The Top 8 Things to Do in River North, Chicago

View of the Merchandise Mart, the Chicago river and other skyscrapers take from the River


DC_Colombia / Getty Images 

Located on Chicago’s affluent Near North Side — just north of the Chicago River — the River North business and residential area has come a long way from its shady beginnings as a notorious red light district. Now home to some of the city’s trendiest art galleries, hotels, bars, and restaurants, it attracts well-heeled locals and visitors alike. It’s also home to several well-known landmarks, including the Merchandise Mart, which once belonged to the Kennedy family.  

River North is adjacent to the Gold Coast, which is just to its north, the Magnificent Mile shopping district, which is just to the east, and the Loop, Chicago's business district, which is just south past the Chicago River.

01 of 08

Treat Yourself to a Tantalizing Meal at Tanta

Bartender pouring a milky pink drink in to a glass from a shaker

Tanta Chicago

218 W Kinzie St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Phone +1 312-624-8154

Tanta Chicago, home to award-winning Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurio, offers colorful meals full of flavor and spice. You will feel like you're traveling throughout the country of Peru — from the ocean to the mountains to the Amazon jungle to the desert — through the food you eat and the drinks you sample.

If you're feeling particularly experimental, order from the Chefs Having Fun menu, where the dishes are particularly inventive. You won't find the popular in-country Peruvian Cuy (cooked guinea pig) here, but you will be able to sip on an authentic and traditional Pisco Sour, El Chingon, or Lima Llama cocktail.

02 of 08

Stay at a Hip Boutique Hotel

Room inside the Gwen Hotel

The Gwen Hotel 

521 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
Phone +1 312-645-1500

Chicago has many cool properties to choose from, all with unique amenities and services. Here are two hotels that really stand out in the Windy City.

The Gwen Hotel, Michigan Avenue Chicago, a luxury boutique property opened in the landmark McGraw-Hill Building in 2015, just adjacent to Shops at North Bridge. There are 312 rooms and suites. Several rooms offer premium views of Chicago landmarks such as the Magnificent Mile shopping district, John Hancock Building and more.

Amenities: There's a 24-hour gym and business center, plus guests may request in-room massages and mixology cart services. For dining and drinking, visit Circa Restaurant and Lounge and Upstairs at The Gwen — the city views here, on the rooftop, are worth a look-see.

Parking: Street parking is available, but scarce. The hotel offers 24 hour valet parking.

Acme Hotel Co, a chic boutique hotel, offers comfort, rock ‘n’ roll style at affordable prices. Owned and operated by a Chicago-based development group, ACME targets those budget-conscious types looking for the type of amenities typically featured at local luxury properties. ACME houses two eating and drinking venues: The Berkshire Room, a craft cocktail lounge, and West Town Bakery, a chef-driven eatery that has some of our favorite pastries. The bakery even carries its own version of the popular cronut, and it’s available in several varieties.

Amenities: Order coffee at check-in for a specific time, and a thermos will be delivered direct to your door for free as part of the Morning Joe program. Each room has Amazon Echo so you can stay connected. And, if you're a guitar player, you'll love having an ESP guitar in your room — select suites automatically have them but you can check one out at the desk and rock out in your room. Another cool amenity is the DIY Cocktail Kit, which costs $18—you can keep the shaker.

Parking: The hotel offers an airport shuttle for a fee, or you can reserve a limo or town car service. Self parking, with in and out privileges, is available.

03 of 08

Celebrate With Champagne

Inside of Pops for Champagne with view of the bar

 Pops for Champagne

601 N State St, Chicago, IL 60610, USA
Phone +1 312-266-7677

Pops for Champagne, considered to be the country’s first-ever champagne lounge, is in its second location and still going strong after more than 30 years in business. The more than 200 selections of bubbly are meant to pair with chef-driven dishes such as charcuterie, caviar, oysters and cheese. There’s also live jazz regularly, so the target audience is a mature crowd. They've transformed the downstairs bar into Watershed, a cocktail lounge specializing in spirits from the Great Lakes region and craft beer.

Margeaux Brasserie, a luxurious traditional Parisian cafe and bar, with a 1920's-themed ambiance, offers several varieties of French champagne perfect for clinking glasses. You'll love the romantic, toned-down atmosphere, the gentle music that you can still have a conversation over, and the creative menu options. Located inside the Waldorf Astoria Chicago, on east Walton, there's ample parking available.

04 of 08

Enjoy a Drink and a Show

exterior of Underground Wonder Bar photographed at night

Underground Wonder Bar 

710 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA

River North has its fair share of jazz clubs and blues bars but we recommend heading to Underground Wonder Bar to hear the musical stylings of home-grown artists. Passionate blues, jazz, reggae and Latin performers have made Underground Wonder Bar a must-do stop for many famous visiting musicians, including the likes of the Stones and David Byrne.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Shop Till You Drop

row of mannequins against a way in a showroom


15 E Huron St, Chicago, IL 60611-2290, USA
Phone +1 312-587-1000

Ikram, the luxury women’s boutique, moved from its long-time Rush Street location to a larger space in River North. Ikram Café, an elegant lunch destination that feels more like an exclusive ladies’ lounge, is worth visiting for a shopping break. Chef-driven, with dainty sandwiches, salads and wraps, along with a limited wine list are the specialties. Be sure to peek into the other shops in the area like Paper Source, Rent the Runway, The Shops at North Bridge, Alex and Ani, Aloha Poke Co. and Stuart Weitzman

06 of 08

Go Big or Go Home at The Mart

Merchandise Mart building in downtown, located by Chicago River. Photographed here from southwest side.

rafalkrakow / Getty Images

222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Phone +1 800-677-6278

Chicago's Merchandise Mart is a whopping 4.2 million gross square-feet, sprawling out over two city blocks, 25 stories high in the sky—this was the largest building in the world when it opened in 1930. The building is full of furniture design rooms, retail shops, and restaurants. Plus, there are a number of events and showcases throughout the year, like Art on theMART, Art Chicago International Art Fair and NeoCon. Visit LuxeHome, Maya Romanoff, Stark, Holly Hunt and Edelman Leather.

Notable restaurants in the Mart include Marshall's Landing, Tony and Bruno's Pasta and Pizzeria and Tsukiji Fish Market.

07 of 08

See a Concert at the House of Blues

Chicago House of Blues with out of focus cabs in the bottom third of the picture

Radius Images / Getty Images

329 N Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Phone +1 312-923-2000

The House of Blues is a quintessential Chicago experience. Bring a date and come for lunch, dinner or late-night noshes. The menu items feature Southern-inspired low country dishes like shrimp and grits, pulled pork and barbecue. Every Sunday, the House of Blues hosts a family-friendly Gospel Brunch, which includes live local music and a full buffet. Of course, there are also performances nearly every day, during multiple time slots so you can hear some great Chicago music as well.

08 of 08

Geek Out at the Museum of Broadcast Communications

A collection of small, rectangular screens showing different images at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago

Museum of Broadcast Communications, Chicago 

360 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
Phone +1 312-245-8200

The Museum of Broadcast Communications presents memorabilia that television and radio fans will love. See working radio and television studios, plaques of National Radio Hall of Fame inductees, and, most notably, Oprah's Door, where she made her entrance each day on her show.

Afterward, have a meal at Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse, located next door, and gawk at all the Chicago Cubs sports memorabilia.

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The Top 8 Things to Do in River North, Chicago