Last updated on May 16, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Chicago

Where to stay in Chicago

Chicago has been in the top destinations to visit in the USA for a long time, and for a good reason, it’s a beautiful and very diverse city. Unique.

It’s a big city and I would not be surprised if you are asking yourself where to stay in Chicago, downtown or is it best to stay in other areas?

It all depends on the trip you are planning.

In this guide, you will read about the best places/neighborhoods to stay in Chicago for families or couples, for nightlife or a relaxed stay, and of course for any budget

The fantastic thing is that Chicago offers a great range of accommodations, from luxurious to very cheap, even below the $100 sweet spot.

But let’s dig straight into it.

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Where to stay in Chicago – In a nutshell

  • 5 best areas to stay in Chicago: in the 5 areas on the map (Downtown, Wicker Park, Gold Coast, West Loop and McCormick Place) you will surely find your best place to stay in Chicago. They all suit a different kind of traveler (family, couple, relaxed, trendy, nightlife) with a different budget too. You can read more info for each area below
Best areas to stay in Chicago
Best areas to stay in Chicago (check Google Map for Interactive View)
  • Where to stay in Chicago Downtown: there are 4 sub-areas in downtown: The Loop, River North, The Magnificent Mile and Streeterville. They are all different from each other and they are unique in the type of travelers they tend to have. Note that hotel names/descriptions can sometimes be misleading as they say they are downtown, however, they may not mention they are in the Magnificent Mile or in The Loop. In this guide, I always suggest hotels in the right place with the best quality.
  • Best place to stay in Chicago First-time: The Loop in Downtown is a great choice, being central to the city and close to lots of attractions and places you may have already on your to-do list. It’s also a quiet area which is perfect for a nice night’s sleep. You can read more below about The Loop with a few suggested hotels
  • Where to stay for nightlife in Chicago: for cocktail bars, restaurants and pubs you have to check out River North. Staying there will make your life easier, next door to the action. Read more below about River North, its restaurants and bars, and of course a few suggested accommodations.
  • Best area for shopping: the Magnificent Mile is a real mine for shopping addicts. Stay there during the Christmas holiday for the best night lights in the country. You can spend your entire day between shopping centers. Just unique. Read more below about the Magnificent Mile, including a tip on the best mall to visit.
  • Best places to stay in Chicago on a budget: the first possibility is to stay in McCormick Place where you can find real bargains when the exhibition season is off. Alternatively, you can find also a few hostels and cheap accommodations in Streeterville, in front of the Navy Pier. Read more below for a trip on a budget, with a few well-priced hotels/hostels
  • Where to stay in Chicago cheap: going down in price means you will have to go down in quality too, unfortunately. There is however an exception, in my opinion, and this is Franklin Park, a neighborhood next to the airport, very well connected to the city. There you can find some great-value Motels and Inns. It works also great if you are driving to Chicago as you can leave your car there and commute easily into downtown. Read more below about a few options in Franklin Park
  • Best place to stay in Chicago with family: Gold Coast and Lincoln Park are two great options. These bordering areas are perfect for a quiet stay, with easy access to family attractions and they tend to offer big properties to rent for the entire family, besides a few hotel options. Read more below about a family stay in Chicago below
  • Where to stay in Chicago for the Marathon: easy answer, The Loop in Downtown. You will close to the finish line in Grant Park and with easy access pre and post-marathon. Remember to book well in advance. Read more about a stay during the marathon below
  • Where to stay in Chicago for a unique stay: Wicker Park offers a very unique experience, from its architecture to the countless family-owned restaurants. Not to mention the local cafes and the characteristic bars. Read more below about Wicker Park, including a few boutique accommodations.
  • Best place to stay in Chicago for tourists and sightseeing: The Loop is the obvious answer, however, you should not discount also a stay in West Loop, with plenty of restaurants and accommodation at a more convenient price. Read more below about West Loop
Adams-Wabash Station in The Loop
Adams-Wabash Station in The Loop

Best place to stay in Chicago First-time – The Loop

The Loop is a great place to stay as a first-time visitor to Chicago.

It allows you to enjoy all the touristy attractions while still giving you a good vibe that you are at home.

One of the best things about it is the abundance of things to do and places to see in this commercial district.

The 2 that you should definitely not leave without trying are:

  • Buckingham Fountain: this landmark attraction is one of the largest and most beautiful fountains in the world. It is located in the heart of Grant Park. Whether it is summertime water and light shows or a fountain-side music festival, this is an attraction definitely worth checking out.
  • Willis Tower Skydeck: ff you are not afraid of heights then this is definitely an experience you want in your memory bank. The Chicago Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor of the 110 stories high Willis Tower. It has clear viewing boxes all around which allows you to truly take in the beauty that is Chicago and all its surroundings.

If you are planning to stay 2 days in Chicago or even 3 days in the Windy City, then Loop is the ideal spot to be

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Where to stay for nightlife in Chicago – River North

With its lively night scene, River North is perfect for food lovers and night owls.

The restaurants and bars are without a doubt the best part of the show. 

You should check out Gilt Bar, famous for its craft cocktails and amazing American dishes.

It opens at 5 pm and is so popular you might want to book a table early.

Another great place is Bub City, a wild-west themed bar and restaurant, home of comfort food, awesome beer and barbeque in Chicago.

They also offer live music, setting the perfect mood.

The family-owned Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is one of River North’s finest.

You cannot leave Chicago without trying the famous deep-dish pizza and no one does it better than Lou.

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Watching baseball in Chicago
Watching baseball in Chicago

Best area to stay in Chicago for shopping – The Magnificent Mile

When you have an itching for that spending, the Magnificent Mile is the place to stay or at least visit.

It is Chicago’s very own Rodeo Drive and has it all from luxury designer boutiques to discount stores.

The Water Tower Place in specific is a must-visit for some of that wholesome retail therapy.

It is an indoor vertical mall with all sorts of shops for you to go wild in.

It’s the place to be on Christmas time with its fabulous night lights and unlimited inspiration for gifts to take back home

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Best places to stay in Chicago on a budget

Traveling on a tight budget means being wise with your selection of places to stay.

Chicago, fortunately, has a good number of neighborhoods and communities where you can save an extra buck while still enjoying all the city has to offer.

You need, however, to factor in some commuting time, which makes both of the neighborhood below a good option if you stay at least 4/5 days in Chicago or even longer.

McCormick Place

McCormick Place, Chicago’s home of conventions is a great place to stay when you are trying to save money.

The numerous hotels, motels and hostels there are available for great prices, sometimes real bargains, when the convention season is off.

In addition to cheap accommodation, McCormick Place gives you access to a good selection of low-budget restaurants and cafés like Reggie’s Chicago

This bar/restaurant is within a few minutes from the main convention.

It is best known for the cold beers, hot wings and diverse pub snack menu.

Harold’s Chicken Shack is one of the oldest fried chicken chains and is more of a historic landmark than anything else.

However, the fried chicken and secret sauces are what you will remember most.

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Streeterville

Streeterville is also a great place to stay while on a budget because of the access to numerous great hostels.

These offer you a safe and decent place to lay your head after a long day of running around exploring the city.

I mean who says your trip has to suck simply because you do not have a bottomless wallet; am I right?

Some of their best-rated traveler budget hotels/hostels include Freehand Chicago Hostel and The Whitehall Hotel

One place you will definitely have a lot of fun without going broke is the Navy Pier.

This location offers great views of the water and the city and hosts free events year-round.

Streeterville also delivers for the foodie traveler with low-budget options.

M Burger is a low-budget restaurant best known for its loaded burgers and thick shakes.

Despite the low price tag, the local chain doesn’t compromise on portions and quality.

Do-Rite Donuts and Chicken is a boutique café located in the Erie Street area.

Their unique array of donut flavors and amazing fried chicken makes it the perfect spot whether you want breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Talking of hostels, another great option is the HI Chicago Hostel in The Loop area. 

The dormitory beds offer probably the best deal in the city

Check price at Freehand    Check price at Whitehall   Check price at HI Chicago

Drone view of Chicago
Drone view of Chicago

Where to stay in Chicago cheap (under $100)

If you are looking to spend less than $100 on accommodation while visiting Chicago, Franklin Park is one of the few decent options out there.

This quaint little village is home to some cheap motels that though safe and efficient are not going to leave you with amazing memories.

The good news is that Franklin Park is super close to the airport and 3 train stations making your commute to and from different parts of Chicago and very convenient.

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Best place to stay in Chicago with family 

As a family visiting any city, your priorities when looking for a place to stay should be space, security and proximity to attractions.

With this criterion in mind, the best places to stay in Chicago with family are Gold Coast and Lincoln Park.

There are numerous hotels in all budget brackets for you to choose from.

You could also choose to rent one of the many beautiful homes whether it is a waterfront highrise apartment or a townhouse in the more old-school part of the community.

So what is there to see or do in this place?

For food adventures, Third Coast Café is a family-friendly restaurant open from 7am to 11pm.

It serves American cuisine and caters to all your meal needs from breakfast to late evening cravings.

The Original Pancake House is a popular breakfast-all-day spot for locals and tourists alike. They serve artisanal breakfast items with unique twists that your family will definitely enjoy.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is great fun for kids. It is one of the oldest zoos in America and is home to some pretty magnificent beasts.

The zoo also offers access to numerous souvenir shops and eateries. The best part: the entrance is FREE.

Another great family activity is the Painted Penguin. This is a center that allows your kids to tap into their inner Picasso.

They get to work on everything from painting landscapes to decorating blank sculptures.

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park

Where to stay in Chicago for the Marathon – The Loop

Short answer: The Loop is the best place to stay for the Chicago Marathon. Now let me explain.

The Chicago Marathon is a cultural phenomenon that converts the city into a beautiful lively mess every October.

If you are participating, supporting a runner or you just want to be a part of the action, you need to figure out your accommodation arrangements early enough.

The best place to stay during this time would be as close to the finish line as possible. In this case, you want to find places near Grant Park which include The Loop and its environs.

It might be a little expensive but it is worth it for this experience.

In addition to the fun memories, you get to try out some of Chicago’s great restaurants and eateries.

Burger Bar Chicago stands out as it allows you to customize your own burger. They also have a wide variety of craft beers and cocktails as well as mocktails and milkshakes for the teetotalers.

Are you craving ribs? Are you craving shrimp cocktails? Can’t choose?

You don’t have to. Remington’s Restaurant is both a steakhouse and seafood restaurant and has some of the best dish combinations in The Loop area.

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Grant Park to Buckingham Fountain
Grant Park to Buckingham Fountain

Where to stay in Chicago for a unique stay – Wicker Park

Finally, if you are looking for a one-of-a-kind and truly Chicago authentic stay then Wicker Park is the place to go.

This place is as authentic Chicago as it gets.

From the architecture to the numerous decades-old family-owned restaurants, Wicker Park offers a really unique experience.

The boutique bars and unusual party scenes will also offer you a trip to remember. 

Enso Sushi and Bar is set in an industrial-style building which adds to the charm and ambiance. It serves the best sushi and craft beers that you will get anywhere in Chicago.

Chop Shop is a must-visit, especially for its location.

This bar and deli is set on a rooftop deck in the heart of Wicker Park and truly comes to life at night.

With the beautiful multicolored seats, enchanting fairy lights and amazing food and drinks, it is going to be a really fun evening.

Suggested accommodations in this area:

Wicker Park Hamburger Chili
Wicker Park Hamburger Chili

Best place to stay in Chicago for tourists and sightseeing

Chicago clearly has a lot to offer whether you are a family or a single budget traveler.

The Loop caters to all these needs within the same district making it truly the best place for tourists.

West Loop, in particular, is ideal for visitors with its great vibe, convenient access to numerous attractions and a wide variety of residential setups for tourist accommodation.

So if you are planning a trip there this is a great place to consider as your first option of where to stay.

Suggested accommodations in THE LOOP:

Suggested accommodations in WEST LOOP:

The top 5 attractions in The Loop

There is a lot to do and see in Chicago’s Loop are and below are the top 5 most bucket-list-worthy of them all.

Manny’s Deli: this cafeteria and delicatessen is home to Chicago’s most famous and popular sandwiches.

You know it is a big deal when 2 presidents in US history stated it as one of their all-time favorite food spots.

So plan a visit whether it is for their legendary sandwiches or just to be a part of history.

Segway Tours: this is a really fun way to explore the district and its surroundings.

Weekend tours are especially fun as The Loop is a commercial district which means not many people are out then.

You could also take a trip along the Lake Front Trail.

Lights of Chicago downtown
Lights of Chicago downtown

American Writers Museum: this is a truly unique experience that will leave you truly inspired.

You might even end up wanting to write a book.

It is a place where you get to honor and appreciate the great literary artists that the USA has produced throughout the year.

Petrillo Music Shell: this is an outdoor amphitheater that has hosted and continues to host some of the most legendary music events.

From the Chicago Jazz Festival to the Lollapalooza, this is definitely one for the must-visit list if you are a music fan.

The Art Institute of Chicago: this is one of the best-rated museums and galleries in the entire world and it would be a crime to stay in Loop without visiting it.

It is home to some of the most legendary art pieces including American Gothic by Grant Wood and The Poet’s Garden by Vincent Van Gogh.

Best areas to stay in Chicago

Before writing and suggesting the best areas to stay in Chicago let me give a quick sketch of how Chicago is organized on a map. Take this as a reference through the post.

Best areas to stay in Chicago
Best areas to stay in Chicago (check Google Map for Interactive View)

In the map, I highlighted the top areas to stay in Chicago.

They all differ from each other and they do have their own character.

For example, I would never suggest families staying in River North, and you will understand why.

The most popular area to stay in the city is surely Chicago Downtown. 

This is where you will have easy access to most of the popular attractions and shopping streets, besides great restaurants and bars.

Chicago Downtown is actually a macro area including a few neighborhoods:

  • The loop (the central business district)
  • River North
  • The Magnificent Mile
  • Streeterville

The other popular areas to stay in Chicago, still reasonably close to downtown are:

  • Wicker Park
  • Gold Coast (and Lincoln Park more in the north)
  • West Loop
  • McCormick Place

These areas have all their own identity, definitely different from Chicago Downtown.

View to downtown
View to downtown

Following is a short description for each area with later a few suggestions on the neighborood to book your stay based on the type of trip and experience you are looking for.

The loop (the central business district)

Located in the heart of Chicago’s central business district, The Loop is one of the most diverse areas in the city.

It is home to some of the most successful businesses housed in the many towering highrise buildings that define its unique skyline.

The Loop, however, is not all work and no play.

There are many up-and-coming restaurants, galleries and shopping spots for you to hit when you are tired of touring the many skyscrapers in the area.

Unfortunately, if you are looking for a little action when the sun goes down there might not be much for you here.

This is because for the most part the town essentially shuts down as the major businesses do which is between the late afternoon and early evening hours.

Despite this, it is a beautiful community with a lot to offer you on your trip to Chicago.

River North (the Gallery district with lovely restaurants)

Now, this is the part of town perfectly tailored for the needs of your everyday night owl.

The bridge to the loop
The bridge to The Loop

It was initially built as an industrial area North of The Loop.

However, as more and more Loop dwellers craved for an active night scene the River North adapted to satisfy these needs.

It is home to some of Chicago’s best galleries, luxury restaurants and posh nightclubs.

In fact, the galleries and art rooms are so many here that River North gained the nickname “Gallery District”.

River North also happens to have an equally exciting set of attractions for daytime lovers.

There is so much to explore from the sprawling highrise buildings to the mesmerizing Chicago River.

There are also a number of shops and boutiques to visit when you feel the need for some retail therapy.

The Magnificent Mile (the shopping place to be)

The Magnificent Mile is the true home of luxury and extravagance in Chicago.

This upscale district is basically a single street stretch running from the Chicago River to Oak Street.

Where this narrow community lacks in size it more than makes up for in opulence and quality.

With all the luxury restaurants and high-end stores, it is no wonder that this is one of the United States’ most expensive cities to live in.

The Magnificent Mile might be expensive to live in long term but as a tourist in Chicago, it is definitely one of those places that deserve a spot on your bucket list.

The lively city offers so many attractions from iconic architecture like the Gothic Tribune Building to the world-famous Chicago Water Tower.

In a nutshell, it is a really lively city both day and night and is perfect if you are looking for that upbeat vibe during your trip.

Streeterville (small with great views of the lake)

Streeterville is a neighborhood on the northern side of the city flanked by the Magnificent Mile on the west, the Chicago River to the side and Lake Michigan to the north and east.

It, therefore, offers the best vantage point if you are planning to explore as much of Chicago as possible during the trip.

Wicker Park (trendy with a great vibe and historical buildings)

Wicker Park is one of Chicago’s trendier and edgier districts.

Wicker Park graffiti
Wicker Park graffiti

The general vibe is in quite sharp contrast with the architecture that shows a more historic and traditional side to Chicago.

Wicker Park is great for you as a visitor as it offers the perfect balance between calm and captivating day life and a fun and lively nightlife.

During the day, there is so much to see and do including visiting the beautiful and eclectic Milwaukee Avenue to shopping in the many department stores and boutiques.

At night, the historic city converts into a modern party district with everything from hip nightclubs and music events to multiple restaurant options and gallery shows.

Gold Coast and Lincoln Park (the quiet part of Chicago)

The Gold Coast is an exclusive neighborhood in the northern parts of Chicago right next to Lake Michigan.

With its beautiful combination of modern highrise buildings and traditional stand-alone homes, The Gold Coast contributes a great deal to the city’s skyline.

This affluent part of town is for the most part very calm and quiet and would, therefore, be perfect if you are looking to escape the hustle and noise of livelier Chicago districts.

A little further north you will find the Lincoln Park community.

Here, you will find the world-famous zoo with the same name, numerous galleries and a thriving food scene.

West Loop (the new trendy area of Chicago)

The West Loop is a sort of new very hip and trendy part of Chicago that is ideal for younger crowds, or at least the young at heart.

This lively community lies west of the Chicago River and has a lot to offer thrill-seekers.

Whether you decide to go on a food adventure on their famous “restaurant row” or you opt for a music festival at Union Park, you are bound to have a good time in West Loop.

Ramen Takeya in West Loop
Ramen Takeya in the restaurant row of West Loop

McCormick Place (the best area to stay in Chicago for a convention)

McCormick Place is the home of conventions not just for Chicago but also for all of North America.

It is home to the largest convention center in the region with a beautiful shore-side view.

The architecture and amenities here are tailored to suit the needs of convention-goers.

You will, therefore, find a lot of decent restaurants, good accommodation and convenient transport options around and from the community.

If you have an early arrival or a late departure from Chicago and you do not know where to leave your bags then I suggest checking out LuggageHero

This is a tremendous website listing places where you can leave your luggage meanwhile you visit the city. So handy!

Where can I leave my bag

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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