PHOTO: Roman Arkhipov | Unsplash

Fodor's Expert Review The Willows Hotel Chicago

555 W. Surf St., Chicago, Illinois, 60657, USA See on Map

This 1920s inn is so drenched in French Provincial style, once you're in the lobby and have checked into your room, you'll forget you're in the bustling Lake View neighborhood, just steps from shops, restaurants and movie theaters. Tucked onto a tree-lined street just three blocks from the lake, proximity to the L and other public-transit lines make it a top choice. A top-to-bottom makeover in 2014 included new furniture, paint, carpeting, and linens for the guest rooms. Complimentary Continental breakfast and afternoon cookies make this 51-room boutique hotel an inviting alternative to local B&Bs that are smaller in size.

You might want to bring the car as parking is just $25 a night and, if you plan to spend time outside of the Loop and downtown areas, and don't mind circling the block for a parking space, will save you money in the end.

Deluxe Room with Two Queen Beds
Photo: Deluxe Room with Two Queen Beds


With 51 rooms, this isn't a six-room home disguised as a B&B, perfect for guests who don't want the pressure of talking to every single person they meet. It's totally possible to keep to yourself during your stay. Traveling as a family or on an anniversary trip? There are four suites. An honor bar in each room cures midnight munchies. A sitting area with a comfy armchair contributes to the home-away-from-home vibe.

YOU SHOULD KNOW While this is a beautiful historic property, several guests have complained about long-overdue renovations and the walls are thin, a problem if you are a light sleeper.

Deluxe Room with Two Queen Beds
Photo: Deluxe Room with Two Queen Beds


Bathrobes help stave off chilly nights come winter. If you're more of a bath than a shower person, you'll love that most every room features a tub.


Ducking under the black awning, the small lobby is just beyond, with hot coffee and tea out 24/7. Come 4 p.m., cookies are laid out, too.


While there's no fitness center on site, guests get free passes to Fitness 19, a full work-out facility also offering classes in Zumba, pilates and yoga next door to the hotel.


Getting Around

Don't balk at the location. If you want a real neighborhood feel, this is your place. Lake View is an area brimming with hip restaurants and is close to the lakefront as well as Lincoln Park Zoo. Downtown is a quick 30-minute ride on the L or 151 bus. Uber and taxi drivers easily broaden your footprint, too, while at the hotel.


Stan's Donuts (12-minute walk) is where all the cool kids grab breakfast or a late-night snack. Crisp is a fun little Korean spot around the corner (3-minute walk) that's super-casual and quick, serving Korean-style fried chicken and burritos, as well as the popular "Buddha bowls."


For a taste of Chicago's blues music, head to Kingston Mines (13-minute walk), on the radar of nearly every world-class blues musician and in business since 1968. Chicago is in the midst of a beer boom and this is certainly true at HopCat (8-minute walk), which has its "Local 30" line-up of locally made brews.


Sure, it's in need of an update but the low rate at this hotel reflects what you get. And it's refreshing to stay outside of the downtown corridor, close to public transit and in this emerging North Side neighborhood where eclectic, casual dining is within a 15-minute block of the hotel. Plus, the included breakfast means mornings can be lazy and not rushed.


Residential Area


Phones: 773-528–8400;800-787–3108

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