Why stand in those long lines of the observation decks to get a view of Chicago? This city offers some good rooftop options which are FREE to enter. In this post, I am going to share my five favorite rooftop bars in Chicago with exceptional panoramic views of downtown.
The second most difficult debate between me and my husband, after iOS and Android, is which city has the best skyline in the US – New York City or Chicago? It always ends with both agreeing to disagree since I am forever in love with the beauty of Chicago. Although much smaller in the area compared to NYC’s Manhattan skyline, it is the architectural beauty of Chicago that makes it so attractive to me. Most all buildings here will tell a story about their appearance. TIP: Highly recommend the architectural boat tour of Chicago to learn these stories.
This post, however, is all about viewing the phenomenal Chicago skyline from hundreds of feet above. And why not view this concrete jungle from one of the high rises itself? There has been a renaissance of rooftop culture in Chicago since 2015 giving a new meaning to many old heritage buildings. Of course, you can pay and go to the observation decks of some well-known skyscrapers such as Willis Tower (previously Sears Tower) or the John Hancock Tower. But why pay when you can get the same or better view for FREE and that too on top of some significant historic structures in Chicago!
Since some of these are also ranked as top rooftop bars in Chicago, you might just want to get yourself a drink and relax while enjoying the view. I personally make sure to visit a few of these every time I am in the city 🙂
Recently open to the public, London House is located at the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Street. The Chicago River bending in front of it gives an interesting perspective to the skyline. There are two lounge areas in London House, one is indoor and the other where you want to be is outdoors a floor above the main level. The outdoor rooftop offers a panoramic view of the city, and wait, it even has a cupola for a higher vantage point.
A contrasting view from other rooftops on this list, Cindy’s Rooftop opens into a vast green space of Grant Park blending into the blues of Lake Michigan. Located on top of Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Cindy’s restaurant can be a great place for brunch as well. My favorite part of Cindy’s is to see the Bean or Cloud Gate in Millenium Park looking the size of a real bean from an aerial perspective. On the southern side of the terrace, you have the view of other Chicago landmarks such as Art Institute, Buckingham Fountain, Shedd Aquarium and, Adler Planetarium.
My recent find, Raised Rooftop is located on top of Renaissance hotel on Wacker Drive and State Street. Although this rooftop terrace is only on the 3rd floor, the angle at which it opens gives a different view of downtown. I was pleasantly surprised by the spacious outdoor space in Raised and the best part, in my opinion, was the fire pit for winters. According to one of the bartenders, their outdoor space is open all year long!
This one needs to be mentioned here for its legacy. Signature Lounge is one of the oldest lounges in a high rise with 360-degree views. It has been one of my favorite hangouts since my college days almost 10 years ago. The lounge located on the 96th floor of John Hancock Tower, just a floor below the observatory, is an enclosed rooftop bar with glass walls. Since the lounge doesn’t take reservations, you might have to wait to get seated depending on what time of the week you go. TIP: Ladies, you must check out the Women’s restroom here, I haven’t seen a loo with better views. Sorry boys, unfortunately, you don’t have the same glass walls that ladies room does.
RH store located in Gold Coast area of Chicago is definitely not a rooftop bar but I don’t want to end my list without a mention of this unique home furnishing retail store. Another Chicago old heritage building restored by this Californian company. RH furniture store is a combination of a restaurant, coffee & pastry shop and a wine bar where you are free to roam anywhere on their five floors with your drink. Yes it’s on my list because of its amazing rooftop but don’t you forget to check out all the other floors as well. I will have to return back here to try out their 3 Arts Club Cafe next time.
Rooftops Bucket List
As always, I have my bucket list too. Below are the Chicago rooftops that I want to visit hopefully in better weather. Since you will see a trend of me trying to visit rooftops in Nov to find them closed for the season, I ended up dining there. It also could have been the cold that deterred me from going elsewhere in search of food. Once I visit the below rooftops, I will update this post with new views and reviews. Meanwhile, if you guys go here before me then don’t forget to leave your reviews in the comments section of this post.
- Noyane – Gotta go here.
- Green River – I must mention that I dined in Green River early in Nov but the rooftop was closed for a private party.
- Joy District – Also dined in Joy District since I heard a lot about their rooftop but it was closed for the season.
- Aire – I tried visiting Aire as well in early Nov but even that was closed for the season.
- The J. Parker – Gotta go here.
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If you do visit any of the above rooftops I mentioned then please leave me a comment on how you liked it! And don’t forget to pin this post and share it with your family and friends 🙂