The 10 Best Places to Take Photos in Chicago
The Windy City is about to blow you away with these photogenic spots.
As the third most-populated city in the U.S. (after NY and LA), Chicago is photographed millions of times every year by locals and tourists alike. It's known mostly for soaring skyscrapers cutting through the clouds, high-end shops luxuriously lining Michigan Avenue, deep dish pizza oozing cheesy goodness and lively fans cheering from some of the most famous sports stadiums in the world. We love all of these well-known characteristics of Chicago, but there's more to this historic city than meets the eye.
Follow along below as we take you on a virtual journey through the Windy City and introduce you to the 10 best places to take photos. Some of these locations will be unexpected and others will be hidden gems that not even born-and-bred Chicagoans know about—which is one of the best things about the Explorest app. We're always leading our users to unique spots where you can stray away from the crowds and experience a different, lesser-known, part of coveted destinations.
Scroll to get started on your explorations!
Chicago Lakefront Trail
The Chicago Lakefront Trail offers up 18.5 miles of scenic, waterfront beauty and cityscape sights of the famed skyline. You can bike, walk, run, picnic—the options are endless—along the pathway and while you're there, you're met with ample opportunities to photograph the crashing waves of Lake Michigan against the concrete pavement.
Chicago can get cold in the winter (we're definitely not the first ones to break this news to you), so the summer months are the perfect time to bask in the sunshine on the trail and take your photos to the next level. If you happen to be visiting when the temperature has dropped, there's a possibility of the lake being frozen over (more on that below!), which can also make for captivating images. 365 days a year—rain or shine, blazing temps or colder than ice—the Chicago Lakefront Trail is one of the best places to take pictures while you're in the city.
On the 94th floor of 875 N Michigan Avenue (better known as the John Hancock building) is 360 Chicago. The space will take your Windy City experience to new heights as you gaze out the windows and see the bustling metropolis from over 1,000 feet above street level. @sdamiani captured a city shot, with the notorious winter weather in full effect. How awesome does the ice on Lake Michigan look from this vantage point?
If being on the 94th floor of one of the best photo spots in Chicago isn't adventurous enough for you, we suggest booking a ticket for TILT! at 360 Chicago. The glass-to-ceiling window platform rotates downward so you're facing toward Magnificent Mile with a bird's eye view of the skyline. What's even better—up to eight people can fit onto the TILT! platform if you need a friend to get you through the height-defying experience. No need to go at it alone! And if you're not in search of such a thrill, you can grab a drink at Bar 94 and get all the Insta-worthy views while you relax with a craft cocktail in one hand and your camera in another.
The Bean (Cloud Gate)
Although the original name of Sir Anish Kapoor's sculpture is Cloud Gate, Chicagoans have aptly nicknamed the legume-shaped structure The Bean. The stainless steel masterpiece was inspired by liquid mercury and since its inception, The Bean has been a hot spot for taking the best photos in the city—especially for selfies since it's so reflective. Even the locals enjoy it! And how could you not? With its central placement in the Loop area of the city, The Bean is situated within AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, making it easy to access on foot, public transportation or by car.
If you're still up for more sightseeing after photographing The Bean, stay in Millennium Park and check out the other attractions. Crown Fountain is a favorite, boasting a 50-foot LED display of locals puckering their lips and "spitting" water onto the ground. Sounds strange, but when you see it in person, you'll stand in awe as the immersive installation combines light, sound, and movement in one of the most innovative ways. Another popular spot in Millennium Park is the Art Institute of Chicago. It garners 1.5 million visitors a year and houses various collections of art from around the world. It's a must-see museum, whether you're a seasoned art critic or just want to experience something new.
Mantonya Flats Façade
Not as well-known as our previous mentions, the Mantonya Flats building is a well-deserved contender amongst our list of the 10 best places to take photos in Chicago. The landmark duplex features stained glass windows that look onto the charming Dearborn Parkway and from the street view, you can see how the sun reflects onto the colorful façade.
In the Gold Coast neighborhood of the city, which is where Montonya Flats stands tall, the houses are known for their history, but none are quite as eye-catching. The area is quiet, so while we don't discourage taking your camera, it's a great place to practice your iPhone/Android photography and lay low. Pro-tip for shooting with a phone straight from our contributor @sdamiani: Position yourself in the middle of the building and then take a few steps back on the street side of the sidewalk to snap a well-balanced image.
LaSalle St Parking
A parking garage might not seem like the most photogenic location, but with the city's skyline as your backdrop, this unassuming spot makes for one of the best places to take photos in Chicago. Grab a model and get inspired—matching their wardrobe with the cityscape and playing around with poses and perspectives. Make sure to stay mobile, too, and move around as much as possible to capture the varying angles the parking lot offers.
Just like the Mantonya Flats building, the LaSalle St Parking is another great option for those looking to practice their iPhone/Android skills. And it's especially helpful if you get low to the ground so the buildings appear even bigger than they already are. Standing tall at 1,450-feet, the Willis Tower always dominates the cluster of skyscrapers, but from a lower perspective, it's larger than life!
credit: @nolis — discover LaSalle St Parking view of Willis Tower, 311 S Wacker & South Loop Market on the Explorest app
From the London House Rooftop Bar, you get a prime look into the apartments of Marina City Towers. Capture a peek into the daily life of the residents that live in the towers and see how locals live in the lively Downtown neighborhood. Contributor @chriscreature photographed the mid-century modern buildings during midday so he can take advantage of the bright sunlight. We highly recommend doing the same so the complementary colors of the exterior create an aesthetically pleasing façade that looks quite different than the rest of the city's high rises.
Another reason this is one of the best places to take photos in Chicago is that it's unaffected by the seasons. Chicago has harsh winters and colorful autumns, but since this location focuses solely on the architecture without any landscape in the shot, you're able to take advantage of the view during any month.
credit: @chriscreature — discover London House Rooftop Bar view of Marina City Tower (East) on the Explorest app
Similar to 360 Chicago is Skydeck Chicago on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower. In addition to being located in the second-tallest building in the western hemisphere, Skydeck Chicago is also the highest observation deck in the United States, with a staggering height of 1,353 feet above the ground floor. Once you're on the 103rd floor, you can venture out onto the glass viewing platform called The Ledge. The Ledge extends over 4 feet from the Skydeck so you're completely surrounded—floors, windows and ceiling—by glass and can see unobstructed views of the city, as well as 50 miles of land that spans across four states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Make the most of visiting one of Chicago's best places to take photos and plan your trip beforehand so your time at Skydeck Chicago is seamless. Check out their website and make sure to read up on their section of photo tips—and of course, the Explorest app always gives expert field tips on each photo location that we feature. It's a great way to improve your photography and get more familiar with using your camera.
credit: — @trashhand discover Skydeck Chicago view of 875 North Michigan Ave & Trump Tower on the Explorest app
This hidden gem is in the residential neighborhood of Bucktown. The pillared-passageway of Bloomingdale Trail isn't a traditional photo location, nevertheless, it serves as one of the best photo spots in Chicago. Use the monochrome look to your advantage and have your model dress in light colors to create a cohesive, sophisticated look. Then, let your creativity run free and direct the model to pose in interesting ways. You can also utilize the architecture and take advantage of the stable pillars that frame the subject.
Whatever you decide to do at this spot, don't take it too seriously. Photography should always be fun and the Bloomingdale Trail is no exception!
The mansion of Cable House was finished in 1856 and since then, it's grown in popularity. Its original purpose was to house Ransom R. Cable, a Chicago socialite, but as the years have carried on, it's been everything from a residential house to a funeral home. Today, it's home to Driehaus Capital Management as one of the last Gilded Age buildings in the city.
Stand along the street and get a broader perspective of the house to capture one of the best photo spots in Chicago. The turquoise-trimmed windows will pop, the landscape will add a softness to the picture and in the winter, the snow will evoke a whimsical feel to the scene. You'll be able to snap a quaint, yet historical, photo and virtually travel back in time to an era of architecture that's since disappeared.
Wells Street Bridge
In the first photo location in our roundup of the best places to take photos in Chicago (The Chicago Lakefront Trail), we mentioned that the lakes and rivers of The Windy City can freeze over. And from Franklin-Orleans Bridge, you can see that sentiment as large chunks of frigid water are dispersed throughout the Chicago River. Wells Street Bridge, the L train and a split view of the massive buildings from the icy waters make for a quintessential winter shot—especially since cold temperatures are such a telling characteristic of the city.
Even though you can visit during any month of the year, we think it's best to check this photo spot out in the winter when the frozen river compliments the bluish-gray colors of the cityscape. The blue hues will also make the red building in the distance stand out as it pops against the bridge.
If you're looking to discover new photo spots, download the Explorest app today. We provide insider recommendations to help you capture your travels, near and far.