13 Must-See Famous Buildings in Chicago

January 5, 2022

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.

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.

big bus on streets of downtown chicago

Chicago Big Bus Tours

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. 

Best 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 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.

View looking up at The Willis Tower - Chicago, Illinois, USAChicago Famous Buildings

Willis Tower

Chicago’s most famous building 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.

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.

875 North Michigan

Another famous Chicago building 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.

Aon Center

Sleek, stylish, and cloaked in white stone, the Aon Center displays a distinctive look when compared to the Second City’s other skyscrapers of steel.

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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.”

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

Tribune Tower

Extra, extra, read all about it! Architectural aficionados in the know will be quick to point out that the neo-Gothic design of this historic Chicago fixture was actually a result of a 1922 contest conducted by the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

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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 The Wrigley Building from a distance with a blue sky behind it in Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Sawyer Bengtson via Facebook

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 historic Chicago building 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.

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 the building serves as a thoroughly chic venue to display the works of local creatives, photographers, and artists. 

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.

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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.

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Currently, the Rookery 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.

Tourists taking photos during autumn at The Bean Chicago - Chicago, Illinois, USAChicago 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

Wrigley 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.

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, 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.

Exterior view of the Lincoln Park Conservatory in Chicago, Illinois, USA

photo credit: Lincoln Park Conservatory via Facebook

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. 

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. 

Gritty 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 attractions, buildings, 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 famous buildings during your visit to Chicago.

What Famous Buildings in Chicago Did We Miss?

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

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Written By Isis Maya

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

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