If you’re contemplating living in Chicago, you may already be acquainted with the city’s captivating skyline, renowned architecture, and the iconic Navy Pier. Chicago is also celebrated as the birthplace of deep-dish pizza, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), and the famous “Bean” sculpture at Millennium Park. However, these are merely a fraction of the attractions that make Chicago stand out among other major cities. So, what else is Chicago known for? From its vibrant waterfront activities and extensive parklands to its thriving art scene and access to Lake Michigan, this Redfin article will uncover many compelling reasons why Chicago is a sought-after place to reside.
So whether you’re just curious about the city, a long-time local, or you’re a newcomer searching for studio apartments in Chicago, get ready to be uplifted and inspired by all this remarkable city offers.
What is Chicago known for?
1. Unique neighborhoods
Chicago’s neighborhoods offer a vibrant tapestry of diverse cultures, rich history, and unique charm, making the city a true gem for residents and visitors alike. From the bustling streets of downtown to the tranquil shores of Lake Michigan, each neighborhood has its own distinct character, making it a haven for exploration and discovery.
“Chicago is known for its skyline architecture, but its neighborhood architecture is even better,” says Phillip Thompson, a local from Wonder City Studio. “The bungalows, flats, buildings, and prairie-style homes in beautiful, unique neighborhoods make walking through this city a truly unique experience. Add some of the best city parks anywhere, including gorgeous lakefront beaches, and you’ve got it made.”
Dolores Vlad from Luminous Blooms, a local florist company, shares, “When visiting Chicago, you must visit and stroll our quaint North Shore suburbs such as Downtown Highland Park. There you will find an ample amount of women-owned boutique stores. Stop by That Little French Guy for great-tasting food. Another favorite is Town and Oak in Winnetka. Here you will find excellent tasting coffee and delicious menu items.”
“If you’re a food lover, Chicago is your paradise, with entire neighborhoods just waiting to help you on your culinary adventures,” says Kpoene’ Kofi-Bruce from Ette the Wedding Tailor. “From Pilsen on the South Side (come for the fantastic and authentic Mexican food, stay for the art) to Argyle Street’s Little Vietnam strip on the North Side, Chicago has something for you, no matter the flavor you crave.”
2. The Chicago River
“The Chicago River weaves its way through the city’s heart, providing a unique perspective on the architectural gems that define Chicago,” says Jack Lombardi from Chicago Website Design SEO Company. “As you traverse the river, you’re greeted by an array of iconic buildings, each with its own story and architectural significance. From the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower to the modernist aesthetics of the Willis Tower, the riverfront is a showcase of architectural diversity and innovation.”
Visitors and locals alike will tell you that a cruise along the Chicago River is the perfect introduction to Chicago. Embarking on its 30th year, The Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises is the only architecture river tour partnered with the Chicago Architecture Center. The docents who lead this award-winning 90-minute tour undergo rigorous training to expand and share their knowledge of Chicago architecture.
3. Curb appeal
“Chicago is the city of curb appeal,” says Howard Nemeroff from Plant Parenting. “Chicago is one of the few cities that design and plant spectacular four-season flowers in containers. Every block from the Gold Coast to the Botanical Garden in the suburbs has homes that showcase their love of color and nature.”
4. Delicious cuisine
Tastemaker Conference, a blog for the food creator community, shares, “Food is such a massive part of the culture in Chicago. Of course, it’s known for deep-dish pizza, cheddar and caramel popcorn, beef dips, and more. A place you can try it all, plus more. The market at Navy Pier has businesses like Garrett Popcorn Shops, Brown Sugar Bakery, Giordano’s, and Lirica that you have to check out.”
Disha Gulati from Here Here Market, a boutique marketplace for true food enthusiasts shares, “Chicago is known as a food town for a reason. Come for the deep dish pizza and hot dogs, but stay for the numerous James Beard-awarded and Michelin Star-winning restaurants. A few of our must-visit foodie favorites include S.K.Y., Wazwan, Monteverde and Girl and the Goat.”
“We have some of the best food at restaurants like Apollonia in the South Loop serving up fresh house-made pasta and black truffle puff bread, to true Chicago tavern-style pizza at Tortorice’s on the west side,” says Lauren Caruso from Chicago Wick Stop, a local candle company. Next, wrap it up with a drink like my favorite whiskey sour at one of the best bars in Humboldt Park since 1937, the California Clipper.
Northern Fork, a Chicago-based catering company agrees, “It’s no secret that Chicago is an incredible food city, with countless cuisines represented and iconic dishes like deep-dish pizza and the Chicago-style hotdog. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that catering companies can reflect the full scope of these incredible flavors.
5. Walking loops
Chicago is full of walking trails throughout the city and hidden in neighborhoods. Ben Rascoe from Dapper Professional, a men’s fashion resource shares, “My favorite walking loop for tourists or locals is the Riverwalk, down through Millennium Park, up Lakefront Trail into Lincoln Park, down through Old Town, and back into River North. Along the way, you’ll need to fuel up consistently with great bites and coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening.”
6. Art and culture
If you’re wondering what Chicago is known for, its incredibly vibrant and distinct art scene is something to note. Throughout the city, there are a multitude of openings, events, and exhibitions to explore.
“From Comfort Station to Fourtunehouse, to all of the spaces that have popped up and faded away over the years, Chicago is full of artists creating their platforms and celebrating one another’s work,” says Grace Needleman from Marwen, a nonprofit that educates young people through visual arts. “It’s a collaborative and supportive scene.”
Chicago-based artist Zack Goulet shares their love for art in Chicago. “The most cutting-edge galleries I have found are in West Town, on Chicago Ave. Carl Hammer Gallery on Wells St. is another favorite featuring unique work. But my favorite Chicago gallery — situated like a hidden gem in Chicago on North Ave in Humboldt Park, is 65GRAND Gallery.”
The Chicago Fine Art Salon is another great spot that hosts a broad array of talented local artists, with a gallery opening every first Friday of the month.
Photo courtesy of Julia Bachrach
7. Urban park systems
“Known as the “City in a Garden,” Chicago has one of the nation’s most magnificent urban park systems,” shares Julia Bachrach, the author of The City in A Garden: A History of Chicago’s Parks. “Highlights include over 2000 acres of lakefront parkland, gardens surrounding the Buckingham Fountain and other important monuments, two glass conservatories, and Prairie style landscapes such as Humboldt and Columbus Parks and the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park. With over 550 parks and a vast network of forest preserves, Chicago truly lives up to its green motto.”
Debbie Rea, a local garden blogger of The Gardener Wife, shares, “Besides skyscrapers and great architecture, we have many beautiful gardens throughout the city and suburbs. Some are more famous—like the Lurie Garden and the Chicago Botanic Garden—but all are inspiring.”
8. Great music
Chicago’s musical heritage, from the birthplace of electric blues to thriving jazz and gospel scenes, continues to evolve and inspire. Iconic blues clubs in the city, like Buddy Guy’s Legends and Kingston Mines, feature legendary performers and offer an intimate blues experience.
Ronnie Frey, a local tour guide and photographer of Doorways of Chicago, encourages a visit to the Tortoise Supper Club, an elegant establishment with a nostalgic jazz-era ambiance. “On Friday and Saturday nights, they offer live jazz performances, creating an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss their unparalleled Beef Wellington – a true culinary masterpiece.”
9. Religious diversity
Chicago’s remarkable religious diversity attracts people from various cultures and faiths, earning the city a renowned reputation. “From grand cathedrals to synagogues and mosques, the city’s history as a major immigration hub has contributed to its captivating array of religious landmarks,” shares Rotimi Kehinde from GodKulture, a global network of Christian creatives. “Among the notable religious buildings in Chicago is the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, constructed in 1833 and stands as one of the city’s oldest and most cherished religious structures. Additionally, the Baha’i House of Worship, built in 1953 in Wilmette, just outside of Chicago, is a stunning example of architectural excellence.”