Five Things to Do in Chicago’s Financial District

Chicago’s Financial District, centered on LaSalle Street in the Loop, is the fulcrum of the heartland’s economic engines. Looming skyscrapers form a canyon-like effect down LaSalle, which ends abruptly with the Art Deco masterpiece of the Board of Trade on Jackson. Floridly-dressed commodity traders at the Board of Trade, regulators at the Chicago Fed, and bankers of all pinstripes know this power corridor very well. Yet most others, whether they’re local or not, likely only glimpse it occasionally. For good or ill, the most popular downtown sites seem to be clustered nearer Michigan Ave. So we are highlighting five places and activities that make Chicago’s Financial District a uniquely interesting corner of downtown.

We research history and architecture like this while developing our live virtual events. Join us for fun events, like our regular general admission virtual events or an exclusive event for your private group.

1. Take the Architecture of Money and Power Financial District Walking Tour

interior architecture rookery lobby tour
The famous lobby of the Rookery is just one highlight of the Architecture of Money and Power Walking Tour.

(Learn more about why we switched to offering Virtual Events.)

To be honest, you can book this private group tour with us and bookmark the activities on the rest of the list for more exploring afterwards. The Architecture of Money and Power Financial District Walking Tour breezes through the highs and lows of Chicago finance and trade. The 2.25-hour tour delves into tales of greed and generosity amidst the area’s stately Beaux Arts banks and Art Deco skyscrapers. My favorite segment takes you through the “back door” of the Board of Trade to Little Cheyenne. This downtown backwater is an odd collection of small businesses and overlooked buildings. It somehow exists right across the ‘L’ from the very essence of high-flying financial capitalism. Wonderfully bonkers. The tour group stops here for a drink in a dive bar under the ‘L’ tracks.

2. Tour the Burnham Library in The Rookery

Daniel Burnham Library Chicago Financial District
Burnham made no little plans and his former office lays them out for you. Photo via Wikimedia.

Burnham and Root’s landmark Rookery is the oldest building in Chicago’s Financial District. Their groundbreaking 1888 skyscraper would be a landmark all on its own, so Frank Lloyd Wright’s incredible 1905 lobby redesign is just some Prairie School icing on the Chicago School cake. Yet I’d wager that the vast bulk of visitors have never gotten to see the Burnham Library. Tucked away on the 11th floor, Burnham and Root moved their office into this stately space in 1890. In fact, this is the space where they first laid out the designs for the 1893 World’s Fair. Amusingly, the move was a bit of a publicity stunt to prove that 11th floor offices were safe and reliable. We take that for granted today, but the library’s Victorian atmosphere is unlike anything else in the building. It’s well worth the cost of a tour from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

3. Enjoy Cocktails at Vol. 39

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by ᴠᴏʟ. 39 (@vol39chicago)

I am generally a beer drinker. Some kind of darker ale is my preference nine times out of ten. Yet some venues call for finer and stronger form of drink. When drinking in the Financial District it only makes sense to knock back lunch martinis like the power brokers do. The best venue for that, in our opinion, is Vol. 39, a classy cocktail bar on the second floor of the chic Kimpton Gray Hotel. The hotel occupies the old New York Life Building, designed by the father of skyscraper architecture, William LeBaron Jenney (!).The bar offers an incredible view down the LaSalle Street canyon, which you can enjoy over a martini flight. It’s a perfect place to put on a power suit and pretend you understand finance because you’ve watched The Big Short.

4.  See a Million Dollars at the Money Museum

Chicago Financial District Money Museum Million Dollar Cube
$1,000,000 in singles spinning round and round and round and round…Video by Marie Rowley.

The Chicago Federal Reserve Bank is ground zero for the regional economy. It’s literally where our cash and credit comes from. The Fed is also, appropriately, home to the Money Museum, a self-explanatory venue if ever there was one. Visitors to the museum get a thorough exploration of American monetary history. The topic might sound prosaic these days, but has provoked some of our nastiest political feuds. Highlights include Alexander Hamilton’s desk (ohhhhhhh, that Broadway star power!), a “Save the Economy” game that lets you pretend to be the Fed Chairman, and a cool million in cash (spinning inside its protective glass cube – sorry for any dizziness).

5. Grab Lunch at Revival Food Hall

Revival Food Hall Chicago Financial District
Revival Food Hall’s atmosphere and edible options make it a big favorite in Chicago’s Financial District. Photo by Alex Bean.

Food halls, which is a nicer way of saying “shopping mall food court with actually-good options,” have become all the rage in downtown Chicago. No food hall is nearer or dearer to the workers in the Financial District than Revival. Located in the historic Edison Building at Adams and Clark, this hip compendium of lunch stalls is filled to bursting throughout the workweek. It’s a great spot to rub elbows with young brokers or toss back poke with up-and-coming derivative traders (these are real jobs, right?). The food is top notch lunch grub, of course, entirely manned by local eateries. My particular favorite is Smoque BBQ, but I’ve been looking for a chance to try the Nashville-style “hot chicken” from The Budlong.

Have Some Fun!

Like I said, Chicago’s Financial District is usually much heavier on work than play. The area’s architecture and activities reflect this, but that can be fun in and of itself. There’s a self-consciousness to LaSalle Street, with its pretentious projections of power, that gets into your head. You know you’re in the valley of monetary giants and can’t help but gawp at the people and places. Honestly, it makes being a tourist there a bit more fun.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager and Tour Guide


In business since 2010, Chicago Detours is a passionate team of educators, historians and storytellers. We applied a decade of experience as one of Chicago’s top-rated tour companies to become a virtual event company in 2020. We bring curious people to explore, learn and interact on live virtual events of Chicago history, architecture and culture.


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

be a



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.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”


Tour Guide

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.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”


Tour Guide

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.


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.


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.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”


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.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K


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.”
Katie K

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.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F

Book a chicago event

Let’s Connect!