Millennium Park

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As a part of the larger Grant Park in the Loop community area of the City of Chicago, Millennium Park is a wonderful, albeit new, addition to the Chicago recreational scene. Trailing only Navy Pier in yearly attendance, Millennium Park offers visitors a host of recreational opportunities and is a great place to spend the day in Chicago.

History

Although, as its name would clearly indicate, Millennium Park was designed as a celebration of the millennium (2000), the park has only been open to the public since 2004. What Millennium Park is, however, is a massive addition to the Chicago landscape. It is also considered the city’s greatest project since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition (Chicago World’s Fair), which brought such famous structures as the buildings used by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry.

The seeds for the construction of Millennium Park were planted in the late 1990s. Indeed, the year 1997 is significant in Chicago history because it marked the end of the Illinois Central Railroad’s right of way between Lake Michigan and Downtown Chicago in the Grant Park area. When the city gained airspace rights over the railroad’s tracks, its decision to build a parking structure over the top of them planted the seeds (literally) for the world’s largest rooftop garden: Millennium Park.

The plans for Millennium Park began that same year, though official construction did not begin until September of 1998. The  would-be 16-acre park, complete with a bandshell designed by renowned modern architect Frank Gehry, was scheduled to open in 2000. However, as the millennium approached, problems in other aspects of the park’s architecture worried Gehry while the city of Chicago pushed for an expansion of the original design. A combination of funding problems, cronyism, design changes, and poor planning led to delay after delay. Finally, the park officially opened on the weekend of July 16-18, 2004.

The final area of the park covers 24.5 acres and includes Gehry’s bandshell (part of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion), an enormous sculpture called Cloud Gate (part of AT&T Plaza), the interactive Crown Fountain, the 2.5-acre Lurie Garden, the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink, BP Pedestrian Bridge (also designed by Gehry), Harris Theatre, Wrigley Square, the Chase Promenade, and many more attractions.

Milennium Park

Millennium Park also consistently lists among the most-visited attractions in the city, second only to the famed Navy Pier, entertaining over 4 million visitors per year. It is also routinely booked as a venue for entertainment, including the annual Grant Park Music Festival which features the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra.

Millennium Park has also made several appearances in popular culture since its opening in 2004. This includes serving as a setting in films as diverse as The Weather Man (2005) starring Nicholas Cage, and The Lake House (2006). It has also made appearances in television programs such as Leverage and Prison Break.

Main Attraction

There is always something for visitors to do at Millennium Park.  The specifics of these activities, however, will vary according to the season. Admission to Millennium Park is always free and allows visitors the rights to traverse popular squares as well as visit art exhibits such as Cloud Gate and the Crown Fountain. There are also additional, paid-for entertainment options such as ice skating (November-March) and workshops at the Lurie Garden.

The park is open to the public every day from 6 am to 11 pm and seats to events at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Great Lawn are always free of charge. There is also free WiFi available throughout the park every day. Outside food and drink (including alcohol) are permitted, though there are several vendors stationed throughout the park grounds. No animals, except service animals, are permitted in the park, however.

Why It’s a Must-See

Millennium Park is a unique piece of the Chicago culture and entertainment scene. Offering visitors a chance to enjoy the great outdoors, view amazing living art work, and even catch a concert, it is a truly great addition to any Chicago trip.