Best Photo Spots in Chicago

Skydeck is one of the best photo spot in Chicago

Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

Chicago is the most visited city in Illinois. Before the Covid 19 crisis, it has been visited by more than 57 million tourists. For travel photographers, it’s a very good choice for all kinds of street life, urban and cityscape photos.

In short, in this guide, you will learn exclusively what are the best photo spots in Chicago. It means that we haven’t published this guide to be a standard guide for travelers. But we’ve published this guide with travel photographers in mind. Furthermore, we also stressed which kind of photo gear we recommend you to take, and which are the best times during the day to visit the location.

So, if you are going to visit Chicago not just to take photos, we recommend you also take a look at standard guides where you will see other things to do and stuff like that.

However, in the next few sentences, we’d like to share with you some essentials like information about Chicago, which are the best seasons to visit, and how to get around. Then we will move to photo spots.

Table of Contents

Essentials for Photographers

The Chicago Theater

Chicago is the biggest city in Illinois and the third-largest city in the USA. Its population is about 2.7 million and 10 million in the metro area.

Chicago is the home of jazz & blues, but it’s also a business city and had a lot of sights to see. So, if you like taking photos of skyscrapers you will definitely like Chicago. 

Also, in the summer, you can take fantastic beach life photos, almost like you are somewhere besides the ocean.

The Best Time to Visit

Spring and early fall are definitely the best times to visit Chicago. Therefore we can say that you won’t regret it if you plan your trip to Chicago somewhere between mid of April and mid of June and from September to mid of October.

In summer there will be periods when it will be pretty hot and humid during warm waves. However, if you are going to visit Chicago during summer you will be able to shoot nice beach life photos and the general vibe in the city is fantastic.

Winter is not so good season for visiting because it’s usually pretty cold and windy. However, if you like Christmas markets and the overall New Year atmosphere, you should count that lot of days will be pretty cold. Also, if you want to take photos of Chicago with snow, you need to go there during the winter.

Tips for Getting Around

The best way to get around Chicago downtown is by foot. To clarify, there is also the Pedway system which is basically a system of underground tunnels and overhead bridges that connect different spots. So, it’s very helpful when the weather is bad.

Public transport is also very good in Chicago. So, you can rely on L trains with 8 lines, and also an extensive public bus system. The best option to pay fares is a Ventra card.

Rent a car is not so recommended according to transportation within downtown and central parts because of traffic jams. Also, you can count that you won’t find a parking spot easily. However you don’t want to use public transport, but also don’t want to rent a car you can use a taxi that’s not expensive in comparison to other cities in the USA.

In the end, considering the city terrain is flat, you can ride a bike. It’s definitely one of the most friendly US cities for bicycles.

A Few More Travel Photo Tips

As we previously said, Chicago is a fantastic location for cityscape photos. There are also a lot of rooftops that will offer you opportunities for interesting angles from up.

Also, there is a lot of option to take photos of the lake or river. So, we recommend you take a tripod in order not to miss the opportunity to take nice night shots of the cityscape from the bank.

Best Photo Spots in Chicago

In order to make it easier to follow your route in exploring Chicago, we divided photo spots by neighborhood. Also considering a lot of photo spots in Downtown, we divided Downtown’s photo spots into 3 neighborhoods: Near North; The Loop; and Near South.

Besides the Downtown, we also recommended photo spots on North Side and Far North Side. For Downtown, we listed photo spots from north to south. And then we moved to North Side and Far North Side.

Near North Photo Spots

1. Gold Coast

Gold Coast is one of the most historic parts of Chicago. So, you will see a lot of historic buildings with red bricks here. Now it’s also one of the richest neighborhoods in the USA. We recommend you not to hurry and take an easy walk through this neighborhood and find some hidden photo spots. 

If you are going to take photos of buildings we recommend you to keep attached your ultra-wide or wide lens in order to fit buildings easier into the frame.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Clark/Division.

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2. 360 Chicago (OBSERVATION DECK)

If you want to take photos from above you shouldn’t miss visiting the 360 Chicago observation deck. It’s located on the 94th floor of John Hancock Center. From there you will have a clear overview of the city.

You can visit 360 Chicago till 9 PM (on Friday and Saturday till 11 PM at the time we wrote this guide), but for the best photos, we recommend you pick a time somewhere between the start of golden hours and sunset. During the night you will have a nice view as well, but it can be a challenge to get a nice photo because of the reflection on the glass.

If you want to take a break you can visit also the lounge bar and take some drinks and enjoy the magnificent view. Also, you can try TILT! and get a bird’s eye view toward the ground.

P.S. We highly encourage you to buy tickets online to skip rows.

How to get there

Address: 875 N Michigan Ave

The closest L train station is Chicago.

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3. Magnificent Mile

This is one of the most famous shopping areas in the world. There are a lot of nice buildings and a lot of flowers alongside the avenue. Considering that buildings are close to each other we recommend you attach the ultra-wide or wide lens to your camera.

Of course, an additional mid-length lens, or all-round lens will work perfectly for taking photos of details.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The nearby L train stations are Chicago and Grand. Magnificent Mile is located a few minutes by foot from there.

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4. Navy Pier

Navi Pier is one of the most visited attractions in Chicago. Besides taking photos of the pier and people, it’s a fantastic place for taking shots of the Chicago skyline. Try picking golden hour or blue light to get the most attractive photos.

Also, try keeping lenses that cover both wide and telephoto lengths to be able to get closer shots as well.

How to get there

Address: 600 E Grand Ave

You can go by L train and take off at station Grand. Then you will walk on Grand Ave on east for approx. 20 minutes and you will reach Navy Pier. If you go by car, you can use the parking garage on Navy Pier.

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5. Milton Lee Olive Park

This park is located beside Navy Pier and it’s also a fantastic location to take photos of the Chicago skyline. The same as we said for taking cityscape photos from Navi Pier applies also to taking photos of the Chicago skyline from Milton Lee Olive Park.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The same as for Navy Pier. You should go with the L train to station Grand and then walk Grand Ave toward the east.

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6. L Train S Curve from Wells Kinzie Parking Garage

It’s one of the most unique photo spots in Chicago. The catch is that the Chicago train system is mainly on the ground, so from the 7th floor of Wells Kinzie Parking Garage, you will have a nice view toward the famous S curve.

Don’t miss your telephoto lens because this kind of photo will simply look better than wide when you come to taking photo of the train that. This location is attractive in both afternoon and night times.

However, you should know that trains pass there often (in a few minutes), but be patient and wait for more passes in order to be sure you get the best shot.

Also, if you come there during night hours, it’s also a nice location to take some long exposure images or even time-lapses. So, don’t miss a tripod once you are going to go there.

How to get there

Address: 401 W Kinzie St

The closest L train station is Merchandise Mart. However, if you go there by car you can park your car in this garage, of course.

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7. Marina City Towers

These twin towers are one of the most famous skyscrapers in Chicago. Both towers have been completed in 1967 and from completion, they are mostly residential buildings.

If you have an ultra-wide lens you will get the ability to catch some interesting angles from a near distance. You can also take fantastic images from other side of the river, but also from distance (from the south side of the riverbank).

Try picking this spot in both – during the day (about a golden hour) and also try getting there sometimes on blue hour, before complete dark, in order to get the most effective photos while the sky is dark blue and lights skyscrapers are on.

How to get there

Address: 300 N State St

The closest L train station is Lake.

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8. The Wrigley Building

It’s one of the oldest skyscrapers in Chicago. The Wrigley Building has been completed in 1921. Considering its design, it’s a fantastic opportunity if you like architectural photos. The best view you will have is from the DuSable bridge or from the riverbank.

How to get there

Address: 400-410 Michigan Ave

The nearest L train station is Grand.

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The Loop Photo Spots

9. DuSable Bridge

It’s the bascule bridge that connected The Loop and Near North Side. Also, from DuSable Bridge, you will get one of the best views toward the Chicago River and skyscrapers beside the bank.

We recommended you visit this location during the afternoon but also during the nighttime when city lights are turning on.

How to get there

Address: 333 Michigan Ave

The nearby L train station is Grand.

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10. The Riverwalk

If you like walking alongside the river and finding inspiration for interesting shots, we recommend you to visit The Riverwalk. This path is located from Lake Michigan to Lake Street and its length is 1.25 miles. There is also a lot of option for dining and drinking, so it’s also a good spot to take a break.

We can say that The Riverwalk is a good option for daylight photo walking as well as for photo walking during night hours. Both options are great for taking shots. Also, if you are going to go there by night we encourage you to take a tripod in order to get easy long exposure shots of the skyline.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The nearby L train station is Lake.

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11. Wells Street Bridge

It’s another bascule bridge over the Chicago River and a great spot for taking nice shots.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Merchandise Mart.

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12. The Chicago Theater

It’s one of the most Instagrammable landmarks of Chicago. We recommend you take shots of the Chicago Theater during the night in order to catch old-school neon lights.

How to get there

Address: 175 N State St

The closest L train station is State/Lake.

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13. Lakefront Trail

It’s one of the best places for walking or riding a bike, especially if you like long walk and ride because it lengths 18.5 miles. There is a lot of option for taking interesting shoots. It is perfect for sunshine photos of the Chicago skyline.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

There are few L train stations near Lakefront Trail. We recommend you approach the north part of the trail. So, you can take off at station Adams/Wabash and then walk through Millennium Park toward Lakefront Trail.

Also if you go there by car you will find parking lots nearby.

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14. Millennium Park

Millennium Park is one of the best locations you can take photos in The Loop. From there you can take fantastic photos of The Loop’s skyscrapers and also take nice street life/urban photos in the park. However, there are 4 spots you shouldn’t miss in any case:

  • The Bean/Cloud Gate;
  • Crown Fountain;
  • Lurie Garden;
  • BP Bridge.

The Bean or Cloud Gate is a sculpture completed in 2006. Now, it’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in Chicago.

Also, there is Crown Fountain which is one of the most famous attractions in Millennium Park. Actually, those are 2 towers of LED screens, so it’s a fantastic opportunity not only for daylight/afternoon shots but also for nighttime photos.

Lurie Garden is located on the south of Millennium Park. It’s actually a garden with a lot of flowers and walking areas. You can take interesting shots with flowers in the foreground and skyscrapers in the background.

BP Bridge is a pedestrian bridge over S Columbus Drive and it’s also a nice location to take shoots of skyscrapers around.

How to get there

Bellow, we outline locations of photo spots in Millennium Park:

The Bean/Cloud Gate location on Google Maps
Crown Fountain location on Google Maps
Lurie Garden location on Google Maps
BP Bridge location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Adams/Wabash.

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15. Calder’s Flamingo

It’s one of the most interesting sculptures in Chicago and it is located at Federal Plaza. We can say it’s a pretty attractive photo spot, so you should visit it.

How to get there

Address: 50 W Adams St

Nearby L train station is Quincy.

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16. Skydeck at Willis Tower (OBSERVATION DECK)

It’s one of the most attractive observation decks in Chicago. Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (ex Sears Tower) which is the tallest skyscraper in Chicago. It offers you a fantastic panoramic view of the whole city, Michigan lake, and beyond. Basically, you can see 4 states from there.

The best time to go there is around sunset. Simply, you will get the most attractive photos at sunsets. Of course, we recommend you go there a bit before, to have time to find interesting frames and then be prepared to take shots of the sunset.

There is also the Ledge which is basically part with a glassed floor, so don’t miss taking a look beyond of you from the 103rd floor.

P.S. You can buy tickets online here.

How to get there

Address: 233 S Wacker Dr

Nearby L train station is Quincy.

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17. Buckingham Fountain

This fountain is located at Grant Park. It’s a fantastic photo spot for taking shoots during the day, but also at night because of water shows.

Maybe the best times are around blue hours, because of fantastic lighting effects while the sky is still dark blue.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

Nearby L train stations are Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren and Harrison. Buckingham Fountain is on 10 minutes from each by foot.

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Near South Photo Spots

18. Adler Planetarium Skyline Walk

It’s one of the best locations for taking panoramic shots of the Chicago skyline because of the uninterrupted view. Don’t miss this location on both – during the day and also nighttime.

Regarding equipment, the best option is to have both ultra-wide/wide and telephoto lenses in order not to miss either panoramic or close-up shots. Also, if you go there by night, don’t miss taking a tripod in order to shoot also long exposure shots.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Roosevelt, but you should count also on approx. 20 minutes of walking in order to reach skyline walk. But if you go there by car, you will find parking lots close to the skyline walk.

More information

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19. Prairie Avenue District

If you like taking photos of historic and old buildings you should visit Prairie Avenue District.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Cermak-McCormick Place.

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North Side Photo Spots

20. Old Town

It’s a great location for taking a walking tour or riding a bike. So, keep your camera ready and find hidden shots.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

Nearby L train station is Sedgwick.

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21. North Avenue Beach

North Avenue Beach is another photo spot for taking shots of Chicago’s skyline. As from other beachside areas, the best time for taking shots is around golden hour.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Sedgwick. When you take off at that station you need to walk approx. 20 minutes to reach North Avenue Beach.

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22. Lincoln Park

It’s also an interesting park next to North Avenue Beach. There is also the zoo and a lot of walking paths. You will find a lot of photo spots here so take your time and explore Lincoln Park.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

The closest L train station is Sedgwick. Then walk for 15-20 minutes to approach Lincoln Park from the south.

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23. Alta Vista Terrace

It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago. If you like old red brick facades, you will enjoy taking photos there.

How to get there

Location on Google Maps

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Want More Locations for Nice Shoots?

Chicago river cruise

River & Lake Michigan Boat Tours

One of the best options for taking niche shots and interesting angles is to take a boat tour.

Chicago lies on the river and lake, so you can choose either a standard river cruise or if you want a boat tour on Lake Michigan.

On river cruises, you will get a similar view as you get from bridges. But from Lake Michigan, you will have the unique experience to take shots of Downtown’s skyline from distance.

There are several operators for boat tours. However, you can overview them on GetYourGuide or Viator.

Rooftops

Another option for unique angles is rooftops. We like them not only to take nice photos, but also because you can take a rest, have lunch/dinner, and enjoy the atmosphere.

List of the best rooftop bars in Chicago by The Rooftop Guide
Another list of the rooftops bars in Chicago by TimeOut

Helicopter tours

Another option to take some interesting angles is to move up and take shots from the helicopter. You can find helicopter tours here.

Conclusion

Chicago is a very good choice for travel photographers because of lot of opportunities to take great shots. Although we didn’t mention videographers and vloggers, all we mentioned above can be applied to them as well.

We shared with you when should you plan to visit Chicago and stress that if you don’t like cold weather you should avoid the winter months. Also, we let you know how to get around Chicago most efficiently.

The most important part of this guide is the photo spots we mentioned, so we focused on areas that should be interesting for all general types of travel photographers.

Certainly, there are a lot of other photo spots you will discover as you are there. So, consider this guide as a kind of starting point of your photo tour in Chicago and a list of locations you shouldn’t miss.

In the end, we’d be glad to hear from you what’s your favorite photo spot in Chicago? Is there anything else we may miss to mention but you think it’s important for travel photographers? Feel free to leave your comment.

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