An architectural tour of Chicago

May 24, 2013 at 9:29 a.m. ET

Chicago looks good from every angle, whether in the air from one of its towering skyscrapers or from down below via a boat ride along the river. Here are the most stunning architectural landmarks in the Windy City.

Willis tower

Welcome to one of the best skylines in North America. There's no better place to start an architectural tour of Chicago than the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Willis Tower. Standing at 1,450 feet high, the Willis Tower offers stunning 360-degree views of Chicago from its observatory Skydeck Chicago which is located on the 103rd floor. Daredevils can test their courage on The Ledge, a suspended glass box that extends 4.3 feet out (and 1,353 feet in the air) from the skydeck. If you'd rather dine in the sky, try The Signature Room or The Signature Lounge located on the 95th and 96th floors of the John Hancock Center. The Signature Room offers a fine dining experience in an intimate atmosphere, while floor-to-ceiling windows showcase the stunning Chicago skyline.


Back on the ground, the sites of Chicago do not disappoint. The gleaming white Wrigley Building has been an icon of Chicago for over 75 years. Make sure to see it shining in all its glory at nighttime. Millennium Park is home to an incomparable collection of architecture, landscape design and art, including the famous Cloud Gate or "Bean" sculpture, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Lurie Garden and the Crown Fountain that spouts water from digital faces. Finally no architecture-themed tour of Chicagoland would be complete without visiting the home and studio of one of the most famous architects in history, Frank Lloyd Wright. Just outside of Chicago in Oak Park is the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio where Wright spent the first 20 years of his career perfecting his new American architecture, Prairie style, and designing 125 structures including the Robie House and the Larkin Building. Tours are available daily.

Walking and bus tours are also a great way to see all that Chicago has to offer. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers well-versed bus tours, while Chicago Photo Safaris teach tourists how to capture fantastic shots of the city. For those that like to discover a city on their own, Metrowalkz has organized a self-guided Loop Architecture Tour that hits all of the major architectural sites in the central business district known as "The Loop." Segway Experience of Chicago offers Segway sightseeing tours that help to cover more ground than most walking tours.

magnificent mile

We've covered land and air, so the only other way to see Chicago is by water. Traditional cruise tours can be found with Chicago's First Lady Cruises and Chicago Line Cruises, but for those looking for a twist, try a specialty wine tasting, cocktail or brew cruise. Mercury Cruise even offers a specialty Canine Cruise for your favorite four-legged friend. For an active architecture tour, rent a kayak from Kayak Chicago for a morning paddle through the heart of downtown on the Chicago River. Thrill seekers can speed down the lakefront on a speedboat tour from Seadog Cruises. Try the Seadog Extreme Thrill Ride for a jet-propelled ride at speeds of 45 miles-per-hour with twists and turns.

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