Chicago Downtown Loop: Hot Chicago Neighborhoods You Should Visit

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The Chicago neighborhood called the Loop is where the city of Chicago conducts its business.  But I don’t want you to be thrown off by the word “business.

Because there is nothing stiff or boring about the Loop.

Although the Loop is the “business” hub for the city, it is also the location of several of Chicago’s famous attractions, museums, architecture, cultural activities, and fantastic food choices.

The Loop is one of six neighborhoods that make up the Chicago downtown community.

Be ready to be amazed!

In this article, I’ll be discussing the Chicago downtown neighborhood of the Loop:  

  • What you should know about the Loop
  • Where to stay while visiting the Loop area
  • Best things to do in downtown Chicago Loop
  • Where to eat

What you should know about Chicago Downtown Loop

Each downtown Chicago neighboorhood has its unique character and charm.  You will find the Loop neighborhood just as charming and unique as the other downtown neighborhoods.

During the day, the Loop is vibrant with tons of commuters on their way to work.  After business hours, the Loop becomes less busy, more settled, and ready for the evening.

Where is the loop in Chicago?

The Loop’s rough boundaries are from Lake Michigan to the East, Chicago River to the West, Chicago River to the North (it curves around the Loop from North to West), and Roosevelt Road to the South.

Think of the Loop area of downtown as a square with four quadrants.  Madison (E/W) and State (N/S) is the dividing line.

chicago downtown loop

 

History of the Loop

The Chicago Downtown neighborhood of the Loop is where Chicago began – in 1833.  In 1893, the elevated train was built to transport workers downtown.  This elevated train looped (and still does) around what was then downtown Chicago.  The area became known as the Loop.

The majority of the Loop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.  Chicago started rebuilding right away and in 1885, built its first skyscraper.

And… so began Chicago’s fascination with architecture.

Chicago has become famous for its architecture and even has an architectural style name after the city (Chicago School). The Rookery building at 209 South LaSalle is an example of that style.

As with most major cities in the United States, the downtown area faded a bit once people left the city for the suburbs.

But by the 1960s, the Loop and the downtown area of Chicago became hot again with people coming downtown for the shopping.

Best places to stay in Chicago Downtown Loop

Whether it be either hotel, Airbnb, or hostel, you will have amazing choices when it comes to accommodations.

Hotels

Hotels located on Michigan Ave in the Chicago Loop are the best options due to their proximity to many Loop attractions, restaurants, museums, and cultural experiences.

The following hotels are excellent choices and are located on Michigan Avenue (click on each hotel to research prices on Booking.com):

To check prices on other hotels located in the Loop, click here to be taken to Booking.com.

Hotels near the Financial District (LaSalle Street) are in a quieter area of the Loop – most businesses and restaurants close down in the Financial District after 6 PM.  

 

Staying at an Airbnb in the Loop 

Staying at an Airbnb located in the Loop is the best way to experience this neighborhood.  Also, it can be a less expensive way to stay downtown.  Hotels rates, even for “budget” accommodations in the downtown area, can be costly.

Score an awesome Airbnb in the Loop area of downtown Chicago and be ready to be captivated, charmed, and amazed!  Click here to explore Airbnb accommodations in the Loop.

Staying at a Hostel Chicago Downtown Loop

Staying at a hostel is the best option If you’re on a strict travel budget.  No accommodations, either hotel or Airbnb, is going to beat the prices offered at the HI Chicago Hostel located at 24 East Ida B Wells Drive in the Loop.

The HI Chicago Hostel has excellent amenities and is located in a great location in the Loop.  You will be near several universities, attractions, museums, and the Auditorium Theater.   To research prices on Hostel World, click here.

Best things to do in Downtown Chicago Loop

There are plenty of reasons to visit Chicago.  Chicago is known for its history, culture, arts, architecture, and food.  And because it’s impossible to fit everything in –  I recommend focusing on a theme or a cultural interest behind your visit to Chicago.  Here are my picks for what to do while visiting downtown Chicago Loop:

  • Chicago Loop Major Landmarks
  • The Theatre Experience
  • Chicago’s Architecture
  • Museum Lovers
  • Food Lovers Experience

Chicago Loop Major Landmarks

My favorite way to get around the downtown area and check out significant landmarks is Chicago BigBus Hop-on, Hop-off Tour!  It’s a great way (especially if this is a short visit for you) to see Chicago’s most famous sites.

For more information, click here to check out BigBus tour prices through Viator.

Enjoy discount access to five of Chicago’s top attractions. Consider buying the Chicago City Pass. Click here for more information. 

Here’s my list of top Chicago Loop landmarks you shouldn’t miss

1. Millennium Park – ice skate during the winter or splash in the fountains during the summer.  Have a drink at the Park Grill.  Take a pic of the Bean (Cloud Gate). Check out Movie in the Park (Tuesdays, June – August).

where to stay in chicago

 

2.  A selfie in front of Buckingham Fountain.  Buckingham Fountain is located in Grant Park and is one of the largest fountains in the world.  It operates between April and October.  At night there is a spectacular light show that is beautiful against the backdrop of Lake Michigan.

 

3.  Willis Tower’s Skydeck (233 South Wacker Drive) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime bucket-list attractions, so how can you skip it?

Okay, do it.  Suffer through the long, endless lines and the exciting movie that you have to sit through.  But enjoy the view once you get to the top.

Oh, and check out the Ledge (the Skydeck’s glass boxes that extend out 4.3 feet) while you’re up there, of course.  To purchase advance tickets (it’s a bit cheaper) to the Skydeck (so you don’t have to stand in a long line for tickets), click here.

It won’t skip you pass the line to get to the Skydeck, just the path to purchase tickets. There is no fast pass to the top.

4. Even if you hate art, be sure to get a selfie in front of the Lions of the Art Institute of Chicago (111 South Michigan Ave).

 

5. Take a walk along the Chicago Riverwalk.  It is a 1.5-mile path along the Chicago River that is full of little surprises such as public art, a museum (Bridge Museum), eateries, and a winery.

 

The Theatre Experience

The theater scene in Chicago is HOT! Several great plays (and named actors) are showcased here.  There are tons of theaters located in the Chicagoland area.  Here are some theaters I recommend checking out while visiting the Loop in Chicago.  Click on each link to be taken directly to their website.

For more information on what playing at which theater go to Broadway in Chicago by clicking here.

Chicago’s Architecture

Chicago is famous for its architecture.  If you’re an architectural buff, like me, you must take a few architectural tours of the downtown area.  Here are some of my favorites:

1.  Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise – the original one from back in the day and is still my absolute favorite architectural river cruise (there’s a number of them).  If you don’t do any other tour during your stay, be sure you do the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise.  Click here to research ticket prices.

2.  Chicago Walking Tour: Art Deco Skyscrapers – put on your walking shoes and weave in and out of some of the best examples of 1920s art deco in Chicago.  Tour guides are certified Chicago Architectural Foundation Guides; they know their stuff! Click here to research ticket prices.

3.  If modern architecture is more your thing, then check out Chicago Walking Tour: Modern Architecture that focuses on the Loop’s modern and post-modern additions to the skyline.  Click here to research ticket prices.

Museum Lovers

Oh my God, there are so many museums to see in Chicago.  And most of them you could spend a whole day exploring.  I recommend not rushing;  take your time when visiting my favorites.  I can only get through one a day before I start seeing double.

1.  The Museum Campus (1200 S Lake Shore Drive) – There are three museums located on this campus.

  • Field Museum of Natural History – dinosaurs, mummies, and stuffed polar bears…oh my!
  • Shedd Aquarium – Check out the marine life (and check out Jazzin’ at the Shedd during the summer months – click here for more info).
  • Planetarium – The age of Aquarius, the moon, and the stars are aligned.

2.  The Art Institute of Chicago (111 South Michigan Avenue) – One of my favorite museums.  It is the museum with the two lions out front. The special exhibits are always changing, so it never gets boring, but the main displays don’t get boring either.  Be prepared to spend all day at this one.  For the true art lover.  To research the price of admission, click here.

 

Enjoy discount access to five of Chicago’s top attractions. Consider buying the Chicago City Pass. Click here for more information. 

Food Lovers Experience

In Chicago, we love pizza, and we love hot dogs.  But there’s so much more to the food scene here.  The best way to sample some of Chicago’s iconic foods is through a tour.

I recommend “Taste of Chicago Food Tour,“; a three-hour walking tour that stops at six different eateries in the Loop area.

For more information, click here to check out tour prices through Viator.

While we are on the subject of food…in the next section, I discuss where you should eat while visiting the Loop.

where to stay in chicago downtown

Where to eat in the Loop

There is a vast food revolution going on in the downtown area of Chicago.  We have Restaurant Row in the West  Loop neighborhood and the dining scene of River North.

The Loop is known for its excellent lunch options.  Most restaurants cater to the taste buds of the worker who only has a limited time for lunch.

Here’s a list of restaurants you should try – some are open for dinner as well!

  1.  The Dearborn (145 North Dearborn) – Traditional American
  2. Fry the Coop (205 West Wacker Drive) – American (Chicken) only open for lunch Monday-Friday
  3. Goddess and The Baker (33 South Wabash) – Cafe/Bakery
  4. Bienmesbe (29 East Adams) – Venezuelan
  5. Brightwok Kitchen (21 East Adams) – Asian fusion

Getting around the Loop

Traffic is crazy.  And unless you have a robust constitution or a death wish, I recommend not renting a car while staying downtown.  Besides, the price of parking is outrageous, and most hotels don’t off free parking.

The best way to experience downtown Chicago is by walking.  Uber, taxi, or public transportation are also great options.

Everything is convenient and right at your fingertips (or walking distance).

And as far as safety, a visitor should treat this city like any other metropolitan oasis – with some common sense.  Downtown Chicago is patrolled by the men and women of the Chicago Police, Chicago Transit Police, University Police/security force (in some neighborhoods), and a host of other law enforcement entities.

Conclusion

The Loop is one of over 200 neighborhoods that make up the city of Chicago.  It is one of 6 neighborhoods that make up the downtown community.

The Loop is the part of downtown where the city of Chicago conducts its business.  Don’t be put off by how boring that sounds.   There’s much more to the Loop neighborhood that makes exploring it exciting.

The Loop is the location of several major Chicago attractions, museums, and cultural experiences.  If you’re looking for a great place to eat lunch, the Loop has excellent options.

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