Chicago Architecture Center

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Chicago Architecture Center: Our most recommended tours and activities

Chicago: Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour

1. Chicago: Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour

From your vantage point on the double-decker sightseeing bus, you'll enjoy panoramic views of Chicago’s finest skyscrapers, including the 875 N Michigan, the Willis Tower, and the Wrigley Building. Take in the city's impressive landmarks as your tour guide provides entertaining commentary and insight into Chicago's history. Enjoy exploring this dynamic city with the freedom to hop on and hop off as many times as you wish to visit attractions such as the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. You’ll travel down the famous Magnificent Mile, considered one of the great avenues of the world, and continue across the Michigan Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River. The bridge connects the north and south sides of the city. This hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Chicago makes it easy for you to explore the city's sights at your own pace. There are 12 stops, where you can hop off to visit attractions and explore places of interest. The stops are conveniently located to make navigating your way around the city easy, and with a choice of 24- or 48-hour tickets, you can take your time discovering Chicago. Be sure to take advantage of admission to the Chicago Architecture Center, included if an appropriate option is selected, to dive deeper into the city that invented the skyscraper. So don't wait, just hop on an exciting journey through Chicago.

Chicago: Treasures of the Golden Age Walking Tour

2. Chicago: Treasures of the Golden Age Walking Tour

This Historic Treasures of Chicago tour covers the most significant historic architectural landmarks in Chicago’s Loop. Your expert guide, trained by the Chicago Architecture Center, will focus on great cultural buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which harkened back to earlier time periods and were designed in revival styles such as Beaux Arts, neo-Georgian and neo-Gothic. Marvel at exteriors and interiors of dazzling beauty and startling originality, and get a glimpse inside some of the city's most beloved buildings.    The highlights of this walking tour will include the Chicago Cultural Center, home to the world's largest Tiffany dome; the iconic Marshall Field's department store, now Macy's on State; and the Palmer House, a beautifully restored hotel from the 1920s. 

Chicago: Tiffany Art Glass Works Walking Tour

3. Chicago: Tiffany Art Glass Works Walking Tour

Visit some of Chicago’s most magnificent art-glass and mosaic installations. Discover stories about the man behind the glass from your expert guide. Take a walk around the art glass installations designed and crafted by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company. Marvel at the decorative glass or mosaics that adorn public and private buildings across the Windy City. Discover one of the largest collections of Tiffany art glass in the United States. Learn all about Tiffany while experiencing some remarkable examples of his work. Compare Tiffany's large artworks with other contemporary installations.

Chicago: Art Deco Skyscrapers Walking Tour

4. Chicago: Art Deco Skyscrapers Walking Tour

Tour the lobbies of five opulent Art Deco skyscrapers built near the banks of the Chicago River during the business boom of the Roaring '20s. Art Deco abounds in Chicago. The style made its way to the city in the 1920s, after it was showcased at an international art exposition in Paris. It was widely seen at the 1933-1934 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago as well. Influenced by Cubism and the art and architecture of the ancient Middle East, Art Deco can be found in popular motifs like zigzags, octagons, sunbursts and flowers. Art Deco reflects the era’s fun-loving optimism with lavish materials and geometric ornaments. Discover the origins of Art Deco while admiring buildings like the Carbide and Carbon Building (now the St. Jane Hotel), the Chicago Motor Club Building (now the Hampton Inn), the colorful, but often overlooked, Trustees System Service Building (now the Century Tower) and the Engineering Building—all of which are designated Chicago landmarks. This tour ends at the Merchandise Mart.

Chicago: Must See Chicago 90 minute Walking Tour

5. Chicago: Must See Chicago 90 minute Walking Tour

Starting at the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC), this tour gives you an overview of many of the must see buildings and landmarks in the City of Chicago. Led by an expert guide who has been rigorously trained by the CAC to be equal parts storyteller and educator, you will get a fantastic introduction to the city’s wide variety of architectural styles, construction methods, and materials. There is so much to see downtown, and this tour makes it easy and fun to learn about some of the buildings that make Chicago’s architecture world-class. There are lots of photo opportunities along the way, so be sure to bring your camera! The tour covers three of the main focal points of Downtown Chicago – the Chicago Loop, the heart of historic Chicago; the Chicago River, the lifeblood of the city; and Millennium Park, where the iconic “The Bean” sculpture is located. Landmark buildings covered on this tour include soaring modernist skyscrapers (Willis Tower, John Hancock Center, and AON Building), buildings paying homage to classical styles (Wrigley Building, Tribune Building, the Chicago Theatre, and the Art Institute of Chicago), Art Deco edifices (Carbide & Carbon Building and the Chicago Board of Trade Building), and recently completed skyscrapers (Aqua & Trump Tower). Finally, admission to the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) is also included with your walking tour ticket. CAC exhibits focus on Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods, housing types, leading architects and future projects, and include the largest scale model of the city, with more than 4,250 miniature buildings and a cinematic backdrop animating key moments in its history. The stories of the city begin at the CAC.

Chicago: Architecture Center Exhibit Admission

6. Chicago: Architecture Center Exhibit Admission

The Chicago Architecture Center is the city’s newest must-see cultural destination. The CAC, formerly Chicago Architecture Foundation, is a hub for everything architecture in Chicago. The CAC will be a gateway for docent-led tours, exciting programs and imaginative, new interactive exhibits including the expanded, popular Chicago Model. Discover the stories behind the city’s architectural marvels and see how Chicago designers are changing skylines around the world. The Chicago Architecture Center fills a dramatic space, designed by the world-renowned firm Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, in a building by the Office of Mies van der Rohe, pioneer of mid-Century modernism. Center visitors are greeted by stunning views—through a 40-foot tall wall of glass—of some of the city’s most iconic buildings: Tribune Tower, the Wrigley Building and the new flagship Apple Store. The 20,000-square-foot Center is an extraordinary Chicago experience conveniently located at 111 East Wacker, just steps from Michigan Avenue and above the dock for the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. The nearly 10,000-square-feet of gallery space features exhibits including: In the Drake Family Skyscraper Gallery’s inaugural exhibit, "Building Tall" discovers how architects break boundaries and design tall and super tall buildings pushing ever higher into the sky. Explore supersized scale models of famous skyscrapers from Chicago and around the world that reveal how design and engineering innovations spurred a “race to the top”: from the world’s first skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago; to the Willis or Sears Tower, the world’s tallest building for nearly 25 years; to the next tallest building in the world, Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, also designed in Chicago. In the Chicago Gallery, the popular Chicago Model is bigger and better than ever—expanded from 1,300 to over 4,000 buildings. A film and light show illuminate the model with the amazing story of Chicago’s early growth, rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire, first-ever skyscrapers and modernist masterpieces of steel and glass. Using interactive touch screens, visitors can orient themselves to Chicago, search for buildings by architect or building style and find walking tour routes. They can use the model to track how the city evolved with booming, new neighborhoods, expanding boundaries, cutting-edge uses of big data and new projects that will change the skyline. See how state-of-the-art 3D printing creates these accurately scaled buildings for this first-of-its-kind city model.

Chicago: Evolution of the Skyscraper Walking Tour

7. Chicago: Evolution of the Skyscraper Walking Tour

This 90-minute tour is a chronological overview of Chicago's architecture, starting with its growth on the Chicago River, its rebirth after the Great Chicago Fire and its development into a commercial and cultural hub. See how architects adapted building styles to meet the fashions of their era and used cutting-edge engineering to build taller than ever before. This tour is an enticing overview which introduces you to the most important stories of Chicago architecture. On this tour, you'll learn about the city's beginnings on the river, its rebirth after the Great Fire and its development into a commercial and cultural hub, all while viewing structures in the order they were built. These buildings—including the Page Brothers Building, Old Dearborn Bank, the Chicago Motor Club, the Carbide and Carbon Building, NBC Tower and more—tell the story of how architectural technology evolved over time. You'll see up close how each building has its own unique design, often reflecting the style that was popular or prevalent when it was constructed.

Chicago's Modern Skyscrapers Guided Walking Tour

8. Chicago's Modern Skyscrapers Guided Walking Tour

Join a tour which focuses on Modernism, the dominant visual style of the 20th century, which continues to strongly influence design in the 21st century. Modernism has affected the shape of everything from houses to furniture and appliances, cars and even fashion. But the most spectacular effect of Modernism has been the modern skyscraper made of steel or reinforced concrete with vast areas of glass. It is a product of the age of mass production. Chicago is widely considered the birthplace of the skeleton frame, which forms the core of the modern skyscraper. On your tour, learn about how two men made a lasting impact on Chicago, Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and politician, Mayor Richard J. Daley. Enjoy superb views of the riverfront while walking along the River Walk. Highlighted buildings include Marina City, the Daley Center and the IBM Building.

Chicago: Elevated Architecture Walking Tour

9. Chicago: Elevated Architecture Walking Tour

Join a walking tour to explore Chicago’s memorable architecture from the unique perspective of elevated trains and station platforms. Learn the history behind the "L" system and hear how it has shaped the development of buildings within the Loop. Experience riding the “L” for yourself. The city's first elevated train started making trips in 1892. Now considered one of Chicago’s most defining features, the "L" offers one-of-a-kind views of downtown. By being more than 20 feet off the ground, you'll see architectural details that are missed by most pedestrians at street level. With this tour, you’re in for one of the most comprehensive tours in the Loop, passing hundreds of buildings and Chicago highlights. As you make your way around the city, listen to narration by your guide about Chicago’s transit system and architectural significance.

Chicago: Icons Guided Architecture Walking Tour

10. Chicago: Icons Guided Architecture Walking Tour

See the best of Chicago's architecture and walk past buildings from the 1890s to the present. Discover the latest in architecture from Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and Adrian Smith. Make seven stops in downtown Chicago, featuring the famous 19th-Century Commercial style, Beaux-Arts, Mid-Century Modern and Postmodern buildings. Compare and contrast a wide range of buildings with varying architectural styles and see how older structures connect to new skyline additions. Finally, finish your tour with a visit to beautiful Millennium Park, where world-class art and architecture combine, creating a unique urban fabric.

Other Sightseeing Options in Chicago Architecture Center

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What people are saying about Chicago Architecture Center

Overall rating

4.4 / 5

based on 352 reviews

The best way to see downtown! The fact that you can get on or off at any of the 12 stops was so great. And you’re ticket last for 12 hrs I didn’t even realize when booking it but really made our next day as well. they have headphones to listen to an automated tour but we enjoyed the driver’s info more. We will definitely book again thank you!

Wonderful overview of some interesting buildings. Well paced and the guide Ross, told lots of interesting stories. You don't have to love architecture to enjoy this tour.

Very informative. We try to do this the first day in each new city. Take one full trip around then the second trip we hop on and off.

A great way to figure out where you want to spend additional time. Canopy on the roof keeps you warm, even when chilly.

Our guide was great and made for a very interesting and informative tour. I would highly recommend!