Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites Hotel Review

Located along the Magnificent Mile, this Hilton Suites hotel is ideally situated for any visitor interested in exploring the Magnificent Mile/Downtown Chicago area. It boasts great views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding city, newly refurbished suites, and a great location. Here’s my review of my recent stay at the Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites Hotel.   


Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

If you’re not aware, the “Magnificent Mile” (also called the “Mag Mile”) is a stretch of Michigan Avenue containing a high concentration of upscale department stores, restaurants, luxury retailers, and residential and commercial buildings. If you’re into shopping, people watching, or just want to check out this famous area and join the throngs of tourists roaming the sidewalks, this hotel will put you right in the middle of things. 

The hotel is right next door to the John Hancock Center, so if you want to try the Tilt 360 experience, you can easily get there in the morning and beat the lines. Also, due to its location on the Mag Mile, the hotel is close to a number of famous eating spots like Giordanos and Gino’s East (not to mention the over 270 restaurants located in the area). 

Deep dish pizza at Giordanos Chicago
Deep dish pizza at Giordanos.

From the hotel, it’s about a 30 minute walk to Millennium Park (where you’ll find Cloud Gate aka “the Bean”) and to the Art Institute of Chicago. Along the way, you’ll stroll across all of the fine shopping located along the Mag Mile and get to cross the DuSable Bridge over the scenic Chicago River. We did this walk a couple of times and we enjoyed popping in and out of shops like the Nike store, Under Armour, Burberry, etc. 

Traffic on Michigan Ave

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There’s friendly staff awaiting your arrival outside the hotel and they’ll gladly get your luggage situated for your as you proceed to the check-in desk. There’s no decor in the lobby that will blow you away but it is kept up nicely and there’s a small convenience/gift shop located in there as well. Also, every time we passed through the lobby, the lines at the check-in desk were short or non-existent so lines likely won’t be an issue for you. 

The lobby at Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites Hotel

Check-in was a breeze for us and the staff members working that day were very helpful and nice. Due to our status, they provided us with an upgrade to a lake-view room on the 22nd floor, which we later came to really appreciate (once the sun came out). Another plus were the elevators which were always available, allowing us to get up and down as quickly as needed (just don’t forget to use your room key to activate the elevator).

Executive lounge

As Diamond status members, we gained complimentary access to the executive lounge, which was a nice space to wait for our rooms to be ready as we showed up at the hotel a little early. The lounge, located on the second floor, was pretty spacious and there was nobody else in sight in there in the afternoon. There were soft drinks, coffee, and water bottles available as well as granola bars and nuts/pretzels available at all times for snacks.

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
The Executive Lounge.

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

There were also several televisions located throughout the lounge with some comfortable seating available and outlets located here and there. 

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

Overall, the lounge was nice — nothing extraordinary — but nice and comfortable and pretty much what was expected for a 3 star hotel in a major U.S. city. 

Hors d’oeuvres

Hors d’oeuvres were served from 5pm to 7pm. We only tried them the first evening we were there and they served up some tasty dumplings with soy sauce and sweet chili sauce. If we had wanted to we could have scrounged together a dinner with them as they were very filling but we had other dinner plans for the night.


Breakfast in the executive lounge was served from 7am to 10:30 am on weekends and 6:30 to 10:00 am on weekdays. They offered hot eggs and oatmeal along with an array of fruits, croissants, and cereals — basically a continental breakfast (plus). If you’re a Diamond status member, the breakfast is complimentary but if you’re a Gold member, you’ll choose between points or the breakfast. Interestingly, I was told that if you opt for the breakfast instead of the points, you’ll get lounge access for the entire day (even as a Gold member).  

IMG_1976 copy
Breakfast in the executive lounge.

Pool and gym

There are some nice facilities in the hotel, including a gym and a swimming pool, which remain open from 5:30 am to 10 pm. The gym and pool are located on the 30th floor (marked “P” on the elevator). Jogging on a treadmill with sweeping views of the Chicago skyline definitely feels refreshing and is a great way to get your day started in the morning. There’s actually two small work out rooms, one that houses ellipticals and a rowing machine and another which houses treadmills and a small section of free weights along with a couple of benches to work out on. Both rooms boast the great city views.

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
Treadmills with views.

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
View from the gym.

The pool room is nice and clean, with great view of the city as well. It felt like we were inside a greenhouse when we checked it out and it probably would not have been comfortable to spend much time up there unless we were going to take a dip. It may not always feel so muggy in there though, as we caught it right when the morning Sun was shooting straight through the large windows.  

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
The pool at Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites.

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We felt that everyone on staff did a good job of being helpful and friendly. The only slight exception would be the attendant who stored our bags before we checked in. He came off about as indifferent as humanly possible but we didn’t have any issues checking our luggage in and out so I don’t have any real complaints there.  

We never ordered room service and also did not try the restaurants at the hotel so I can’t comment on them either but if you want, you can read more about the dining options here


All of the suites at this hotel were just renovated in May 2016, so they’ll definitely feel fresh when you arrive. I liked the look of the “condo-esque suites” and thought the modern furniture and Chicagoan-inspired decor was all nicely put together.  

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
Newly renovated hotel suite.

We originally booked the 1 King bedroom suite but as stated, were upgraded to the 1 King bedroom suite with lake view. When we first pulled the curtains back on our window, dark clouds hovered over the lake and it didn’t look too impressive. However, when the morning Sun came out it, we caught our first glimpse of beautiful blue Lake Michigan. This was my first experience at looking out over Lake Michigan, and it was hard to believe that I wasn’t looking out over an ocean. 

View from the hotel room.

There’s a sink and mirror area with cabinets below it that contain a microwave and a mini-fridge so you’ll have a place to store any to-go food or delivery orders. 

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites
Cabinets containing the microwave and mini-fridge.

The bed and pillows were extremely soft and comfortable, allowing for me to get some very deep sleep during my stay. Be careful opening up your curtains too wide though because there’s a residential tower right next door, and you might be peering out eye-level at your neighbors. 

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites

Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile FAQ

How many points are needed for a free stay at Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile?

Prices may vary based on the type of room and season but you can find standard room redemptions for as low as 42,000 points.

What restaurants are at Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile?

You can find the following restaurants:

Mirai Sushi Gold Coast
Southern Cut Barbecue

How far away is Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile from Chicago Midway International Airport?

The hotel is approximately 32 minutes from Chicago Midway International Airport by car.

How far away is Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile from O’Hare International Airport?

The hotel is approximately 41 minutes from O’Hare International Airport by car.

How much does an Uber cost from Chicago Midway International Airport to Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile?

You can find Uber rates from Chicago Midway International Airport to Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile for as low as $57.

How much does an Uber cost from O’Hare International Airport to Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile?

You can find Uber rates from O’Hare International Airport to Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile for as low as $32.

What is the phone number for Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile?

The phone number for Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile is +13126641100.

Final word

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile Suites Hotel. I loved the location with it being located on the Mag Mile and the views of Lake Michigan from our hotel room and the gym/pool area were exceptional as well. I would definitely not hesitate to recommend this hotel to anyone.  

Exploring Famous Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the premier art museums in the world and to some, it’s arguably the top art museum in the United States. The museum boasts several famous art pieces from some of the most legendary artists, such as Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. It’s definitely a top destination to see while in Chicago and so here’s a look at some of my favorite works I saw on my recent trip to the Art Institute of Chicago.

American Gothic – Grant Wood (1930)


In 1930, Grant Wood was inspired by the “structural absurdity” of a Gothic-style window in such a “flimsy frame house” in Eldon, Iowa. He decided to paint people in front of the house who would be the “kind of people I fancied should live in that house.” So he turned to his sister and dentist to model as the subjects for the painting. There’s debate as to whether it’s a wife and husband depicted or father and daughter, but many believe that due to the age difference, it was meant to be the latter.


Wood entered his painting into a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago and earned the bronze medal and $300 cash prize. The painting then appeared in newspapers around the country, steadily gaining in popularity. Many midwesterners despised their depiction as “pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers” but Wood stated this was not his intention at all. In fact, by living in Europe, Wood supposedly grew fonder of the Midwest and its simpler ways and was even quoted as saying “All the good ideas I’ve ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.”

Today, the painting still evokes an often-parodied, satirical interpretation of the rural ways of life but also signifies the American spirit to persevere through the tough times of the Great Depression. If you’re ever road tripping through Iowa, you can actually visit the house made famous by this painting. 

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – Georges Seurat (1884)

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – Georges Seurat (1884)

Seurat used a technique known as “pointillism” to complete this renown masterpiece. Inspired by scientific research at the time, Seurat believed that by painting small dots of contrasting colors, he could produce the “boldest and purest” forms of colors that the human eye could perceive. This approach allowed Seurat to lead the neo-impressionism movement, where artists refined concepts of light and color in their works and implemented a new calculated approach to art that abandoned the spontaneity of the impressionists and consequently resulted in harsh criticism. The scientific theories with respect to luminosity and color on which the neo-impressionists relied were likely off-base, but their works nevertheless sparked a movement that caught on quickly.

Close-up of strokes evidence of pointillism.


It took Seurat two years to complete this painting, which he finished at just the young age of 26. During those two years, he completed over 30 preliminary drawings and oil paintings, focusing meticulously on crafting the detailed landscape portrayed in the final work. There’s much debate over the interpretation of work but one of the most poignant interpretations comes from from Ernst Bloch:
“This picture is one single mosaic of boredom, a masterful rendering of the disappointed longing and the incongruities of a dolce far niente [idleness],” Bloch wrote. “The painting depicts a middle-class Sunday morning on an island in the Seine near Paris…despite the recreation going on there, seems to belong more to Hades than to a Sunday…The result is endless boredom, the little man’s hellish utopia of skirting the Sabbath and holding onto it too; his Sunday succeeds only as a bothersome must, not as a brief taste of the Promised Land.”

Paris Street; Rainy Day – Gustave Caillebotte (1877)

Paris Street; Rainy Day – Gustave Caillebotte (1877)

This is Gustave Caillebotte’s most famous piece and it depicts urban life in Paris at a newly built boulevard near an intersection called Place de Dublin. The painting is said to be inspired by photography and you can see this in many of the painting’s elements. There’s a shift in the sharpness of the figures and structures, which is meant to mimic the effect of a camera’s focus. Also, the center of the image appears to bulge and the man on the right is half-cropped out, much like you might find in a photograph. Finally, the image is composed almost like a snapshot of a street scene, although Gustave is said to have spent months crafting this scene.

The Old Guitarist – Pablo Picasso (1903-1904)

The Old Guitarist – Pablo Picasso (1903-1904)

The Old Guitarist came near the end of Pablo Picasso’s “blue period.” Affected by the suicide of a close friend, this was a period where Picasso focused on the downtrodden and the misery of the impoverished. This particular painting captures the sorrowful theme with its monochromatic color scheme and slumped guitarist figure who appears sickly and perhaps blind and close to death. The sole contrast in color is the guitar, which is said to symbolize the life and meaning brought to the impoverished by art, or conversely, the solitude that is often the life of an artist. 

Many people aren’t aware, but there are several hidden images within The Old Guitarist. Most prominently, there’s a woman hidden hauntingly behind the neck area of the guitarist. You can faintly make out some of her facial features with the naked eye, such as her jaw line and eyes but it took x-ray and infrared technology to uncover her full details.

Infrared scan of The Old Guitarist – Image by AIC


In addition to the woman, they discovered a bull and a calf and a small child in the background — the same scene described to a friend by Picasso in a 1903 letter. Some experts believe that there could even be another scene depicted, meaning that two different paintings may lie beneath The Old Guitarist.

A few other works of Picasso are below.

The Red Armchair (1931)

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1910)

Bedroom at Arles – Vincent van Gogh (1889)

Bedroom at Arles – Vincent van Gogh (1889)

From 1888 to 1889, Vincent van Gogh created three versions of one of his most renown paintings. He completed the first version just after moving into his “Yellow House” in 1888. However, after water damage threatened the preservation of his first work, he decided to paint another version, although this time he would be painting from the confines of the asylum in Saint-Rémy. Van Gogh’s smaller third version (housed in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris), was given as a gift to his mother and sister only a few weeks after creating the second version.

Van Gogh lived in 37 places in his 37 years, often living with friends, his parents, or in small rooms above cafes but never had a place to call his own.  To many, this painting of his bedroom signifies the importance and yearning van Gogh had for home. The colors are bright, evoking tranquil emotions and the details in the room, the paintings (van Gogh’s own work), furniture, and nightstand were meant to create a sense of welcoming for other artists. Interestingly, many of the original colors have gone through discoloration, making the originally purple walls and doors now appear blue.

The Drinkers (1890)

The Drinkers – Vincent van Gogh (1890)

Van Gogh took inspiration from a prior work of art when created The Drinkers. At a time when he lived in the asylum, van Gogh focused more on interpretation rather than creating his own works. He remade Honoré Daumier’s version (seen below) into his own. The “four stages of man” depict the cyclical nature of alcoholism and it’s thought that the green used by van Gogh is an allusion to absinthe, a drink that was well known at the time.  Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 3.27.51 PM

Self-portait (1887)


Van Gogh created many self-portraits but this one came early on, only a year after his first known published self-portrait in 1886. When van Gogh began painting self-portraits he adopted a style similar to Rembrandt but in as little time as a year, he’d shifted his direction to the Parisian avant-garde in favor of bright contrasting of complementary colors. Below, you can see how different the style is that Vincent van Gogh first adopted with one of his first ever known self-portraits.

Wikipedia – Creative Commons

These famous paintings are of course only the tip of the iceberg for what you can admire at the Art Institute of Chicago, but I try to limit my photography when I go into such renown museums to avoid disturbing others and to give myself time to relax and enjoy the art while I’m there. Even if you’re not a major fan of art, if you’re heading to Chicago, you should mark this down as a must-visit attraction, as not many museums offer you the chance to see so many renown works in one visit. 


The Food Report: Four Places to Eat in Chicago

We recently had the privilege of trying some of the Chi-Town classics like deep-dish pizza and Chicago dogs on our latest trip to the Windy City. I’d never tried deep-dish pizza or a Chicago dog before so I couldn’t wait to be officially introduced to these novelty foods while in Chicago. While there, we also stopped by a famous BBQ place and a little donut shop that still leaves my mouth watering just thinking about it. So here’s the Food Report for some places to eat in Chicago.


Giordanos, along with Gino’s East, is one of the places that you must go to for Chicago deep-dish style pizza — you’ll find their names on just about every list of deep dish pizza restaurants in Chicago. (We wanted to try out both restaurants to compare the two but it just didn’t happen.)

The one and only Giordano’s!

Giordanos will almost certainly have a long wait if you are visiting Chicago on a weekend or during a holiday but you can reduce your wait time by doing two things. One, try to arrive in between lunch and dinner around 3 to 4 pm, and you’ll likely beat the evening crowds. Second, you’ll want to pre-order your pizza after you check-in. This will save you the time it takes to be tended to by your waiter later on (which can sometimes be a long time.)

We arrived about 3:45 and had to wait about 30 minutes to get a table and considering it was Memorial Day weekend, I didn’t think that that was too bad. However, if you have a bigger party, odds are you’ll be waiting a bit longer as I heard some folks mentioning over an hour wait time. 

Chicago pizza
Giordano’s deep dish stuffed pizza.

We ordered a deep dish stuffed pepperoni pizza and while I enjoyed it there are a few things I have to say about it. For one, the deep dish pizza is put together like an upside down pizza (at least here it is). For example, they place the “toppings” on the bottom of the pizza and then cover them with a thick layer of cheese and then layer tomato sauce on top of the cheese. It was completely different from any pizza that I’d tried but I guess that’s how a “stuffed pizza” is properly done. 

Tip:  if you’re a pepperoni fan, you may want to tell them 2X on the ‘roni because there weren’t very many “stuffed” in our pizza.

Stuffed pizza slice.

The second thing I have to say about the pizza isn’t so positive. That’s because when we were served our pizza, it was barely even warm (first world problems, I know). I wasn’t sure if that’s just how they do it in Chicago but by the time I worked through my first slice, everything else was already cold. The odd thing is that when we ordered delivery from Giordano’s the next night (everything else was closed around 10pm Sunday night), that pizza actually arrived hotter than the one we ordered inside the restaurant!

Consider getting delivery or even take out.

Thus, my suggestion is that if you don’t want to hassle with the lines, just order delivery. It’ll be just as good and might even be warmer. Plus, while it’s a cool experience to dine inside the restaurant, there’s nothing particularly unique about it (compared to a place like Gino’s).  

Gold Coast Dogs

We had to try a Chicago dog while there and we ended up trying one from Gold Coast Dogs. (Had I realized there was a Gold Coast Dogs in the airport at MDW, I would’ve probably tried another place and saved Gold Coast for right before we departed Chicago.) In any event, the Chicago dog didn’t disappoint.

Authentic Chicago dogs.

I’d never tried one before since I’m not really a hot dog person and always thought Chicago dogs just looked ridiculous because they had a little too much going on with all of their toppings slopped all over the place. However, I was very pleased with our char dogs from Gold Coast and am now officially a fan of the Chicago dog without question. 

So many toppings!

It’s hard to pin down the flavor with so many things happening in your mouth but the sport peppers, mustard/lack-of-ketchup, and relish gave it a unique blend of tastes with just the right amount of kick that makes you feel satisfied, despite choosing a lowly hot dog for your meal. They also did a great job of charring the dog just the right amount of “char.” If your stomach’s really rumbling you may want to go with two of them or a single jumbo dog.

Smoque BBQ

I’d read about this place having the best bbq in Chicago. And while I don’t know if that’s the case, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true. As a native Texan, I know (and of course respect) quality BBQ and Smoque BBQ got a big two thumbs up from me.

Chopped brisket plates.

We went with the chopped brisket with a side of the St. Louis style ribs along with macaroni and cole slaw. I’ve never cared for cole slaw so I didn’t dig into it too much but everything else was completely delicious. They brought out different bbq sauces and I loved all of them. I didn’t even realize the sauces were different until after I had mixed both together by drizzling them all over my meat so I’m not exactly sure what each one tastes like — I just know that they combined forces to produce one heck of a hybrid BBQ sauce that this Texan couldn’t get enough of. The only knock I had was that they didn’t have potato salad but the macaroni made up for that for me.

Brisket sandwich loaded to the max.

St Louis style ribs.

Before the restaurant even opens there’s a line forming outside but you can get around that by showing up about 15 minutes before they open. We got the “insider” tip from our Uber driver and just walked right in to the restaurant before they officially opened. Apparently, nobody else got the memo because we had already ordered, sat down, and filled up our drinks when a long trail of people entered, gawking at us two confusingly.

Although this place is about a 20 minute drive from Wrigley Field (with traffic), it’s on the north side so it’s a perfect place to load up with a heavy lunch before heading over to the Wrigley Field area, especially if you’re going to indulge in some adult beverages as many do.  

Glazed and Infused

We visited the Glazed and Infused locations tucked away inside the Raffaello Hotel, but there are several other locations around Chicago. The location we visited may be a bit smaller than the other shops so they might not have offered as many options as we could’ve found at other locations. 

Glazed and Confused at the Raffaello Hotel.

Their donuts are very rich and if you’re not very fond of sweets you might not be able to finish some of them. We had one of their chocolate donuts which was even more rich and chocolatey than expected. I’d put it on par with those ultra-sweet lava cakes they serve at restaurants that are infused with many forms of chocolatey goodness. 


The red velvet donut was something I’d never had or even heard of for that matter. It’s topped with cream cheese, sprinkled with red velvet crumbs and is definitely one of the most memorable breakfast items I think I’ve ever tried.

Red velvet donut.

I took turns alternating biting into each donut — a chocolate bite here and red velvet bite there. About midway through, I could feel the sugar coma becoming imminent and it was time to put the donuts away. Perhaps next time I’ll go with the mini donuts. 

Final Word

Obviously, Chicago has tons to offer in the food department and I can’t wait to get back to try out more places and properly experience the culinary scene. If you’re wanting to knock out some of the must-eat foods like deep dish pizza and a Chicago dog, I really don’t think you can go wrong with the above! 

The Best Helicopter Tour in Chicago: Chicago Helicopter Experience

There’s simply no better way to take in the renowned skyline of Chicago than to be swooping over and around its many super-tall skyscrapers in a helicopter. Sure, there’s the Willis Tower Sky Deck and the John Hancock Center Tilt 360 that offer unique experiences for viewing the city but none of those can compare to the thrill of exploring an urban landscape like Chicago from the sky.

The Chicago Helicopter Experience is a first-class operation that will leave you with unforgettable memories (and tons of stunning photos) of your visit to Chicago. The staff, pilots, and everyone else involved will do everything to ensure that your’e able to comfortably enjoy a scenic (and exciting) flight around some of the most prolific skyscrapers in the world. Here’s a review of a recent tour Brad and I did with the Chicago Helicopter Experience (CHE). 

The facility

Chicago Helicopter Experience
The entrance to the facility

We arrived to the facility about 30 minutes prior to our take-off. Right now, I believe CHE is planning some massive renovations for a new facility so you might not be too impressed with the exterior of the facility. But don’t let that fool you, the experience of actually flying with CHE will be nothing short of excellent. 

From the moment we walked in, I got a an immediate sense of the of the laid-back vibe at CHE. Inside, we found a large open area with bar stools, comfy seating, tables with various games to occupy your mind like Jenga, Connect 4, etc., indoor corn hole (bags), and even a flight simulator to play around on. For the slightly anxious passenger, these are perfect distractions to put your mind at ease. For everyone else, it’s just a great way to pass the short time you’ll be waiting for your flight.    

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Waiting area inside

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Corn hole to pass the time!

As you wait to board, you’ll see helicopters take off and land every 20 minutes or so. This was my first time inside of a chopper, so I was very intrigued just watching these big red machines come in for landings, hover around for a bit, and literally ride off into the sunset. It was also reassuring to see everyone hopping out of the helicopters after their tours with smiles on their faces and it just added to the excitement of getting up in the air as our time for departure grew nearer. 

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Watching helicopters land and depart from the heliport.

Getting ready

After a short wait, we were told they were ready for us (others were called by their “flight number” printed on their boarding pass). We were taken to a locker room where we stored all of our belongings that we were not taking on the flight and used a custom combination to lock them safely away. (We brought my Canon 6D and GoPro along with us for the ride.)

From that point, we went through a metal detector and then proceeded to the prep room, where we were placed in a violet-lit room that contained the same seat arrangement that we’d be riding in.

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Inside the prep room.

I’ll be honest, I got a bit nervous when I first noticed the seat belt was pretty much the same type you’d find in an automobile, just with a slightly different clasp. I reasoned that since I’d be up in a helicopter a couple of thousand feet high, with the doors off, I’d need some form of extra harnessing or something. Turns out, I’d be just fine and once we got in the air, I wasn’t even thinking about it.

Once we were seated and strapped into the seats in the prep room, we watched a short, roughly 5 minute safety video. It goes over a lot of common sense stuff but you should make sure you pay attention to the parts regarding getting into and out of the helicopter. You don’t want to be standing in the wrong place beside a helicopter and you don’t want to look like a moron trying to take selfies while putting yourself at risk.  

Chicago Helicopter Experience
The safety video at Chicago Helicopter Experience.

After the video, we stepped out into the hallway and were led outside. It was time to board! We did a photography tour so before we got in, the crew removed the side doors so we would have optimal views for photos. Riding with the doors off added a whole new thrill to the ride, so if you can swing it, I’d definitely consider booking a doors-off tour as well. 

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Taking off the doors for our photography flight.

The crew confirmed our tour and then ushered us to the front of the helicopter for our keepsake photo. As soon as they snapped our photo, we hopped into our seats, snapped on our seat belts, put on our headsets, and were ready to go.

One great thing about a private photography tour is that you can customize your options and focus on the parts of the city that you want to see. For example, we’d just spent the afternoon at Wrigley Field, and so rather than spend a chunk of our time hovering on the north side of Chicago, we decided to just loop around the downtown area multiple times as the lighting changed.

Taking off

I’d never ridden in a helicopter before so I didn’t know what to expect at all when taking off but to my surprise it was a graceful experience. 

As we began slowly floating above the CHE facility and gliding over the river, I felt the same rush of giddiness that instantly hit me the first time I went SCUBA diving — a euphoric reminder that I’d just discovered a new addiction. In this case, it was flying on a chopper with the doors off!

As we crossed over a wide interstate, wide spans of green fields came into our line of sight. Beyond those, the imposing Chicago skyline rose into view.

Chicago Helicopter Tour
The Chicago Skyline

Chicago Helicopter Tour

Our pilot, speaking through our headphones, told us that we’d be swinging over Lake Michigan to take in the views of the waterfront and then looping around the skyline multiple times. Before flying out over the lake, we got a unique glimpse of “The Bean” from above, with the rest of of Millennium Park surrounding.

Chicago Helicopter Tour The bean
Aerial photo of “The Bean.”

Chicago Helicopter Tour sunset
Buckingham Fountain and surrounding park areas.

Once over the lake, we descended to a lower elevation to catch a closer view of Navy Pier, where just beside it, large streaks from the golden sunset happening above us reflected on the water.

Chicago Helicopter Tour
Navy Pier

Chicago Skyline and Navy Pier

From there, we ascended back over the skyline where we caught striking views of the Willis Tower, Aon Center, and Trump Tower. I’d already been quite impressed with the Chicago skyline from the time we rode in from the airport but seeing the skyline from hundreds of feet in the air added more immensity to the skyline and gave me better appreciation for the high concentration of skyscrapers that Chicago is home to. 

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

The lighting was beautiful to look at and admire, but at times almost impossible to deal with from a photography standpoint. If I could’ve gone back in time, I probably would’ve opted for a midday tour or a ride about an hour after sunset. If you’re just wanting to soak in some great views and take some pics from your phone to remember your trip, sunset tours are great — but if you’re trying to capture detailed shots of the buildings, the ever-changing lighting at sunset (especially with very few clouds present) can present a number of challenges that could otherwise be avoided. 

Chicago Helicopter Tour
Sunset lighting can be tricky.

After our first loop around downtown our pilot asked us what we’d prefer and offered his own ideas on routing options. We decided to mix-up our route to ensure that we’d see downtown from all different angles. This took us right over the Chicago River and we got great aerial shots of the riverwalk, lined with high rises, such as Trump Tower.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
The Chicago Riverwalk, modeled after the riverwalk in San Antonio.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
Trump Tower in the middle.

One of the coolest moments of the tour came when we approached the Willis Tower. As we circled around the tower, we were eye level with the dozens of tourists in the Sky Walk who were looking out at us as we photographed them. I’d thought about venturing up to the Sky Walk before but now that I was about 1,300 feet up in the air, roaming over the city, I was content to experience the Sky Walk from the outside.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
The Willis Tower sky deck from the outside.

After waiving back at the tourists behind the glass walls in the Willis Tower, we caught one of my favorite views of the entire tour. All four of the tallest Chicago skyscrapers stood in view, with the Willis Tower positioned prominently in front, and the other big three towering in the background.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline Willis tower Sears Tower
My favorite view

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline

Later, once we pushed northward, we got another view of the big four but this time reversed with the John Hancock Center jutting up in the foreground from near the waterfront of Lake Shore Drive.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center
The John Hancock Center on the bottom left.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline
The John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center
A view with the Lake Michigan waterfront.

Finally, with the tour coming to a conclusion, we made our way back towards Navy Pier over Lake Michigan and noticed that the sun had dropped a few more degrees over the horizon and was now casting a brilliant purple over the city.

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline John Hancock Center

Chicago Helicopter Tour Chicago Skyline Willis Tower

We took in the view for a little bit and then made our way back. Once we touched down, the staff ushered us back inside where we were given sharpie markers to leave our mark along with hundreds of other previous riders. After signing the wall, we checked out, purchased our commemorative framed photo, and then we were off the head back into downtown Chicago, only this time it would be via automobile.   

Final word

This tour was definitely the highlight of our trip to Chicago. From the moment that we first contacted Chicago Helicopter Experience over the phone to book the tour, everything was taken care of smoothly and effeciently. They always promptly responded to my inquiries and gave me assurance regarding any of my concerns. The operations on the day of the flight were just as smooth — CHE does a great job of balancing professionalism with its laid back atmosphere so you feel at ease but not too at ease about getting in a helicopter.

I think a helicopter ride is the ideal way to experience Chicago and its world renown architecture — no other viewing experience can compare. If you’re looking for a legit helicopter tour then definitely consider booking with CHE, you will not be disappointed! Tours start at $148.