CHICAGO — Headed down an academic track, Hillary Marzec took a Chicago architectural one instead.
With a bachelor's in French and master's in comparative literature — both from the University of Illinois — the Lincoln Square resident was working on a doctorate in the latter when she decided that life wasn't for her.
Instead, she channeled her language skills and background as a Chicago boat tour guide into starting her own city touring business: Inside Chicago Walking Tours.
The two-year-old enterprise, which just added a one-hour "power tour" of Millennium Park, focuses on the key buildings Downtown and in River North and the West Loop. It offers several tours, most of which are two hours and cost $25 for those 11 and older; $20 for kids 6-10 and seniors over 65; and free for children 5 and under.
"I love teaching; it's my gift," Marzec said. "I teach about how learning about architecture, bit by bit, on a tour like mine is akin to learning a language: You start with a few words, which build into phrases, then into sentences, and eventually you're listening to the architectural conversation happening around you without even realizing it."
Some of the tours include Secrets of the Loop; dazzling interiors of the Loop; historical masterpieces of the Loop; and how Chicago rebuilt itself after the Great Fire of 1871.
"My company's tours are thematic, using the bits of architecture, history and stories that I've researched and discovered on my own to tell some different aspect of the story of Chicago," she said.
Marzec has received accolades from Trip Advisor, which ranks her business as the eighth best of 156 walking tours in Chicago. Of 489 reviews, 473 have rated Inside Chicago Walking Tours "excellent," another 15 claim it's "very good," while only one has it "poor."
Marzec said she mixes in comedy — she also has a background as an improv actor — and prides herself on making friends along the way.
"I walk into buildings and often get a great big hug from the security guards, and they tell me that other tour guides kind of treat them like inanimate fixtures of the building," Marzec said. "And I think that's an unintended part of the charm of my tours: People feel very at ease, the vibe is friendly and engaging, and I show them that I respect and am respected and liked by the staff of everywhere I visit."
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