Explore America's park logoIf you’re looking for a quiet urban refuge, you won’t find it here. Millennium Park is a busy place, with more than 525 free events each year.

History 

Legend has it that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley got the idea for the park while looking down at the unsightly square of railroad tracks and parking lots from the window of his dentist’s office. Construction began in October 1998 and Millennium Park opened on July 16, 2004.

The $475 million price tag was paid with city funds and private donations.

 

Things to do 

The kids will be drawn to the Family Fun Tent on the Park’s Chase Promenade North where there is music and activities every day through Aug. 21. There is daily story hour and a chance for kids to join Wiggleworms instructors from the Old Town School of Folk Music in sing-alongs, circle dances and more. Children can also do craft projects, garden projects and hands-on science activities lead by instructors from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Swedish American Museum, the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago and other cultural institutions.

Crown fountain in Chicago's Millennium ParkChildren can stay active in the winter, gliding on a 16,000-square-foot ice skating rink at the McCormick Tribune Plaza at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street.

Art lovers will want to stroll through the Boeing Galleries — two outdoor galleries located on the mid-level terraces on both the north and south sides of the park. On display through October 2012 are massive pieces by Mexican sculptor Yvonne Domenge.

Art is built into the park. The Crown Fountain, (at right) the work of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, comprises two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. Water flows down the blocks, which serve as a big screen that projects photos of 1,000 different Chicagoans. Cloud Gate is a 110-ton elliptical sculpture made of highly polished stainless steel plates reflecting the city skyline and the clouds above. The work by British artist Anish Kapoor is also known as “The Bean.”

 

Why you’ll want to come back 

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion — an outdoor concert venue with 4,000 seats and room for 7,000 on the Great Lawn — is the site of dozens of free concerts, ranging from classical to jazz to indie rock and beyond.

 

Flora and fauna 

The five-acre Lurie Garden is planted with a wide variety of perennials and bulbs including purple sensation allium, Arkansas blue star, butterfly weed, purple prairie clover, tulips and coneflowers. Trees include Eastern redbud, European beech, burr oak, Kentucky coffee tree and higan cherry. 

 

By the numbers:

  • Website: Millennium Park
  • Park size: 24.5 acres
  • 2010 visitation: 4.5 million
  • Funky fact: Built atop a parking garage and commuter rail station, Millennium Park is considered the world's largest rooftop garden.
 
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
Inset photo of the Crown Fountain: David Paul Ohmer/Flickr