Architectural Walking Tour in The Loop District, Chicago (Self Guided)

Chicago features an outstanding architectural legacy. This city has long been connected with some of architecture's most important names: Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and Holabird & Root. The Loop District offers an extensive number of Chicago's famous architectural "must-see" buildings such as Aqua Tower, Willis Tower, Chicago Theatre, or Rookery Building. Take this walking tour to explore the most famous constructions of the Loop District, Chicago.
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Architectural Walking Tour in The Loop District Map

Guide Name: Architectural Walking Tour in The Loop District
Guide Location: USA » Chicago (See other walking tours in Chicago)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 km
Author: doris
Aqua Tower

1) Aqua Tower (must see)

The Aqua Tower is located on the 200 block of North Columbus Drive and is surrounded by high-rises. Aqua is an 86-story mixed-use residential skyscraper in the Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago. Designed by a team led by Jeanne Gang, the building is the tallest in the world, at 859 ft, to have a woman as lead architect. The Aqua was named the Emporis Skyscraper Award 2009 skyscraper of the year and was shortlisted in 2010 for the biannual International Highrise Award. To capture views of nearby landmarks for Aqua's residents, Gang stretched its balconies outward by as much as 12 feet. The result is a building composed of irregularly shaped concrete floor slabs which lend the facade an undulating, sculptural quality. The green roof on top of the tower base is one of the largest in Chicago.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most unique buildings in the world; each balcony is unique in size and shape giving the appearance of water flowing in waves.

The building houses the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel (floors 1-18), as well as condos that can be rented.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Chicago Theatre

2) Chicago Theatre (must see)

The Chicago Theatre, originally known as the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theatre, is a landmark theater located on North State Street in the Loop area of Chicago, Illinois. When it opened on October 26, 1921, the 3,880 seat theater was promoted as the "Wonder Theatre of the World". Now the Chicago Theatre is a performing arts venue for stage plays, magic shows, comedy, speeches, and popular music concerts. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 6, 1979, and it was listed as a Chicago Landmark on January 28, 1983. The iconic Chicago Theatre marquee, "as an unofficial emblem of the city", appears in film, television, artwork, and photography. The structure is seven stories tall and fills nearly one half of a city block. The interior shows French Baroque influence from the Second French Empire. The grand lobby, five stories high and surrounded by gallery promenades at the mezzanine and balcony levels, is influenced by the Royal Chapel at Versailles.

Why You Should Visit:
Ornate classic theater with an old-school ambiance; beautiful lobby and plenty of decorations to see inside before a show starts.
The daily 12 PM tour takes you throughout the building, its history, construction and curiosities, and you even get to go on the stage.

There is much to do nearby – shopping/restaurants/other theaters, so if you arrive too early you can grab a bite or drink nearby.
Even if you don't see a show here, you have to at least snap a pic from the outside!
Sight description based on wikipedia
Chicago City Hall

3) Chicago City Hall (must see)

Chicago City Hall is the official seat of government of the City of Chicago in Illinois. Situated on a city block bounded by Randolph, LaSalle, Washington, and Clark streets, the 11-story structure was designed by the architectural firm Holabird & Roche in the classical revival style. The building was officially dedicated on February 27, 1911. Chicago City Hall's entrance features four relief panels sculpted in granite by John Flanagan. Each of the panels represents one of four principal concerns of city government: playgrounds, schools, parks, and water supply. As visitors enter the building, they are greeted with elaborate marble stairways and bronze tablets honoring the past city halls of Chicago from 1837 to the present. In 2001, the roof gardens were completed serving as a test for the impact green roofs would have on the heat island effect in urban areas, rainwater runoff, and the effectiveness of differing types of green roofs and plant species for Chicago's climate.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8:30am-4:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Civic Opera House

4) Civic Opera House (must see)

One of the world's most beautiful constructions, Civic Opera House, is located in the heart of Downtown Chicago, in the famous Loop District. The construction of the building is characterized as a hybrid of Art Deco and Art Nouveau architectural styles.

The Civic Opera House has 3,563 seats, making it the second-largest opera auditorium in North America, right behind New York City's Metropolitan Opera House. Built for the Chicago Civic Opera, today it is the permanent home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Why You Should Visit:
Turn of the century charm and high art at reasonable prices!
The building is huge (so it's very rare that you can't get a last minute seat) but has excellent acoustics.

Don't forget to go downstairs to see the great mini-museum that is always interesting.
You may also treat yourself to a backstage tour to learn about how an opera comes together.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Union Station

5) Union Station

Union Station is a Chicago train station that opened in 1925, replacing an earlier 1881 station, and is now the only intercity rail terminal in Chicago. Union Station was built on the west side of the Chicago River and stands between Adams Street and Jackson Street. It is, including approach and storage tracks, about nine and a half city blocks in size, and almost entirely beneath streets and skyscrapers (only its impressive head house is not). Since the station is underground, exhaust from the trains is a problem which is demonstrated by its dark ceilings. Upon its completion, Union Station was hailed as an outstanding achievement in railroad facility planning. Today, the monumental neoclassical station is the last remaining railroad terminal still used by intercity trains in Chicago.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Willis Tower / Skydeck Chicago

6) Willis Tower / Skydeck Chicago (must see)

Willis Tower, built as and still commonly referred to as the Sears Tower, is a 108-story 1,451 feet (442 m) skyscraper in Chicago, Illinois. At completion in 1973, it surpassed the World Trade Center towers in New York to become the tallest building in the world, a title it held for nearly 25 years; it remained the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere until the completion of a new building at the rebuilt World Trade Center site in 2014. Currently, the Willis Tower is the second-tallest building in the United States and the Western hemisphere – and the 16th-tallest in the world.

The Willis Tower observation deck, called the Skydeck, opened on June 22, 1974. Located on the tower's 103rd floor, it is 1,353 feet (412.4 m) high, making it the highest observation deck in the United States and one of Chicago's most famous tourist attractions. Tourists can experience how the building sways on a windy day. They also can see far over the plains of Illinois and across Lake Michigan to Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin on a clear day. Elevators take tourists to the top in about 60 seconds and allow them to feel the pressure change as they rise up.

Why You Should Visit:
The views are genuinely stunning and, providing you have the stomach for it, you should definitely line up to step onto the Ledge – the glass box that juts out the side of the viewing floor, perfect for photo ops.

The observatory is not very big but waiting for the actual glass bottom ledge takes a while, so try going straight to the ledge first to beat the crowd and then take your time to go around.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Rookery Building

7) Rookery Building (must see)

The Rookery Building is a historic landmark located in the Loop community area of Chicago. Completed by John Wellborn Root and Daniel Burnham of Burnham and Root in 1888, it is considered one of their masterpiece buildings. It measures 181 feet (55 m), is twelve stories tall and is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago. It has a unique style with exterior load-bearing walls and an interior steel frame. The building was designated a Chicago Landmark on July 5, 1972. The name Rookery comes from the previous building on the property, which became home to many birds, especially pigeons. The red marble, terra cotta and brick facade of the building is a combination of Roman Revival and Queen Anne styles that embraced Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. The building, which is a combination of iron framing and masonry bearing walls, marked a transition from masonry load-bearing structures to steel skeleton load-bearing structures.

Why You Should Visit:
From the outside, it looks like any of the classic buildings in Chicago; from the inside, you really get pulled in and held in awe.

You can stop in and see the lobby for free, but to see the best parts (such as the famed D-spiral staircase & other architectural aspects) you will need the guided tour offered Monday through Friday at noon.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am-6pm; Sat: 8am-2pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Marquette Building

8) Marquette Building

The Marquette Building, completed in 1895, is a Chicago, Illinois landmark that was built by the George A. Fuller Company and designed by architects Holabird & Roche. The building was one of the early steel frame skyscrapers of its day, and is considered one of the best examples of the Chicago School of architecture. The architects, Holabird & Roche, used trademark long horizontal bay "Chicago windows" on the Marquette Building. These are large panes of glass flanked by narrow sash windows. The grid-like window frames and spandrels are facilitated by the steel structure which enables non-load-bearing masonry walls. The ensemble of mosaics, sculptures, and bronze of the Marquette Building entry and interior honors Jacques Marquette’s 1674-5 expedition. The mosaics are by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his chief designer and art director, Jacob Adolph Holzer; they contain panels of lustered Tiffany glass, mother-of-pearl, and semi-precious stones.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fisher Building

9) Fisher Building

The Fisher Building is 20-story, 275-foot-tall neo-Gothic landmark building located at 343 South Dearborn Street in the Chicago Loop community area of Chicago. It was designated a Chicago Landmark on June 7, 1978. At the time of its completion, the building was one of two buildings in the city that was 18 stories tall, the other being the Masonic Building. To this day, the Fisher Building is the oldest 18 story building in Chicago that has not been demolished. The Fisher Building features terra-cotta carvings of various aquatic creatures including fish and crabs. In addition, there are eagles, dragons and mythical creatures depicted on the facade as well. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1976.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Harold Washington Library Center

10) Harold Washington Library Center (must see)

The Harold Washington Library Center is the central library for the Chicago Public Library System. It is named for former Mayor Harold Washington. It is approximately 756,640 square feet (70,294 m2). The Harold Washington Library opened on October 7, 1991. After the refurbishment of the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977, where the central library had been housed, much of the library's collection was placed into storage. Upon the building's completion in 1991, the new Mayor Richard M. Daley named the building in honor of now-deceased Washington, an advocate of reading and education among Chicagoans as well as an advocate of the library's construction. Since completion, the Library has appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library building in the world.

Why You Should Visit:
Special displays & collections worth visiting on each floor!
There are poetry readings, art exhibits, and the children's library is unparalleled.

Be sure to take the elevator straight the 9th floor to see the gorgeous glass ceiling and enjoy the sunshine and quiet of the Winter Garden.
The 8th floor has practice rooms for musicians and is where you can listen to rare recordings or play the piano.
The old library, now Cultural Center, is equally interesting and has the world's largest Tiffany dome in its own magnificent room.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 9am-9pm; Fri-Sat: 9am-5pm; Sun: 1-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Fine Arts Building

11) Fine Arts Building

Fine Arts Building was constructed in 1884. It is one of the few remaining buildings in Chicago designed specifically for working artists. The bronze cast elevator doors and ornate clocks are among the building's original features. This historic building houses two theaters, several offices, some amazing shops and music studios.
Auditorium Building

12) Auditorium Building

The Auditorium Building was originally built in 1889 as Chicago's Opera House. Today, it combines a hotel, office space and a spectacular theater. The building features Eclectic Romanesque Revival architectural style. Its main highlights are the proscenium arch over the theater stage painted with 45 life-size classical figures, and the mosaics inside the building which are estimated to include 50 million pieces of marble.

Walking Tours in Chicago, Illinois

Create Your Own Walk in Chicago

Create Your Own Walk in Chicago

Creating your own self-guided walk in Chicago is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
The Magnificent Mile Area Walk

The Magnificent Mile Area Walk

The Magnificent Mile is located between the Chicago River and the Lake Shore Drive. It is considered one of the great avenues of the world, being Chicago's version of the Champs-Elysees. Take this walk to explore the Magnificent Mile boulevard and the surrounding area, that features a wide selection of amazing shops, world-known museums, restaurants and spectacular architecture.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 km
Best Jazz and Blues Clubs Tour

Best Jazz and Blues Clubs Tour

Chicago is considered to be one of the most important destinations where Jazz & Blues developed. In the 1920s this city became a center of hot jazz. At the same time blues started to invade Chicago. So if you are a fan of Jazz and/or Blues or you simply like listening to great music, take this walking tour and don't miss the chance to visit some of the best Jazz & Blues clubs in...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 km
Souvenir Shopping Part 2

Souvenir Shopping Part 2

It would be a pity to leave Chicago without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Chicago, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 4 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 9.9 km
Nightlife Tour

Nightlife Tour

Legendary Cocktail Lounges play an important part in Chicago's nightlife. Here you can feel the city pulsing with the beat of extraordinary performances of live jazz, blues, rock, folk and country. At Chicago's cocktail lounges you can meet the trendiest people and relax over the magnificent cocktails. Take this walking tour to discover the most famous cocktail lounges that Chicago has...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 km
Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour

Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour

Chicago offers a wide range of amazing green outdoor spaces. Grant and Millennium are two lakefront parks, that represent the city's progressive design streak from the 19th century to the 21st. These parks feature amazing architecture and design. Take this walk to explore the beauties the two parks have to offer.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 km
Discovering Chinatown

Discovering Chinatown

Located in the Armour Square, the Chinatown in Chicago was first established in 1912. It is considered the best example of American Chinatown. Here, you will find a wide range of unique boutiques, specialty shops, amazing religious buildings, Chinese medicine stores and Chinese restaurants. Take this walking tour to discover Chicago's Chinatown.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

Chicago Souvenirs: 15 Distinct Local Products to Bring Home

Chicago Souvenirs: 15 Distinct Local Products to Bring Home

One of the most fascinating cities in the U.S., if not the whole world, Chicago has no shortage of things closely associated with it, often due to their direct origin (blues, gangstership, etc.), so one might literally be spoiled for choice as to what to choose as a "piece" of Chicago to...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in Chicago for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best Chicago has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes

To save yourself time and money visiting Chicago's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as Chicago CityPASS, Go Chicago Card, or Chicago Explorer Pass.

A city pass combines all or multiple Chicago's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip lines at major attractions, thus saving your precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels

Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of Chicago hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: The Silversmith Hotel, The Palmer House Hilton, Chicago Athletic Association.

Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Chicago, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours

We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of Chicago typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$70 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker (or a bus trolley, in winter) to enjoy sightseeing of Chicago in comfort listening in the headsets either to the recorded commentary in a variety of foreign languages or to a live on-board commentary from a local expert, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the route as often as you like. The tickets are valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours.

- Dig into the infamous chapter of the history of Chicago, once the criminal capital of the United States, on a crime tour exploring the city’s underworld at its height back in the 1920s-30s. See the actual places and hear the stories associated with the mob names like Al Capone, John Dillinger, and other notorious gangsters.

- Explore the well- and not so well-known pieces of Chicago's design-rich architecture on a 2-hour guided walk to some of the city's prominent landmarks, elegant lobbies, and underground corridors accompanied by educational insights from an expert guide.

- Pedal your way around Chicago on a 4-hour guided bike tour for a chance to get a profound understanding of the city, to taste all of its classical eats in a single go, plus to see the most spectacular highlights of its north side neighborhoods and to cruise one of the most popular waterfront bike paths in the U.S.

- Embark on a self-balancing Segway tour of Chicago – this usually lasts about 1.5-2 hours and allows visitors to get a real sense of the city. Most people (even those aged 70+) find it quite fun and convenient, enabling to cover much more ground than you otherwise could have done by walking.

Day Trips

If you have a full or half day to spare whilst in Chicago, why not use it to explore some of the out-of-town destinations like Oak Park or Plano. For as little as US$55 per person you will get a chance to discover the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District – the birthplace of the famed Prairie Style architecture, as well as to explore the exterior and interior of the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe and to learn about the life and work of this prominent architect. For any of these tours you will be picked up at a designated place in Chicago and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned vehicle to the destination of your choice and back again.