What comes to mind first when you think of the great city of Chicago? Wind? Pizza? Lake Michigan? The Art Institute? Michael Jordan? Wrigley Field? You get the point: all of the above—and yet still many, many more possibilities—would be quite acceptable answers, because Chicago has a lot going for it.
In the mix here, though, would also have to be: architecture. Chicago’s architecture is legendary the world over for its daring designs, visionary buildings, and soaring skyscrapers. But don’t take my word for it. Head out asap on one of the following architecture tours. Each one of these architecture tours offers access to a special side of Chicago’s multi-faceted architectural splendors. And best of all, each one of these architecture tours is part of a Go City Chicago attraction pass that might prove useful to you as you plan your next architecture-themed outing to the Windy City!
Shoreline Architecture River Cruise
Year in and year out, the Shoreline Architecture River Cruise is one of the most popular activities for visitors to Chicago from all over the world. You can board the Shoreline Architecture River Cruise at your choice of two convenient locations: at either Navy Pier or on Michigan Avenue near The Wrigley Building (speaking of great architecture!). The cruise typically lasts about 75 minutes, and along the way you’ll learn all about the history of Chicago’s storied skyline.
An especially neat detail about the Shoreline Architecture River Cruise is that it takes you down all three branches of the Chicago River (Main, North, and South). This ensures that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to snap that perfect photograph of your favorite building from just the right angle!
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
One of the 20th Century’s most famous architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, had deep ties to the Midwest, and in particular, the city of Chicago. Chicago is where, for many years, he lived and worked, developing his inimitable style, completing early commissions, and building a reputation as an innovative, visionary artist whose design influence still resonates today.
Frank Lloyd Wright is responsible for many fine buildings and homes throughout the Chicagoland area, and if you so desire, there are tours you can take while in the Windy City that will enable you to explore several of them. However, if you have time for only one Frank Lloyd Wright-focused outing, then make a point to visit his home and studio. Located in Oak Park, just west of downtown Chicago, the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is where he and his family resided for some 20 years as Wright toiled away on hundreds of architectural plans. For anyone with even a passing interest in architecture, it’s a tour not to be missed.
But who wants to experience just one Frank Lloyd Wright-focused outing? The Robie House, located in Hyde Park on the campus of the University of Chicago, is considered by some experts to be one of the most significant structures in the history of American architecture. Completed in 1910, this single-family home stands today as a fine example of Wright’s so-called “Prairie Style.” It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1963, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
If that’s not enough, the Robie House is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can visit it without even needing to remove your wallet. As the Robie House is part of both the All-Inclusive Pass and the Explorer Pass produced by Go City Chicago, you can simply have your attraction pass scanned at the gate and join a tour of this extraordinary building just like that.
Chicago History Museum
The Chicago History Museum’s focus isn’t strictly exclusively on architecture—its terrific exhibits cover all manner of historical Chicago, of course—but architecture buffs will discover in short order that all the same it’s well worth a visit. The Chicago History Museum occupies a prominent location near the southwest entrance to Lincoln Park, at the lively intersection of Clark Street and North Avenue. If you have the time, energy, and inclination, consider approaching the museum on foot from the south, with a walk along North Astor Street. This quiet block is the heart of Chicago’s opulent Gold Coast neighborhood, and you’ll see some striking architecture and beautiful homes in the wild as you make your way to the museum.
When you arrive at the Chicago History Museum, whip out your attraction pass, enter hassle-free, and enjoy! Popular permanent galleries here include “City on Fire: Chicago 1871,” which demonstrates how the Great Chicago Fire forever altered Chicago’s architecture, and “Chicago: Crossroads of America,” which houses noteworthy artifacts gathered from all throughout Chicago.
So, let’s be clear and acknowledge straight off the top that an observation deck is not, strictly speaking, an “architecture tour.” With that out of the way, let’s get real: you’re going to spend all this time, effort, and energy exploring the many architectural wonders of Chicago, and then decide not to see said architectural wonders from perhaps their most amazing vantagepoints? Come on, now.
Chicago has two observation decks worth knowing about, both of which provide breathtaking and unique views of the city and its distinct charms. Skydeck Chicago occupies the 103rd floor of the iconic Willis Tower (it’ll always be the Sears Tower to us locals!) and lets you peer out across the city from an all-glass enclosed box known as The Ledge—you’ll either love it or hate it. 360 Chicago is found on the 94th floor of the 875 Michigan Avenue building (you will encounter literally no one who calls it this—it’s known to real breathing human beings from Chicago as the John Hancock Center). You can’t go wrong seeing the city’s architecture from either landmark, and regardless of which one you go with, your admission will be free at the point of access when you use your Chicago CityPASS.
BONUS: Chicago Architecture Center
A disclaimer: Unlike the attractions detailed above, nothing associated with the fabulous Chicago Architecture Center is found on any sort of local attraction pass (like the Go City Chicago Explorer Pass). However, did you see how I just described the Chicago Architecture Center as “fabulous”? That’s because it is, and I would be remiss if I didn’t conclude this article on architecture tours in Chicago by at least mentioning this outstanding resource.
Located on Wacker Drive, one block east of Michigan Avenue and one block south of the Chicago Riverwalk, the Chicago Architecture Center is your home for all things, well, Chicago architecture! Here you’ll find exhibits on the city’s architectural history, as well as galleries dedicated to envisioning what a Chicago “of the future” might look like, but the standout feature would have to be a model Chicago that contains over 4,000 buildings. The Chicago Architecture Center also runs some several dozen different architectural tours, including its acclaimed River Cruise. This 90-minute excursion is a real gem, and I would highly recommend it.