Where to stay in Chicago first time: 11 Best areas & neighborhoods

Wondering Where to stay in Chicago for the first time? In this post, I will help you to find the best areas/neighborhoods to stay in Chicago for first-timers (along with a helful map). I’ll also give you some recommendations about the best hotels in Chicago for all budgets.

Chicago is a major city in Illinois, on the shores of Lake Michigan. The city is known for its rich history, diverse culture, and iconic buildings such as the Willis Tower (Sears Tower).

Chicago has a rich musical heritage, particularly in blues and jazz. It’s often referred to as the birthplace of the Chicago blues style, and the city’s jazz scene has also been influential.

The city has a strong sports culture, with professional teams in various major sports leagues, including the Chicago Cubs (baseball), Chicago White Sox (baseball), Chicago Bulls (basketball), Chicago Bears (American football), and Chicago Blackhawks (ice hockey).

Chicago is famous for its food, including deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. The city’s dining scene is diverse, offering a wide range of culinary experiences.

The city has an extensive public transportation system, including the “L” train system, buses, and commuter trains. O’Hare International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world.

Where to stay in Chicago for the first time?

The best areas to stay in Chicago for first-timers and tourists are The Loop, West Loop, South Loop, Magnificent Mile, River North, and Lincoln Park. These areas offer plenty of accommodation options for all budget travelers.

The Chicago Loop is the best overall area for first-timers due to its prime location and excellent connection to public transportation. It is the city’s most central area, offering easiest access to major attractions, as well as some of the city’s best hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops.

West Loop is the best location for foodies where you can find Restaurant Row, Greektown, and Little Italy, with a fantastic dining scene, including numerous acclaimed restaurants in. It’s a bit more laid-back compared to downtown, yet still vibrant and close to attractions in the Loop.

South Loop is the best place for museum lovers, home to the Museum Campus, where you’ll find the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium.

Magnificent Mile is the best area for shopping, packed with luxury retail stores, and attractions like the John Hancock Center and Water Tower Place. 

River North is the best base for vibrant nightlife, with numerous  trendy restaurants, bars, and clubs. It also has a vibrant art scene and numerous galleries.

Lincoln Park is a safe residential neighborhood a bit north of downtown. It’s a great location for outdoor activities and family holidays as it is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, beautiful parks, and a variety of shops and restaurants.

During my trip to Chicago, I stayed at the modern 4-star mid-range citizenM Chicago Downtown. It has a prime location in the most central area in Chicago Downtown. My room was small but comfortable and efficient. Breakfast was lovely.

Map of areas and neighborhoods in Chicago for first-timers:

map of Best areas & neighborhoods to stay in Chicago first time
map of Best areas & neighborhoods to stay in Chicago first time

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in Chicago. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in Chicago have been carefully selected by me from well-known booking sites such as booking.com, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. 

If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

11 Best areas to stay in Chicago for first time & tourists:

1. The Loop

The Loop is often known as the best place to stay in Chicago for a first visit. It is Chicago’s central business district and is home to many iconic attractions, cultural sites, and convenient transportation options.

The Loop is one of the most iconic areas of Chicago and is known for its distinctive elevated train tracks that encircle the area, giving it its name.

The Loop is a major transportation hub in Chicago, with multiple subway lines (L trains) and bus routes converging in the area. This makes it easy to travel to other neighborhoods and attractions throughout the city.

The Loop is home to numerous iconic attractions, including Millennium Park, Art Institute of Chicago, Grant Park, Chicago Cultural Center, and Cloud Gate. These attractions are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to explore and enjoy the city’s cultural offerings.

The Loop is known for its vibrant theater scene, with many Broadway-style theaters and performance venues. If you’re interested in catching a play, musical, or other live performances, staying in this area can be very convenient.

The Loop is hoem to State Street shopping district and various retail stores. Additionally, there are numerous dining options ranging from casual eateries to upscale restaurants.

Staying in The Loop provides you with impressive views of Chicago’s iconic skyline, especially if you opt for a hotel with a higher floor or rooftop access.

Best places to stay in Chicago Loop for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): JW Marriott Chicago, 5-star historic hotel, located  in the heart of the city’s financial district, within easy reach from The Monroe Public Transit stop, offering easy access to several of Chicago’s most popular attractions.

Mid-range ($$): Silversmith Hotel Chicago Downtown, 4-star hotel, located in the center of the Loop, close to Chicago’s theater and financial district, as well as many dining, shopping, and many major attractions such as Millennium Park.  

Budget ($): Hampton Inn Majestic Chicago , 3-star hotel located inside the historic CIBC Theatre in the Loop, offering daily breakfast and comfortable rooms. Short distance from Millennium Park, Art Institute of Chicago and Willis Tower Skydeck.


2. West Loop

Known for its trendy restaurants, art galleries, and upscale boutiques, the West Loop offers a more modern and hipster vibe. It’s also close to the Fulton Market District, which is famous for its food scene. If you’re a foodie and enjoy vibrant nightlife, the West Loop could be ideal.

Best places to stay in Chicago West Loop for first-time tourists:

Luxury ($$$): Nobu Hotel Chicago, 5-star hotel, located in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago, a short drive from Union Station. It features an on-site bar and private parking, an indoor pool, and a shuttle service. 

Mid-range ($$): The Hoxton, Chicago, 4-star hotel, located in the West Loop district, featuring 3 bars and restaurants, rooftop pool, yoga studio. It is located within a short distance from Willis Tower, Chicago Board of Trade Building and the CIBC Theater. 

Budget ($): Homewood Suites by Hilton, 3-star hotel, located in the city’s West Loop neighborhood, featuring Fulton Garden Terrace and Fulton Tap Bar, Chicago’s first and only self-pour hotel bar that offers beer and wine. 


3. South Loop

The South Loop offers a mix of cultural attractions, including the Museum Campus with the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. It’s a bit quieter compared to other downtown areas and could be suitable if you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere.

Best places to stay in Chicago South Loop for first-timers:

Mid-range ($$): Sonder South Wabash, 4-star hotel, located in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago, within walking distance from  Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Buckingham Memorial Fountain. 

Mid-range ($$): Sentral Michigan Avenue, great apartment hotel, located close to DePaul University, Field Museum of Natural History and Art Institute of Chicago. It has a restaurant serving American cuisine, as well as a hot tub, a fitness center and an indoor pool.

Budget ($): The Buckingham Hotel, 3-star hotel, located in the heart of the financial district, on the 40th floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange building. Located within walking distance from the WillisTower and the State Street shopping area.


4. Magnificent Mile

This part of Michigan Avenue is known for its high-end shopping, luxury hotels, and iconic landmarks like the Chicago Water Tower. If you’re interested in shopping and want to be close to the city’s iconic architecture, the Magnificent Mile is a great option.

Best places to stay in Magnificent Mile for the first time:

Luxury ($$$): Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile, 5-star luxurious hotel, located close to the Mag Mile, offering stunning views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline. Short drive by car from Navy Pier and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mid-range ($$): Eurostars Magnificent Mile, 4-star boutique Chicago hotel located in the heart of the city, easy walk from luxury shops of the Magnificent Mile and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Budget ($): Homewood Suites by Hilton, 3-star hotel, located within walking distance from upscale dining and shopping in the trendy River North neighborhood. Its location also offers easy access to the CTA Red Line. 


5. River North

This neighborhood is famous for its vibrant art scene, galleries, and numerous dining options. It’s also conveniently located near the Loop and the Magnificent Mile. If you want a blend of nightlife, art, and easy access to downtown attractions, River North might be a good fit.

Best places to stay in River North for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, 5-star hotel, offering views of Lake Michigan, Chicago River or city skyline. It is located within walking distance from shopping, dining and entertainment on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile.

Mid-range ($$): Hotel Chicago Downtown, Autograph Collection, 4-star hotel, situated next to the House of Blues, close to Chicago River and Millennium Park. Also, within walking distance from Merchandise Mart public transit station and Magnificent Mile shopping area.

Budget ($): Fairfield Inn and Suites Chicago Downtown-River North, 3-star hotel, located only 5 minutes’ walk from the luxury shops of Michigan Avenue and the banks of the Chicago River. Also a short drive by car from Millennium Park, Navy Pier and Chicago Museum Campus.


6. Hyde Park

Home to the University of Chicago, Hyde Park has a more academic and intellectual atmosphere. It offers beautiful architecture, bookstores, and cultural attractions like the Museum of Science and Industry.

Best places to stay in Chicago Hyde Park for first-time visitors:

Budget ($): Hyatt Place Chicago-South/University Medical Center, 3-star family-friendly hotel, located within 5 minutes’ drive of the University of Chicago campus N, offering free daily shuttle service between 7am until 7pm. 

Mid-range ($$): Sophy Hyde Park, 4-star hotel, located 6 blocks away from former President Obama’s Hyde Park home, a short distance from University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry. It has 24-hour front desk, family rooms, and paid private parking.

Mid-range ($$): The Study at the University of Chicago, 4-star hotel, featuring a fitness center, private parking, a garden and a restaurant.  


7. Logan Square

If you’re into artsy neighborhoods with a hipster vibe, Logan Square might be a good fit. It has a lively food and bar scene, and you’ll find boutique shops and vintage stores.

Best places to stay in Chicago  Logan Square for first-time visitors:


8. Lincoln Park

This neighborhood is known for its beautiful park, Lincoln Park Zoo, and a more residential feel. If you’re interested in a quieter atmosphere with access to green spaces and the lakefront, while still being relatively close to the downtown area, Lincoln Park could be a good choice.

Best places to stay in Lincoln Park for the first time:

Budget ($): Hotel Versey Days Inn by Wyndham Chicago, 3-star boutique hotel located in Lincoln Park neighborhood and combines the local culture, music and art of the city to provide a unique lodging experience for travelers. It is a short drive by car from Lincoln Park Zoo.

Budget ($): Chicago Getaway Hostel, great hostel located in Lincoln Park and is a few blocks from the Fullerton subway station. It offers free lockers, bed linens, and some rooms have a private bathroom or a shared bathroom.

Mid-range ($$): Villa D’ Citta, 4-star modern accommodation located in the heart of Lincoln Park’s shopping and dining district. It has a private grotto and garden with BBQ facilities.  


9. Gold Coast

This area boasts luxury shopping along the Magnificent Mile, as well as historic architecture and upscale dining options. It’s also close to Lake Michigan and Oak Street Beach.

Best places to stay in Gold Coast for first-timers:


10. Lakeview

If you’re looking for a neighborhood with a mix of entertainment options, Lakeview might be a good choice. It’s near Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs) and offers a range of restaurants, bars, and theaters.

Best places to stay in Lakeview for the first time:


11. Wicker Park 

Known for its artistic and alternative scene, Wicker Park offers a diverse mix of boutiques, galleries, music venues, and unique dining experiences.

Best places to stay in Wicker Park for first-time visitors:

  • Mid-range ($$): Hyatt Place Chicago Wicker Park, 3-star hotel, provides a fitness center, private parking, a shared lounge and a terrace. 
  • Budget ($): Wicker Park Inn, 3-star hotel, situated near the Blue Line transportation station in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, offers easy access to downtown’s top attractions, including the Magnificent Mile and Millennium Park.  

See more:

In conclusion, The Loop, West Loop, South Loop, Magnificent Mile, River North, and Lincoln Park are some of the best places to stay in Chicago for tourists and first-timers. These areas offer plenty of things to do and see for tourists!

Overall, The Loop is the best area to stay in Chicago for the first time due to its central location, easy access to transportation and iconic attractions like Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and shopping on the Magnificent Mile. 

I hope you enjoyed my article and find it both informative and helpful. If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality content.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

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