There are cities around the world that need no introduction other than a picture of their skyline. Chicago is one of those cities. As the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, Chicago has an architectural history unlike most other major metropolitan areas. This is partly due to the Great Chicago Fire but also can be attributed to the powerful multicultural influences that make up this great city.
Choosing the best views in any city is, at best, a subjective enterprise. What may be attractive to one person may not be as attractive to another. Some people may find it difficult to appreciate the view when they’re fighting their fear of heights the whole time. Others may feel anxiety at the thought of being so close to the base of a thousand-plus foot tower. With this in mind, we have selected a range of views that cover three major varieties – Looking Down, Looking Out, and Looking Up. This gives everyone a chance to find the perfect view without the need to face any primal fears.
Attraction – Willis Tower
233 S. Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
The first view on our list is possibly the most famous view in Chicago. Located on the 103rd floor of the world-famous Willis Tower, Skydeck Chicago is 1,353 feet in the air giving it the title of “Undisputed Best View in Chicago”. As the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Willis Tower’s Skydeck offers an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the country, and with its famous “Ledge” you’re sure to get a thrill unlike any you’ve ever felt when you step 4.3 feet out into the void with nothing but Plexiglas under your feet! It’s an exhilarating feeling to say the least!
The Skydeck offers several exclusive packages for dining and viewing the city with an everyday rate of $22 for seniors. This admission fee includes access to all of the amenities and exhibits, like Reaching for the Sky, as well as the Ledge. There are several restaurants found within the tower and a gift shop where you can purchase a souvenir to remember the time you stood at the top of the Western Hemisphere. Make sure you go at least once to see the sunset from the windows of the 103rd floor. You can check times using this helpful Chicago Sunrise-Sunset calendar.
Attraction – John Hancock Center
875 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, 360 Chicago is fast-becoming Chicago’s second-most popular viewing location. Situated on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Tower in the heart of downtown Chicago, the views from 1,000 feet above Michigan Avenue are breathtaking. They have also included a feature called Tilt where an entire glass wall of the floor tilts to a 30° angle out over the streets below. It’s definitely an experience worth the price of admission, but if you’re not a fan of heights we suggest you skip that particular view. You’ll have plenty of other things to see with the 360° views offered by the rest of the attraction.
360 Chicago offers general admission for $20 but 606 residents save 50% with ID verifying residency. There is a café and bar where you can get anything from a refreshing cocktail to an excellent chicken salad sandwich and all of this is surrounded by interactive touchscreens and educational material. Make sure to visit their gift shop to pick up something to remember the time you tilted 30° over The Magnificent Mile – 1,000 feet in the air!
Restaurant – Lake Point Tower
505 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
Located on the 70th floor of the Lake Point Tower, Cité is a romantic, upscale restaurant with the finest unobstructed views of Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive found anywhere in the city. The view in the evening is absolutely stunning with the city lights reflecting off the waters and the streetlights cheerily illuminating the beautiful greenway that is Lake Shore Drive. There really are no other views like this in all of Chicago.
Cité serves classic cuisine that ranges from Maine lobster to New York Strip with an impressive wine and champagne list. The prices are above average for this type of fare, but the scenery alone is worth twice the price. If you find yourself here at sunset you’ll be treated to a fantastic lightshow as the sunlight penetrates the windows and is reflected from the numerous mirrors strategically placed throughout the restaurant. It’s as if the very air itself has caught fire!
Restaurant – Park Hyatt Tower
800 N. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Located in the heart of the Gold Coast in the beautiful Park Hyatt, NoMI Kitchen, Lounge & Garden is one of the finest restaurants in all of Chicago with views to match. NoMI offers spectacular views from any of its three distinct seating areas. The Kitchen offers Rustic American cuisine that has been consistently voted as one of Chicago’s best. The list of awards this establishment has earned would fill an entire article on its own, but “Best Rooftop Bar” awarded by Travel + Leisure and “101 Best Hotel Restaurants in the World” by the Daily Meal give you some idea of the reverence visitors have for this establishment.
The menu at NoMI is quite extensive with everything from award-winning sushi to a charcuterie board you’ll never forget. Prices are about what you’d expect from such an esteemed restaurant, but never forget – it’s the views you’re paying for and they’re fantastic! During the summer months, be sure to visit for the chance to sit in the Gardens atop the 7th floor. It’s a perfect way to spend the afternoon in the Chicago sunshine with a truly gorgeous view!
Restaurant – Chicago Athletic Association Hotel
12 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60603
One of the best views in Chicago can be found at one of the city’s most beautiful open-air terraces – Cindy’s rooftop restaurant perched atop the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. From this gorgeous eatery, you can take in panoramic views of Millennium Park, Lake Michigan, and everywhere in between. There is comfortable seating and even gas-powered fireplaces situated across the terrace where you can relax with a cocktail before having dinner. Most people are stunned by the availability of such an experience to the general public. It feels almost too exclusive to be real.
The menu at Cindy’s is reflective of the seasons and changes to fit what’s fresh and available to Chef Christian Ragano – creator of Glencoe’s Guildhall. They have an impressive cocktail menu made by some of the best mixologists in the Chicago area. Make sure you go for brunch on a weekend to see the beauty of Millennium Park when it’s filled to capacity. It’s people-watching taken to a whole new level!
Public Space – Rush University Medical Center
1653 W. Congress Parkway
Chicago, IL 60612
This may seem like a mistake, but rest assured, this is truly one of the best views in all of Chicago. Heralded by photographers as the ultimate picture-taking locale for capturing a unique view of the Chicago skyline, we’ve included this among the top views because who can argue with professional photographers over the quality of a view? We can’t so we included this view as an homage to photographers everywhere.
Lounge – The Ritz-Carlton Chicago
160 E. Pearson Street, at Water Tower Place
Chicago, IL 60611
Of course the Ritz-Carlton would make our list with their prime downtown position and their incredible architecture. It’s actually the DEC Rooftop Lounge that offers the fantastic views unless you’re lucky enough to have a room for the evening at the hotel. For those who wish to experience the view without the cost of a room rental, the DEC Lounge offers amazing views of the Magnificent Mile from 12 floors above street level. You can sit back and watch the world go by from one of the fantastic tables placed around the rooftop. There is not a bad seat in the house.
Prices for the DEC Rooftop Lounge are a bit on the high side for a cocktail or appetizer when compared to other venues across the city. Yet, that’s to be expected when having an expertly mixed cocktail atop one of Chicago’s premiere architectural landmarks. You just have to remember that it’s the experience you’re paying for more than the drink in your hand or the food on your plate. As long as you keep that firmly in mind the bill won’t bother you too much.
600 E. Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
One of Chicago’s most beloved and renowned attractions is Navy Pier. Everyone has seen a picture of the Centennial Wheel all lit up in the evenings, but until they arrive they have no idea just how fabulous Chicago looks from the Pier itself. The views are simply stunning. Whether you’re walking along the boardwalk or strolling through the Crystal Gardens, there is no other place in the city that offers the views you can see, and few places anywhere in the world with such a vista from ground level.
The real magical view from Navy Pier comes from riding the Centennial Wheel as it soars nearly 200 feet in the air. Enclosed in the comfortable gondolas, visitors can see everything the great city has to offer, and the price for a ticket is reasonable considering the experience is one-of-a-kind. Make sure to visit the Pier with enough time to watch the fireworks when the sun goes down!
1300 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
Another of Chicago’s most treasured public institutions, the Adler Planetarium, makes the list, not for its incredible views of the universe, but for its incredible views of the city skyline. While the Planetarium is full of fascinating things to look at, we’re here for three specific places – the North Terrace, Sundial Plaza, and the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Solarium. Each of these locations can be easily found once you’ve entered the building by following the signage posted on the walls, or by simply asking one of the docents for directions.
There is a cost for admission to the Planetarium so you may want to plan on visiting the exhibits as well as checking out the views to get the most bang for your buck. All three of the views listed face different cardinal points so no matter which you visit, you’ll be sure to see something you’ve never seen before. It’s well worth the trip!
- Upper Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60601
By far the newest, and possibly the best, addition to the best views in Chicago is provided by the Chicago Riverwalk that starts on E. Wacker Drive. Spanning six blocks from State Street westward to Lake Street, the Riverwalk is known by distinct names determined by the area they cover. There is the Marina from State to Dearborn and the Boardwalk from Franklin to Lake.
As of now, there is beauty around every turn on the Riverwalk. You’ll get up-close and personal to the city’s architecture and its rich, river-born history. The view from each of the areas changes dramatically so take the time to stroll its entire length. Find a comfortable spot and relax with a beverage or a snack from any of the eateries located along its length. It’s the best view of Chicago from street level you’ll ever find!
The views found here represent only a fraction of what you can find if you’re willing and open to exploring this great metropolis. All it takes is getting out there and finding whatever it is that speaks to you about Chicago. With all of the beauty and diversity found here, you shouldn’t be looking for very long before you find your own “Best View in Chicago”!