Old Town Walk (Self Guided), Chicago

Settled in 1850 by German immigrants, Chicago's Old Town neighborhood is a popular destination for locals and visitors who cater to the entertainment venues, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops and boutiques that have turned an area once referred to as a "Cabbage Patch" into an attraction that rivals Navy Pier, Wrigley Field and the Magnificent Mile. Take a self-guided walk through this clean and safe neighborhood to fully understand Chicago as a city!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Download 'GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities' app for IOS   Download 'GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities' app for Android

Old Town Walk Map

Guide Name: Old Town Walk
Guide Location: USA » Chicago (See other walking tours in Chicago)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Wells Street
  • West Burton Place Historic District
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Second City Theater
  • Olsen-Hansen Row Houses
  • Crilly Court
  • Menomonee Street
  • Midwest Buddhist Temple
  • St. Michael's Church
1
Wells Street

1) Wells Street

Wells Street is the main street of Chicago's Old Town area, between Division Street to the south and Lincoln Avenue to the north. The heart of the area would be the intersection of Wells Street and North Avenue, while on the southeast corner, stretching out from this intersection, one will find a fine neighborhood of historic townhouses (late 1800s to early 1900s) lined along three streets: Dearborn, State, and Astor.

Wells Street is home to a string of reliable restaurants and bars, but most here are more casual, with average prices lower than you'll find in River North or along the Magnificent Mile. NOOKIES (Mon-Sat: 6:30am–10pm; Sun: 6:30am–9pm) is the go-to place for brunch; always full of mainly locals and with extremely friendly staff. They have an excellent range of breakfast, lunch and dinner choices, and since portions are so generous, takeout boxes for leftovers are provided. When the weather warms up, there is even some limited outside seating. Another favorite local spot, the OLD TOWN PUB (Sun-Fri: 12pm–2am; Sat: 12pm–3am) has good prices, better than expected food/drinks, and a slight charm on the inside, but if looking for an Irish pub (who doesn't when in Chicago?), don't miss the perfectly located DECLAN'S, which purports to be the official bar of the University of Notre Dame.

Tip:
On the 2nd weekend in June, the Old Town Art Fair and the Wells Street Art Festival become hot events for the neighborhood, showcasing exceptional work by local artists.
2
West Burton Place Historic District

2) West Burton Place Historic District

Developed in the late 19th century but renovated into an artists' colony in the 1920s and 1930s, the West Burton Place includes an eclectic and interconnected set of twelve main houses and five carriage houses. It's as if you had turned a corner and stepped into a slightly weirder world.

On the block's southeastern side, the neighborhood's Victorian mansions are largely overtaken by an eruption of Art Deco and Art Moderne-style architectural fantasy, with the stark white Theophil Studios sporting large circular windows. The real highlight, however, is the sprawling Carl Street Studios, loosely modeled on the Montmarte studios in Paris by one of the most versatile Art Deco artists/craftsmen, Edgar Miller. Behind its quirky brick wall is a maze of tile-studded sidewalks, carved wooden doors and staircases, narrow passages, stained glass windows, and a pair of courtyard gardens with koi ponds!
3
Chicago History Museum

3) Chicago History Museum (must see)

Set on a beautiful piece of land near the Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakefront, this institution traces Chicago's rich history, beginning with its first explorers and settlers, through the city's development, to major events in modern-day Chicago. The interior is a mix of vintage and modern, with everything kept pristinely clean and tidy. It's an easy-in/easy-out museum, great to wander about for a couple of hours without the jostling crowds.

Many people may not know that the CHM has one of the largest costume and textile collections (50,000 pieces) in the country, dating from the 18th century to present day. It also has an incredible collection of artifacts and original paintings that are unique to Chicago and US history, including the bed that Abraham Lincoln died in, slave shackles from Civil War time, original paintings by Norman Rockwell; a restored turn-of-the-century train car and many other fascinating objects. For sports fans, there is a display of some of the famous athletes in Chicago history, including Ernie Banks, Michael Jordan, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Bobby Hull, and Stan Mikita.

As a side note, the 2nd-floor exhibits are more entertaining than those on the ground floor. Since most of the museum's exhibits are not interactive, there is not a lot of appeal for little kids; however, there's a special area set aside just for them, with activity-based learning.

Tip:
For an over-the-counter café with a limited menu, the one here has good food and service, and a very elegant dining room.

Opening Hours:
[Museum] Mon, Wed-Sat: 9:30am-4:30pm; Tue: 9:30am-9pm; Sun: 12-5pm
[Research Center] Tue-Fri: 1-4:30pm; Sat: 10am-4:30pm
[Café] Mon-Sat: 9:30am-3pm; Sun: 12-4pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Second City Theater

4) Second City Theater (must see)

Old Town's biggest claim to fame, this comedy club is known for first-class acts who made it to the big screen: names like Mike Myers, Bill Murray, John Belushi and Tina Fey grace the foyer of fame.

Culturally relevant and hilarious, the place is usually packed and generates a good atmosphere, though one should definitely be prepared for a fair amount of profanity and left-leaning political content. Some parts contain a little bit of audience-participation improvisation; in fact, the third and final act (going around 10:30pm) is just that and no ticket is necessary to attend as the cast tries out new comedy material. Seats are otherwise considered first-come, first-served, so be sure to get in 20-30mins prior if you want the full show, or spend some extra to reserve seats on the rail.

Note that besides the Second City Theater, the complex also houses the Black Orchid Supper Club, a Sony Multiplex, as well as restaurants and a Starbucks. The theater's mainstage entrance features stone arches with faces originally from the Adler and Sullivan-designed Garrick Theater.

Tip:
To visit one of Chicago's favorite dive spots, head to the OLD TOWN ALE HOUSE (Mon-Fri: 3pm–4am; Sat: 12pm–5am; Sun: 12pm–4am) known mainly for its proximity to Second City and the cast's inclination to hang out there after shows. The interior resembles a pub from decades past and is decorated with random paintings. It's packed on weekends, and loud, but that's what makes it so fun.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 10am-9pm; Fri: 10am-12am; Sat: 11am-12am; Sun: 11am-8pm
5
Olsen-Hansen Row Houses

5) Olsen-Hansen Row Houses (must see)

Primarily used in residential architecture, the Queen Anne style was highly influential in Chicago from the mid- to late 1800s. Here, as well as in other American cities, the name does not reflect a historical period or a specific formulaic style; instead, the look of the buildings is hybrid, mixing Classical, Tudor, Victorian, and Colonial elements together.

Along with Crilly Court (1885), the elaborate Olsen-Hansen Row Houses (1886) on West Eugenie Street are fine expressions of Queen Anne style. Although only five of the original twelve houses remain (No. 164 was the Norwegian-born architect's own residence), their turrets, various window styles, irregular roof-lines, Victorian porches, and combinations of building materials and colors typify the most exuberant design of the period.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Crilly Court

6) Crilly Court

Built in 1885 by real-estate developer Daniel Crilly, the Crilly Court's row houses, with their turrets and bay windows, are one of the finest examples of Queen Anne style in Chicago, creating what is now one of the city's quaintest streets. On the court's west side stand two-story stone row houses, while on the east side is a four-story apartment building, the names of Daniel Crilly's four children – Isabelle, Edgar, Eugene, and Erminie – carved above the doors.

The development's renovation in the 1940s included creating private courtyards and installing wrought-iron balconies, which give the complex a charming New Orleans-like atmosphere. This redevelopment, in turn, initiated the renewal of the greater Lincoln Park neighborhood soon after.
7
Menomonee Street

7) Menomonee Street

Menomonee St. lies in the heart of the Triangle Historic District, a delightful area of narrow tree-lined streets with picturesque houses and quite a few interesting shops and restaurants.

A walk along this street will give a good idea of what the Old Town community looked like before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Most of the area's original houses were small cottages with lightweight wooden frames and, as such, were reduced to ashes; however, the reconstructed ones located at Nos. 325–45 were built in the same style and with the same materials. Also of note, the whitish-gray dwellings at No. 348 and 215, on the edge of the street, are rare surviving examples of the one-room “fire relief” shanties built for people made homeless by the fire. These structures, costing the city about $100 each, were transported on wagons to a burned-out lot, providing instant lodging.

Tip:
Walking east to Sedgwick Street, you will find one of Chicago's oldest taverns – MARGE'S STILL (Mon-Thu: 4:30pm–12am; Fri: 11:30am–1am; Sat, Sun: 10am–1am). From outside in and inside out, the place looks great; one you'll want to walk into and spend a lot of time in if you can. Great beer selection, too, and their "world-famous" pot pie is no joke, either!
8
Midwest Buddhist Temple

8) Midwest Buddhist Temple

Buddhism varies quite a bit by nationality, sect, ethnicity, and geography. This is a Buddhist temple of the "Pure Land" sect, founded by Japanese-Americans fleeing the growing scapegoating racism of the American West during WWII. The American Midwest was relatively more tolerant, but some of the idiosyncrasies of this sect's practices also contributed to blending in with a minimum of conflict.

The temple is set up more like an American Protestant Church with Japanese architectural influence (primarily expressed in the combination gable and hip roof), rather than a traditional Japanese mainstream temple – you keep your shoes on and sit in Western-style pews, Sunday morning services are conducted by ministers instead of monks, Dharma talks mimic homilies or sermons, the opening chant is the only Japanese for the English services, and some of the hymns are actually Protestant traditional hymns with adjusted words.

A visit to this temple is especially recommended to those interested in comparative religion, anthropology, immigration history, cross-cultural studies, and members of any other Buddhist group.

Tip:
Look for the Ginza Holiday Festival on the 2nd week of August, the annual fundraiser featuring delicious Terriyaki chicken, goods for sale, and fantastic entertainment with Taiko drums.
9
St. Michael's Church

9) St. Michael's Church

By tradition, if you can hear St. Michael's bells, you are in Old Town. Owing to its thick, redbrick walls, this 19th-century Bavarian-style church, founded by German immigrants, was one of only six buildings to 'survive' the path of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. Although there is a small memorial dedicated to Catholic war veterans on its grounds, the church has become a haven for the local Puerto Rican community.

Adorned with a large four-faced clock, the bell tower has five bells, each weighing between 2,500–6,000 lbs (or 1,1–2,7 t). Visitors can also view the beautiful, colorful baroque interior with tall, thin stained-glass (Mayer) windows, frescoes, a carving depicting The Last Supper (purchased from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition), a working Kilgen pipe organ, and five painted altars illustrating St. Michael, flanked by archangels Raphael and Gabriel, casting Lucifer from heaven.

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.
Navy Pier Walk

Navy Pier Walk

Additional to scenic views of the lake, the boats, and the city skyline, the Navy Pier offers a variety of attractions on the waterfront – for kids as well as adults – that draw nearly ten million people annually, making this Chicago's most visited spot. Yes, some may see it as a "tourist trap", but it is worth the time and money to spend some time here, so take this self-guided...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
City Orientation Walk

City Orientation Walk

Sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan in Illinois, Chicago is the third most populous metropolis in the United States, whereas when incorporated on August 12, 1833, the town had a population of only about 200 people. In the course of the 18th century, the area of Chicago was successively inhabited by various Native American tribes who, following several victorious military campaigns of the United...  view more

Tour Duration: 4 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.3 Km or 3.9 Miles
Chinatown Walking Tour

Chinatown Walking Tour

Tucked away just south of the Loop, the Chinatown of Chicago was established in 1912 and is considered one of the best examples of American Chinatown. Here, you will find a wide range of unique boutiques, specialty shops, amazing religious sights, Chinese medicine stores and restaurants. This self-guided walking tour takes you to discover Chicago's Chinatown.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles
Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour

Millennium and Grant Parks Walking Tour

The city of Chicago is renowned for its outdoor green spaces. One such “forever free and open” space, is called Grant Park and was established in 1844. In fact, upon foundation, it was called Lake Park, but was renamed in 1901 after the American Civil War General and United States President, Ulysses S. Grant.

Popularly referred to as “Chicago's front lawn,” this lakefront park is...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
The Magnificent Mile Walk

The Magnificent Mile Walk

The stretch of Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Lake Shore Drive, otherwise known as the Magnificent Mile, is regarded as one of the world's great avenues, being Chicago's version of the Fifth Avenue. Take this self guided walk to explore the Magnificent Mile and the surrounding area, that features a wide selection of amazing stores/malls, world-known museums, restaurants and...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Architectural Walking Tour in The Loop District

Architectural Walking Tour in The Loop District

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...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles

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...