Architectural Tour of Chicago

Architectural Tour of Chicago

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If you’re like me and love seeing intricate architecture and historical buildings, you should definitely plan a trip to Chicago on the Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) of Chicago Open House weekend. The 2018 Open House will be October 13-14. This free event provides behind-the-scenes access to more than 200 buildings in 22 communities across Chicago. The list includes skyscrapers, historic theaters, private clubs, offices, churches, re-purposed mansions, etc. You can check out previous years’ sites here for full listing. The 2018 list will be posted in September.

All of the participating venues provide guided tours and historical information about the buildings and their architecture. The guides were great and very informative, I learned so much on this trip. Considering that I’ve spent most of my career in the architecture/engineering industry, visiting these gems was a real treat for me. Chicago’s architecture is stunning.

Open House

We mostly stayed in downtown and some of the Open House places we saw on our weekend in Chicago were:

Chicago Theatre

This almost 100-year old theater has many significant historical, cultural and architectural elements. The grand staircase, amazingly ornate lobby, majestic auditorium all give you the feeling of splendor from eras’ past.

The interior of Chicago Theatre.
Auditorium of the Chicago Theatre.

Lyric Opera of Chicago (Civic Opera House)

This Art Deco and Art Nouveau 49-story skyscraper contains a second largest auditorium in North American and the largest stage in downtown Chicago.

Civic Opera Building.

Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist

The church was founded in 1924 but its first home was build in 1968 in Chicago. The 7-story six-sided structure includes an auditorium styled after a Greek amphitheater with travertine walls and a 3,316-pipe Aeolian-Skinner organ. You can learn about the history of the church and listen to the organs during the tour. Note from Ann: as we were told multiple times, the Scientist church is not related to Scientology.

The famous organs at the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Holy Name Cathedral

The Cathedral was rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and today is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. The architectural style is an integration of Gothic-Revival with the message of the modern Church.

Holy Name Cathedral in fall colors.

Architectural Boat Tour

We also took the CAF’s River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. It is narrated by CAF-certified volunteer tour guide who shares history of more than 50 buildings along the Chicago River and the history of Chicago’s architecture. It’s a great 90-minute learning journey with hot chocolate and enclosed deck below for those windy Chicago days. There is also a Capture Chicago Photography Cruise and Twilight River Cruise for photography enthusiasts.

Architectural boat tour on First Lady Cruises.

We visited a number of other buildings, including offices of prominent architectural Chicago firms. The CAF website has great details about all of the buildings and you can get a brochure that details map and information about all of the buildings included in tours.

Additional Sightseeing

In addition to the architectural tours, we also explored some of the other areas of Chicago:

The Gageif you get a chance, grab a lunch or dinner at The Gage and admire the Millennium / Grant Park and Navy Pier views from their balcony.

View from The Gage balcony.

Millennium Park / Grant Park – make sure to explore these parks and visit the Cloud Gate (the bean), Millennium Monument, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Buckingham Fountain, and many more great things located there.

View of the Cloud Gate, also called the bean, at the Millennium Park.
View of the Millennium Monument through the trees.

Navy Pier – Navy Pier is an area for shopping, restaurants and events. Don’t forget to look back at the city for some great views of the skyline.

View of the Chicago skyline from Navy Pier.

Movable bridges – there are 52 movable bridges within the Chicago City limits and 43 are still operable. In the fall and spring there is a sail boat run that occurs on Wednesday and Saturday mornings on Chicago River where the bridges are lifted to allow sail boats to pass. You should definitely plan on being at the river on Saturday morning, it’s a great sight. To see schedule, check here.

One of the bridges being drawn up.

Chicago is a great city to visit in the fall. If you’ve participated in the Open Houses before or have other places to recommend, comment below. We will definitely be back in Chicago at some point to see even more.

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17 thoughts on “Architectural Tour of Chicago

  1. My family is heading to Chicago next week! Thanks for advice of places to visit! Extremely insightful information! Awesome pictures!

  2. I’ve got a friend living in Chicago, and I often joke that I will come for a visit for the next World Cup in 2026. I didn’t know that Chicago has so many great building with such astonishing architecture. Well then, let’s just hope it will be easier to travel there by 2026 so I can actually pay for a visit then. Holding Indonesian passport has become a shortcoming for me these days, especially being as broke as I am now. 😛

  3. Chicago has the most amazing architecture! One trip a while back, we took the two hour architectural boat tour, and it was amazing!

  4. This is a fantastic post! We love architecture tours. One of the Friends works in the architecture industry and loves taking photos of all the interesting building when we travel. We loved Chicago and want to go back there again to see more of it. This has inspired us even more!

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

  5. I love to see different and unique architectures. Chicago has beautiful buildings with ancient styled churches and modern elegant buildings too. Loved your photos.

  6. Very excited to visit those beautiful architecture one day. Never thought that Chicago has all these amazing buildings. Very informative post. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I absolutely love to explore the different types of architecture in whichever town I am visiting. Didn’t know Chicago has such a fun architecture tour, I’d totally be up for it. I hope I get to visit someday soon.

  8. Chicago is one of our favorite cities! We love staying downtown and walking everywhere, and I’m super excited to hear there’s an architecture boat tour. We’ve never done that! Sounds like a really fun excursion.

  9. We love exploring architecture and the open house event sounds interesting backed by guided tours of historical and architectural information of the buildings. The Chicago Theatre and Holy Name Cathedral are magnificent of them all.

  10. I grew up in the suburbs and haven’t been back there in a long time. I’ve visited some of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Chicago and going on the boat tour is high on my list next time I find myself there for a few days. I didn’t realize there were so many moveable bridges!

    1. I want to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright houses too 😍 I’ve been on a couple different boat tours in Chicago, they’re really great

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