The well-loved “Windy City” of Chicago may be the third largest city in America, but it is also the home town to some fantastic open spaces and places that lure both locals and overseas visitors in droves. It has earned its nickname for two possible reasons. The first being the powerful and blustery Canadian-borne winds that blow into it from across Lake Michigan, that is really more like an inland ocean, and the second, being anchored to the notion that Chicago-ites do a lot of blustery boasting about how wonderful their town of Chicago really is.
If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago, look no further! Enjoy the great outdoors with an architectural sightseeing tour on the river boats; make a date with the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo or take a scenic ride on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. Try browsing through the spectacular array of downtown shopping malls or cozy up to a bar for some craft beers or cocktails. In Chicago, dining is an activity in itself, with over 5,500 restaurants that litter the culinary landscape and boast Michelin star chefs and endless accolades.
Any season is ripe for arts and culture as well. Immerse yourself in the vibrant theatre scene at Goodman, Steppenwolf or Broadway. Explore a variety of the city’s art galleries and amazing museums, like the esteemed Art Institute of Chicago or the beloved Shedd Aquarium. For sensational live performances on stage choose from music, comedy, dance or opera.
Here’s a few fine statistics about Chicago: in 2012 more than 46 million people visited the city enjoying access to over 50 producing theatres, nearly 300 galleries and over 5,500 restaurants in more than 100 well-established neighbourhoods. Visitors can stroll part of the 26 miles (40 km) of well-laid-out lakefront walkways or relax on 29 free public bathing beaches stretching at least 29 miles (46 km), cycle 19 miles (30 km) of meandering lakefront bicycle paths or visit 550 public parks spread out over 7,300 acres within its city limits.
Chicago has every right to brag about its skyline and architecture and if you want to see it all in a single bird’s eye view, you can. The 110-story Willis Tower is the
highest building in Chicago rising to 1,451 feet (442 m) and on a clear day you can see into four States from the 1,353 feet (411 m) Skydeck: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. The 1,127 feet (342 m) ‘360° Chicago’ also offers expansive views of the city and the lakeshore from its observation deck’s extended glass boxes. Of the 10 tallest buildings in the United States four are in Chicago.
Mobsters’ and bad-boys were a critical part of Chicago’s history. Today, Chicago tour companies take visitors on a mobsters’ tour of the windy city, highlighting the activities of, among others, the mob-big-wig of them all, Alfonse Gabriel Capone. The most infamous Chicago gangster, Al Capone was born to a poor Italian immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York. He became the king-pin of bad boys, running gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging rackets and expanding his South Side Italian turf by simply killing-off rivals.
For a real sense of history and great live music go and visit the art-deco inspired Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, a neighbourhood bar that Capone often frequented. On the floor behind the bar is a trapdoor to the original escape tunnels that gangsters escaped through during Prohibition Era raids. Experts say that Capone’s outfit was worth upwards of US$ 100 million in 1927. Capone’s most famous action was the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where he “supposedly” hired gangsters to gun down seven members of the rival gang of Bugs Moran. Capone began his demise in 1931, when he was sent to Alcatraz Prison for, of all things, income tax evasion.
If ‘time is money’ when visiting Chicago’s museums and attractions, you’ll need to grab a pass that will save both. City Pass offer a discount adult pass for US$ 94.00 for five famous attractions and museums: The Shedd Aquarium – the world’s largest, Skydeck Chicago, The Field Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Science & Industry or 360 Chicago, The Adler Planetarium or The Art Institute of Chicago – that’s a US$ 93.95 saving off the regular admission prices and on top of that it gains you a VIP entry pass.
One of my favourite attractions is The Museum of Science & Industry. Here you’ll find an Omnimax Theatre and the Idea Factory, interactive displays, special events and exhibits such as Treasures of Walt Disney or you can descend into a working coal mine, board America’s first diesel-electric streamlined passenger train, marvel at a collection of WW1 and WW2 aircraft and a walk-through Boeing 727 airplane or take a claustrophobic walk inside the only WW2 German submarine in the United States – U-505.
International visitors to Chicago and the USA continue to list shopping as their number one activity, and there’s no better place than Chicago to play with your plastic. On the waterfront, Navy Pier offers more than 50 acres of parks, promenades, gardens, shops, restaurants and entertainment in a renovated warehouse. On North Orleans Street are the Merchandise Mart, the world’s largest wholesale centre, and the Chicago Apparel Center.
Chicago’s commercial district, formerly confined to the area known as The Loop, which was defined by a circuit of elevated trains, now pushes north of the Chicago River to Oak Street. Known as the “Magnificent Mile”, the shopping area is considered the Rodeo Drive of the Midwest. Here are located some of the world’s finest specialty stores.
Water Tower Place on North Michigan is a seven-level modern shopping emporium with Chicago-based Marshall Field’s and Lord & Taylor or walk a block to Chicago Place, an eight-level mall anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue.
The famous Marshall Field’s department stores call Chicago home, and it was the store’s very clever founder, Marshall Field, who coined the retail expression that rang his cash registers when he told his staff to ‘Give the lady what she wants’! Macys Department store is now nestled in the historic Marshall Field’s building and welcomes shoppers with an International Visitor Savings Card (not available to locals) that grants 10% discounts off regular, sale and some clearance-priced merchandise. Just show your passport and then ‘shop until you drop.’
If you want an instant icebreaker among locals, talk about sports. Chicago fans rank among America’s best for their support of local teams, and if you just ask, you’ll be welcomed as a treasured guest of the city. Sports rule in Chicago year-round with no fewer that 22 major stadiums and venues such as the world-famous Wrigley Field, home to baseball’s Chicago Cubs, but it has also hosted football, ice hockey, skating, soccer and rugby – although the All Blacks have scheduled a game on 1st November against the USA Eagles at Soldier Field, the NFL home of the Chicago Bears. Chicagoland Speedway is home of the Nascar Sprint Cup Series, the United Center is the indoor arena home of the Chicago Bulls basketball team as well as ice hockey’s Chicago Blackhawks. Finally US Cellular Field is home of the famous Chicago White Sox baseball team.
On any given evening, something musically magical takes place in the Windy City. Chicago is famous for legendary blues and jazz, which can be heard nightly in venues throughout the city. If you want this kind of music ringing in your ears then there’s probably some music joints within walking distance of your downtown hotel, just tap your concierge on the shoulder and ask and you might find places such as Buddy Guy’s Legends bar where live blues music is played seven days a week and it’s located right behind the imposing Hilton Hotel.
So there you have it…Chicago and all that jazz! There was a very good reason for world-famous crooner Frank Sinatra to belt out his famous tune, ‘My Kind of Town, Chicago is.’
Chicago Skyline and Beaches
Chicago Water Tower