First settled by Europeans in 1832, this North Shore community straddles the North Branch of the Chicago River.
That watercourse flows through a string of Cook County forest preserves, and can be accessed by hikers and bikers along the 20-mile North Branch Trail.
Something handy about Niles is the free public bus service, connecting local shopping centers and public amenities seven days a week.
The Niles Park District also runs some great public attractions, like a water park, mini golf course and batting cages.
The Leaning Tower of Niles is a faithful half-scale reproduction of that famous Medieval tower in Pisa, while the public Tam O’Shanter Golf Course in Niles was a big stop on the PGA Tour in the 50s and 60s and was the site for the country’s first live televised golf broadcast.
1. Leaning Tower of Niles
This Chicago Area landmark came about in the 1930s when the industrialist Robert Ilg built a recreation park for the employees of the Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company.
The mainstay of the complex was a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and like the Italian original serves as a campanile, with a ring of five bells, three of which are thought to be historic and were cast in Italy.
The Leaning Tower of Niles also has a practical purpose as a water store for the outdoor pools at the former recreation park.
Close to the North Branch of the Chicago River, the tower has stores like Target and Costco, and a choice of restaurants all close by. At the foot of the structure is a small amphitheater, framed by trees and hedges.
2. North Branch Trail
Niles is on a Class I bicycle trail, snaking through the North Shore from Gompers Park, Chicago, in the south as far as Glencoe and the Chicago Botanic Garden in the north.
The North Branch Trail is roughly 20 miles long and traces the namesake river. In Niles the North Branch of the Chicago River bends through a string of public spaces and Cook County forest preserves, like Miami Woods, Bunker Hill and Tam O’Shanter Golf Course.
Whether you want to continue northeast or southeast, the green corridor continues for miles through a chain of beautiful preserves, composed of wetlands, wildflower-rich prairie, open savanna and flatwood forest, a habitat only found in small parcels in the Chicago area.
3. King Spa & Sauna
A Jjimjilbang, or Korean-style bathhouse, may not be the kind of thing you expect to find in the Chicago suburbs, but this attraction has become a big hit.
With a mix of gender segregated and unisex areas, these facilities combine relaxation, health and beauty treatments, entertainment and overnight lodgings.
King Spa & Sauna is the largest Jjimjilbang in the United States, and offers a variety of healing sauna rooms (sudatorium, oxygen, ionized, charcoal, ocher, ice and more), as well as pools, cosy lounges and sleeping areas, a food court and a movie theater.
If you’re new to the concept, it’s a good idea to check out the rules and etiquette online before jumping straight in, as full nudity is expected in the gender segregated areas.
4. Oasis Waterpark & Fun Center
One of several great amenities operated by the Niles Park District, this outdoor pool complex is open all through the summer up to Labor Day weekend.
The main feature at Oasis Waterpark is the large zero-depth pool, and this is combined with a children’s splash pad, three slides, diving boards and concessions.
The splash pad has numerous sprinklers and sprays, as well as slides especially for little ones.
Rates and season pool passes are a little higher for non-residents, though still affordable, and children’s pool parties are available throughout the season during normal hours.
5. Bunker Hill
There’s astonishing natural diversity packed into this riverside preserve in the very southeast of Niles.
Bunker Hills is made up of floodplain forest, prairie, savanna, oaks woodland and rare flatwood forest, all teeming with wildlife.
Unsurprisingly this is a beloved place to take a picnic, and you can head down to the slow-moving river to watch waterbirds like herons, geese and ducks.
In spring you may catch sight of a woodcock performing a mating dance at dusk, while in the summer song sparrows and swallowtail butterflies are often sighted.
Throughout this season the wealth of wildflowers and blooming grasses is exceptional, and blazing star, fringed gentian, prairie sundrops, mountain blue-eyed grass and big bluestem are a few of the highlights.
6. Pioneer Park
One of those parks that seems almost too good for a public facility, Pioneer Park is a popular family attraction in the summer.
This is down to a challenging but fun 18-hole mini golf course, with all kinds of curious obstacles and neat landscaping.
There’s also a set of batting cages, offering six baseball machines, two fast pitch softball machines and two soft pitch softball machines.
These are accompanied by a concession stand, for bites and soft drinks. Fridays are family fun nights, when for $10 you can get a round of mini golf, a batting cage token and a hot dog, drink and chips.
7. Une Année Brewery
This independent craft brewery was founded on the near west side of Chicago in 2013, and in 2017 relocated to a light industrial building at 6343 W Gross Point Rd in Niles.
Comprising a team of talented brewers, Une Année Brewery initially specialized in Belgian-style beer, but has branched out since then and has made a name for its lineup of sours.
With weekly and bi-weekly releases, there’s always something new at the taproom, which also has a kitchen known for its BBQ, from ribs to pulled pork sandwiches, brisket, burnt ends and pickle-brined wings. Keep an eye on the calendar for details of live music and trivia nights.
8. Niles Historical and Cultural Center
The Niles Historical Society runs this excellent museum housed in a beautiful old building that was once in unincorporated East Maine.
Constructed for the Cook County Highway Police in the early 1920s, this brick building is easily recognised by its rooftop balustrade and loggia.
The museum is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and is packed with interesting objects recalling domestic life in Niles, important Niles residents and sports in the village.
You can find out about local institutions like the old Mill Run Theater and St. Hedwig’s Industrial School for Girls and Boys and check out a detailed timeline for the village.
9. Tam O’Shanter Golf Course
Run by the local park district, this highly-regarded nine-hole course on the North Branch River in Niles has a fascinating story to tell.
Tam O’Shanter Golf Course was previously owned by the enterprising golf promoter, George S. May (1890-1962).
He had the vision of turning golf into a mass spectator sport, and in the mid-20th century the course was the setting for several prominent tournaments like the World Championship of Golf and the PGA Tour: All American Open.
Golf was shown live on American television for the first time in 1953, when two million viewers tuned into the World Championship of Golf broadcast from this very place. The course was purchased by the Niles Park District in the 70s and was last renovated in 2018.
10. AMC Niles 12
The Golf Mill Shopping Center in Niles has arguably seen better days, but when we wrote this article still had branches of JC Penney, Target, Claire’s Bath & Body Works and several local businesses.
A good reason to come is for the AMC theater, which is always spotless and has large and comfy stadium seating, state-of-the-art sound and of course the butter popcorn that everyone loves.
Try to catch a feature at the IMAX or RealD 3D screen for an eye-popping movie experience. Discounts apply for students, seniors and military, as well as for AMC members on Tuesdays.
11. Grennan Heights Park
On a large rectangular plot, this community park can be found in the quiet neighborhood of the same name.
Something that sets Grennan Heights Park apart is the series of free outdoor Movies in the Park on summer evenings, when you can enjoy a family movie from a picnic blanket or lawn chair.
Among the amenities at this dog-friendly park are basketball courts, lighted tennis courts, a soccer field, softball/baseball fields and an up-to-date children’s playground.
The latter is on the north side, up against the rec center, housing an indoor basketball court, open gym and preschool classroom, and offering a host of programs.
12. Miami Woods
The North Branch Trail will lead you through this peaceful Cook County Forest Preserve, and it’s well worth making a pause to admire the nature on the floodplain.
Since the 1970s a lot of work has gone into restoring the native prairie and woodland here, and you can see the fruits of this labor in the magnificent display of wildflowers in spring and summer.
Coneflowers, bergamot, blazing stars, rattlesnake-master and St. John’s wort are just a few of the species that burst into flower at this time.
Miami Woods is naturally a birding hotspot, where you may catch sight of common yellowthroats, savanna sparrows and several migratory warbler species. There’s also a picnic grove, set between the North Branch Trail and the preserve’s access road.
13. Play and Spin
You’ve got a classic family amusement center right here in Niles, offering a range of activities under one roof.
The main attraction at Play and Spin has to be the 6,000-square-foot indoor go-kart track, where you can race against seven opponents in eco-friendly electric karts.
Also on offer is laser tag in a fog-filled, maze-like arena, as well as a video arcade, rock-climbing wall, VR games, a sports bar and restaurant serving comfort food like pizza, wings and burgers.
Play and Spin has a host of specials, including discounts for multiple kart races or laser tag games.
14. Sky High Sports
There’s even more inspiration for family activities at this indoor trampoline park in Niles. At the heart of Sky High Sports is a large freestyle court, with wall-to-wall trampolines for a dynamic workout for grownups, and endless fun for kids.
Other areas include a bouncy dodgeball court, a super size foam pit filled with soft cubes, sky high hoops, where even kids can make slam dunks, and the kids court, offering a safe place for the smallest jumpers to enjoy themselves.
15. IceLand Skate
The Niles Park District operates this skating facility, with an indoor and outdoor rink.
IceLand provides a range of programs and private tuition for “learn to skate”, competitive hockey, figure skating, as well a house league for youngsters of all ages.
And if you simply want to have some fun on the ice there are regular public skating slots and stick & puck for casual hockey games. You can also rent the whole indoor rink for birthday parties (three hours).