Got green fingers? Well, one of our fave summer shindigs, Sheffield Garden Walk & Festival (22-23 Jul), offers a sneaky peak into some 80 private picture-perfect gardens, as well as guided architectural tours, live music, street food, and fun activities for the smalls.
But even if you’re not in town for this annual yard-hop, Chi-town is still one of the best cities in the US for getting back to nature, with its abundance of parks, meadows, esplanades and epic verdant sprawls. Let us lead you up the garden path with these green scene-stealers...
Chicago Botanic Garden
A 30-minute drive from The Peninsula, this 385-acre botanical eden, with four natural habitats and 27 gardens straddling nine islands in the Cook County Forest, is well worth the trek. Special events and attractions abound in summer: kids gleefully flutter into the magical butterfly house (until 4 Sep); adventurous gardeners beeline for the exotic Brazil showcase (until 15 Oct), and free lakeside evening concerts run Mon-Thu, while the rose-enrobed beer garden is open all season.
We’re not talking about the historic neighbourhood silly, but the sprawling lakeside park it gets its name from. Boasting a farmers market, zoo, Nature Museum, beach, promenade and conservatory, plus hands-down the best angle on Chicago’s staggering downtown skyline, it comes as no surprise that Lincoln Park is packed like a deep-dish pizza on weekends. For the most uninhibited vantages, come on a weekday, entering on the corner of W Armitage and N Clark. Hang a right at N Stockton, then left at N Ridge, skipping over South Pond bridge (do take a quick picture pause) to follow the road right until you reach N Cannon. Shimmy up to the overpass and cross, then zap right toward the city for more glam-bam vistas. Or, rent some wheels for a breezy cycle along the waterfront.
Smack-bang in the middle of the downtown bustle, this elegant esplanade makes a peaceful, cooling retreat mid-retail marathon. That is, unless there’s a special event on, which there very often is in this green beating heart of the city. Free cultural programs include concerts, art exhibitions, street-food festivals, and fun-for-the-fam activities. You’ll also stumble upon plenty of creative photo ops with Frank Gehry’s astounding Pritzker Pavilion (be sure to check the music lineup for later), Jaume Plensa’s witty Crown Fountain, and – what has come to be a symbol of the city – Anish Kapoor’s reflective Cloud Gate (aka The Bean).
There’s no lovelier time to make the 40-minute schlep west of Chicago to this ‘great outdoor museum and living tree laboratory’, where flora-laden boughs, lakes, swaying tallgrass prairies and a fragrant herbarium promise to awaken the senses. Active types can hike or bike this 1,700-acre marvel, tackling one of the recommended trails (bike hire available), then kick back at the nifty cafe-restaurant and shop the Arboretum Store for eco-friendly souvenirs and gifts.
Sheffield Garden Walk & Festival / Sheffield & Webster / noon-10pm Sat-Sun / 22-23 Jul / sheffieldgardenwalk.com
Millennium Park / 201 E Randolph St / 6am-11pm daily / cityofchicago.org
Lincoln Park / 500-5700 N Lake Shore Dr / +1 312 742 7726 / 6am-11pm daily / chicagoparkdistrict.com
Chicago Botanic Garden / 1000 Lake Cook Rd / Glencoe / +1 847 835 5440 / 7am-9pm daily / chicagobotanic.org
Morton Arboretum / 4100 Illinois Highway 53 / Lisle / +1 630 968 0074 / 7am-sunset daily / mortonarb.org