Chicago, commonly known to the world as the windy city, is one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the United States, and one of the most popular to visit for Americans and foreigners alike. Being my first time to the Midwest, and being I only had a few short days to discover the city, I wanted to visit all the major attractions while still having time to just wander and explore the neighbourhoods in and around the city centre. As I was visiting during the wintertime, I did not have high hopes of good weather, yet I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed to, relatively, warm weather, and so was able to walk around and actually enjoy the impressive skyline that is so often obscured by the clouds.
- The BEAN!!
The first stop on most people’s itineraries in Chicago, the bean, or Cloud Gate as it is officially known as, is a popular structure located in Millennium Park. Showing a unique perspective on the city’s skyline, it is the perfect photo opt, and a great place to play around with the resemblance to liquid mercury that offers an extremely cool view inside the bean. Looking up into the centre presents a somewhat psychedelic effect that is definitely worth a visit.
2. See the world from above at Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
Having held the title of world’s tallest building for nearly 25 years, Willis Tower offers some of the best views of Chicago. For anyone brave enough, Willis Tower also has the option of stepping out into a glass box overhanging from the building. Believe you me, it is well worth that first daring, and slightly scary, step onto the sky deck, as it is probably the closest you’ll feel to being able to stand on top of the world. If you’re brave enough you can even try jumping on the platform, though I personally could not take that big of a plunge.
3. Get lost in the Art Institute of Chicago
Housing one of the biggest and most diverse museum collections in the United States, the Art Institute is the second largest museum in America, and one of the most visited museums in the world. Being a lover of the Impressionists, the Art Institute offers an abundance that satisfies even my obsession. Also displaying countless other exhibitions, including a collection of miniature houses, it is impossible to see everything in just the one visit, so make sure to leave at least a few houses to see your top choices.
4. Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, oh my! (Lincoln Park Zoo)
Located within Lincoln Park, just a short way out of the city centre, this zoo is extremely popular with families because of the range of animals as well as the petting zoo. With an open-air lion and gorilla enclosure it is great to be able to see them up close and personal, and did I mention the best thing about this zoo? It’s completely free!
5. Spend an afternoon at Navy Pier
Topped by the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, this attraction is popular for the Children’s museum and the Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass. With firework displays throughout the summer, rides, and a miniature golf course, this is definitely a must do during the warmer months as most of the Pier closes down during the wintertime due to unpredictable weather.
6. Step back in time at the Field Museum of Natural History
Its impressive facade and interior makes this one of the most popular destinations for visitors to Chicago. Showcasing permanent and temporary exhibitions, there is always something new to interest anyone’s preference. Luckily when I visited they had a special exhibition on the Terracotta Warriors and Ancient Greece that were absolutely amazing!
7. Wander along the Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago Riverwalk offers a unique experience for outdoor dining and activities that are mostly enjoyed throughout the summer and spring. Providing an open pedestrian walkway along the water, it is the perfect afternoon getaway to grab a bite to eat of hire a boat to cruise the open waters. It is also home to the Chicago Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Plaza, which provides a quiet, green refuge from the city.
8. Get lost in space at the Adler Planetarium
If you love astronomy and the idea of travelling into outer space, this is one of the few places that you’ll be able to get up close and personal with many of the planets and galaxies. It is also one of the better locations in the city to take a look at what is considered to be on of the most impressive skylines in the world. Part of the Northerly Island, it is easily accessible from both the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium.
9. Stroll down Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile
The highlight destination for any shopper is of course the Magnificent Mile, lined with a range of inexpensive and higher end shops, it is definitely the hotspot. Amongst the boutiques you can also find the Hancock Building, which offers amazing views of downtown Chicago, and Tribune Tower, a neo-Gothic building inspired by French architecture.
10. Take a boat tour
Chicago is known for having one of the best skylines in the world, and one of the best ways to view it is from the water. There are numerous boat tours that provide an extensive knowledge on Chicago’s architectural heritage and history, and explains the tale of how Chicago grew from a small town to one of America’s largest cities. For even better views take a sunset cruise to see the buildings truly light up.
11. Hit up a jazz club
While Chicago may not be the birthplace of jazz, it certainly is considered one of the jazz capitals of the world. With a specific “Chicago Style” of jazz, and the annual Chicago Jazz Festival, it is a favoured city for jazz musicians of all eras to perform. Offering clubs featuring the smooth sax or the wild skronk, you’re sure to find something to try and follow along to.
12. Explore the neighbourhoods
While most first time visitors to any city usually opt for the downtown area, Chicago is one of those cities that is surrounded by so many unique and interesting neighbourhoods only a short distance from the Loop and downtown areas. The trendy areas of Bucktown and Lincoln Square are filled with bars, little boutiques, and countless German restaurants and shops. Or choose to take a step back in time to admire the beautifully restored Victorian-era buildings in the historic Old Town.
13. Eat Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza!
While the city is home to an enormously diverse food culture, it is most famous for its deep-dish pizza. Being a massive pizza fan, this was definitely one of the first things I wanted to try, and it definitely lived up to my high expectations. With an extremely thick base and crust, needed to hold all of its toppings, it is slightly difficult to eat with your hands, an even though I tried, I had to give in and use a knife and fork. While there are many places claiming to offer “The Best Pizza in Town!”, I’d advise trying Lou Malnati’s, which is probably the closest to the original deep dish.
If you haven’t packed your bags already, do it now! Chicago is an 100% must do for anyone’s USA bucket list! What are some of your favourite things to do in Chicago?