trail. Still, the Lakefront Path is one of Chicago's best and free sightseeing attractions.

8. Navy Pier
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Since 1916, Navy Pier has been home not only to the military but to scores of special attractions. Now purely commercial, the Pier offers everything from an IMAX theater to performances by a Shakespeare troupe. You can view dancing in a grand ballroom, ride the splendor of a fifteen-story Ferris Wheel (a replica of the one at Chicago's 1893 World's Fair), or relax to the sounds of waves quietly lapping on the lakeshore. The Chicago Children's Museum is on the second floor and there are dining options on the premises. A series of special events happen throughout the year including seasonal celebrations, festivals and cultural events to public shows in the exhibition hall space. The website has an up-to-date calendar worth checking out in advance of a visit.

7. Millennium Park
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Millennium Park is Chicago's crown jewel. With the change of seasons, the park attracts thousands every day. Summertime means a stellar line-up of concerts at Jay Pritzker Pavilion (during the day, on most Tuesdays through Fridays, the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus can be heard for free in the Pavilion as musicians rehearse for upcoming concerts). Winter brings out the ice-skating rink and Christmas lights. Get a picture with the Cloud Gate sculpture, or 'The Bean' as we call it in Chicago and at Crown Fountain, two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video of faces of Chicago citizens on LED screens and having water flow through an outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. At the southern tip is Lurie Garden, a 5-acre urban oasis featuring perennials, bulbs, grasses, shrubs and trees.

6. Art Institute of Chicago
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A highlight of any trip to Chicago, this museum is home to one of the best and most diverse art collections in the world. People are drawn first to the vast Impressionist collection, including the world's largest group of Monet paintings. But treasures abound, including the haunting "American Gothic" and Seurat's groundbreaking Pointillist work. The contemporary section has been expanded and now includes pieces by Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Pollock, and Warhol. The temporary shows are also well known and always receive critical acclaim. Kids particularly enjoy the Thorne Rooms, 68 miniature room models with intricately detailed European interiors from the 16th century through the 1930s as well as American furnishings from the 17th century to 1940.

5. National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame
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Located in the heart of Little Italy, the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame fills visitors in on Italian athletes and their accomplishments, from well known greats like Rocky Marciano and Joe DiMaggio to Lou Retton, Ron Santo and Brian Boitano. Videos throughout also share information on the Italian immigration and overcoming adversity. Personal items are donated by many of the athletes and if you've every wanted to see the baseball bats and uniforms of Mike Piazza and DiMaggio, this is the place to visit. Head to the top floor patio to get a glimpse of some amazing panoramic views of the city's skyline.

4. National Hellenic Museum
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Located in the heart of Chicago's Greektown, the National Hellenic Museum aims to interpret the American experience through the history of Greek immigrants and their contributions to the American landscape while celebrating their history and culture. A new building with new exhibits, it's slowly building its collections although several of the exhibits are well-done. The museum offers many cultural activities throughout the year for the community including teaching a group of students Greek dances. Free docent-led tours (with $10 general admission fee) of the American Moments Exhibition is available from 1-2pm every Sunday. The Museum offers a well-curated selection of gifts made by Greek and Greek American artisans.

3. Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
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Named after the first female to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum pays homage to her work in social justice, education, immigration and child welfare. A quest for social reform and belief in equal opportunities for all community members were driving forces behind Addams' establishment in 1889 of a settlement house in one of Chicago's immigrant neighborhoods. Documents, furniture, and plenty of photographs tell the story of this remarkable woman. Entrance to the museum is free although donations are requested. There is plenty to read, view and touch (and some things you can't) as well as a short film depicting life in the late 19th century/early 20th century. Addam's actual bedroom is in the building where one can walk in and be surrounded by her desk, clothing, diaries, books and personal photographs.

2. Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
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Standing 1454 feet high, this skyscraper is easily Chicago's most dominant structure and still holds the title of tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Visitors can shoot to the top of the 110-story building via a 70-second elevator ride and catch magnificent views into Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin from the 103rd floor Skydeck. If you are looking for thrill, step out onto "The Ledge," glass boxes extended from the side of the Skydeck with views 1,353 feet straight down. Informational exhibits for both adults and children teach the history of Chicago, the construction of the tower and interesting "did you know" facts.

1. Johnny's IceHouse West
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Want to watch Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, practice? For Free? Visitors can watch the practices, which are open to the public, for free at Johnny's IceHouse West, the professional hockey team's official practice facility and one of the country's state of the art ice rinks. Head up to the third floor for the shop if you're looking to sharpen skates, hockey supplies or some Johnny's branded apparel and accessories. Overlooking the ice is The Stanley Club, a full service lounge that offers burgers, Chicago-style Vienna hot dogs, pizza, popcorn and beer. For those who haven't been able to score tickets to a game at the United Center or want to watch NHL games with other hockey fans, The Stanley Club shows all NHL games on their screens, including all playoff games.Watch Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, practice for free at Johnny's IceHouse West.