The Best Free Rooftop Views of Chicago

Summer is in full swing, so we want to highlight the best free rooftop views of Chicago. After all, paying for cover and drinks at the swanky rooftop bars isn’t exactly cheap. You can still get that sweet skyline view, though! Heading into famous and overlooked buildings and finding a hidden vista is one of the great downtown Chicago pastimes. Now, I will admit that not all of these get you to a literal rooftop. Still, as long as you can look down upon a rooftop then I’d argue that the terminology is technically correct. ;D

best free rooftop views of chicago Daley Center
Looking down on the Chicago Temple’s steeple from the upper floors of the Daley Center.

#1. The Daley Center

The Richard J. Daley Center, like all local government facilities in the Loop, is open to the public during normal business hours. Please note, we’re not advising you to go bursting right into the Circuit Court of Cook County. That’ll turn into a one-way trip to a meeting with some Sheriff’s deputies. However, if you’re willing to go through the security check, then you’re welcome to ride the elevator upstairs. I recommend going up to something like the 25th floor. Up there you’ll find a commanding view of the Loop skyline and lakefront from the very heart of the city. This perspective offers perhaps the most surprising of the free rooftop views of Chicago, since so few people think they have access to it.

#2. The Fine Arts Building

The Fine Arts Building, on South Michigan next to the Auditorium Building, is one of the great hidden gems in downtown Chicago. It was built as a manufacturing and sales facility by the Studebakers way back in the 1880’s. A man named Charles Curtis converted it into an artists’ colony in the 1890’s and it still serves that function today. This historic building also has a spectacular free rooftop view of Chicago and Grant Park from Curtis Hall on the 10th floor.

best free rooftop views of chicago fine arts building
The view is great, but we advise staying inside the window. Photo by Pawel Skrabacz.

You can get there by just sauntering in and asking the elevator operator to take you up to 10. Also, you get to tell an elevator operator to take you up to 10! I advise wearing your best ascot and growing thunderous mutton chops to complete the experience. Curtis Hall is on your left as you disembark, though be sure to check that you’re not interrupting a rehearsal or performance. The sweeping view takes in Buckingham Fountain, Navy Pier, the Museum Campus and more. Of course, you can always just sign up for our 1893 World’s Fair Tour in order to see this and so much more.

#3. The Chapel in the Sky

best free rooftop views of Chicago Temple Sky Chapel altar
Jesus himself thinks that the Sky Chapel provides one of the best free rooftop views of Chicago.

One of the highlights of our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour is stopping in at the Chicago Temple Building. I always call this stunning skyscraper the very definition of a hidden highlight. We explore the ground floor sanctuary on the tour, but a real treat can be found 500 feet above that. A tiny worship space was built within the neo-Gothic spire back in the mid-20th century. This Chapel in the Sky holds smaller and private services, and the First United Methodist Church of Chicago offers tours Tues-Sat at 2pm and Sunday at 9:15am & 12:15pm. The tour is free, though the church does ask for donations, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. After all, the view is endorsed by Jesus himself.

#4. Marshall Field’s Department Store

best free rooftop views of Chicago Narcissus Room Marshall Field's
The Narcissus Room offers one of the best free rooftop views of Chicago. Photo by Alex Bean.

Another favorite location from our Loop Tour! The old Marshall Field’s building is dripping with history on every floor and has had an inestimable impact on the city’s social life. Yet I’d bet that not too many shoppers ever wander over to the windows. I am especially fond of the semi-hidden views from up on the 7th floor. You can peek down on State Street, that great street, when you grab lunch at the Walnut Room or Seven on State. You’ll get a really thrilling peek at the rooftops of neighboring towers like Block 37 and the Joffrey Tower, where you can frequently watch the ballet dancers rehearsing.

best free rooftop views of Chicago marshall field's macy's narcissus room
Your author gets a little too excited about cool rooftop views. Photo of and by Alex Bean.

Even cooler is the view from the Narcissus Room, at the northeast corner of the 7th floor. This big space has a beautiful fountain and a mishmash of differing architectural styles. You can tell it has been worked on bit by bit over the course of several decades. Huge windows look down onto the Wabash ‘L’ tracks and the facade-ectomy that fronts Heritage at Millennium Park. Plus, it really honestly feels like you’re an explorer every time you wander in.

Other Free Rooftop Views of Chicago?

Our list is hardly comprehensive, of course. In fact, all of these are spots that we discovered while researching or guiding our tours. So we’d like to hear about the spots that you’ve found. What are your favorite free rooftop views of Chicago? Leave a comment on social media or email us at [email protected]

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide

ABOUT CHICAGO DETOURS

Chicago Detours offers guided walking and bus tours of architecture, history and culture to public and private groups. We are a passionate team of educators, historians, artists and storytellers, and are proud to be one of very few tour companies in Chicago that is rated five stars on both Yelp and TripAdvisor.

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Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Jen

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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Elyse

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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