River North is a neighborhood within Chicago’s Near North Side. It is bounded to the west and south by the Chicago River, by Michigan Avenue (the Magnificent Mile) to the east, and Chicago Avenue to the north. Some of the city’s most vibrant nightlife can be found here, home to luxe dining options and posh nightclubs. It also houses the sprawling Merchandise Mart, opened in 1930.
The neighborhood wouldn’t get its name, however, until 1974, when real estate developer Albert Freidman worked to buy, restore, and build commercial property in the area. Previously a shabby urban area, Friedman recruited photographers, art galleries, and ad agencies to rent low-cost space and gentrify the area. Today, the River North Gallery District has the largest concentration of art galleries in the United States outside of Manhattan. Along with art galleries, it is home to a sprawling scene of taverns, dance clubs, rooftop bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
River North Restaurants
Dubbed by Thrillist as one of the “sexiest neighborhoods in America,” the food scene in River North doesn’t disappoint. You can literally find whatever you’ve got a hankering for: Peruvian, Mexican, Asian fusion, steakhouse, and classic Chicago pizza. Looking for something a little more niche? There’s Bohemian House, a unique Czech restaurant, classic midwestern at Farmhouse, and Mexico City–inspired cuisine at Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill. Also in the nabe is Gene & Georgetti, an iconic Chicago steakhouse circa 1941.
River North Hotels
When it comes to a place to crash, River North has it all. There’s an array of trendy boutique hotels at moderate rates, most with swanky rooftop bars, as well as the usual chains. Whatever your budget, you can find it here—from Best Western to the five-star Langham Hotel along the Chicago River.
River North Tours & Attractions
If you’re trying to get your bearings, any city bus tour—like Big Bus or Gray Line tours—will swing through River North. You can also hop aboard a boat for one of the cruise tours along the Chicago River. Grab a Shoreline Water Taxi, Take a Wendella Tour, Odyssey Chicago River Tour, or Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. Of course, there are an array of foodie and pub tours through the delicious nabe.
On a rainy day, there are an assortment of museums in the area, including the Museum of Broadcast Communications, National Public Housing Museum, and The Richard H. Driehaus Museum. You’ll also want to stop by the Merchandise Mart. Constructed in the 1920s by Marshall Field & Co., it is the world’s largest commercial building. It stretches two full city blocks and rises 25 stories high. It houses an array of furniture showrooms, retail shops, and hosts an array of trade shows each year.
River North Architecture
River North’s architecture illuminates its status as a neighborhood of transformation, going from a center of manufacturing to a mixed-use neighborhood for residences, entertainment venues, and office towers. You can also walk the Cathedral District, home to many residential skyscrapers surrounding St. James Cathedral and Holy Name Cathedral.
River North Shopping
The largest enclave of “shopping” here is the River North Gallery District. Bounded by Wells, Chicago, Orleans, and Huron Streets, you will find an array of mixed-media art galleries highlighting some of the area’s most cutting-edge contemporary artists. If you want to get an overview of the offerings, take a free gallery tour, hosted by Chicago Gallery News every Saturday morning.
River North Theater
Leave Broadway to the loop, but there is plenty of live entertainment in River North. Enjoy a concert at the iconic House of Blues, boasting one of the city’s best sound systems. You can also enjoy an array of headliners at The Comedy Bar, housed on the third floor about Gino’s East.
River North Parks
The River North district is lucky to be bounded by the Chicago River on the west and south sides, so there are lots of scenic parks. You can enjoy riverfront green space at Ward (A. Montgomery) Park on the west side, and there are several dog parks for pet owners throughout the neighborhood. You can also cross the river to the south to enjoy the Chicago Riverwalk, which hosts an array of outdoor dining, entertainment, and events throughout warmer months.
River North Festivals and Events
Ward Park hosts the yearly Taste of River North food festival each July, where you can sample some of the nabe’s best eats in a weekend-long event.