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ARCHITECTURE TOURS

Explore Chicago’s groundbreaking architecture, from towering skyscrapers to Great Chicago Fire survivors. 

Chicago is known the world over for its amazing architecture. The skyline has been shaped by some of the best-known architects in history, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and Daniel Burnham. Learn the story of how the city was rebuilt from the ground up after the Great Chicago Fire, and see some design masterpieces along the way..

EXPERT-LED CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE TOURS

Chicago Architecture Foundation

With more than 85 to choose from, it may be hard to pick just one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's tours. But a sure bet is the Historic Skyscrapers downtown walking tour that explores some of the world’s earliest skyscrapers. Undaunted by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that destroyed much of the city, these monumental buildings transformed Chicago into a center of skyscraper design and engineering.

Rookery BuildingThe Rookery

Highlights of the two-hour tour include the ornate Rookery building designed by Daniel Burnham, with an interior atrium redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright; Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Building; and the Art Deco-style Chicago Board of Trade building, designed by Holabird and Root.

Chicago's First Lady-2@ Clayton Hauck

If you love the water, head to the Chicago Riverwalk and hop on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise Aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. Voted one of the top 10 tours in the country by TripAdvisor, this popular 90-minute cruise is narrated by CAF-certified docents who point out more than 50 architectural gems along the Chicago River. As you pass by you’ll hear about Chicago’s fascinating history and the design giants who helped to create the city’s world-famous skyline. Tickets: $47 all daytime cruises, $52 all 7:30pm Twilight Cruises. Duration: 1.5 Hours.

Other tour options include: Devil & the White City (Bus Tour), which explores the compelling true story told by Erik Larson in his bestselling book; Bike Humboldt, the 606 and Palmer Square (Bike Tour), which takes you on a cycling journey through Chicago's hip northwest side neighborhoods, and Elevated Architecture: North Side OR South Side (L Train), where you'll learn the history of the famous "L" system and how it has shaped the development of the surrounding buildings and districts. Tours are generally 2 hours, and ticket prices $20.

CHICAGO DETOURS

Chicago Detours guides boast degrees in history, the humanities, and architecture, so you know you’re learning from the best. Headlining tours include: Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour with Pedwaya 2-hour tour that weaves through buildings and secret shortcuts ($26 adults, $18 children under 18, free for children under 5); and Best Architecture Walking Tour For Design Lovers, a highly visual and interactive walking tour that compares architecture with contemporaneous works in other media. Highlights include the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the gold-topped Carbide and Carbon Building, Mies van der Rohe’s Illinois Center, the Diamond Building, Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower, and the Maggie Daley Park. ($22 adults, $12 children under 18, FREE for children under 5.)

TOUR WITH THE LOCALS

Chicago Greeter

CHICAGO GREETER

For the architecture junkie who's also on a budget, the free Chicago Greeter program pairs you with a local who can highlight architecture both downtown and in the city’s 77 neighborhoods. This is the ultimate in insider tours. Greeter visits are offered in over a dozen languages, and can accommodate up to six guests. These tours combine walking, buses and trains, and are the perfect orientation to Chicago’s safe and efficient public transit system. Ideally register at least 10 business days in advance of your arrival in Chicago. If you’re unable to register in advance, look into an on-the-spot InstaGreeter walk instead.

INSIDE CHICAGO WALKING TOURS

Founded by Chicago local Hillary Marzec, Inside Chicago Walking Tours generally travel 1.5 miles on foot, and span 2 hours, with fabulous themes such as Telling the Story: Historical Masterpieces of the LoopLook Up, Look Down: Exploring the Heights & Depths of the City, which offers special access to Chicago’s most spectacular views; Open Your Eyes: The Secrets of the LoopThe Time Traveler’s Tour: A Photographic Odyssey The World Within: Dazzling Interiors of the Loop, aka the “Potential Wedding Venues” tour; and Summer Evening Tour, a relaxing stroll in the city's evening glow, culminating with a Navy Pier fireworks display.

Tours generally travel 1.5 miles on foot, and span 2 hours. Tickets: $25 general admission (ages 11 and up), $20 children (ages 6-10) and seniors (65+), free for kids under 6. 

WILD ONION TOURS

These neighborhood-focused tours are led by Wild Onion Tours owner and Certified Tour Guide, Kevin Doerksen. Born and raised on Chicago's north side, Kevin leads guests on two-hour adventures, rain or shine. Cultural Mile introduces you to the largest Tiffany Stained Glass Dome, and allows you to peek in on a classical singer rehearsing scales, walk beneath giants and rub a lion’s tail for luck. The Loop Tour highlights great works of architecture by Burnham and Sullivan, tons of Tiffany, great old movie palaces, and temples of business, commerce and government. The Magnificent Mile Tour showcases historic buildings representing titans of 20th century business, and includes a visit to the church in which Abraham Lincoln worshiped, as well as the iconic Water Tower and Pumping Station. And the River Tour begins at the #1 attraction in Chicago — Navy Pier — then takes you on a stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk. Tickets: $25.

Free Tours By Foot

Budget-friendly Free Tours By Foot use a pay-what-you-want model. Neighborhood-inspired themes include: The Birth of the Skyscraper: Architecture TourRiverwalk and Chicago History Tour and the West Loop: Gateway Tour. And if you're visiting during the cooler months, take a seasonal Pedway tour to explore the city through mostly indoor paths and lobbies.

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT TOURS

No other place in the world has better examples of Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie-style designs than the Chicagoland area.

Frank Lloyd Wright houseFrank Lloyd Wright House

Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust offers fascinating tours, including of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and Unity Temple in Oak Park; the Robie House, considered one of the most important buildings in American architecture, located in the beautiful Hyde Park neighborhood, and landmark Loop gem, The Rookery, with guided tours that soak in one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most dramatic interior compositions — a luminous and brilliantly articulated central light court. And in the Rogers Park neighborhood, you can tour the Bach House, a late Prairie style residence that looks toward the architect's future stylistic direction. 

Find more Frank Lloyd Wright Trust tours and pricing info here. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Trail

A new addition to the FLW touring experience, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail is a self-guided architectural tour that features 13 Wright-designed buildings open to the public throughout Illinois. Stops along the trail include Oak Park, home to the world's largest collection of Wright-designed buildings, Chicago, Geneva, Rockford, Belvidere, Springfield, Kankakee, Hampshire and Dwight.

Chicago Architecture Foundation

The foundation offers a Frank Lloyd Wright Bus Tour of Oak Park, with commentary, a one-hour interior tour of Wright’s Home and Studio and a walking tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. Included is an interior visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's newly restored masterpiece, Unity Temple. Tickets: $55.

SEGWAY TOURS

Segway Tour

Zip and zoom on wheels with a Segway sightseeing tour by Absolutely SegwayCity Segway ToursSegway Experience of Chicago and Steve's Segway Tours. Absolutely Segway, for example, offers two architecture-focused options: the History of Chicago Architecture Tour, during which you'll visit iconic architecture, statues, fountains, world-class museums, outdoor art installations, and the parks; and the Chicago Rivers, Parks & Architecture Tour, which takes you along the award-winning Riverwalk. Visit the Absolutely Segway site for available dates and pricing.

BUS TOURS

Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co.

Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. Hop On Hop Off Tour of Downtown Chicago covers miles of city attractions and sights, with redeemable tickets for 14 stops. Included are Chicago's world-renowned observation decks: Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower and 360 CHICAGO at 875 N Michigan. A highlight of Skydeck is The Ledge, a first-of-its-kind attraction that extends a glass balcony four feet beyond the building facade to create an unforgettable viewing experience from 1,353 feet up. 360 CHICAGO is an observation deck nestled on the 94th floor of the 875 N Michigan building (formerly the John Hancock Center), cited by Travel + Leisure magazine as having one of the Best Views in America. The highlight of a visit to 360 CHICAGO is TILT, a huge steel-and-glass bay window that is hydraulically tilted forward, giving you a heart-thumping downward-facing view of the city from 1,030 feet up. Opt for 1-day, 2-day or 3-day tickets, priced from $37-$52.

HISTORIC HOMES & BUILDINGS

Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Cultural Center ©Lucy Hewett

FREE 45-minute building tours of the Chicago Cultural Center are offered at 1:15pm from Wednesday through Saturday. They depart from the Randolph Street lobby on the first floor. Reservations are not required, but the 20 available slots book up fast. Included in the tour is Preston Bradley Hall, featuring glass mosaics and a luminous 38-foot-diameter dome by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York. Restored in 2008, it is the largest Tiffany dome in the world, containing approximately 30,000 individual glass pieces.

Glessner House Museum

Glessner House

A walk through this National Historic Landmark along "Millionaire's Row" in the Prairie Avenue district is sure to drop jaws. A castle in its time, the home wows with a massive granite exterior, grand staircase and stunning décor.

Clarke House Museum

Clarke House Museum

A standing history lesson, Chicago's oldest home reveals middle-class family life in pre-Civil War Chicago. The completely restored Greek Revival house was built in 1836, when Chicago was an urban frontier. Today, it hosts docent-guided tours, educational programs and special events.

Driehaus Museum

Richard Driehaus Museum Chicago

Peer into the lives of the late nineteenth-century elite with this Gilded Age home's tastefully furnished galleries and amazing stained glass. Driehaus Museum hosts a popular Samuel M. Nickerson Lecture Series, a murder mystery evening in October, a Mother's Day afternoon tea, and holiday programs for guests of all ages.

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