Chicago has long been known for its history in architectural milestones. As the birthplace of the skyscraper, and home of the tallest building in North America, Chicago attracts tourists, photographers, and architectural enthusiasts from around the world. No visit to Chicago is complete without a perfect photo that captures the unique geometry of its skyline. To help aide tourists and locals alike, here is a compilation of Chicagoland locations to visit that will provide the best skyline views.
Northerly Island Park
Typical postcard photos of Chicago are taken in and around the man-made Northerly Island, a peninsula that houses the Adler Planetarium, and what used to be Meigs Field Airport (now converted to a beautiful prairie complete with a path for bikers and joggers). The view of the city from this location is unobstructed, and the location is easily accessible; these are both ideal qualities when looking for a place to photograph the skyline.
The view from Northerly Island Park juxtaposes a grassland ecosystem with an urban skyline.
While visiting this location, take the time to walk the length of the entire peninsula, which is slightly less than a mile long. The prairie and grassland here allows for photos juxtaposing the natural "skyline" of grasses and flowers with the artificial skyline in the distance. If you are alone, Northerly Island will sound eerily quiet, even though it is so close to civilization. Wild birds are clearly audible (they are also great to photograph!). The southern end of the peninsula is one of the best locations to capture the skyline of the southern suburbs and parts of Indiana, which fade off into the distance with Lake Michigan.
Sears (Willis) Tower Skydeck
Where better to view the skyline than from within the skyline itself? The Skydeck is located at a height of 1,353 feet (412 meters), making it the highest observation point in Chicago. Weather permitting, a the maximum visible distance is between 40 and 50 miles. This allows four states to be visible at once: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Rather than looking up at the buildings from street level, the Skydeck allows you to look down on the roofs of most buildings.
The Skydeck features glass boxes protruding 4.3 feet out of the building, allowing a person to look straight down on the building's plaza. This can allow for photos where a person is seemingly "floating" about Chicago.
Navy Pier is one of Chicago's most popular tourist destinations. Several unique photographic opportunities await on the pier. In the afternoon, Navy Pier lies in the shadow of Lake Point Tower. For a better-lit pier and skyline, visit Navy Pier early in the morning. In addition to the great views, there is plenty of entertainment to take part in; another reason to come earlier than later.
For an unobstructed view of the skyline from Navy Pier, hop aboard the 150-foot-tall ferris wheel, at the center of the attraction. Tickets must be purchased, but the view is well worth the price. From the moment you first lift off the ground to the moment you are asked to get off, you are provided with an unobstructed view of Chicago's skyline. Navy Pier's unique location places you near the latitudinal center of the city. Lake Point Tower may be the only thing in your way to capturing the complete skyline, but northern and southern portions are clearly visible. The ferris wheel also provides for some low-altitude aerial photos of the pier and people below you.
Both from ground-level (left) and atop the ferris wheel (right), Navy Pier offers skyline views from the city's latitudinal center.
Be sure to walk to the end of the pier to capture as many photos as possible. Yachts line the pier's southern edge. Tickets are available for yacht rides, but not in the price range for most casual visitors. Several American flags are found at the eastern edge of the pier. Playing with some visual tricks, you can achieve photos capturing an oversized flag looming over the skyscrapers.
Montrose Harbor is located approximately 5 miles north of Chicago's main skyline. It is yet another manmade peninsula that sticks out nearly 2,500 feet into Lake Michigan. This distance is great enough to place only water between you and the distant skyscrapers. On certain days, a haze engulfs the downtown area, giving it and otherworldly look. Photographers with long telephoto lenses will be in heaven at this location. Due to the distance you stand from the buildings, they appear closer together than they actually are, especially with a long focal length lens.
Extending 2,500 feet into Lake Michigan, Montrose Harbor provides an unobstructed skyline view 5 miles from the hustle and bustle (and hassle!) of the "Loop".
In addition to the skyline, there are two other attractions to check out at Montrose Harbor. First to see is the harbor itself, housing several hundred boats. The polluted waters within the harbor juxtapose nicely with the wildlife that swim around. The harbor is a popular location for artists to paint the skyline; do not miss out on the opportunity to see high-quality abstract work in the making!
On the northern side of the peninsula is a beach (which also has a reserved area for dogs to play around in; a can't miss candid photo op!). The skyline is not visible from here, but north-facing views of the coast are plentiful. Be careful not to get sand or water into camera gear; that would turn an awesome day into and awful day!
Greene Valley Forest Preserve
Greene Valley Forest Preserve appears rarely in the minds of tourists and photographers traveling the Chicagoland area. Located in Naperville, 25 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, the skyscrapers appear as miniatures. Greene Valley's centerpiece is a 190-foot garbage dump-turned-recreational hill that provides unmatched views of the skyline and surrounding DuPage county. It is only accessible by gravel road, and only open on weekends from March to October.
On a clear day, and with the aide of a pair of binoculars, Greene Valley provides skyline views from afar.
Mount Hoy / Blackwell Forest Preserve
Similar to Greene Valley Hill, Mount Hoy is a former garbage dump that has been converted to a recreational tourist attraction. It is the centerpiece of Blackwell Forest Preserve in Wheaton, Illinois. Unlike Greene Valley, it is open every day, all year long (only during daylight hours). During autumn, Mount Hoy provides picturesque 360-degree views of multicolored trees, with Chicago's skyline in the distance. Boating, fishing, and camping are also popular at Blackwell Forest Preserve. For those exploring the Chicago area, but want to spend a day (or night) in the wilderness, Blackwell is the perfect place to do just that. Nearby Wheaton has a lot of attractions and photo opportunities as well.
In addition to skyline views, Blackwell Forest Preserve offers multiple recreational opportunities and a wilderness landscape in the heart of suburban DuPage County.
The best way to enjoy Chicago, other than the locations suggested above, is to explore the city at your own pace. The vantage points for skyscraper viewing are endless!