Most likely if you are staying at a hotel – you will stay in the part of the downtown city area called ‘the Loop’, which puts you close to the city’s main downtown shopping areas, restaurants, parks and some of the city’s main attractions – all within walking distance or a short taxi ride from your hotel.
Running along the lakeshore of Lake Michigan in the City is the Lakefront Path, a long walkway, green space and biking path that runs beside the Lake.
Next to the Path is South Lake Shore Drive which runs beside the Lake along the south side to the Chicago River Esplanade, and then to the north, on the Navy Pier side, it becomes North Lake Shore Drive. Parklands are on each side of Lake Shore Drive, with many of the hotels located on Michigan Avenue which runs almost parallel to Lake Shore Drive, mostly parklands separating these two main roads. Michigan Avenue is also where you will find the ‘Magnificent Mile’ shops that line both sides of the Avenue. Michigan Avenue was once the shoreline, and the land between Michigan Avenue and the lake shore is all reclaimed land.
There’s a lot to see in Chicago –
Sear’s Tower (now called the Willis Tower) at 233 South Wacker Street is 108 storeys high with a Skydeck on the 103rd floor level. The tower was built in 1973 and was the tallest buildings in the USA at 1451 feet high, until surpassed by the One World Trade Center building in New York which is 1776 feet high. From the Skydeck on Willis Tower you can see all over the city and Lake Michigan, and there is a glass floor section (The Ledge)where you can walk on the glass floor and look straight down to the ground below your feet.
Chicago Tribune Building – at 435 North Michigan Avenue is a fabulous Art Deco building, built between 1922 and 1925 for the Chicago Tribune newspaper and its owner at the time, Colonel Robert R. McCormick. The building’s design was inspired by the Button Tower in the Rouen Cathedral in France. Inside you will find an interesting lobby area where there are inscriptions and 120 stones in the façade of the building that have been sourced from some of the world’s most notable architectural and cultural achievements, including from the Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Egyptian Pyramids, Sydney Opera House and Great Wall of China.
The Wrigley Building – Almost directly opposite the Chicago Tribune building is the Wrigley building – a stunning building with classical decorative features. This was built in 1921-24 for William Wrigley Jnr (1861-1932), the chewing gum magnate and designed by the architectural partnership of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White. William Wrigley Jnr started his business selling Scouring soaps and then Baking Soda, offering chewing gum as an incentive to purchase. The Gums became more popular than the Baking Soda, and he soon realized that selling Gum was the business to be in, launching ‘Juicy Fruits’ and then ‘Spearmint’ brands in 1893-1894. In 2008 the Wrigley Company was purchased by the Mars Company for $23 Billion dollars, by which stage Wrigley products were selling over $5 billion dollars in sales.
John Hancock Observatory (now called 360⁰ Chicago) is located at 875 North Michigan Avenue in the John Hancock Building that was built in 1970. It’s the high black building you see with the sloping sides, and up top you can see over the city, and also stand next to a glass wall that is called the ‘Tilt’ – which moves to an angle hanging over the side of the building.
Marina City Towers – are the two round buildings with scalloped balconies running all the way to the top. These are residential towers, and this is where Nik Wallenda crossed between the two towers walking blindfold on a wire 588 feet above the ground in October 2014. He also walked from the 671 feet high Leo Burnett Advertising Building to the Marina City Tower a night before the second highwire walk that month.
Millennium Park – on Michigan Avenue is where you will find the giant silver bean (Cloud Gate) sculpture, designed by Anish Kapoor that acts as mirror to the people who come close and the Chicago skyline. Also look for the Crown Fountain, Lurie Garden and walk under the open air ‘Pritzker Pavilion’ where you experience music surrounding you. It is a great place to walk with different activities happening here during the year. The Police even ride along on a Segway, and you can hire a bike at bike racks that are along South Michigan Avenue or from Bobby’s Bike Hire at 540 N. Lake Front Drive (See www.bobbysbikehire.com Tel: (312) 915 0995.
The Art Institute Gallery – is just south of, almost part of Millennium Park – a gallery with a number of Picasso paintings and the work of many European and American artists. This is said to be one of the best galleries in the world.
Lincoln Park – and Lincoln Park Zoo are located north of the Loop, with the Park covering an area of 1200 acres beside Lake Michigan. The Park is named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) from Illinois who was elected President in 1860 but then assassinated in Washington in 1865. While he never lived in Chicago, Lincoln did spend a lot of time in Chicago as a Lawyer in his earlier career. The Lincoln Zoo is a free zoo to visit and is located at 2200 N. Cannon Drive (see www.lpzoo.org) while next door is the Lincoln Park Hothouse Conservatory, built in 1891. The ponds, Lake Michigan, statues of Lincoln and General Grant, canal and park areas all create a great open space to walk, bike or just enjoy, and you will also find places to shop and eat at Clark Street.
Brookfield Zoo – (see www.CZS.org) is located at 31st and 1st Avenue in Brookfield. The zoo covers an area of 216 acres and has over 2400 animals, including Polar bears, Grizzlies and many others from around the world.
Chicago History Museum – on N. Clark Street (See www.chicagohistory.org) has lots of interesting stories and memorabilia of Chicago’s history.
Federal Reserve – Money Museum – 230 South LaSalle Street (See www.chicagofed.org/musuem Tel: 312 322 2400). If you would like to see what a million dollars looks like, or find out more about money, then this is the museum to see.
Gardens and Parks – are a real feature of Chicago, both in the downtown areas, but also throughout Chicago city. Besides the main parklands – like Grant Park, Lincoln Park and Millennium Park, you should take a walk besides the Chicago River on the Riverside walkway, look for Palmisano Park at 2700 S. Halstead Street in Bridgeport – a 27 acre park created in a former quarry and also head to the Garfield Park Conservatory at 300 N. Central Park Avenue (See www.garfieldconservatory.org) one of the biggest conservatories in the USA, with plants and gardens from around the world. Also see www.oakparkconservatory.org 615 Garfield St, Oak Park, first built in 1929.
North Avenue Beach – on the Lake at 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive is a great beach fun place to go in the summer months. Here you can play beach Volleyball, or hire bikes and kayaks or just people watch.
Chicago River and Lake Michigan Cruises – This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to see the City – and there are lots of cruises including lunch and dinner cruises too, depending on the weather and time of year. Most of the cruises come with an interesting commentary telling the “Chicago’s story” as you cruise up the Chicago River between high rise buildings on both sides. These are some of the Cruise Company websites – www.cruisechicago.com (112 E. Upper Wacker Drive.)
and www.odysseycruises.com/chicago (all three at Navy Pier – 600 East Grand Avenue)
www.chicagotours.us (465 McClurg St); www.entertainmentcruises.com (600 E. Illinois Street). Next to the River there is also the Riverside walk which runs along the side of the River, and in summer months you can even hire a Kayak to paddle up river too (See www.urbankayaks.com Tel(312) 965 0035) at 270 Chicago River Walk. For something a little different check out www.chicagocrimetours.com Tel: 312 888 6224.
Architectural Tours – there are walking tours, bus tours, boat tours and even Segway tours you can take with the Chicago Architectural Foundation – see www.architecture.org Tel: 312 922 3432. Most of their tours leave from 224 S. Michigan Avenue, with expert guides to show and tell you about what you are seeing. Some of the main buildings to see in the Loop area are the Chicago Board of Trade building (141 W. Jackson Boulevard), the Frank Lloyd Wright ‘Rookery’ building and its atrium built in 1888, and the Monadnock Building (53 W. Jackson Street). There are also personal guides that can take you on guided tours based on your exact interests too – see www.greeter.com Tel: 312 744 8000. You need to book in advance to make arrangements.
Hop on -Hop off Buses – These are red trolley and open top double decker buses which travel to and past a number of the main city attractions (See www.ChicagoTrolley.com to buy a 3 day ticket/pass.)
Navy Pier – is a long pier and park area on Lake Michigan, off North Lake Shore Drive. This is where some of the water taxis and Cruise boats leave from and here you will be able to walk to the end of the pier to see out over the City skyline and the Lake, with lots of amusement rides, an Imax theater, Ferris wheel, souvenir shops, food outlets, the Chicago Children’s Museum, Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and other activities all here to entertain you. Most of the shops are inside the building, so that you can stay out of the weather, and during the summer months there are more activities than in the colder months. There is always something happening here, so a good place to head to.
Wonder Works Children’s Museum – is located at 6445 W. North Avenue (See www.wonder-works.org) a museum designed for young children up to 8 year’s old.
Museum Campus – is on South Lake Shore Drive –just south of the City Center. They call this the “Culture Coast” – and here you will find seven museums and galleries –
The DuSable Museum of African American History – art, culture, people and history
The Oriental Institute Museum – with Asian and Middle Eastern collections.
Museum of Science and Industry – steam engines, submarines, films and more
Smart Museum of Art – challenging new ideas and great collections
Reva and David Loan Center for the Arts – paintings and other artwork
The Renaissance Society – established in 1915 and houses amazing contemporary artworks.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s – Robie House, built 1908-1910, a National Historic Landmark, one of the first of what has become known as the ‘American Prairie School Style’ design. Check out the stained glass windows here.
Berwyn Route 66 Museum – is located at 7003 West Ogden Avenue in Berwyn (See www.BerwynRt66Museum.org Tel: 708 484 9349). This is a quirky museum displaying memorabilia from this famous road across America.
Shedd Aquarium – is almost next to the Museum Campus and it first opened in 1930 located at 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive. There are 32,000 animals housed here – from Beluga Whales, to sharks, turtles, frogs, otters, jellyfish and other animals that live in or next to water – be that ocean, river, lake, pond or other waterway.
Grant Park – was first established in 1835 and covers an area of 319 acres of ground next to Lake Michigan and Monroe Harbor where there are moorings for around 1000 boats. The park was the place where President Obama made his Presidential acceptance speech in 2008. It is located at 337 E. Randolph Street. Also look for the Buckingham Fountain inside the Park too, and see the various outdoor sculptures that are here too.
Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum- is on a point at the end of Solidarity Drive on Michigan Lake with great views looking back to the city skyline (See www.adlerplanetarium.org ). This museum and planetarium first opened in 1930 and has telescopes, films, displays and exhibits from the world of stars and space travel.
Field Museum of Natural History – is located at 140 S. Lake Shore Drive. (See www.fieldmuseum.org ) A huge museum with amazing displays – everything from Bat Caves from Kenya, a 10 feet high bird from Madagascar, Pawnee Earth Lodge and a full size T-Rex dinosaur, plus a whole lot more, so you need a lot of time to really appreciate the size of the collection and what is displayed here.
Railway Museum – the biggest railroad museum in the USA is the Illinois Railway Museum located at 700 Olson Rd. Union, with over 400 different engines, carriages and other transportation vehicles. (See www.irm.org ).
Districts – Chicago has what are called ‘77 community groups or neighborhoods that are populated by the many different nationality groups. There’s a Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown and neighborhoods where a large % of the local population may be Puerto Rican, Swedish, Korean, African American, Irish, Italian, Indian or other nationality. If you have an interest in a particular culture, ask at the Visitor Center to find out if there is an area that you should visit. Some of the districts that you might want to see are Old town, the Gold Coast, Brookfield (See www.villageofbrookfield.com ), Riverside (See www.riverside.il.us) , Bridgeport and Oak Park.
Homes to visit – there are a number of homes that you can visit in and around Chicago –
Frank Lloyd Wright – home and Studio – is located at 951 Chicago Avenue in Oak Park district – where there is also a visitor Center in Oak Park at 158 N. Forest Avenue (See www.visitoakpark.com who will give you more details about the area’s homes. Also see Unity Temple at 875 Lake Street. (See www.utrf.org).
Pleasant Home – 217 S. Home Avenue (See www.pleasanthome.org) a mansion built in 1897 by the Prairie School architect, George W. Maher.
Ernest Hemingway Museum and birthplace – also in Oak Park at 200 N. Oak Park Avenue (Museum) and at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue(his birthplace).
Cheney Mansion- 220 N. Euclid Avenue, Oak Park. (See www.cheneymansion.com Tel: 708 725 2500. The mansion was built in 1913 and is surrounded by 2 acres of gardens, where there is a greenhouse and even a coach house.
Barack Obama’s home – is located at 5046 S. Greenwood Avenue. It is not open to the public, but you may see it from outside, although security may restrict this.
Cantigny – the home of the Chicago Tribune paper, Colonel Robert R. McCormick is at 1s 151 S. Winfield Rd, Wheaten. This is a 500 acre estate with parklands, a military museum, gardens and even a golf course. See www.cantigny.org
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum – is located in the University of Illinois Campus at 800 S. Halstead Street (Tel: (312) 413 5353). The house dates back to 1889, and is dedicated to telling the stories of immigrants who came to Chicago and their struggles. Jane Addams was the first woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy, social justice and fights to secure greater rights for women.
SHOPPING – The best known shopping precinct is what is called the ‘Magnificent Mile’ which covers 13 blocks along N. Michigan Avenue up to Oak Street. All the big name shops as well as smaller boutiques are here for clothing, shoes, toys, electronics, foods and pretty much anything that you are looking to buy. There are also Markets in the suburbs, one of the closest ones to the City Center being at 1350 Randolph Street, while good ‘Outlet stores’ can be found at N. Harlem Avenue in Belmont Heights.
SPORT – Chicago is famous for its sporting teams and if you are able to get a ticket to see any of the sporting teams playing, you will no doubt have a great day or night. The most famous teams are the Chicago Bulls NBA Basketball team whose ground is in the United Center; The Chicago White Sox baseball team who play at the US Cellular Field; Chicago Cubs Baseball team at historic Wrigley Field; Chicago Bears Football team who play at the Soldier Field; Chicago Blackhawks NHL Ice Hockey team who play at the United Center and Chicago Fire Soccer team who play at Toyota Park.
The Chicago Sports Museum – is on the 7th floor of the Water Tower at 835 N. Michigan Place, with an interactive sports activities and lots of sporting memorabilia, as well as the Harry Caray Restaurant that is here too.
Helicopter Tours – these 30 minute tours leave from Atlantic Aviation at Midway Airport (www.rotozen.com Tel: 312 878 4354) and they fly in both the day and night based on bookings received.
Legoland – if you or your children have played with Lego as a child, or you have children travelling with you – then the Legoland Theme Park is a fun place to head to. Legoland is located at 601 N. Martingale Road, Schaumburg, which is a little further west from O’Hare International Airport off Route 90 (See www.LegolandDiscoveryCenter.com Tel: 847 592 9700). At Legoland you will find the Lego Factory, lots of rides, play centers and even the Lego Master Builder Academy.
FOOD – Chicago is famous for its ‘deep dish pizza’, but there are also great places to eat – both high end restaurants and also all the fast food and coffee shops too – with everything from Ribs and Steak, Fish, vegan and cuisines from all parts of the world. One of the streets you should see is Rush Street – the street dating back to 1837 with many high end fashion and businesses, but also many restaurants, bars and nightlife.
CLUBS and THEATERS – there are places to hear Jazz, the Blues, Rock & Roll, an orchestra and other music as well as many shows and events happening throughout the year. Check out www.ticketmaster.com to see what’s on, or ask at the Chicago Visitor’s Center.
I hope you have a great time visiting CHICAGO. It’s a great city to visit.