13 UNUSUAL WALKS IN CHICAGO, ON & OFF THE BEATEN TRACK (WORK IN PROGRESS)
All of these 13 walks in Chicago are about 3 miles each and will take you around 2 hours to complete, although this greatly depends on how much time you spend visiting the different highlights along your way.
To give you an example of their organization and content, Walk in Chicago # 2 is detailed on a post below.
All the walks will be gradually posted below in a 5 to 7 pages pdf file.
Walks 1, 2, 3 and 4 can be linked to each other's, giving you a 12-mile downtown itinerary.
Walk in Chicago # 1, the river and the center of the Loop, is my favorite walk to introduce newcomers to the city: it dives right into the Loop vibe as you get off the subway, runs along what is arguably the most beautiful part of the river, explore a small museum full of information on the movable bridges and the history of the city, then move on to the entertainment and business districts with their stunning 1920s buildings and their monumental sculptures.
Walk in Chicago # 2, the east of the Loop: see below
Walk in Chicago # 3, the north of The Loop and Navy Pier, is a good complement to Walk # 1 and Walk # 2 for exploring downtown. This time, it will be on the recreation side as it passes through the Children's Museum and the Navy Pier rides. It also runs along the river then the lake and explores the northern part of the Loop. It can be combined with Walk # 4 (the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast) for a complete introduction to Chicago if you have already done walks 1 and 2.
Walk in Chicago # 4, the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast, is the last of 4 walks that explore the more touristy parts of downtown Chicago and some off-the-beaten-path locations. It is also the one that goes to the most upscale neighborhoods of the city. It ends a little before the start of Walk in Chicago # 6, Lincoln Park and the Lakeside, and asks you to take a bus back because there is no subway nearby (use an app like Citymapper to find out which bus to take depending on your next destination). It goes through so many places that might hold your attention for a while (shops, malls, several museums, other tourist attractions) that it's not sure you can do it all in one go but if you stick to what the description suggests, it is about 3 miles and will take you 2 to 3 hours!
Walk in Chicago # 5, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Paseo Boricua, is the 1st of 4 walks that invites you to explore the north of the city outside its center. It is an opportunity to walk in residential neighborhoods, to take a tree-lined pedestrian path, to cross an almost wild park and then to explore Puerto Rican culture. You'll also find a place to eat traditional Chicago hot dogs and another for the deep-dish pizzas, also a specialty of the city. Finally, it suggests two cozy bars with very reasonable prices to go and listen to either jazz or alternative groups.
Walk in Chicago # 6, Lincoln Park and the lakeside, takes you to see exotic animals and plants and then an almost secret garden. It then follows the edges of the lake with superb views of the Downtown Chicago skyscrapers and the possibility of stopping on fine sandy beaches. With some extra steps at the end, it can also be combined with Walk in Chicago # 4 (the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast) which will have to be done in reverse in order to reach the city center.
Walk in Chicago # 7, Palmer Square and Logan Square, is a circuit that mixes shopping streets typical of the trendy atmosphere of these neighborhoods with quiet and residential streets connecting green spaces where to sit and contemplate the local population. It is also an opportunity to discover this part of the city and its charm for two short hours without having to worry about the opening hours of particular places since on this walk, visits are minimal. There are, however, many opportunities to stop, whether along imposing avenues lined with trees and mansions, in parks, on the terraces of small independent cafés or at the tables of ethnic restaurants. You will discover astonishing paintings, an art deco bar, another filled with pinball machines and the superb mansions of the "boulevard of the millionaires".
Walk in Chicago # 8, Montrose, Graceland and Buena Park, explores 3 different areas in the north of the city, one rather artistic, the other calm and venerable, the last classified as historic. If you follow what the map shows you, it will be about 3 miles but if you want to explore the Graceland Cemetery in more detail, take a Divvy Bike. This bike will also come in handy if you want to continue your exploration further east to popular beaches or sports grounds, or start it off by visiting some of Ravenswood's breweries. This walk is in any case the opportunity to stroll through neighborhoods far from the beaten track and to discover unexpected places such as, among others, one of the oldest artists' cooperatives in the city, a romantic pond in the middle of astonishing tombs and some of the finest Prairie-style houses in the city. You’ll also learn something about the origins of Labor Day!
Walk in Chicago # 9, F. L Wright and E. Hemingway at Oak Park, is the architectural equivalent of a walk through downtown Chicago, this time with single-family homes instead of skyscrapers. It is mainly focused on the Prairie style developed by Frank Lloyd Wright but is also an opportunity to admire other manors in the same district, in particular some in the Queen Anne style. It is in fact the style of Ernest Hemingway's birthplace which will be along your way.
Walk in Chicago # 10, an air of Mexico in Pilsen, invites you to discover a lively and colorful neighborhood with lots of murals, a free art museum, a superb disused church, contemporary art galleries, a venerable performance hall and places to end your walk on a terrace in front of an authentic margarita. It can keep you busy for a good two hours and make you want to come back to taste the charm of the neighborhood once again.
Walk in Chicago # 11, Prairie District, Motor Row and Chinatown.
Walk in Chicago # 12, historic and cultural Bronzeville.
Walk in Chicago # 13, an artistic excursion to Hyde Park.
Walk in Chicago # 2, the east of the Loop, mixes the tourist attractions of Millennium Park and more unusual places not far from there, gives an overview of the skyscrapers of the center and goes to the edges of the lake.
It can be combined with Walk in Chicago # 1 (the center of the Loop and the riverwalk), Walk in Chicago # 3 (the north of The Loop and Navy Pier) or Walk in Chicago # 4 (the Magnificent Mile and the Gold Coast).
Highlights: Harold Washington Library, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Buckingham fountain, lakeshore, Magie Daley Park, BP Bridge, Millenium Park, Jay Pritzker Pavillion, Could Gate, Crown Fountain, Chicago Cultural Center. Most of them are indicated at the left of the map and you can use them to plan your route on your own phone. This will allow you to zoom in on the street names with more precision if you are in doubt. Be careful though, the route that I indicate is not necessarily the most direct so you will have to compare the two. The Art Institute of Chicago (entrance fee, at least two hours to visit) is not far from point G.
Subway: Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren (start) on the Orange, Purple, Pink, Brown, and Green lines and Lake (end) on the Red Line or State/Lake (end) or Washington/Wabash (end) on the orange, purple, pink, brown and green lines or Millenium (end) for trains heading south.
Car: never a good idea in Chicago, especially in the Loop because of traffic, one-way streets, pedestrians, cyclists, price and scarcity of parking places. Use an app like SpotHero to find where to park, or even better, mix walking and cycling with Divvy Bikes to reach the Walk, this will also allow you to shorten distances if needed (although you may have to sometimes deviate from the road to find bicycle parking spaces).
Good to know: there will be restrooms at the Library, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, near the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, on the way to Crown Fountain, at the Cultural Center and at the Art Institute; there will also be plenty of places to sit and you will easily find food along the streets. If you want to visit the buildings listed, be sure to check their opening hours as they all vary. Finally, don't forget that a city is often under construction so some sections could be temporarily closed.
A: Your walk begins at the Harold Washington Public Library and you will find an entrance across from Pritsker Park on W. Van Buren St. or 400 S. State Street.
Once inside, take the elevator to the 5th floor to admire the winter garden and its glass roof, then take the escalators to go down to the ground floor via the upper floors. They are all different and all house works of art.
Once outside, take S. State Street to your right, cross W. Ida B. Wells Dr and turn left on E. Harrison St.
B: The Museum of Contemporary Photography will be on your right just before S. Michigan Ave, in the Columbia University buildings. There is an entrance on E Harrison St if the main entrance on S. Michigan Ave is closed.
The exhibitions, free, very well organized, are on 2 and a half floors. They often mix pieces from the extensive permanent collection with works of photographers residing in the Midwestern states.
C: Once out, turn left on S Michigan Ave then right on East Ida B. Wells Drive.
You will then see Magdalene, a statue of Daphne whose dress is made of climbing plants and flowers when spring comes, then the Spearman and The Bowman, two bronze statues representing American Indians. Despite their titles, they do not have their weapons, the sculptor decided that you will have to imagine them and it works!
All of this leads you to Congress Plaza, which you will reach after passing over the lines of the southbound trains.
The place is monumental but a bit cold, especially if it is blowing. It allows you to reach the Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest in the world, inspired by the Latona fountain of the Palace of Versailles and in the shape of a wedding cake. It is at night that it is most spectacular when it is at the center of light shows.
D: From there you have a view of the Michigan Lake and so this is your next step.
Walk along the promenade to the left. There will undoubtedly be lots of cyclists and pedestrians, the water may be deep blue and the screaming seagulls will make you think you are at the seaside.
E: The map tells you to go quite far north before turning left, but in fact, a little after point D, which is the Chicago Sailing Club, you can cross S. Lake Shore Drive and head towards the Magie Daley Park. It will shorten your journey nicely especially since the part you are now avoiding, you can explore part of it when taking Walk in Chicago # 3.
Once at the entrance to the park, follow the path that climbs to the right. At the top, you will see the magnificent BP footbridge made of brushed aluminum panels. It winds above S. Colombus Drive to bring you to Millenium Park while drowning out the noise of this busy thoroughfare.
F: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, also made of aluminum and designed by Frank Gehry, will be on your right, ready to host Chicago's major free classical music concerts plus other varied concerts throughout the year. Its 4000 red plastic seats are worth a photo, not to mention the futuristic architecture of the building and its adjacent lawn planned for 7000 people.
Whether you keep going straight or take a detour to get a closer look at the pavilion, you'll soon be standing in front of what is arguably Chicago's most unusual attraction, the Cloud Gate (nicknamed "The Bean"), a sculpture by Anish Kapoor.
Will you then resist the pleasure of taking a picture of its surface, also made of aluminum, which sends back a distorted image of yourself? In any case, go below and raise your head, the sight of the navel is as unexpected as it is amazing.
G: You will then have to return to N. Michigan Ave by taking a staircase on the right and then turning on the left to reach the Crown Fountain, another popular attraction at Millenium Park. This time it is a black granite mirror pool flanked by two 15-meter towers that project continuous videos and jets of water at irregular intervals when the weather permits. The faces in the videos are from local inhabitants, and there are about a thousand different videos.
A little further and if you want to visit it, you will find the Chicago Art Institute.
H: To end this walk, you will need to retrace your steps a little along N. Michigan Ave to find the beautiful building of the cultural center on your left.
Opened in 1897, it is used for official receptions in the city and has hosted many dignitaries in its imposing rooms. It is also a center for the arts with free exhibitions, especially on the top floors. Do not hesitate to wander around the place at random and do not miss the grand staircase and the two rooms with magnificent domes.
Then just continue a bit on N. Michigan Ave to get to the Millenium subway station if that's the one you're interested in or, once at this station, turn left on E. Randolph St and then right on N. State St. to find Lake or State/Lake stations.
Alternatively, for Washington/Wabash station, turn right on E. Washington St. once out of the Cultural Center and then left on N. Wabash Ave.
The State/Lake station is also the starting point for Walk in Chicago # 3 which goes to Navy Pier or Walk in Chicago # 4 which explores the Gold Coast.
My name is Dominique and when I’m not travelling, I live near Boston or on an island in New Brunswick.