A Guide to Chicago

The old Chicago of belching smokestacks and brawling politicians has given way to world-class museums, architecture, restaurants, hotels and theatres, but it still has the character that earned it the title as the most American of American cities.

By the numbers

Population: 2,695,600 (city); 10,001,000 (metropolitan)

Elevation: 578 feet / 176 meters

Time Zone: GMT -6 ( GMT -5 daylight saving time ); Central Standard Time ( CST )

Weather

Average Annual Precipitation: 36 inches / 91 centimetres

Average Annual Snowfall: 37 inches / 94 centimetres

Average January Temperature: 21°F / -6°C

Average July Temperature: 73°F / 23°C

Did you know?

Chicago’s Windy City nickname has nothing to do with weather. It was coined in 1893 by Charles Dana, the editor of the New York Sun newspaper, in commenting on Chicago’s politicians.

The claim that Catherine O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lantern in the family barn caused the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 is a myth. Chicago Republican reporter Michael Ahern admitting to fabricating that tale in 1893. Mrs O’Leary, who passed in 1895, spent the rest of her life thinking the fire was her fault.

District Guide

Chicago, “The City that Works”, “The City of Big Shoulders,” “The Second City,” and most famously “The Windy City” is one of the United State’s most culturally significant capitals. It contains several of the United States’ tallest buildings and remains a fascinating window to 20th-century American industry and grandeur. With endlessly clattering elevated trains and street musicians playing around almost every corner, the city is a bustling metropolis of art, culture, music and cuisine.

Blooming pink flowers and spring time in the city

At first glance, Chicago can be overwhelming. Also known as “The City of Neighbourhoods,” Chicago comprises more than 75 official neighbourhoods. Each neighbourhood is distinguished by its own distinct quality and character.

The Loop
The Loop takes its name from the elevated “El” train that circles around the city’s central core. While the downtown area stretches beyond these boundaries, the real pulse of the city is found in this historic district. The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), the United States’ second-tallest building, is here, as is the Chicago Board of Trade, one of the biggest options and futures trading centres in the world. City government offices are also located in the area, as well as the home offices of several global corporations.

When it’s time for the city that works to relax, the Loop does not disappoint. The city’s magnificent Harold Washington Library, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Chicago Cultural Center are all here.

Thanks to a thriving theatre district, the Loop is growing more and more popular with nearby office workers. The restored Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre hosts lavish Broadway productions while the iconic Chicago Theatre has several musical concerts. The landmark Auditorium Theatre, considered by some the most beautiful theatre in America, hosts musicals, concerts and other performances in the South Loop area. The renowned Goodman Theatre also offers several performances throughout the year.

While technically just outside the Loop’s borders, Grant Park is still closely tied to the neighbourhood. Hugging Lake Michigan, this park is often referred to as “Chicago’s Front Yard.” The majestic Buckingham Fountain is here, as is a plush rose garden and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s outdoor home -the Petrillo Music Shell. The park is immense, with the capacity to hold up to three million people, tested annually by the Taste of Chicago festival. Grant Park also plays host to many free music and arts festivals during the summer, including Jazz Fest, Blues Fest and Gospel Fest.

Near North Side
Just to the north of the Loop is Chicago’s Near North Side neighbourhood, a collection of several other smaller districts.

The city’s “Magnificent Mile” (“Mag Mile” to locals) is one of the Near North’s most famous boulevards. Stretching along Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street, this shopper’s paradise is home to high-end chains like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s at the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops, as well as lavish boutiques scattered throughout the area along with many fine hotels and restaurants.

The John Hancock Center is just down the block from the links to the city’s past such as the Water Tower and the Chicago Water Works, two of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Water Tower Place, an upscale indoor shopping mall, offers a wide variety of shopping, dining and entertainment options. You can enjoy RL Restaurant, Ralph Lauren’s hip eatery next to one of the brand’s largest retail locations. Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel and Saks Fifth Avenue can be found a few blocks south on Michigan Avenue.

Of course, all these upscale shops need equally upscale shoppers, most of whom live in Streeterville or the adjoining Gold Coast neighbourhood. Originally named after John Jacob Aster, the area’s present moniker describes the area’s opulence. The neighbourhood is the nation’s second wealthiest, surpassed only by New York City’s Central Park East.

Just north of the Chicago River and a few blocks west of the Magnificent Mile is River North, home to an eclectic mix of swanky galleries, trendy cafes and theme restaurants like the Hard Rock Café. The area has the second densest concentration of art galleries in the US, only surpassed by Manhattan.

South Loop
In stark contrast to the opulent skyscrapers and contemporary nightlife, the South Loop offers a quaint, Old World charm, neighbourhood bars and small restaurants. Once home to one of the largest publishing centres in the Midwest, the warehouses left behind have been renovated and taken over by young, affluent professionals in walking distance to their jobs in the Loop. The area’s focal point, Dearborn Station, is a stylistic beacon for the neighbourhood, the former rail transportation hub’s façade lavishly restored to its former glory.

Beyond Downtown
Lake Shore Drive, one of the city’s major north-south arteries, runs along the picturesque lakefront. While the Drive will take you to many of the city’s attractions, this boulevard is a destination in itself. The lake view, the bold skyline, and even the street’s own tree-lined medians offer some of the most breathtaking views of the city.

Lincoln Park
Once you pass North Avenue, you enter Lincoln Park, home to some of the city’s most beloved attractions. Tree-lined Fullerton Avenue, with its brownstones converted into condos, gives you a feel for the neighbourhood’s character. Lincoln Park also surrounds the DePaul University neighbourhood. A variety of bars, dance spots and inexpensive restaurants cater to the college and just-out-of-college crowd.

The park from which the neighbourhood takes its name is one of the city’s largest and most pastoral. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also drew up the blueprints for New York’s Central Park, Lincoln Park encompasses more than 1,000 acres. It includes the famous Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a driving range, dozens of recreational fields, and several biking and running paths linked to lakefront beaches. You’ll find many pickup games of soccer and ultimate Frisbee here on warm summer days.

Lakeview
Heading further north brings you to Lakeview, a neighbourhood that serves as a popular nightlife center for both the straight and gay communities. These groups tend to party separately, with the standout exception being Berlin, a late-night dance club where hipsters of every orientation party together.

Halsted Street between Belmont Avenue and Irving Park Road serves as the headquarters for gay nightlife. The area is not hard to find; just look for the gigantic rainbow-coloured pylons that line the streets. For dancing, head to Roscoe’s Tavern. Don’t miss the Center on Halsted, the city’s premier destination for LGBT cultural and recreational activities, and a wide array of social events throughout the year.

If partying is not your thing, don’t despair. The area also contains its fair share of restaurants, including Angelina Ristorante and Yoshi’s Cafe.

For nightlife without a specific LGBT focus, head a few blocks west to Wrigleyville, a bar neighbourhood that gets its name from the nearby Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. The district’s numerous taverns here make for excellent bar-hopping, so stop in the Cubby Bear or The Metro, a bar that features live music and up-and-coming rock bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, who played here before they made it big and returned for their final two shows.

Diners can select from a variety of tastes in Wrigleyville, including Asian, Cajun, Italian and Mexican. Those who prefer to stick with the bar scene can eat well at Sluggers.

Uptown
For more live music, head farther north, where you’ll find the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera and the prohibition-era jazz bar, Green Mill. Some of the best music in the city, be it jazz, rock, and everything in between can be found here.

Wicker Park/Bucktown
A hot spot for artists and partiers is the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. Hang out at bars like the Blue Note and Holiday Club or restaurants like Northside Bar & Grill and Beat Kitchen to catch up with the hip crowd and find out about what’s new in the city’s underground scene.

The South Side
While Chicago’s South Side has traditionally been a bit rougher and tumble than the rest of the city, there are tons of attractions that North Siders often forget about.

As you cruise south on Lake Shore Drive, admire the Museum Campus where the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum converge. If you have the time, you could easily spend a full day in each museum, but it’s also well worth a stop just to enjoy the lake views and watch sailboats go by.

Just south, you pass Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. After driving past this monumental stadium, you come to sprawling McCormick Place, one of the largest convention centres in North America and home to numerous annual trade shows, like the Chicago Boat, RV & Outdoors Show, and the Chicago Auto Show. The space includes more than 2.2 million square feet of exhibition space, Chicago’s largest ballroom and the Arie Crown Theatre.

US Celluar Field, formally known as Comiskey Park (though not the same location as the previous Comiskey Park), home of the Chicago White Sox, lies just west of Lake Shore Drive. This modern stadium features an exploding scoreboard that sets off fireworks along with a Sony Jumbo Screen.

Further south, the charming Hyde Park neighbourhood has retained its quaint, old-world charm. Home to the world-famous University of Chicago, the area boasts interesting restaurants like Salonica and Medici, great used book stores like O’Gara & Wilson’s (the oldest used bookstore in the country), and the quaint 57th Street Art Fair. Hyde Park is also home to the gigantic 350,000 square-foot Museum of Science and Industry. This monument to 20th-century technology houses a replica coal mine, a German U-Boat and a Zephyr train and the Smart House: Green & Wired, a futuristic homemade with eco-friendly materials.

After visiting the museum, enjoy a counterpoint to the world’s industrial history with a leisurely stroll through Jackson Park. Like its sister to the North, Lincoln Park, Jackson Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. It features a Japanese garden, a bird sanctuary, a reflection pond and a golf course.

Chicago is a destination that has so much to offer visitors. Come and explore the diversity and variety that is Chicago.

Dining and drinking

Chicago is a marvellous mix of awe-inspiring architecture and stunning lake views, blues houses and jazz clubs, celebrity (Michael Jordan) and infamy (Al Capone). It is home to the Willis Tower, architectural gems by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, and “da Bears.” With this kind of diversity, it’s not surprising that the city’s culinary offerings are world class.

Chicago Pizza filled with cheese.

There is something to suit everyone’s appetite, from the classic Chicago-style pizza at Pizzeria Uno to mouthwatering hot dogs to pound-heavy T-bones. Fine dining establishments are top-of-the-line and plentiful. Many excellent ethnic eateries also flourish here, whether you’re in the mood for generous Italian, hands-only Ethiopian, Indian curries or spicy Thai.

Get to know the many charming (and tasty) areas of Chicago:

The Loop
This is the heart of downtown, with its elevated commuter tracks, State Street shopping and architectural landmarks. For a taste of classic German food in a classic Chicago setting, you can’t go wrong with the Berghoff. The exquisite Everest is a perfect place for big (and big bucks) occasions. And Cajun/Creole-lovers can try The Original Heaven on Seven for the Chicago version of heaven.

While many night-crawlers will want to venture outside the Loop to truly paint the town red, some bars provides a good setting for an after-dinner drink. A favorite is the legendary Miller’s Pub.

Magnificent Mile
After shopping for hours in Michigan Avenue’s chic shops, you’re sure to feel those taste buds kick in. If you’re dressed in the designer duds you just bought, dine at the luxurious Spiaggia (its sister Café is just as popular and a bit less expensive.) The Signature Room on the 95th Floor in the John Hancock Tower offers a meal with a breathtaking view.

Stepping just off the strip will lead you to a range of memorable dining options. Allen’s Cafe features seasonal menus in an elegant setting. A popular specialty restaurant just off the Magnificent Mile is Big Bowl, known for its Pan-Asian food.

But what the Magnificent Mile has in high-class shopping and fashionable restaurants, it lacks in nightlife. For a true bar-hopping experience, head to the nearby Rush Street bars in the Gold Coast. One Mag Mile bar to try is the Chicago classic, the Billy Goat Tavern. This subterranean institution features a full bar that will lift your spirits even if you are not in the mood for its signature “cheezeborgers.”

River North/Gold Coast
The areas surrounding the Magnificent Mile are home to many innovative restaurants. The River North area, a few blocks west of Michigan Avenue, features several trendy and popular restaurants. Frontera Grill puts a new twist on Mexican fare, and Coco Pazzo offers Tuscan delights. The area is also home to many of the city’s theme restaurants like The Original Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s and Harry Caray’s.

The more affluent residents of the Gold Coast, a posh area north of Michigan Avenue, would probably frown at the theme restaurants. They prefer high class, as evidenced by their eateries. Steak lovers should visit Chicago Chop House or the celebrity-favourite, Gibson’s. Le Colonial on Rush Street features Vietnamese food with a French influence.

You will also find a popular area for nightlife in the Gold Coast. Young guns on the prowl can go to meat/meet market bars like Butch McGuire’s or Mother’s

Lincoln Park, Lakeview/Wrigleyville
This is a fun, vibrant community, famous for its boutiques, restaurants and bars. With so many great options, it is impossible to list them all. For starters, you might try sushi at Sai Café or a taste of Spain at Emilio’s Tapas. Theatre-goers frequently start their evenings with the Italian fare at Vinci.

North of Diversey Avenue, you will find yourself in the Lakeview neighbourhood with its plentiful restaurants. Near Wrigley Field, the original Mia Francesca draws crowds with their classic Italian fare.

If you are in the mood to see live music after dinner, see who’s playing at the Elbo Room, which features a mix of jazz, rock and spoken word concerts. Another area institution is Metro Smart Bar, where several local bands like the Smashing Pumpkins started their careers before making it big.

Bars line the streets in these areas. Popular destinations include the Cubby Bear and Murphy’s Bleachers in Wrigleyville. In Lincoln Park, Kincade’s, Durkin’s and Glascott’s are among the many favorites. Many in the gay and lesbian community head to places like Roscoe’s Tavern for their nights on the town.

Hyde Park
This community is known for its diversity, the University of Chicago campus and the renowned Museum of Science and Industry. The culinary offerings are limited, but it offers some gems. Mellow Yellow is a charming local spot with award-winning chili and rotisserie-chicken. The Sit Down Cafe and Sushi Bar is one-of-a-kind, offering creative sushi rolls alongside mouth-watering pizzas and sandwiches. And Salonica boasts the area’s best brunch in a comfortable diner atmosphere with hints of Mediterranean flavour.

Chinatown
It may not be one of the largest Chinatowns you’ll visit, but its restaurants hold their own with many authentic offerings. One perennial favorite is Evergreen. For weekend dim sum, Phoenix is your best bet.

Wicker Park/Bucktown
Le Bouchon serves up creative French bistro fare. Located just outside the Wicker Park area, Mirai, serves sushi in a trendy metal-and-glass club setting. The funky Violet Hour serves up high-end versions of American classics. For a supper club feel and killer martinis, try Club Lucky.

Holiday Club and The Note are just a few of the neighbourhood favorites.

Entertainment

Great food isn’t the only thing this city has to offer. From its world-class theatres and museums to its ever-growing music and arts scene, Chicago has staked its claim as the Midwest’s entertainment capital.

Two friends, standing on bridge, laughing

Art & Architecture
You cannot talk about art in Chicago without mentioning its architecture, from the modern behemoth that is the Willis Tower to the old Water Tower. Several buildings showcase the Modernist genius of Ludwig Miesvan der Rohe, including the IBM building, the Ralph Metcalf Federal Building, numerous structures on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, and twin “glass house” apartment buildings on Lake Shore Drive. World-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed many of the beautiful buildings that make the city and surrounding suburbs unique; learn more about him with a visit to his Home and Studio in Oak Park. While in the suburb, be sure to see Unity Temple, the Unitarian Church that Wright designed.

To gain a thorough understanding of the buildings that surround you, visit the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which offers an array of tours by foot, bus and even water. The River Cruise is highly recommended. Another great place to visit is the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design, which offers tours, unique exhibits and a wonderful book and gift store.

Art lovers will find plenty of options in this city. An obvious choice is the world-class Art Institute of Chicago, which houses a renowned Impressionist collection. The Museum of Contemporary Art and the Terra Museum of American Art are other good bets.

For a more hands-on arts experience, you will not want to miss the summer’s 57th Street Art Fair in Hyde Park on the South Side. It is a delightful way to view and purchase original works by local artists. Finally, don’t miss dipping in and out of Chicago’s myriad galleries. River North is a good place to start. You’ll find Carl Hammer Gallery, Fassbender Gallery, and the Illinois Institute of Art all within a few short blocks of each other.

Sports
Chicago is a city that’s high on sports-fuelled adrenaline rush. The city is one of the very few to be home to teams that represent all five major American professional team sports i.e. basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and football. Wrigley Field is the home of the Chicago Cubs while the White Sox play at the Guaranteed Rate Field. Other professional teams include the Chicago Bulls basketball team, the Chicago Bears football team at the Soldier Field, the Chicago Blackhawks ice hockey team, and the Chicago Fire and Red Stars soccer teams. There are a few minor league teams as well.

Film
The Chicago International Film Festival is one of the country’s oldest competitive film festivals—a must-see if you happen to be here in the fall. The Navy Pier Imax Theatre is a nice alternative to the standard movie house fare, offering an exciting, panoramic 3-D viewing experience. The Gene Siskel Film Center at the Art Institute of Chicago presents world cinema in a non-commercial context, and hosts a monthly film series. For classic movies in a classic theatre, visit the distinctive Music Box Theatre, which shows old films at weekend matinees and foreign and art films in the evening.

Music
Chicago is a blues town, with many great blues houses to choose from. Buddy Guy’s Legends, owned by the legendary bluesman himself, is sure to please. Kingston Mines is one of the oldest venues in the city, but still holds its own with low admission prices. For great jazz, try the Green Mill, a former Al Capone-owned speakeasy where the best and hottest still play. Another good bet is the Jazz Showcase, which brings big-name acts into town. Grant Park offers Blues and Jazz festivals each year.

Alternatives to the blues and jazz are provided by the Cubby Bear, which features rock-n-roll acts. For more live rock, don’t miss the Metro, the Riviera or the Aragon Ballroom. If you’ve ever wanted to be the performer on stage, then head to the Old Town School of Folk Music, which holds classes as well as public performances.

For the more classical side of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera are world renowned.

Nightlife
While Chicago’s nightlife scene is dominated by its many fantastic live music venues and jazz clubs, this city offers a wide array of alternative nighttime venues that are no less enticing. Smart Bar tops the city’s list of top-notch dance clubs, hosting live performances by some of the best DJs sourced from the clubs of Europe alongside local legends. The Underground Chicago, Studio Paris, The Mid, Berlin, and Sound-Bar are other acclaimed venues revered as destinations for the hottest DJs, dance parties and trendy confines. The Beauty Bar represents Chicago’s more eccentric side. Equal parts salon and nightclub, this bar offers manicures, martinis, and dancing. Open until 4a, the East Room is a low-key alternative for after parties and pre-game drinks, while the Apartment is another quirky nightspot that mimics loft parties.

Museums & Galleries
Chicago has a diverse offering of museums. Depending on your length of stay, you will want to take in several of these gems. The Art Institute of Chicago features French Impressionists, an Oriental Collection and great special exhibits. The Adler Planetarium offers a wide array of hands-on exhibits and information about the universe. The Field Museum of Natural History features Sue, the world’s most complete remains of a T-Rex. The Shedd Aquarium, the world’s largest indoor aquarium and oceanarium, showcases beluga whales. The mammoth Museum of Science and Industry includes a coal mine, a German U-Boat and a Zephyr, and an old-style steam train, all under one roof.

Theatre
Increasingly, the Loop has become the place to be for large-scale theatre. The Cadillac Palace Theatre joins the ranks of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre, the Auditorium Theatre and the Chicago Theatre for Broadway-style shows. The Goodman Theatre has relocated from the Art Institute to a North Loop site. Some good off-Loop theatre options include the Steppenwolf Theater, the Victory Gardens Theater and the Royal George Theatre Center.

Comedy
Second City has launched many a comedian’s career, especially those of Saturday Night Live fame. Seating is cabaret-style, the drinks are good, and the improv ensemble shows are top-notch hilarious. Zanies is a Chicago standout for stand-up comedy, with occasional appearances by established stars. For unique, off-the-wall productions, try the Neo-Futurarium.

Shopping
Shopping in Chicago spans the spectrum from small, locally owned boutiques to big-name brand and luxury designer wares. The Magnificent Mile and Streeterville are anchored by department stores like Bloomingdales, Sacs Fifth Avenue and Macy’s while big-name brand stores are scattered in between. Head to Wicker Park and Bucktown for a wholesome mix of designer boutiques and thrift stores that together make for a veritable haven for the fashion-forward shopper. For high-end brands at bargain prices, the Fashion Outlets of Chicago boast a varied selection of outlet stores. Oak Street is another popular locale for high-end brands while the Water Tower Place, State Street and Woodfield mall other fine alternatives. For original artwork and one-of-a-kind jewelry, check out the art galleries that throng River North and shop at Andersonville’s flea markets, locally-owned boutiques and the Andersonville Galleria for arts, crafts and other nifty merchandise. For sporting goods and merchandise, Wrigleyville is your best bet.

Outdoor Activities
Those who enjoy the outdoors should spend some time soaking up the sunshine at Chicago’s beaches. There are also several hiking trails to explore such as the Lakefront Trail, Des Plaines River Trail, and the Great Western Trail.

Recommended Tours

Chicago is a city filled with cultural attractions; everything from the stunning architecture beginning at the top of Michigan Avenue, also known as the “magnificent mile” to the landscaped environs of Grant Park which hosts a food lovers paradise known as Taste of Chicago. Chicago is a city of contrasts, and despite it’s appearance as an concrete mecca of art and architecture, the city has more than 7300 acres of parkland and over 550 different parks dispersed around town.

Architecture tour boat, Chicago river

Magnificent Mile
Starting at the top of the avenue at Oak Street, the visitor can use the famous Drake Hotel as a point of reference. Going down the “magnificent mile” is an architectural paradise, after all, it was here in Chicago that the first skyscraper was built. The first imposing building at Chestnut Street is the John Hancock Center, here you can voyage 94 stories up to the observation deck and obtain the most amazing views of Chicago and on clear days you can even see Indiana. There is also a open-air skywalk where the visitor can understand more directly why Chicago is called the “Windy City”. Further along, you will pass the Old Water Tower, one of the only buildings that survived the fires of 1871, it is made of limestone and has an interesting castle design. Across the street is the new Water Tower Place, a multi-level shopping center with more than 100 stores. At Chicago Avenue, if you feel like seeing a bit of contemporary art, hang a left and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art which specializes in works created after 1945. Before you reach the river, two of the most architecturally exquisite building are based, the Wrigley Building is a masterpiece. Built in 1920 by the chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, it is actually two buildings and the interior is as beautiful as the exterior. On the other side there is the Tribune Tower, built in 1922, it is a Gothic wonder with a little known outer wall, that has bricks and pieces from other buildings and structures around the world. Some stones come from the Great Wall in China, the Taj Mahal, Notre Dame and even the Alamo.

Lower Michigan Avenue
When passing over the river, (which is engineered to flow backwards, an engineering marvel) you will see the two flanks that create an impressive backdrop to the lower end of Michigan Avenue. On the left is the 333 North Michigan Building, completed in 1928, this art-deco inspired building is one of the most ignored buildings in Chicago. Across the street on the other flank there is the London Guarantee Building, another architectural masterpiece built during the 1920’s. As you reach the corner of Randolph and Michigan, don’t forget to stop by the Chicago Cultural Center, this building used to house the city’s library and was the place of reception for diplomats. The interior’s wide spaces make the visitor feel extremely small and the attention to detail is quite impressive. On the corner also is the Smurfit-Stone building, it is an unforgettable part of the Chicago skyline, it is the building that looks like the top is shaped as a diamond. Look out below during the winter as the sidewalk is blocked off when icicles 2 feet long come down!

Millenium Park
Across the street, Millennium Park as it is today is a park with many sculptures, walkways and a wonder of landscape design. It had not always been this way, it was a former rail yard and remained a blight for the downtown area until 1977, when the city’s denizens lobbied for its transformation. Now there is more than 23 acres that hold outdoor concerts, art exhibitions and is a wonderful place to just stroll through, grab your skates during the winter and hop on the rink or admire the internationally renowned sculptures.

Art Institute
Some of the world’s most famous paintings reside at the Art Institute. See Picasso, Chagall, Dali, armour, ceramics, sculpture, amongst art from around the world. And if you go, don’t forget to visit the Thorne Miniature Rooms, this exhibit provides a glimpse in miniature of rooms and chambers throughout history. The attention to detail and exactitude is impeccable. Also as an adjunct to the more famous artists, a visit to the School of the Art Institute Gallery 2 is well worth the visit. These galleries display works from the students that attend the school. Further south go to the Clarence Buckingham Fountain for a picnic and enjoy magnificent skyline.

Museum Plaisance
Just south of the Loop, you will find the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, connected by a vast museum campus. Also included in this area is Soldier Field, where the city’s beloved Chicago Bears play football. This 57-acre green space is a perfect place to relax, eat a picnic lunch and enjoy the brilliant lake views. A stroll around the Chicago Riverwalk, with its many restaurants, makes for a lovely afternoon. The Adler Planetarium provides a journey through space for the entire family. The planetarium has an interesting simulation for visitors that gives them a first-hand look at a voyage through our own Milky Way galaxy.

Down the way is the Shedd Aquarium, an aquatic paradise where you can see more than 650 species of fish, amongst other marine life. Similar to Sea World, you can watch marine mammals like dolphins interact with their trainers and sometimes with the public. The aquarium also has some great places to enjoy lunch while looking out over majestic Lake Michigan. On the other side of the park is the Field Museum, as you enter you will see the most complete fossilized skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found, named “Sue” she menacingly greets visitors as they enter. Built in 1893, this was the Palace of Fine Arts during the World’s Columbian Exposition and is dedicated to expanding knowledge of civilizations from pre-history up until the present. One day is simply not enough here, most visitors find that it is almost impossible to accomplish in this amount of time.

Hyde Park
This neighbourhood on the near south side of Chicago is filled with interesting architecture and other delights that are sometimes hardly visited, even by the city’s inhabitants. Home to the University of Chicago and the home of Barack Obama, the university is one of the best in the world, it has the accolade of creating the most Nobel laureates alongside with the notoriety of being the birthplace of the atomic bomb. The campus was created in 1881 and there are many intriguing sculptures throughout. Don’t forget to stop by the Renaissance Society, an art gallery dedicated to the avant-garde and post modern movements. The Museum of Science and Industry certainly is that, with more than 350,000 square feet holding more than 800 exhibits. You can also catch a movie at the Omnimax theatre, After a day of touring the museum, visit the neighbouring Jackson Park. When you become hungry, a local favorite is the Sit Down Cafe and Sushi Bar. One other must see is the Robie House, by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It has been called a masterpiece in modern home architecture and well worth the visit just for the windows alone. Another museum located in the Hyde Park area is the Oriental Institute Museum. This museum houses art from the near east and has an amazing collection of works from ancient Persia. The Hyde Park Art Center is another gallery to put on the “to do list” while in Hyde Park, since 1939 it has provided a space for artists throughout the city to express their creativity in the visual arts.

River North
In this neighbourhood of Chicago, River North has the second largest amount of galleries in the country, outside of Manhattan. This area was a former warehouse district that became an art district which features galleries like the Carl Hammer Gallery and the David Leonardis Gallery, nearby grab a steak at Gene & Georgetti, this steakhouse is considered a Chicago landmark and a place to hob-nob with powerbrokers from City Hall. A visit to River North is not complete until you visit the The Merchandise Mart, once the largest building in the U.S. in terms of floor space (the Pentagon now holds this title), the “Merch” as it is affectionately known provides both retail and wholesale products to an international clientele. If it’s comedy that your looking for, a little further outside of this neighbourhood on Halstead Street, go and visit the world famous Second City, where an innumerable amount of actors and artists have honed their craft.

North Side
Visiting the north side of Chicago can take years to really see it all, since the amount of restaurants, galleries, shops, monuments and general points of interest are abundant. One favorite Chicago pastime is just strolling through Lincoln Park. There is also a free Zoo, a nature conservatory, rowing canals, bike paths and many other outlets from the concrete surroundings. Grab some lunch at Bacino’s Pizza, then stop in the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. No tour of the north side is complete without visiting Wrigley Field, home to those lovable losers, the Chicago Cubs. This field is a veritable trip back in time, catching a ballgame during the summer is one of the rites of passage for any North sider. For the die-hard Cubs fan or even the general baseball one, the park provides a guided tour with Wrigley Field Tours, a 90 minute tour about 100 years and counting of losing baseball. The neighbourhood of “Wrigleyville” is also a good place to grab a beer and enjoy one of the many restaurants in this nostalgic residential area. A little further north on Clark Street is Graceland Cemetery and Crematorium, this cemetery is Chicago’s version of the Père Lachaise in Paris, all of Chicago famous are buried here and the architecture is amazing. For a more upbeat time, head over to the Vic Theatre and catch the “brew and view” where you can watch a film and drink cheap beers.

Loop
This part of town is known as the loop because of the “El” train that loops around the area. One fixture of this area is the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) where the views are stunning. Around the corner on Canal Street, visit Union Station which is a must for any lover of architecture. Two other architectural marvels in this area are the Monadnock Building and the Rookery Building, the former is still regarded as the first skyscraper in Chicago. Afterwards, go towards State Street and catch a show at the Chicago Theatre. The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture & Design and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre are also nearby. At Daley Plaza, you can’t miss the Picasso Statue, which resembles a baboon, it is a gift from the famous artist standing at over 50 feet tall.

There are many different ways to experience all that Chicago has to offer, from exploring on foot to signing up for tours with knowledgeable guides that will teach you about the diverse history of this incredible city. It has over seventy neighbourhoods, so get started!

Walking Tours
Tour Black Chicago (+1 773 684 9034/ http://www.tourblackchicago.com/) Untouchable Tours (+1 773 881 1195/ http://www.gangstertour.com/)
American Sightseeing Chicago (+1 312 251 3100)

Bus Tours
Gray Line Tours (+1 312 251 3107)
See It ALL Tours (+1 773-525-6152/ http://www.chicagostyletours.com/)

Train Tours
Loop Tour Train (+1 312 922 3432/ http://www.architecture.org/tour_view.aspx?TourID=94)

Fire Truck Tours
O’Leary’s Fire Truck Tours (+1 312 287 6565 / http://www.olearysfiretours.com/)

Trolley Tours
Chicago Trolley Tours (+1 773 648 5000/ http://www.chicagotrolley.com)

Sports Tours
Wrigley Field Tours (+1 773 404 2827/ http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/chc/ballpark/wrigley_field_tours.jsp)
Big League Tours (+1 866 619 1748/ +1 317 534 2475/ http://bigleaguetours.com/)

Boat Tours
Architecture River Cruise (+1 312 751 1380)
Ugly Duck Cruises (+1 312 396 2200)
Odyssey Cruises (+1 888 957 2322/ http://www.odysseycruises.com)
Wendella Sightseeing Boats (+1 312 337 1446/ http://www.wendellaboats.com/)
Chicago Duck Tours (+1 312 461 1133/ http://www.chicagoducks.com/)
Mercury Chicago’s Skyline Cruises (+1 312 332 1353/ http://www.mercuryskylinecruiseline.com)
Wacky Pirate Cruise (+1 312 332 1353)

Air Tours
Air Tours of Chicago (+1 708 524 1172) AM Air Service (+1 847 602 1888/ http://www.amairservice.com/)
Midway Aviators, Inc. (+1 773 767 8100/ http://www.midwayaviators.com/)
Magic Carpet Helicopters (+1 847 336 1001/ http://www.magiccarpethelicopters.com/)

Bike Tours
Bobby’s Bike Hike (+1 312 915 0995/ http://www.bobbysbikehike.com/)
Chicago’s Quintessential Bicycle Tour (+1 888 881 3284/ http://www.chicagotours.us/tours/tourDetail.cfm?tour_id=6214)
Chicago’s Lakefront Neighbourhoods Bicycle Tour (+1 888 881 3284/ http://www.chicagotours.us/tours/tourDetail.cfm?tour_id=3250)
Bike and Roll (+1 773 327 2706/ http://www.bikeandroll.com/locations/chicago.aspx)
Bike Chicago (+1 312-595-9600/ http://www.bikechicago.com/)

History

The first non-native to settle in the area now known as Chicago was Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, a fugitive slave from San Domingo. By 1779, a small settlement had sprung up around his camp, and du Sable’s stake was eventually purchased by another trader, who was bought out by Jonathan Kinzie in 1804. As the settlement grew, the government began to see it as a gateway to the Western frontier and erected Fort Dearborn (now the Michigan Avenue Bridge), where the Chicago River and Lake Michigan kissed. The Native Americans were quite unhappy with this situation and in 1812 massacred most of the soldiers and their families. The fort was rebuilt in 1814 and by 1833 Chicago was a lively frontier town.

The Loop and El Train in Chicago Downtown

The promise of a quick buck drew people, and in 1837 Chicago was officially incorporated as a city. The Illinois and Michigan canal opened in 1848. Rail lines soon followed, and Chicago became the nation’s inland shipping hub. With the opening of the Union Stockyards on the western fringe of town, Chicago, as poet Carl Sandburg famously put it, became the “hog butcher to the world.”

In the 1850s and 1860s, things could not have looked brighter. In just a few years, Chicago grew from a small frontier town to a booming metropolis on the lake, drawing both Easterners and European immigrants.

The summer of 1871 was a scorcher, and rain was scarce. Catherine O’Leary lived on the city’s southwest side, and on the evening of October 8, a small fire began in her barn and started to spread. The cow knocking the lantern over into a pile of hay has become the stuff of legends, but no one really knows what started the blaze that would become known as the Great Chicago Fire.

The fire swept across the Chicago River and burnt the business center of the city to the ground. It continued north, destroying everything in its path all the way to Fullerton Avenue. Firefighters were powerless, but the clouds finally granted Chicago a few precious drops of rain, which started to beat the flames into submission 25 hours after the fire began. Most of the city was in rubble, 100,000 people were homeless, 17,450 buildings were burnt to ash. At the time, losses were estimated at 200 million. Chicago was rebuilt from the ground up, bigger, better and more uniquely American than any other city in the country. Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, John Root and Dankmar Adler, among other renowned architects, joined local builders. “Form followed function” and buildings rose to the sky supported by gridworks of steel. Such masterpieces as the Rookery Building, the Monadnock Building, the Auditorium Theatre Building, and the Marquette Building took shape during this time. To prove its place, a group of politicians and businessmen set out to secure Chicago as the site of the 1893 World’s Fair through a blustery campaign of self-promotion. A bitter rivalry ensued between Chicago, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and especially New York. In the New York Sun, editorialist Charles A. Dana warned not to listen “to the nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not build a World’s Fair even if they won it.” Although proven wrong, Dana did coin Chicago’s most common nickname, “The Windy City.”

Chicago won the contest and built the fair. Under the guidance of Daniel Hudson Burnham, whose motto was “make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” a gleaming city of white was erected in Jackson Park. Today, the Museum of Science and Industry stands as the sole survivor of the fairgrounds.

For years, the Levee District was the seat of the corrupt First Ward, run by two of Chicago’s greatest characters, Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John “Bathhouse” Coughlin. Theirs was an empire that consisted of the riches of the Loop and the spoils of vice. For years, they reigned as the “Lords of the Levee,” but changing social tides brought their empire to an end.

The late 1890s were a time of social reform, and Chicago was in need of reforming, even though one politician screamed that “Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet.” Under the leadership of Jane Addams and her settlement house movement begun at The Hull House, the lives of thousands of immigrants were made better. At the same time, former baseball player turned minister Billy Sunday, with the support of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, turned his eyes to the Levee. Increasing public outrage at Hinky Dink’s and Bathhouse’s shenanigans ended in the breakup of the Levee.

While unions and social workers, with the aid of such writers as Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser, alleviated some of the conditions of the poor, the vice that had been contained in the Levee spread through the city. With no centralized base of control, gangs formed to stake their claims. Chicago was about to enter its bloodiest era, one that still stains the public imagination.

During Prohibition, Al Capone had almost a stranglehold on the liquor supply to the city, and he used any means necessary to keep that control. Prohibition ended in 1933, but the fear and violence did not end. Even though Capone was in jail, “The Outfit” continued to run vice in the city. With the coming of the Great Depression in 1929, things only got worse.

Bright moments emerged in the 1930s, though. In 1933, Chicago once again hosted a World’s Fair. Chicago pioneered in the broadcasting industry, and would go on to pioneer in television a decade later. Chicago was also a musical innovator. Jazz had crept into the city from New Orleans, along with the likes of Louis Armstrong, and Chicago put its own spin on the music. Benny Goodman learned to play the clarinet at Hull House and in the 1930s ignited America with his brand of swing.

World War II shook America and Chicago out of the Depression. Chicago was a big player in the manufacture and repair of war ships. Municipal Pier, now Navy Pier, became a temporary Navy base and hundreds of Rosie the Riveters could be seen bustling to work each day. The end of the war brought another boom-time, and Chicago prospered with new building projects. 1968 was a notorious year. The Democrats met in Chicago to nominate their presidential candidate. A large group of protesters assembled near The Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue. Fearing a violent uprising, Mayor Richard J. Daley cracked down hard. Film footage of Chicago cops clobbering protesters is still hard to watch. Dissatisfaction set in, and many once proud neighbourhoods began to crumble. The 1970s saw a period of great urban decline. Things looked bleak. And then the 1980s hit.

With the upsurge in the economy, building began once more in the Loop, with huge office towers springing up everywhere, joining the ranks of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Tower. It was the busiest time for building in the Loop since Mies van der Rohe erected his steel and glass buildings 20 years before. An influx of people returned to the city from the suburbs. Neighbourhoods that had been in decline, such as Lincoln Park and Lakeview, had new life breathed into them.

Today, Chicago stands as a thriving metropolis, the proud home of millions and a popular destination for travellers.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport

O’Hare International Airport
Train: Chicago’s famed El (short for elevated train) (+1 888 968 7282/http://www.transitchicago.com) is the cheapest and quickest option for getting downtown. Its Blue Line exits the airport every ten minutes or less twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Rides last 45 minutes and cost USD1.75.

The Metra’s (+1 312 322 6777/http://www.metrarail.com) North Central Commuter Train line connects with downtown’s Union Station for USD3.15. There is no weekend service.

Shuttle: ranks as the airports best shuttle service. It exits the airport every 5-10 minutes and averages USD18 per passenger.

Taxi: Taxis, all metered, generally cost between USD35-USD40. Depending on traffic, rides to downtown can range from 30-60 minutes. Taxis can be easily located outside each terminal. Some of the more prominent companies include:

Flash Cab Company (+1 773 878 8500) Jiffy Cab Company (+1 773 487 9000) American United (+1 773 327 6161) Also check out the popular Shoreline Water Taxi.

Car Rental: Alamo (+1 800 327 9633/ http://www.alamo.com)
Avis (+1 800 831 2847/ http://www.avis.com)
Budget (+1 800 527 0700/ http://www.budget.com)
Dollar (+1 800 4000/ http://www.dollar.com )
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131/ http://www.hertz.com)
National (+1 800 227 7368/ http://www.nationalcar.com)

Chicago Midway Airport

Train: Chicago’s famed El (short for elevated train) (+1 888 968 7282/http://www.transitchicago.com) is the cheapest and quickest option for getting downtown. The CTA orange line will take you to downtown Chicago in 30 minutes. One way fare is currently USD2.

Taxi: Taxis are found outside the terminal, near the baggage claim. For a ride to downtown Chicago expect to pay USD25-USD35.

ACE Taxi (+1 773 381 8000)
American United Cab Association (+1 773 327 6161)
Blue Diamond (+1 312 226 8880)
Yellow Cab Affliation, Inc (+1 773 907 0020)

Car Rental: Rentals can be conveniently picked up and dropped off at the second floor of the parking garage of Midway Airport. Rental companies available include:

Avis (+1 331 1212)
Alamo (+1 800 327 9633/ http://www.alamo.com)
Budget (+1 800 527 7000/ http://www.budget.com)
Dollar (+1 800 800 4000/ http://www.dollar.com)
Enterprise (+1 566 9249/ http://www.enterprise.com)
Hertz (+1 800 654 3131/ http://www.hertz.com)
National (+1 800 227 7368/ http://www.nationalcar.com)
Thrifty (+1 800 527 7075/ http://www.thrifty.com)

Shuttle:

Omega Airport Shuttle
+1 773 734 6688
http://www.omegashuttle.com
Call to inquire about home pick-ups. From Southside to Midway Airport expect to pay USD 20.

By Bus
Greyhound (+1 800 231 2222/ http://www.greyhound.com/) accesses Chicago daily from every direction. The downtown bus station, (+1 312 408 5800), located at 630 Harrison Street, is open 24 hours. For discounted fares, Megabus (+1 877 GO2 MEGA/ http://www.megabus.com) offers travel to destinations throughout the Midwest.

By Train
Union Station national hub. Consequently, Chicago receives more passenger train service than any other city in the country. Thirteen train lines huff into Chicago and include the California Zephyr, running between Chicago and San Francisco, the Cardinal, linking Chicago and Washington D.C., and the Lake Shore Limited, which connects Chicago with Boston or New York.

By Car
Interstate 55 (Adlai Stevenson Expressway), the main connection from St. Louis, zips into Chicago via a southwest direction, terminating at Lake Shore Drive. Interstate 90 merges with Interstate 94 just south of the city and then parallels the lake shore through the city before branching off in Chicago’s northwest corner. Interstate 290 (Eisenhower Expressway) begins near the northern suburb of Buffalo Grove, before bending into downtown directly from the west. Interstate 294 (Tri-State Tollway) ribbons through Chicago’s western suburbs in a north/south direction. Interstate 88 comes in from the west and Interstate 80 skirts past the southern edge of the city.

Getting Around

Public Transit
The city of “big shoulders” is also a city of big public transportation options. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) (+1 888 968 7282/http://www.transitchicago.com/) services downtown and 38 suburbs, transporting an amazing 1.3 million riders a day. The El (elevated train) ranks as its crown jewel and, in many ways, joins Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower as the true symbols of the city. It offers 289 miles of track with five separate lines. Depending on the time of day, all stops are serviced every 5-20 minutes. One-way fares cost USD1.75 and exact change is required.

The Metra Commuter Railroad (+1 312 322 6777/ http://www.metrarail.com) boasts 12 lines, 495 miles of track and 230 stations while servicing the counties of Cook, Dupage, Kane, McHenry and Will. One-way fares range from USD1.85-6.95.

CTA’s bus service is extremely efficient, attending stops every 5-10 minutes during weekday rush hours, and every 8-20 minutes in the evenings. Stops are conveniently located every one or two blocks and are designated by blue and white signs. Fares: USD1.75.

PACE (+1 847 364 7223/http://www.pacebus.com) is the fourteenth largest bus system in North America. Its seven lines feature 240 routes. Stops are serviced every 20-30 minutes during peak hours. Fares: USD1.75.

Taxi
Cabs are extremely easy to hail along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the Loop and in Lincoln Park. Otherwise it is best to call. Some of the more noted companies include:

Coral Cab (+1 773 488 0122) Checker Cab (+1 243 2537) Famous Cab (+1 773 643 4330) Flash Cab (+1 773 561 1444) Mercury Cab (+1 773 274 3108)

Boat
Wendella Commuter Boats (+1 312 337 1446/http://www.wendellariverbus.com) usher riders daily via water taxis between the Madison Street and Michigan Avenue commuter train stations. Hours: 7:45a-7p M-F; 9a-7p Sa-Su. Fares: USD3 one-way, USD4 roundtrip. Shoreline Sightseeing (+1 312 222 9328/http://www.shorelinesightseeing.com) offers limited water taxi service 10AM-6PM daily between late May and early September. It shuttles between the Navy Pier and Shedd Aquarium along Lake Michigan, and also transports passengers up the Chicago River to the Sears Tower. Fares: USD6 for a one-day ticket.

Car
Chicago’s wide streets and well-placed expressways make it relatively easy to drive when compared to most other major cities. However, attempting to find available parking will seem more like a myth rather than a reality.

Downtown attractions such as the Shedd Aquarium, the Sears Tower, and the Magnificent Mile are all relatively close making walking a fantastic travel option.

Bicycle
Chicago’s famed Lakefront Bike Path should serve as a universal blueprint for every city bike path. It hugs the Lake Michigan shore in a north/south direction passing beaches and marinas and accessing every major Chicago attraction including the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Navy Pier, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Art Institute of Chicago and Grant Park.