While we’re not big advocates of experiencing travel through the viewfinder of camera or the screen of a smartphone, sometimes the best souvenir is a photo. Not only is it a great way to share where you’ve been with family, friends and other travelers, it also preserves the memory for years to come. Chicago is a city full of world-class architecture, works of art, statues, sculptures and otherwise iconic landmarks. Whether snapping a selfie or taking a still life, these are nine of the most Instagram-worthy photo opportunities not to miss on your next visit to the Windy City.
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.
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The Chicago Theatre and its marquee have long been icons of the city. The theater opened in 1921 and showed movies until 1945. Today it's Chicago's most recognizable performing arts center, hosting a variety of shows from plays to stand-up comedians and concerts. While the marquee has undergone several variations over the years, the one that currently hangs outside the theater reflects aspects of those from the past. It was installed in 1994 and remains famous for its large lettering, neon lights and colors. In 1979 the theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places and was named a Chicago Landmark in 1983. While a photo of the marquee is a must, opting for the Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour is even better. It affords visitors a behind-the-scenes view of the incredible Baroque interior, a chance to stand on the historic stage and a peek backstage.
Photo by Mike Boening Photography, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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One of Chicago's most recognizable modern landmarks is artist Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate. The sculpture is located in Millennium Park and was completed in 2006. It features more than 150 stainless steel panels welded together in the shape of a bean, which earned it that nickname. All visible seams were polished away making the work of public art a giant mirror on the city's surrounding skyline and those who stop by to see it in person.
Photo by Mariano Mantel, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Wrigley Field has long been a must-snap Chicago photograph, but this year more than ever after the Cubs' historic World Series win. Whether you proudly fly the W, are just a fan of the sport in general or simply love Chicago landmarks, the stadium's iconic art deco marquee is not to be missed. Sitting outside the oldest ballpark in the National League, the red marquee is one of several beloved symbols of the Cubs (and baseball as a whole). It was first installed in 1934 and marks the stadium's main entrance, reading "Wrigley Field, Home of the Chicago Cubs" in neon letters above an ever-changing LED screen.
Photo by Shutter Runner, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Many Paste readers will recognize Chicago's Marina City from the cover of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, but the towers have made countless other pop culture cameos. They appeared in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Blues Brothers and The Dark Knight, to name just a few. Taking up an entire city block in the Loop on the north bank of the Chicago River, the 65-story residential and commercial complex was designed by iconic architect Bertrand Goldberg in 1959. The corncob-shaped towers famously contain little to no right angles. The towers opened in the early 60s as the tallest residential buildings in the world and included a theater, bowling alley, ice rink, gym, swimming pool, restaurants, stores and a marina at river level. Today the complex is home to Chicago's House of Blues hotel and concert hall, the popular steakhouse Smith and Wollensky, the rowdy and charmingly offensive Dick's Last Resort, as well as the swanky 10pin Bowling Lounge, in addition to its residential units and other attractions. Marina City received Chicago Landmark status in 2015. The best photo opportunities are from the Chicago Riverwalk between the Dearborn Street bridge and State Street (Bataan-Corregidor Memorial) bridge, or from either of the bridges themselves.
Photo by Shutter Runner, CC BY-NC 2.0
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Since the very first Ferris wheel was unveiled at the 1893 Columbian Exposition (World's Fair) in Chicago, it has been a symbol of the city. A permanent wheel has been spinning on Navy Pier, one of the city's most visited tourist destinations, since 1995. In 2016, a brand new model named the Centennial Wheel debuted as the latest edition. It spins year round and offers great views of Navy Pier, Lake Michigan and the skyline as it takes you 196 feet in the air in one of its gondolas.
Photo by LWimages, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Buckingham Fountain, officially the Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain, is one of the largest in the world and was inspired by the Latone Basin and Latona Fountain at Versailles. It's located in Grant Park at Columbus Drive and Congress Parkway. The rococo wedding cake-style fountain features pink Georgia marble and granite and is embellished with bronze sculptures. Since its dedication in 1927, Buckingham Fountain has been the centerpiece of the park it calls home and a must-see for those visiting the city. It's designated a Chicago Landmark and is included on the National Register of Historic Places under Grant Park. If you've never visited but it looks familiar, that might be because Buckingham Fountain was featured in the title sequence of Married... with Children and in National Lampoon's Vacation. From April to October it puts on an impressive 20-minute water and music show between 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Dusk is a popular time to grab a photo. Aim to get there just after the fountain's lights are turned on.
Photo by mykaul, CC BY-ND 2.0
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The Willis Tower (Sears Tower) has been a Chicago landmark since it debuted as the world's tallest building in 1970. While it's since lost that title, today it remains the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere after One World Trade Center. The tower's Skydeck has offered panoramic views of the city from the 103rd floor since 1974. The addition of glass boxes extending from the observation floor opened in 2009 and dare visitors to step out over the city at 1,353 feet above ground level. To some it's a terrifying experience and to others it's exhilirating, but a photo from within one of the boxes is not to be missed.
Photo by Jackman Chiu, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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The Greetings From Chicago mural, located at 2226 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Logan Square, has been a popular photo spot among locals and visitors alike since it was completed in 2015. The mural is part of a national art project called The Greetings From tour that has artist Victor Ving and photographer Lisa Bess traveling the country by RV and completing murals from El Paso to Orlando. Inspired by the classic postcards of the mid-1900s, the Chicago mural features the name of the city with iconic images representative of the city within each letter. It features nods to deep dish pizza, hotdogs, the skyline, Chicago's weather and sports teams, famous musicians and Cloud Gate.
Photo by Jennifer Coffey, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Chicago's skyline is one of the most impressive in the world and undoubtedly one of the city's best features. It contains some of the country's tallest buildings and countless other works of world-class architecture. Taking it in is a bucket list must for those visiting the city. While there are a number of popular skyline peeping spots, one of the best is from Museum Campus. This 57-acre park is home to several of the city's best museums. Located along the lakefront, the Museum Campus view includes architectural icons from Willis Tower (Sears Tower) to the John Hancock Center, among many others. Don't miss the scene around dusk, just as the buildings light up and the sun goes down.
Photo by AindriuH, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0