The Windy City wasn’t originally so called because it is windy, although it actually is. It was because the politicians at the time talked a lot of hot air and the politicians elsewhere nicknamed it the Windy City and it stuck.
Chicago is a large city but actually the centre isn’t that big and most of it is quite walkable and it feels relatively safe. Public transport is excellent too so it is perfectly feasible to visit Chicago without being dependent on a car and anyway its really expensive to park. The metro . affectionately known as “The EL” because its elevated, is one of the oldest metro systems in the world and it runs out to the airport. Buses also run quite frequently round the city.
So why should people visit Chicago rather than New York, Boston, Washington, LA or Miami?
Chicago is plenty to do and see in its own right and it absolutely deserves to be on the itineraries of far more visitors.
I could have easily spent an entire day just walking around Millennium Park. For music lovers, throughout the summer there are free concerts. For art and science lovers, “The Bean” is fascinating. It is a huge installation by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, originally called Cloud Gate but it looks like a bean so the name stuck. It reflects the city skyline and the people in the park in an interesting way. It isn’t the only weird art installation in the park, there are frames made of shredded tyres and children splashing around in the uniquely designed fountains.
For shoppers the first stop is the Magnificent Mile – officially North Michigan Avenue and less than a mile but this is where you will find all the famous designer names and there are plenty of outlet malls within easy reach of the city.
We took the Big Bus Tour round Chicago. I have been on quite a few of these before in various parts of the world, but I have to say this is the best one I’ve been on. Each one has a guide who is both knowledgeable and entertaining, none of this earphone and naff music while stuck in traffic nonsense. As well as Millennium Park and Navy Pier, the bus stops at some of the city’s best museums, The Art Institute, The Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and Field Museum
I would recommend a riverboat while you are in the city. Ours was run by Chicago Architecture Boat Tour which is more interesting than it sounds. Our guide was very informative and told us all about all the buildings along the river from art deco to ultra modern and it was interesting to hear how the river developed. Chicago river is a bit of an oddity as it was forced to flow in reverse so that Chicago’s raw sewage doesn’t flow into Lake Michigan but instead into the fast flowing Mississippi riv er and out to sea. It also means that most of Chicago’s drinking water comes from Lake Michigan The riverwalk is a really pleasant and important feature of the city. There are different sections, street theatre, a children’s playground and the newer buildings are designed to reflect the city skyline from the river
Another place to while away a few pleasant hours is Navy Pier, walk around, ride on the wheel, visit the shopping mall, the greenhouse, the temporary Rolling Stones exhibitionism, take a boat trip into Lake Michigan (this can be rough) or just sit and watch the world go by in one of the bars or eateries.
Chicago has its fair share of very high buildings so it also possible to get a birds eye view from Willis tower or 360 Chicago. If you are feeling really brave you can experience The Tilt which is a unique way of seeing the city from 1000ft up. It is the only one of its kind in the world.
For foodies, Chicago is for you too. Chicago has some of the top restaurants in the world
If you have time to go further afield you don’t have to go far to find some absolutely stunning beaches or sand dunes around Lake Michigan, many less than an hour away by train. It is difficult to believe that in the middle of America thousands of miles from the sea that some of the loveliest beaches I’ve ever felt or seen, exist, even in Chicago itself, so for a city and beach combo in the summer months you don’t have to go to Miami or San Diego, you could take advantage of one of the many daily direct flights straight to Chicago and combine it with a short hop to Indiana or Michigan.
We were extremely lucky with the May weather and Chicago can be windy and bitterly cold in the winter so the ideal time to visit is summer, but Spring and fall/autumn is a lot less crowded and there can be some great bargains too.
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