Chicago’s unmissable landmarks and historical sights

The birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago is packed with amazing landmarks, and not only the architectural kind. Here are 15 of the best to check out.

Chicago isn't short of impressive landmarks, from the skyscrapers that form its skyline to stunning parks and a state-straddling lake. The Windy City’s network of waterways provides an excellent way to tour these spectacular attractions, especially if you visit Chicago in summer. Cruising along the Chicago River on an architecture tour is a must-do — this is where the world’s first skyscraper was built, after all. 

There are plenty of landmarks to consider if you’re traveling to Chicago with kids too. Head to the historic Navy Pier for fireworks, stand on “the Ledge” in the Willis Tower, or head to the beach. And creativity isn’t confined to Chicago’s art museums — some of the city’s landmarks are public art installations, and what’s a cooler vacation souvenir than a snap of your reflection in “The Bean.”

Don't miss out on these 12 landmarks spanning history, art, architecture, and natural splendor when you visit Chicago.

Historic and architectural landmarks in Chicago

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1. Millennium Park and Cloud Gate

This Millennium Park exploration game is the perfect way to orient Chicago's most famous park, where you can see the iconic public sculpture, “Cloud Gate.”

Highlights:

Booking this experience is a great way to see different parts of the city. You can access the park for free. Throughout the walk, you will get 24/7 customer support. Since the game uses a mobile app, you can start at any time.

Address and opening hours:

Chicago Architecture, Chicago, IL 60603, USA. Open Monday-Sunday, with various start times.

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2. Field Museum

If you're interested in the best architectural landmarks of Chicago, you should spare a day to visit the Field Museum of Natural History. The place contains displays from Ancient Egypt. You will also find the remains of the largest dinosaur ever discovered.

Highlights:

Visit the museum before it opens with the Early Access VIP Tour option. This tour lasts for an hour. The early access tour will only have a maximum of 20 people.

Address and opening hours:

1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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3. Frank Lloyd Wright buildings

Chicago wouldn't be Chicago without the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and many of his buildings have been inscribed by UNESCO. This giant of American design gave the city some of its most iconic landmarks and atriums. Take the Historic Skyscrapers walking tour to tick off the steely giants that make Chicago's skyline so legendary.

Highlights:

View Wright's work on the 19th-century Burnham and Root's Rookery, as well as the stunning Sullivan and Adler-designed Auditorium Building.

Address and opening hours:

410 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605, United States. Tours operate on Monday and Friday, start times vary.

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4. Navy Pier

The historic Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most visited landmarks, with 9 million people drawn by its shops, restaurants, and attractions every year. Every Wednesday and Saturday between Memorial Day (late May) and Labor Day (early September) the fireworks display makes this lakeside landmark even more exciting. The Navy Pier Fireworks Cruise is the best way to see it.

Highlights:

Arriving on the decks early will allow you to pick seats with the best views. The cruise is ideal for couples, friends, and families.

Address and opening hours:

400-410 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA. Open Wednesday and Saturday, with various start times.

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5. Tribune Tower

Arguably the most spectacular of Chicago’s landmarks, this neo-Gothic style 1920s skyscraper on the Magnificent Mile was once home to the city’s paper, the Chicago Tribune. Swing by at night when the buttresses at the top of the building are lit up to dramatic effect, or go in the daytime to see all the architectural details and visit one of the most popular Chicago attractions inside the building: the Museum of Ice Cream.

Highlights:

Recognizable by its bubble-gum pink frontage, The Museum of Ice Cream’s multi-sensory installations are as tasty as they are interesting. There’s a Putt-Putt course where you can test your golf skills. A perfect place to add to your itinerary if you’re traveling with kids who won’t be so interested in the building’s exterior.

Address and opening hours:

435 N Michigan Ave Suite G, Chicago, IL 60611, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, 10:00 AM-8:00 PM.

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6. Willis Tower

Among the most famous architectural landmarks in Chicago is the second-tallest building in North America: the Willis Tower. This Willis Tower Skydeck and The Ledge ticket gives you access to views of the city of Chicago from above. You will get to ride 103 floors to get to The Ledge, a glass balcony that offers vertical views straight down.

Highlights:

By booking this experience, you will get a video presentation on the history of the building and architecture of Chicago.

Address and opening hours:

Willis Tower, Chicago, IL 60606, USA. Open Monday-Sunday, 9:00 AM-10:00 PM.

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7. Chicago Theater

This Chicago history, culture, and architecture walking tour allows you to explore one of the first grand movie palaces in the USA. It usually hosts comedians, concerts, and other special events, and the theater has an old charm.

Highlights:

This tour covers several other Chicago attractions. An eco-certified guide will be leading the tour.

Address and opening hours:

175 N State St, Chicago, IL 60601, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, with various start times.

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8. Tiffany Dome at the Chicago Cultural Center

Take the Downtown architectural interiors tour to see the Tiffany Dome, which is among the most spectacular displays of glass craftsmanship in the world. It was designed in the 1800s using about 30,000 pieces of glass. The building has gone through many major renovations over the years but still maintains the elegance of the Art Deco architecture style.

Highlights:

An expert guide will take you through the building.

Address and opening hours:

Chicago Loop, Chicago, IL 60605, USA. Open Thursday-Monday, with various start times.

Scenic and natural landmarks in Chicago

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9. Chicago River

A guided cruise on the Chicago River offers great views of one of the treasured natural landmarks of this city. This cruise starts at the Michigan Avenue Bridge and is hosted by a local expert.

Highlights:

You can choose to cruise on the river in the open-air decks. If you choose to go on a rainy day, the climate-controlled interiors would be a better option.

Address and opening hours:

400-410 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, USA. Open Monday-Sunday, with various start times.

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10. Lake Michigan

To see Chicago's Lakefront, take this Lakefront and museum campus Segway tour. With this experience, you will explore the Lakefront and cover approximately 8 miles. This tour lets you immerse yourself in the major attractions of the city.

Highlights:

The experience includes a thorough introduction to Segways and will be conducted by an experienced tour guide.

Address and opening hours:

300 E Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60601, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, with various start times.

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11. Morton Arboretum

This is the best Chicago landmark for people who love outdoor activities. You can immerse yourself in nature by taking the 16-mile hike on the pedestrian-only trail. The arboretum has over 3400 tree species and offers fantastic scenery.

Highlights:

The period between spring and summer is ideal for hikes on this trail since you'll be able to explore the diverse wildlife of the arboretum.

Address and opening hours:

4100 IL-53, Lisle, IL 60532, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, 7:00 AM-7:00 PM.

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12. Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo was established in the 1800s and houses a wide variety of wild animals. You can visit iguanas, lions, birds, and monkeys, among other animals. About 200 animal species are exhibited in this zoo, in addition to plant life like the old burr oak tree.

Highlights:

The zoo offers free entry. Even better, you can make a donation to keep the zoo free for all.

Address and opening hours:

Chicago, IL 60614, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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13. Lakefront and beaches

Interested in lakes and beaches? Then, explore by bike, with Lakefront neighborhoods bike tour. This tour allows you to see landmark lakeside neighborhoods, the Old Town historic district, and North Avenue Beach, where you can rent wakeboards and paddleboards. For an extra thrill, you can hire a jet ski. The beach offers all sorts of water sports. For safety, open-toes shoes are not allowed.

Highlights:

Ride past attractions like the Lincoln Park Zoo, Gold Coast mansions, and Hugh Hefner's original Playboy pad and enjoy fabulous views.

Address and opening hours:

Meet at Bobby’s Bike Hike World Headquarters, 540 N. Lake Shore Drive Chicago, IL 60611. Tour times vary.

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14. Campground Road Woods

Campground Road Woods is a great nature trail for bikers and hikers. The unpaved trail is a natural oasis that features a bike path and greenway. If you want to escape from the noise of the city, you can spend a day on this nature trail.

Highlights:

You can use a canoe or kayak to paddle through the Des Plaines River Water Trail. Despite its name, this place doesn't have any camping facilities.

Address and opening hours:

2001 Berry Ln, Des Plaines, IL 60018, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, 6:30 AM-sunset.

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15. Illinois Beach State Park

Illinois Beach State Park stretches 6.5 miles and offers a full range of recreational activities. You can hike, fish, swim, boat, or simply picnic on the site. It hosts more than 600 plant species, so you can get immersed in nature as you enjoy your day.

Highlights:

You can register before visiting the campground to help with planning. This is especially important for groups of more than 25 people.

Address and opening hours:

1 Lake Front Dr, Zion, IL 60099, United States. Open Monday-Sunday, 8:00 AM-4:00 PM.

FAQs

What is the oldest historic landmark in Chicago?

The Clarke-Ford House is the oldest building in Chicago. It was built in 1836, just a year before Chicago was incorporated.

What are some free landmarks to visit in Chicago?

Lots of landmarks are open to the public for free. These include the Chicago Cultural Center, Lakefront Trail, Chicago Riverwalk, and Lincoln Park Zoo.

Are there any guided tours that focus on the architecture of Chicago’s landmarks?

Yes, lots of tours cover the architecture of this city. If you love the water, you can explore these landmarks on a lake or river cruise. Segway and walking tours are also available.

How can I get the best views of scenic landmarks in Chicago?

You can get great views on a walking tour or cruise. The Willis Tower also offers great views of the city's landmarks.

What are some natural landmarks near Chicago worth visiting?

Some of the best Chicago natural landmarks are the Chicago River, Lake Michigan, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Morton Arboretum.