7 Ways to Discover Chicagoland’s Iconic Architecture

From the city to the suburbs, Chicagoland’s astonishing architecture is world-famous — and for good reason. 

For devoted fans of architecture, design, and history, there’s no shortage of remarkable things to see and discover in and around Chicago. From the massive skyscrapers of the Loop, to the historical hidden gems tucked into neighborhoods all over Illinois, our area has served as a playground and a creative launching pad for some of the most celebrated builders and designers in history. 

In fact, it can sometimes feel like there’s so much impressive architecture in our area that it’s impossible to see it all in one lifetime. Fortunately, there are almost as many ways to immerse yourself in Chicago’s famous architecture as there are iconic structures worth discovering.

Interested in learning more about Chicagoland’s rich architectural scene? Here are seven surefire ways to explore our area through its most legendary buildings: 

1.) Travel By Water

Lake Michigan and the Chicago River offer residents and tourists a unique way to take in the city’s most impressive architecture. For a low-key experience, there’s the Chicago Water Taxi, which gives riders the chance to marvel at the skyline while journeying from River North to Chinatown. There are also many different companies and groups offering the chance to see architecture from the water, including the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady, as well as unique voyages from Wendella Tours and Cruises and the Shoreline Sightseeing Company.

2.) Go Neighborhood By Neighborhood

Great architecture isn’t limited to just one neighborhood! Across Chicagoland, you’ll find inspiring and historic buildings in almost every community, from the impressive houses you’ll come across in Hyde Park and Beverly, to the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces clustered in Oak Park. While the Loop and the Magnificent Mile are home to stunning skyscrapers, you’ll also find remarkable Art Deco-style highrises in suburban Elgin, and some of the area’s most impressive commercial and industrial architecture in Pullman, south of the Loop. From the city to the suburbs, many communities around the area offer guided or solo walking tours to help visitors get to know what makes each neighborhood unique. 

3.) Follow Your Favorite Architect

Is there one architect or designer whose work you’re hoping to explore in more depth? Plenty of famous creators have called Chicagoland home over the years, and you can still find many architects’ most famous works all over the region, along with some hidden gems from before they became household names. Legendary architect Mies Van Der Rohe has works all over Illinois, for instance, including apartment buildings, homes, and college facilities. Similarly, you can follow the career of Frank Lloyd Wright throughout the area, and find some famous and lesser known works in communities ranging from Elgin to Oak Park. Similarly, there are a few designs from visionary architect Daniel Burnham still standing throughout Chicagoland, along with under-the-radar classics from the popular designer Louis Sullivan, among others.

4.) Explore By Bus

What better way to see Chicagoland’s most famous architecture than from the comfort of a tour bus? The Chicago Architecture Center offers a number of unique bus tours to destinations all around the region, including trips focusing on Gothic Revival buildings, the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the region’s emerging architecture. Around Chicagoland, you’ll also find local trolleys and railcars that offer the unique chance to explore a neighborhood, like the Naperville Trolley or the Explore Elmhurst Express. 

5.) Experience a New Destination During Open House Chicago

Every October, the Chicago Architecture Center hosts Open House Chicago, a two-day celebration of the area’s most incredible and unique buildings and cultural sites. During Open House Chicago, hundreds of sites from across Chicagoland open their doors to the public, allowing visitors to see some of the region’s most astonishing structures in a whole new light. Visitors get the unique opportunity to explore places that are generally closed off to the public, including private clubs, historic homes, offices, hotels, theaters, studios, schools, and places of worship.

6.) Visit a Local Museum

Looking to learn some of the history behind Chicagoland’s most impressive pieces of architecture? Museums all over the region offer visitors the amazing chance to get to know the historical context and stories that undergird Chicago’s rich architectural heritage. Located downtown, the Chicago Architecture Center presents two floors of exhibits, including a sprawling 3D model of the city. The Art Institute of Chicago also boasts an impressive permanent collection of design and architecture materials, including prints, photos, and floorplans. Meanwhile, you’ll find local museums in communities across the area that shine a spotlight on architecture, from the Geneva History Museum to the Arlington Heights Historical Museum.

7.) Get a View from Above

Chicago is widely considered to be the birthplace of the modern skyscraper —and today, there are more ways than ever to see the city’s most picturesque architecture from more than a few stories up. There are numerous companies that offer helicopter tours of the city and the surrounding areas. You can also enjoy a stunning view of the cityscape from a local observation deck, such as 360 Chicago or the Skydeck at Willis Tower

Ready to Discover What Makes Chicagoland Stand Out?

At Baird & Warner, we’re all about connecting people with the best things to see, do, and experience around Chicagoland. After all, we’ve been a part of this community since 1855 — and we’ve seen a lot of history along the way!

Whether you’re looking for a new home, or just a recommendation on a hidden gem to try out, let us help! At Baird & Warner, our hyperlocal agents know Chicagoland better than anyone. Whether you want to buy, sell, or learn more about the local market, we’ll be here to help you find exactly what you’re looking for — while making the real estate experience easier, at every step of the way.

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