Chicago Famous Buildings: 16 Must See Structures

Sparkling views of Lake Michigan, decadently cheesy deep-dish pizza, and an impressive park system are just a few of the crowning achievements that make the Windy City a go-to urban oasis.

This shining jewel of the Midwest is home to a multitude of landmarks, monuments, and iconic places. in the United States

Spellbinding architecture and skyscrapers reign supreme here. Therefore, it’s hard to walk down the city street without bumping into a piece of historic Chicago.

Whether you are a Chi-town local or an eager visitor, read on to discover the most famous buildings in Chicago.

Sightseeing Tours

Big Bus Chicago

From Millenium Park to the Adler Planetarium Chi-town is just bursting with historical buildings and renowned landmarks. If you are dying to discover every last detail of the Second City during your visit, but don’t know where to start, delegate the sightseeing to the experts when you book a Big Bus Chicago Tour.

An ideal way to hit the ground running and soak in everything from the Bean to Hancock Tower, this hop-on/hop-off bus tour allows you to visit over 10 iconic sights at your own speed and convenience. 

two drivers standing beside the Big Bus Tour bus with skyline in the background in Chicago, Illinois, USABest of Chicago Tour

Seeking an intimate way to see every last sight on the Chicago landmark map during your visit?  Best of Chicago Tour is your ticket to a thrilling day of architectural and historical marvels.

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Steel yourself for sensational skyscraper views, flowing fountains, and more on this 4.5-hour small guided tour.

Your local expert guide will paint a colorful picture of the Windy City’s historic past as you visit such infamous locales as the Bean, the Chicago Skywalk, the Chicago Adler viewpoint, and the Buckingham Fountain

Don’t forget to grab your camera as you’ll need photo proof of your daring sojourn to the Sky Deck!

Shoreline Sightseeing Boat Tours

Ay, ay, captain! Set sail for an afternoon of aquatic architecture adventure when you book any number of Shoreline Sightseeing Boat Tours.

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Abandon dry land and revel in the White City’s scintillating sites and monuments from Lake Michigan on your professionally narrated cruise tour.

Check out famous architectural buildings in Chicago from the windswept deck of your sea-worthy vessel when you choose from a variety of different Shoreline tours including the Skyline Lake Tour and the Architecture River Tour from Michigan Avenue.

Wide shot of a boat doing a river tour with large city buildings behind it on a sunny day in Chicago, Illinois
photo credit: Shoreline Sightseeing via Facebook

Chicago Famous Buildings

Willis Tower

You may be wondering, “what is the most famous building in Chicago?” The most famous building in Chicago might now go by a new name, but the soaring heights of the Willis Tower continues to impress.

Often still referred to as the ‘Sears Tower’ by most locals, this 1,450-foot triumph of glass and steel will always garner a special place in our hearts.

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For decades, the Willis Tower was the world’s tallest building until it was dethroned in 1996. Today it holds on to the title as the second tallest building in North America and is still one of the tallest buildings in the world.
The building’s Skydeck provides panoramic views and on a clear day, visibility of up to 50-miles and four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

There’s never been a better time to visit Ferris Bueller’s famous haunt as the Tower is looking sleeker than ever with a completely revamped food hall, glass skylight, and retail complex.

View looking up at The Willis Tower - Chicago, Illinois, USA875 North Michigan

Another famous buildings Chicago that now goes by another name, is the staggeringly tall John Hancock Center.

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The  100 story skyscraper formerly known as John Hancock Center now simply goes by its address: 875 North Michigan. 

Completed in 1969, this nearly 1,500 ft skyscraper is an exceptional example of structural expressionism and shares many similarities with the Willis Tower.

In addition to its searing 360 Chicago Observation Deck views, this building also serves up tons of titillation and thrills with TILT.

This one-of-a-kind attraction angles visitors 30 degrees over Michigan Avenue for a heart-pounding 40-second ride and jaw-dropping view.

Tribune Tower

Extra, extra, read all about it! The Tribune Tower, one of the most iconic buildings in Chicago, has a rich history and unique design that will leave architectural aficionados in awe.

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From over 260 entries from 23 countries, the winning design was selected. 

Architects John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood seamlessly blended elements and influences from the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, and the Great Pyramids to create this majestic structure.

Today this 463 ft tall skyscraper’s soaring vertical lines, flying buttresses, and rich embellishments have been transformed into sumptuous luxury residences for the Chicago elite. 

View looking up at Tribune Tower at dusk in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Fox 32 Chicago via Facebook

Aon Center

Sleek, stylish, and proudly standing among the iconic buildings in Chicago, the Aon Center commands attention with its distinctive white stone façade.

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Once affectionately nicknamed “Big Stan,” as the former location of the Standard Oil Building, today the Aon Center sets the tone for Chicago’s corporate office culture.

Currently, the fourth tallest building in the city, this almost 50-year-old structure was initially wrapped in 43,000 thin slabs of Italian Carrara marble. 

Interestingly, the marble used at Aon was from the same Italian quarry used by Michaelangelo for his masterpiece, “David.”

Getting skyscraper deja vu? The Aon actually served as inspiration for the construction of the World Trade Center in NYC, hence their similarities. 

Chicago Historic Buildings

The Wrigley Building

A hundred years of historic character married with elegance makes the Wrigley Building a timeless symbol of the spirit of Chicago.

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An integral fixture of the Windy City skyline, this stands among the most famous buildings in USA that needs no introduction.

Integrated into the city’s storied history in 1921, the Wrigley’s technologically innovative design set it apart. 
In fact, the Wrigley Building holds the honor of being the first air-conditioned office building in Chicago

The Wrigley’s central river-bound location means its terra cotta facade and impressive clock tower are viewable from miles around.

View looking up at The Wrigley Building from a distance with a blue sky behind it in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Sawyer Bengtson via Facebook

The Rookery Building

A curvaceous oriel staircase, a stunning light court, and prismatic glass immediately set the Rookery apart as a place of architectural significance.

A building with a purebred pedigree, this high-rise tower was originally completed in 1888 by the renowned partners of Burnham and Root. 

Notably, the father of modern architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright was brought in 7 years later to give the lobby a stunning facelift.

The Rookery’s prestige has lived on and was officially honored as a Chicago landmark in 1972, after being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Currently, the Rookery not only rises amidst Chicago iconic buildings but also serves as a haven for bold businesses seeking a sustainable and LEED Gold certified office space.

Keen to uncover more of this storied structure’s nooks and crannies? Reserve a special tour with the Chicago Architecture Center and you’ll be privy to special areas such as the 11th-floor architects’ library.

Chicago Water Tower

Looking pretty spritely for an old broad of 150, the Chicago Water Tower offers a resplendent link to Chi-town’s fascinating past.

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Built in 1869, the Water Tower is one of the city’s oldest buildings and was one of the very few structures to survive the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871. 

Conjuring images of fairy tales and fantasy, the tower’s squat limestone facade is curiously castle-like.

Situated smack dab on Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, this awe-inspiring edifice was actually created for Chicago’s municipal water system, and originally housed a 135-foot iron standpipe used to regulate water pressure.

Today, this iconic building in Chicago serves as a thoroughly chic venue to display the works of local creatives, photographers, and artists.

View looking up at the Chicago Water Tower with a blue sky and puffy clouds behind it in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Marina City

With its distinctive “corn cob” towers, Marina City stands tall among the most interesting buildings in Chicago. This architectural marvel captures the imagination and curiosity of visitors from near and far.

Designed by the visionary architect Bertrand Goldberg, this building is a true icon that has left an indelible mark on the city’s landscape. These unique towers, with their cylindrical shape and captivating presence, have become synonymous with Marina City.

The complex was built between 1964 and 1968 and was the first post-war urban high-rise residential complex in the United States. Marina City was designed to be a city within a city, with the convenience of living, working, and playing close to home.

From its eye-catching design to its historical significance, this is one of the famous buildings in Chicago skyline. That remains a beloved landmark and a must-see for anyone exploring the vibrant city.

Merchandise Mart

Located on the north bank of the Chicago River, between Wells Street and Orleans Street. The Merchandise Mart is undoubtedly one of the must-see buildings in Chicago. This iconic commercial building occupies a staggering 4 million square feet, equivalent to two city blocks.

When it was completed in 1930, it held the esteemed title of being the largest building in the world at that time. Designed by the renowned architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. The Merchandise Mart showcases a striking Art Deco design that adds to the city’s impressive skyline.

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Originally constructed as a hub for wholesale goods, the Merchandise Mart was the bustling center of Chicago’s wholesale business for many years. Today, this architectural gem has evolved into a dynamic space. Housing a wide array of businesses, including offices, showrooms, and retail stores.

Chicago skyline aerial drone view from above, lake Michigan and city of Chicago downtown skyscrapers cityscape, Illinois, USA860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments

A famous building near Lake Shore Drive, the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments stand as a renowned architectural gem.

Designed by the visionary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, these glass-and-steel apartment towers have become synonymous with modern elegance. And the epitome of the International Style and high-tech architecture.

Often referred to as the “Glass House” apartments, the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments showcase the sleek lines and minimalist aesthetic that Mies van der Rohe is celebrated for. Built between 1949 and 1951, these iconic towers rise 26 floors high. Reaching an impressive height of 587 feet (179 meters).

Recognized for their architectural significance, the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. And designated as Chicago Landmarks in 1996, instantly making it one of the most famous buildings in downtown Chicago.

From their lofty heights, the apartments offer breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the picturesque Lake Shore Drive. Providing residents and visitors alike with a stunning glimpse of Chicago’s natural beauty.

Chicago Landmarks

The Field Museum

The Second City may be the land of skyscrapers and sweeping skylines, but the city’s museums also have architectural spark to spare.

Everyone’s favorite Cretaceous creature, Sue, the T. Rex is lucky enough to call the Field Museum home. 

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A beacon of immersive education, creativity, and science, this Museum can trace its lineage back almost 130 years to the Columbian Exhibition.

However, the neoclassical greek revival style building which attracts hordes of tourists and locals alike has only housed the museum’s collection in Grant Park since 1921.

Besides dinosaurs and ancient Egyptian artifacts, the Stanley Field Hall also boasts:

  • 450 jade objects
  • a native garden
  • a bevy of Pacific Islander masks, wood carvings, and instruments

People Walking up the steps to the Entrance of the Field Museum - Chicago, Illinois, USAWrigley Field

Take me out to the ballgame! Is there any edifice more synonymous with Chicago than Wrigley Field?

A winning combination of quirky baseball tradition, charm, and hometown pride, Wrigley Field has provided a home for the beloved Chicago Cubs for over a hundred years.

Often referred to as the ‘Friendly Confines,’ this thoroughly nostalgic stadium offers a reprieve into a simpler time.

The field was constructed in a classic style by architect Zachary Taylor Davis. In addition, Wrigley features quirky touches such as the famed red marquee over the main entrance and a hand-turned scoreboard.

Wrigley Field has provided the scenic backdrop for many more historic baseball events. Epic moments include the legendary 1922 Cubs defeat of the Philadelphia Phillies. In addition, it is the home of the time-honored tradition of “White Flag Days.” 

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Although Frank Lloyd Wright’s influences can be felt all over the Second City, his presence is inarguably strongest at his very own home and studio, located in Oak Park.

An ideal sojourn outside of the city’s limits, Frank’s home and studio offer a unique perspective into the architectural genius who designed Fallingwater, the Guggenheim, and more.

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A powerful pioneer of the ‘Prairie style movement. Meanwhile his telltale horizontal lines, flat roofs, solid construction, and craftsmanship can be observed here at his studio.

Constructed in 1889, these modest buildings served as incubators for an entirely new generation of architects. 

Today the style and interior obsessed can learn even more about Wright’s family life and groundbreaking career when they tour the property.

Ground view of the Frank Lloyd Wright House in the fall in Chicago, Illinois.
photo credit: Frank Lloyd Wright Home via Facebook

The Bean

Bean there, done that! Check one ‘Bean’ off your Chicago landmark map when you beeline it to Millenium Park.

The mysterious silver orb art deco, which is actually titled ‘Cloud Gate’ has been gracing Chicagoans with its peaceful presence since 2004.

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One of the world’s largest permanent outdoor art installations, this monumental work was designed by the masterful artist Anish Kapoor. It was inspired by liquid mercury.

More than just a seriously popular selfie spot, this renowned installation anchors Millennium Park. It also reflects the city’s ubiquitous skyline and surrounding green space. 

Its highly reflective stainless steel surface acts as a mirror. During their visit, visitors from all over to play, touch, and interact with its mesmerizing surface.

Beautiful Places in Chicago

Garfield Park Conservatory

Time spent in the presence of plants is always a pleasure! Boost your mood and breathe in some green-fueled tranquility at the Garfield Park Conservatory

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This sprawling horticultural oasis measures just over 10 acres. In addition, the park was created to be the world’s largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof.

Garfield opened its doors in 1908. Since then, it has been delighting botanists and amateur gardeners alike with its six greenhouses and two exhibition halls.

Visitors here can witness lush floral beauty and tropical plants around every turn. In addition, they can explore outdoor gardens, water lily ponds, and seasonal flower shows. 

Exterior view of Garfield Park Conservatory with plants, flowers, and trees in Chicago, Illinois, USA
photo credit: Garfield Park Conservatory via Facebook

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Often referred to as the ‘city in a garden,’ the White City is a whole lot greener than you think! In fact, there are over 600 parks located within the city’s limits. In addition, some of the most beautiful places in Chicago are in the city’s impressive park system.

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The Lincoln Park Conservatory envelopes you in the charm of a bygone era, with its Victorian Era glasshouse, formal gardens, and Shakespeare monument.

Stroll through verdant overgrown gardens of ancient ferns and towering palms. Then, stop to marvel at the delicate orchids on display.

Built between 1890 and 1995, the Conservatory was designed by Joseph Lyman Silsbee in collaboration with architect M.E. Bell. 

The public’s obsession with exotic plants and nature was most likely a reaction to the growing concerns regarding industrialization during this period.

Flower-obsessed Chicagoans can now meander through four display houses. These houses display a variety of plant species while they contemplate their green peace. 

wide view of navy pier with the skyline in the background in Chicago, Illinois, USAGritty gangsters, a thriving jazz scene, and a stupendous culinary scene may intrigue visitors to flock to the Windy City. 

However, it is Chicago’s historic and stunning architecture that invites them to stay. 

With over 300 landmarks and almost 60 historical districts, Chi-town is just bursting with iconic Chicago buildings, attractions, and monuments.

From the hallowed halls of Wrigley Field to the sizzling 360-degree views offered by Michigan Avenue. There are endless ways to embrace the architectural beauty, urbanity, and sophistication of the popular buildings during your visit to Chicago.

What Famous Buildings of Chicago Did We Miss?

Did we miss any of your favorite buildings of Chicago? Let us know in the comments below!

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Written by Isis Maya Nissman

A New York native, Isis-Maya spent most of her professional life working in TV production until a vacation whisked her away to Central...

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