A History Lover's Guide to Chicago

Historical Sites, Museums, and Architecture in Chicago

Chicago is famous for its rich history, and many attractions pay homage to the city's past. Chicago's history is diverse, with the city's earliest inhabitants coming from several countries. The Chicago History Museum offers exhibits that cover the city's history, with exhibits showcasing the city's early days as a Native American settlement, European settlement, and the city's industrial and maritime history. And plenty of other museums showcase the dynamic growth and stories of Chicago, too.


Rogers Park
Rogers Park is a bit off the main tourist circuit, but it has a number of unique architectural examples, including the Emil Bach House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as an impressive theater scene. The neighborhood is diverse, and that's reflected in the restaurants found there. It is also home to the Glenwood Avenue Arts District which has impressive murals, award-winning theaters, and a variety of live music venues. There are also many art galleries in the neighborhood. To the east the neighborhood runs into Lake Michigan's shoreline and there are many nice waterfront views.
Chicago, IL
Richard H. Driehaus Museum
This grand museum offers an impressive setting with its marble floors, ornate staircases, and elegant fireplaces. It's decorated with antique furnishings and opulent art. This museum is located in the former Nickerson Mansion, often called the Marble Palace and it hosts a number of rotating exhibits and activities throughout the year.
40 E Erie St, Near North Side, Chicago, IL, 60611
If you're looking for more information about Chicago, read A Fashion-Lovers Guide To Chicago and A Nature Lover's Guide to Chicago.
DuSable Museum of African American History
Opened in 1961, this African American history museum is one of the oldest of its kind in the country. It has a collection of artifacts that highlight the lives of important historical figures such as Ida B. Wells and Langston Hughes. There's a growing collection of pieces that range from African American art to Chance the Rapper's Grammy award.
740 E 56th Pl, Hyde Park, Chicago, IL, 60637
Chicago Architecture Center
Located in the impressive Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s skyscraper at One Illinois Center, this museum has exhibits on the many skyscrapers of Chicago. Located right by the Chicago Riverwalk, they offer a number of walking, bus and boat tours as well.
111 E Wacker Dr,, South Shore, Chicago, IL, 60601
The Oriental Institute Museum
The Oriental Institute Museum
This small museum is run by the University of Chicago and has archaeological artifacts from up to 6,000 years ago. Pieces are from around the globe including ancient civilizations such as Assyria, Anatolia, Israel, Egypt, Persia and in the Mesopotamian.
1155 E 58th St, Hyde Park, Chicago, IL, 60637
American Writers Museum
American Writers Museum
Located near Millennium Park, this unique writers museum is the first of its kind in the United States. It offers an overview on the history of American writing including a variety of genres such as fiction, poetry, journalism, and more. It highlights several specific authors and has a number of relics from the history of writing.
180 North Michigan Ave, Loop, Chicago, IL, 60601
Chicago History Museum
This fascinating museum has exhibits that educate visitors on the history of the city and it's unique personality. With information on everything from Abraham Lincoln to Chicago-style hot dogs, this museum offers a bit of insight into how Chicago became Chicago. There are old photographs, vintage vehicles, and plenty to explore.
1601 N Clark St., Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL, 60614
Pritzker Military Museum & Library
This museum houses a number of artifacts, books, photographs, maps, and other items relating to the history of the American military. The museum fee includes a military themed tour and a number of exhibits on the history of American wars.
104 S Michigan Ave, Loop, Chicago, IL, 60603
Interested in more travel advice for Chicago? Check out Chicago's Best Architectural Landmarks and Things to Do In Chicago on a Rainy Day.
Museum of Science and Industry
Museum of Science and Industry
This informative science museum has unique exhibits on everything from mirrors and mazes to the weather. It's a very interactive museum that's perfect for visitors of all ages. There's a restored U-505 German submarine as well as a simulated coal mine. The unique exhibits at this museum make it a popular destination within the city.
5700 S Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park, Chicago, IL, 60637
Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago dates back to 1879 and is found in Chicago's Grant Park. It's home to one of the oldest and largest art museums in the country where it houses a large collection of more than 300,000 works including Pablo Picasso's The Old Guitarist and Grant Wood's American Gothic.
111 South Michigan Avenue, Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60604
Ukrainian National Museum
Located in the historical Ukrainian Village neighborhood, this museum houses a number of Ukrainian artifacts, artwork, musical instruments, and folk costumes.
2241 West Superior Street, Ukrainian Village, Chicago, Illinois, 60612
Chicago Water Tower
Chicago Water Tower
The Chicago Water Tower is a landmark of the Old Chicago Water Tower District. It sits along the famous Magnificent Mile shopping district and was built in 1869, making it the second oldest water town in the country. Inside the building is a gallery that features local artists and photographers.
800 North Michigan Avenue, The Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois, 60611
National Museum of Mexican Art
The National Museum of Mexican Art highlights Mexican, Latino, and Chicano art and culture. This is the only Latino museum that's accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
1852 West 19th Street, Pilsen, Chicago, Illinois, 60608
The Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum is one of the largest national history museums in the world. It has impressive exhibits and educational programs as well as a large collection of specimen and artifacts. The exhibits are diverse and show fossils, cultures, and interactive programming that the whole family can enjoy.
1400 South Lake Shore Drive, South Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60605
Interested in more travel advice for Chicago? Check out A Fashion-Lovers Guide To Chicago and A Nature Lover's Guide to Chicago.
Adler Planetarium
Adler Planetarium
This planetarium and museum focuses on the study of astronomy and astrophysics. It was established in 1930, making it the first planetarium in the country. It is also part of Chicago's Museum Campus. From outside of the museum you can enjoy a skyline view of the city, and when the weather is calm you might even catch it's reflection in the water.
1300 South Lake Shore Drive, South Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60605
How much does it cost to visit the museums in Chicago?

Prices for activities, things to do, and tours range from $26 to $133. The average cost for a tour or tickets is $53. A few of the best options are below.

Historic Sites

Walden Pond & Thoreau's Cabin
Henry David Thoreau, the famous American author, wrote some of his most famous works at this cabin which is now a museum and park. Visitors can walk around the famous Walden Pond which has a small beach area and walking trails. It's a nice spot for a swim in the summer. The area is now a state park and open to the public.
915 Walden St, Concord, Massachusetts
Illinois Railway Museum
Located in the suburbs of northwestern Chicago, this fantastic railroad museum features locomotives and train cars from a variety of historic eras in railroading. Children and adults like enjoy this museum as you can see and get on many of the exhibits.
7000 Olson Road, Union, Illinois, 60180
Fox River Trolley Museum
This railroad museum is located in South Elgin, and it has a special focus on trolleys, street cars, and other commuter trains. Visitors can board and see a variety of historic trolley and passenger trains from various periods in history. It's also possible to take a ride on their tracks in one of the historic trains. With seasonal events throughout the year and during the holidays, this is a fun place to visit for the while family.
365 S La Fox St, South Elgin, Illinois
The Chicago 'L'
The Chicago 'L'
While many cities have underground subway systems, Chicago built a railway system that was actually elevated above ground, thus giving it the name 'L'. But it's more than just historic, as millions of locals and visitors ride the system every year to get around Chicago - above, on, and below ground. If you want to go for a ride above the streets, the downtown Loop area of central Chicago is the best place to do so as you'll see the most sites in a short period of time, and it only costs a few bucks.
Loop, Chicago, Illinois
Prairie Avenue Historic District
The Prairie Avenue Historic District is in the Near South Side community. It was the location of the Battle of Fort Dearborn and later became a luxury residential neighborhood following the Great Chicago Fire. Today there are a number of small museums housed in the former mansions.
1920 South Prairie Avenue, Near South Side, Chicago, Illinois, 60616
If you're looking for more information about Chicago, read A Train Lover's Guide to Chicago and Activities and Things to Do in the Fall in Chicago.
Fort Dearborn
Fort Dearborn was a US fort built in 1803 by the Chicago River. The fort has now been destroyed by fire and widening of the Chicago River, but the site remains a Chicago landmark in the Michigan-Wacker Historic District.
East Upper Wacker Drive, Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60601
Historic Michigan Boulevard District
Historic Michigan Boulevard District is a historic district in the Loop community area. It's considered a Chicago Landmark and has a number of important historic buildings, particularly along Michigan Avenue.
94 East Ida B. Wells Drive, Printer's Row, Chicago, Illinois, 60605
Michigan–Wacker Historic District
Michigan-Wacker Historic District includes parts of the Chicago Loop. The area has two bridges and many impressive high rises and skyscraper buildings that date back to the 1920s.
Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60601
Printing House Row District
This historic row of buildings includes the Monadnock Building, the Manhattan Building, the Fisher Building, and the Old Colony Building.
10 West Jackson Boulevard, Loop, Chicago, Illinois, 60604
Dearborn Station
Dearborn Station is the oldest of the six train stations in downtown Chicago. It currently has a shopping mall with retail and entertainment space.
66 West 9th Street, Printer's Row, Chicago, Illinois, 60605
Pullman National Monument
This historic district was the first planned industrial community in the country. It was the location of the 1894 Pullman strike and has a famous history as the location of the Pullman Company, which built sleeping cars.
10827 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Arcade Row, Chicago, Illinois, 60628
Chicago has plenty more to offer, so see also our other articles: An Art Lover's Guide to Chicago and Best Places To Enjoy A Picnic In Chicago.
How much does it cost to visit the historic sites of Chicago?

Prices for activities, things to do, and tours range from $19 to $695. The average cost for a tour or tickets is $96. A few of the best options are below.

Religious Sites

Old Saint Patrick Church
This is the oldest standing church building in Chicago, dating back to before the 1871 fire.
180 South Desplaines Street, Greektown, Chicago, Illinois, 60661


Lincoln Park
This neighborhood and park area offers a beautiful setting with nicely landscaped gardens, a quaint lily pond, and lakefront green space that has nice views of the city. The Lakefront Trail, the Lincoln Park Trail, Lincoln Park Zoo, North Avenue Beach, and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum are all in the area. There is also plenty of shopping in Lincoln Park with many boutique shops spread among the row houses.
Chicago, IL
The Wrigley Building
The Wrigley Building
The Wrigley Building is one of the most notable early skyscrapers in Chicago. It was built in the 1920s and has two towers - a 30 story south tower and a 21 story north tower - with a walkway between the two on the 14th floor. This was also the first air conditioned building in Chicago.
400-410 N Michigan Ave, The Magnificent Mile, Chicago, IL, 60611
Buckingham Fountain
Buckingham Fountain
This beautiful fountain, dating back to 1927, is one of the largest in the world. Every hour between 8am and 11pm the fountain comes to life shooting 15,000 gallons of water through the air in a dramatic and impressive show. As the day turns dark, lights are added to the show. This is a highlight of a visit to Chicago's famed Grant Park
301 S Columbus Dr, Grant Park, Chicago, IL, 60605
Navy Pier
Navy Pier
The Navy Pier is one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions. It opened in 1916 as an amusement and entertainment area and today it includes about 50 acres of gardens, parks, restaurants, shops, and concert venues. One of the most iconic parts of the Navy Pier is the 150 foot ferris wheel, which offers breathtaking views over the city and lake. There's also a classic historic carousel in Navy Pier Park. Head hear to pick up a boat tour as well.
600 East Grand Avenue, Streeterville, Chicago, IL
Centennial Wheel
Centennial Wheel was built in 1995 and offers a classic Chicago experience along the Navy Pier. It reaches a height of 200 feet and offers 360 degree views of the city and Lake Michigan. The ferris wheel has large enclosed gondolas with very open city views. The enclosed space offers reassurance so even those with a fear of heights can enjoy the experience.
Navy Pier, Streeterville, Chicago, IL, 60611
Tribune Tower
This award winning skyscraper has a neo-Gothic design with influences by world renowned landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat and the Great Pyramids.
435 N. Michigan Ave., The Magnificent Mile, Chicago, IL, 60611
The Rookery Building
The Rookery Building
The Rookery Building was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1972. The two story lobby was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1905 and 1907 and the building's structure is notable as being the oldest surviving high rise in the city.
209 S. LaSalle St., Financial District, Chicago, IL, 60604
Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago Riverwalk
The Chicago River is an iconic part of the city, and it runs parallel to the lakeshore through the heart of the city. The Riverwalk is along a popular stretch of the river, and it's lined with many great restaurants and some of Chicago's most impressive architecture. You can wander along the Riverwalk, rest at one of the many benches, take in the impressive views or simply people watch.
Loop, Chicago, IL, 60601
Chicago Harbor Light
Chicago Harbor Light
The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is found at the south end of the northern breakwater and protects the Chicago Harbor.
Chicago, Illinois
How much does it cost to visit the monuments in Chicago?

Prices for activities, things to do, and tours range from $28 to $780. The average cost for a tour or tickets is $123. A few of the best options are below.

Art & Art History

Museum of Contemporary Art
This museum houses an impressive permanent collection with more than 2,500 pieces on display on a rotational basis. The works span the 1920s through present day. There are also a number of summer events hosted here including Tuesdays on the Terrace which offers free live jazz performances in the museum gardens. On summer mornings there are weekly farmer's markets.
220 E Chicago Ave, Streeterville, Chicago, IL, 60611
Smart Museum of Art
Located on the University of Chicago campus, this art museum houses the university's collection of fine arts and antiquities. There are ceramics and ancient works all the way to contemporary pieces. There's also a sculpture garden in the courtyard.
5550 S Greenwood Ave, Hyde Park, Chicago, IL, 60637
How much does it cost to see the artwork in Chicago?

Prices for activities, things to do, and tours range from $40 to $463. The average cost for a tour or tickets is $122. A few of the best options are below.

Where to Stay in Chicago

Budget Your Trip is all about finding out how much everything costs so that you can travel cheaper and longer. Created by avid travelers Laurie and Bryan, our goal is to help you plan your next trip on the right budget. With average daily travel costs that are calculated from the budgets of real travelers, plus an analysis of hotel and tour prices, you can find out how much money you need to plan your next adventure. We also have plenty of travel advice, accommodation reviews, and activity suggestions.

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