Chicago: Lincoln Park Conservatory, Zoo

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In a city where everything’s expensive, it’s nice to find a couple of attractions that aren’t just cheap, they’re free.  Just north of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile district, you’ll find the classy neighborhood of Lincoln Park, home to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The conservatory is a botanical garden inside a giant greenhouse, which was constructed between 1890 and 1895.  It’s operated by the Chicago parks department, not only as a showplace for exotic foliage, but also as a place to grow plants needed for the city’s parks.

The Lincoln Park Conservatory is open 365 days a year, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
The bust in front of the Lincoln Park Conservatory is that of Sir Georg Solti, who served as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra starting in 1969.  www.georgsolti.com has all the information you’d ever need to know.

I can only imagine what it’s like to walk through the conservatory on a cold winter day, looking out on piles of snow from the comfort of perpetual summer.

The Orchid House at the Lincoln Park Conservatory is one of four display houses.  It gives you a chance to see many examples of the rare flowers up close.

Back outside, the lawn in front of the Conservatory is a great place to lie on the grass or play.  From here, you have a great view of the northern end of downtown, with the most prominent building being the John Hancock Center (on the left).

Lincoln Park Zoo

Next door to the Conservatory is the Lincoln Park Zoo.  If you have kids in tow, they’ll love it, and even if you don’t, it’s still worth a quick walk-through, because after all, it’s free!

I only made a passing visit through the zoo, with a stop at the Penguin exhibit.  I expected it to be cool inside (and it probably was on the other side of the glass, but not on the human side).

I also stopped by the seal tank, before exiting the park.  There are plenty more animals living at the zoo, including monkeys, lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, farm animals–you get the idea.

The Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory is located off Lake Shore Drive at the Fullerton Parkway exit.  Or, you can take bus routes 151 or 156.  If you drive, be aware that parking is expensive: $12 for 30 minutes-3 hours (less than :30 is free).

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.

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