I live in the beautiful albeit cold city of Chicago. While it is called the Windy City for a reason, it is also incredibly lively. There is always something happening on any given weekend — be it inside or outside — and Chicago is definitely a photographer’s delight. From the city to the suburbs, there are lots of beautiful places to take pictures. I would know — not only because I’m a local, but also because I’m a travel photographer.
It is no surprise that I love to travel. There is just something so magical about exploring a new-to-me place, community, and culture. But in today’s environment of limited vacation times, blackout travel dates, and limited travel budgets, few of us can, or want to, live life on the road. For this reason, I love the feeling of becoming a tourist in my own city, Chicago, and exploring areas and neighborhoods that I have never been to before. I’ve spent many hours photographing my own city in addition to my travel destinations. Whether you are a shutterbug or just love taking photos, here is a quick list of some of my favorite Chicago spots.
1. Michigan Avenue And The Chicago River
We are incredibly lucky to have the Chicago River running through several neighborhoods in the city. While the bulk of the river flows through downtown and into Lake Michigan, there are many vantage points to get a great view of the city, tall buildings, and the lake. My favorite spots are the bridges on Michigan Avenue and on Wacker Drive where you get gorgeous views of the Chicago River. I absolutely love these spots. Every season the landscape appears different. The tall buildings and the river are a great combination for photography.
Plus, in winter, the light reflecting off the buildings is really pretty. There is an incredible mix of old and new architecture with several great spots to photograph around the area. The Chicago Riverwalk is a very popular spot to take portraits, and on a good day you will find many photographers and their clients walking around the Riverwalk area taking photos. If you want to get a different perspective of the city skyline, take one of the many architecture boat tours. This is definitely a more touristy activity but for good reason. The views are simply stunning.
2. Private Boat Tour On Lake Michigan
Having Lake Michigan so close to the city means you will have the option to take a private boat tour on the lake. There are many private boat operators that advertise boat tours along Michigan Avenue. A boat tours can run anywhere from one to two hours and gives you a beautiful unobstructed view of the Chicago skyline.
3. The Chicago Bean (Or Cloud Gate)
Officially called Cloud Gate but affectionately known as The Bean, this large public art installation is worth visiting for photos. One downside to going here is that it can get very crowded, so visiting during the winter months or early in the morning is key for good photos. Otherwise you’ll just have to make do with all the other visitors who will be in your shot.
Of course, sometimes those silly tourist photos are equally fun and interesting. The bean is located in Millennium Park and there are little enclaves and spots that provide a great background to the city. In winter, there is a free skating rink right under The Bean — a super fun way to enjoy the season complete with hot chocolate stands nearby.
4. 360 Chicago
360 Chicago is the observatory deck in the Hancock building on Michigan Avenue. It is not quite the highest point in Chicago, but it is definitely worth the visit — unless you’re afraid of heights. The observatory deck features a tilting glass platform, and even if heights don’t bother you, there is still something unnerving about looking down so many stories with only glass between you and what’s below.
The Willis Tower, which is in the financial part of downtown, also has the famous Skydeck Chicago on its 103rd floor. But 360 Chicago tends to be less crowded compared to the Willis Tower. Since both these observation decks are made of glass, they are great for getting panoramic photos of the city. Remember to turn off the flash on your camera as you take photos of the city from either of these two places. Since both have glass windows, the flash would simply reflect the light back and ruin your shot.
5. Navy Pier
Chicago’s famous Navy Pier is a must see for everyone, especially if you’re traveling with small children. The ferris wheel and carousel are super fun. A quick photography tip here is that the ferris wheel provides a great vantage point to get a bird’s eye view of the city. Remember to use a wide angle lens to capture the whole cityscape.
6. Buckingham Fountain
The Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain — commonly referred to as Buckingham Fountain — is a beautiful structure located in Grant Park that overlooks Lake Michigan. During the summer it is a great place to cool off while enjoying views of the lake. The Chicago skyline acts as a beautiful backdrop to the fountain. For extra color, stop by in the evening when the fountain is illuminated in different colored lights. Keep in mind that the fountain is not operational during the winter months and plan your visit accordingly.
7. Lincoln Park Zoo
The only free zoo within the city limits, Lincoln Park Zoo, is a favorite among locals as well as visitors. There’s a gorgeous honeycomb pavilion created by Studio Gang in the zoo which can provide a unique backdrop for your photos. Even the area around the zoo is nice to walk around with beautiful landscaping in the summer months providing a nice backdrop for your images. You can even get some great views of the downtown buildings and Willis Tower.
8. Museum Campus And The Art Institute
Chicago is lucky to have many amazing and world-famous museums right in the heart of the city. The Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium are close by and share common outdoor spaces. This area is called the museum campus, and it is a great place to visit and walk around.
You also get great views of the city and the lake from the campus area. On the other side of the campus is a marina. If you love boats, then this is a great place to go watch them and get some iconic boat pictures. Chicago also has the Art Institute right in the heart of downtown off Michigan Avenue. Besides the cultural experience of seeing a wider range of art, the Art Institute is worth visiting for the range of spaces to photograph. The modern wing is particularly bright and beautiful.
9. Harold Washington Library Train Stop
The local train in Chicago, called the L, is a great way to get around town. It is also quite picturesque. You can actually plan on doing a loop around the L just to sit and watch out the window. Get off at the Harold Washington Library stop . This is a beautiful spot to get some pictures of the historic library and the building around the South Loop area of the city.
10. University Of Chicago Rockefeller Chapel
The University Of Chicago is a culturally rich and ethnically diverse co-educational research university located in the city’s Hyde Park. The area around the university has many historic buildings and the Rockefeller Chapel should not be missed if you’re on a photo walk in the area. It is an impressive gothic structure that is still in use today. You can take a bus from the city or even Uber to the campus, which is south of the main downtown area.
The city of Chicago has many amazing locations to take beautiful photos. Give yourself a few days to really explore the city while snapping away to your hearts delight.
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