If you’re the type of person who’d rather see the sites on your own instead of tagging along with a group, you’re in luck. The Chicago Loop Alliance has created audio tours of downtown Chicago. Even though the Loop is normally seen as the business/financial district, there’s a whole lot of culture to be found also.
The tours focus on three different areas: Art, Theater, and Landmarks.
If you’re short on time, start with the Theatre Loop. There are 10 stops, and the audio portion is only 25 minutes. Many of the theaters are close to each other, but you will take a trek down to Congress Parkway if you want to see the Auditorium Theatre. This is worth it simply because it was designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, and Frank Lloyd Wright was the draftsman (which you’ll learn on the tour).
Everyone’s familiar with the Picasso in Daley Plaza and Cloud Gate, or “The Bean” as it’s affectionately known, but the Loop contains more art than those two famous sculptures. The Art Loop audio tour has almost twice as many stops as the Theatre Loop. You begin at the Art Institute and then venture through Millennium Park. Note: They mention that you can purchase an audio tour of Millennium Park, but you can also download it for free from the park’s website. Wear some comfortable shoes, because they take you all the way down to 9th Street to see the Logan Memorial Statue. You end up just past the Spirit of Music Garden, which is where the SummerDance Festival is held. If you’re not too tired, go on a day when it’s in full “swing”.
If you’re feeling ambitious and have more time, the Landmark Loop will keep your neck craned for 55 minutes. It’s worth it, though, if you’re one of those who’s curious about all that fantastic and varied architecture. Besides buildings, Chicago’s highlighted landmarks also include the “L”, Buckingham Fountain, and the starting point of Route 66. I actually appreciated that they skipped the Sears Tower, since that’s gotten enough press for the entire area!
I enjoyed these audio tours for all the little tidbits of information that enhance my love of this city. I learned the Carbide and Carbon Building was designed after a champagne bottle (cheers!). When I heard that there used to be cast-iron buildings that melted during the Chicago Fire of 1871, I could picture them being reduced to molten heaps. And ever since reading “The Devil in the White City” I’ve been fascinated by the Columbian Exposition, so it was with renewed interest that I looked at Marshall Field’s: its exterior was designed to complement the architecture of the Expo. Note: Marshall Field’s also has an audio tour, available on the 7th Floor.
These three tours cover a lot of the same ground. If you’re interested in all three, you could create your own mix-and-match tour and make a day of it.