One of the most popular activities in town is the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise, aboard Chicago’s First Lady, down the Chicago River. And, yes, it is fantastic. But there is another, even more Chicago-y Chicago tour.
When they started the L train tours four years ago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) thought only locals would want to go – but the tour has been extremely popular with out-of-towners. Most tours – limited to 10 guests – even see a fair number of international visitors.
Who can blame them? Chicago’s elevated trains are an iconic image. We are the only city in the United States with a mostly elevated track, so instead of descending deeper into the Earth’s dark and claustrophobic core, we can look out the window at a truly unique view of Chicago and its architecture. Take that, New York.
As your trained docents lead you to important historical locations along the ‘L,’ you’ll learn all about the history of where you’re standing and riding. Your guides might be accountants or teachers, but their knowledge and passion for Chicago will be infectious. You’ll learn all about the history of the train lines themselves, as well as the Windy City’s architecture and history. Like, did you know that the four stars on the Chicago flag represent historic moments in Chicago’s history? (Can you guess what they might be?) Or that the top of the Harold Washington Library is made of painted aluminum, not patinated copper?
You’ll also learn all about the L trains themselves: How each L train and track used to be owned by a different private company, how they merged and became public, what deviousness occurred to get the tracks built in the first place. And, yes, you will learn the answer to the age-old question: Why did Chicago put their noisy trains above ground? (We’ll let you take the tour to find out.)
As a bonus, you start and end the tour at the CAF shop, across from Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue. The shop is filled with thousands of Chicago- or architecture-related products, from books and games to replica Tiffany lamps and Frank Lloyd Wright coaster sets. It also has a huge assortment of practical items and useful gifts, perfect for souvenirs, artistic friends, or anyone who likes Chicago. Which is pretty much everyone, right?