Chicago Riverwalk & Pedway

What’s the best way to explore Chicago? On foot, of course. Stroll through the streets and take breaks when and where you want. Chicago is the city where skyscrapers were invented. That gives you a nice change of perspective. What we would call Old Town in Europe is known in Chicago as The Loop, the business district in downtown Chicago. After the great fire of 1871, which destroyed a quarter of the city and led to a huge housing shortage, people began to build upwards here. The first skyscrapers were built.

DuSable Bridge Michigan Avenue, Chicago / © Foto: Georg Berg
DuSable Bridge Michigan Avenue. One of the bridge buildings houses the bridge museum and an entrance to the Riverwalk / © Photo: Georg Berg

Today there are over 400 skyscrapers in Chicago. At the end of the 19th century, many historic skyscrapers with a fireproof steel skeleton sprang up like mushrooms. But in addition to the fascinating architecture above ground, there are also remarkable structures below ground in Chicago. We describe two attractions in Chicago that were built exclusively for pedestrians and are also free of charge.

Chicago River, Blick unter einer Brücke hindurch auf den Fluss und rechts liegend Marina City, die 172 Meter hohen Zwillingstürme, Baujahr 1964 / © Foto: Georg Berg
Chicago River, Marina City on the right, the 172-metre-high twin towers, built in 1964. The Chicago Riverwalk runs along the left bank / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Chicago Riverwalk

The Riverwalk has become a real leisure and recreational oasis in the midst of Chicago’s skyscrapers. The two-kilometre-long riverwalk was built in several phases from 2001 and crosses the city districts of The Confluence, The Arcade, The Civic and The Esplanade.

Kajakfahrer auf dem Chicago River. Auf dem Chicago Riverwalk gibt es Restaurants, Bars, Cafés, kleine Parks sowie Boots- und Kajakverleihe / © Foto: Georg Berg
Kayakers on the Chicago River / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Chicago Riverwalk is home to restaurants, bars, cafés, small parks, boat and kayak rentals as well as monuments and street art. The promenade runs along the south bank of the Chicago River. There are several stairways down to the Riverwalk. One of the entrances is at the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue. There are wonderful views of architecturally significant skyscrapers along the entire route. There is also plenty of public art and street art to discover along the main branch of the Chicago River. The promenade is free to use. The Chicago Riverwalk is open between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

Chicago Riverwalk mit Grünflächen und Sitzmöglichkeiten. Im Hintergrund Streetart des Straßenkünstlers Dont Fret mit 55 Portraits von Chicagoern  "The People in Your Neighborhood“ / © Foto: Georg Berg
Chicago Riverwalk with green spaces and seating. In the background, installation by street artist Dont Fret with 55 portraits of Chicagoans “The People in Your Neighborhood” / © Photo: Georg Berg

Underground – Chicago Pedway

The Chicago Pedway is a pedestrian system that connects 40 city blocks in downtown Chicago. It consists of underground tunnels and above-ground bridges and stretches for around five miles. Anyone who thinks that these are dark and narrow corridors with a foul smell and piles of garbage is wrong. The wide corridors are partly carpeted, brightly lit and clean. The pedway is used by tens of thousands of pedestrians every day and connects public and private buildings, train stations and subway lines. So down into Chicago’s underworld.

Brautpaar bei schlechtem Wetter auf der Michigan Avenue, Chicago / © Foto: Georg Berg
Bride and groom in bad weather on Michigan Avenue, Chicago / © Photo: Georg Berg

When you think of Chicago architecture, you usually think of the impressive skyscrapers. But there is also the architecture of subterranean Chicago. The city is criss-crossed by largely unknown tunnels, passages and sewers. The Chicago Pedway is a very user-friendly underground facility, as the weather in the city on Lake Michigan is known for its extremes. It is very hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, often with strong winds, rain or snow. The Pedway is warm in winter, cool in summer and always dry.

Chicago Pedway ist ein System aus unterirdischen Tunneln und überirdischen Brücken. Es verbindet mehr als 40 Blocks im Central Business District und erstreckt sich über etwa fünf Meilen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Chicago Pedway connects more than 40 blocks in the Central Business District and stretches for about five miles / © Photo: Georg Berg

The development of the Pedway began in 1951 when the City of Chicago built a tunnel at Washington Street and Jackson Boulevard to connect the Red Line and Blue Line subway lines. Since then, the Pedway has been expanded through public and private investment. Today, the pedestrian system connects more than 50 buildings under the blocks in the famous Chicago Loop. The Pedway is a safe and fast way for pedestrians to get around the Windy City. The paths are marked by the symbol of a wind rose. There is also the option of downloading a map of the Pedway onto your cell phone.

Manager Michael Weinberg zeigt im Radisson Blu Aqua den Zugang zum Chicago Pedway. Aus der Lobby des Hotels auf dem Columbus Drive gelangt man direkt in das unterirdische Fußgängersystem / © Foto: Georg Berg
Manager Michael Weinberg shows how to access the Chicago Pedway at the Radisson Blu Aqua. The underground pedestrian system can be accessed directly from the hotel lobby on Columbus Drive / © Photo: Georg Berg

Through the tunnel to the hotel

The pedway is a practical facility. Theoretically, you can leave the hotel in the most uncomfortable rainy weather without an umbrella and with fine shoes and go shopping in Macy’s or visit a restaurant. At the Radisson Blu Auqa on Columbus Drive, as well as some other downtown hotels, there is direct access from the lobby to the pedway. Many hotel employees and also hotel guests use this route. The Radisson Blue Aqua is also a worthwhile stop when exploring the underground pedestrian system. The lobby of the hotel is absolutely worth seeing and the FireLake restaurant with its American charcoal grill and farm-to-table philosophy is highly recommended. The hotel and restaurant are just a few steps away from Lake Michigan and Millennium Park.

Lobby Radisson Blue Aqua Hotel. Das Hotel ist bekannt für modernes Design. In der Lobby des 2009 von Architektin Jeanne Gang entworfenen Hotels hängen Fotos der Fotografin Vivian Maier / © Foto: Georg Berg
Radisson Blue Aqua Hotel. The hotel is known for its modern design and art. Ten photographs by Vivian Maier hang in the lobby / © Photo: Georg Berg

The female gaze: Architect Jeanne Gang – photographer Vivian Maier

A closer look at the Aqua Tower is worthwhile for two other reasons. The first reason is that it hides a little, just as the photographer Vivian Maier has done all her life. Vivian Maier is the great unknown in the history of photography. Her great photographic art was only discovered after her death. She photographed obsessively for almost five decades. But no one got to see these photos, not even she herself, because she didn’t have the money to have the films developed. Ten of her pictures from Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s hang in the lobby of the Radisson Blu Aqua. Absolutely worth seeing, especially as there is still no permanent exhibition of Vivian Maier’s photographs in Chicago. The search for Vivian Maier and the meticulous research of her biographer Ann Marks have brought numerous pieces of the puzzle of Vivian Maier’s problematic life to light. After six years of intensive detective work, the book Vivian Maier Developed. The Untold Story of the Photographer Nanny was published in 2023. Click here for our book review A life through the viewfinder.

Aqua Tower (262 Meter) und St. Regis (365 Meter) beide Wolkenkratzer stehen im Bezirk The Loop in Chicago und wurden von der Architektin Jeanne Gang entworfen. Das The St Regis ist heute der höchste von einer Frau entworfene Wolkenkratzer der Welt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Aqua Tower (262 meters) in the middle and St. Regis (365 meters) on the right, both skyscrapers are located in The Loop district and were designed by architect Jeanne Gang / © Photo: Georg Berg

At 262 meters, the Aqua Tower long held the record for the tallest skyscraper designed by a woman. The 81-storey hotel and residential building on Columbus Drive was completed in 2009 based on the designs of star architect Jeanne Gang. The Aqua Tower has won numerous awards for its design with its curved balconies, including Skyscraper of the Year in 2009 (Emporis Skyscraper Award). In 2020, the title for the tallest building built by a woman went to the 365-metre-high St. Regis, which stands in the immediate vicinity. Jeanne Gang was able to retain the title, as the third tallest building in Chicago was also designed by her.

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The research was supported by Choose Chicago

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