Chicago: the USA’s third most populous city, filled with stunning architecture, birthplace of the deep-pan pizza and home to Anish Kapoor’s iconic Cloud Gate sculpture (more affectionately referred to as “the bean”). After enviously seeing my dad’s photographs of Chicago (accumulated on business trips over the past eight years), having a friend emigrate there and making friends with another Chi-town resident whilst on my year abroad, it was amazing to finally get there! Having agreed on three full days in Chicago, based on recommendations from friends and the basis that the city centre is considered to be relatively compact, we set upon figuring out the logistics of seeing everything we possibly could in the time we had.
Travelling on a budget meant an overnight Greyhound from Toronto (with a change in Detroit, luckily the border control officers still had a sense of humour in the middle of the night when it came to changing buses!) and arriving in Chicago just after 5am. Luckily for us, it didn’t take too long for us to get our bearings and take the metro to our hostel to leave our things. Although it’s a little out of the town centre, I’d really recommend the IHSP Chicago Hostel: the staff are helpful, it’s really close to a metro stop (the blue line, which goes out to O’Hare) and there are free pancakes for breakfast! Here’s my pick of the things to see in Chicago, come rain or shine . . .
Admire “The Bean”
I think it’s fair to say that only those who have seen “the bean” (official name: Cloud Gate) can truly appreciate it; those who haven’t simply wonder what on earth everyone is getting so excited about, when to them it’s just a giant silver jelly bean. The skyline is reflected in the metallic contours of the sculpture; it’s best viewed on a clear, sunny day. It’s located in the north-west corner of Millennium Park, just off North Michigan Avenue. As a visitor, it’s also handy to know that there’s wifi available there too. We went back several times while we were there and I’ve ended up with a ridiculous number of photos of it . . .
Explore Millennium Park
Once you’ve seen “the bean”, spend some time exploring Millennium Park. In the summer, there’s a large stage with open air entertainment; we caught part of a live music event. The Lurie Garden is worth a stroll through; in summer there are lots of beautiful plants and flowers. Don’t forget to see the Crown Fountain while you’re there; it’s an interactive sculpture-fountain, featuring faces of Chicago residents.
Visit the Art Institute of Chicago
For art enthusiasts, this must be one of Chicago’s biggest draws. The Art Institute of Chicago houses paintings, sculptures and countless installations. To see everything, allow a few hours at least; we spent about three hours there and managed to see everything, albeit spending more time in some sections than others. Chagall’s America Windows were my favourite part of the museum; I’m a sucker for stained glass. Elsewhere, the contemporary art was interesting and there was a large collection of Impressionist paintings. If you have a Chicago CityPASS you’ll get fast track admission to the permanent collection as well as any special exhibitions, alongside an audio tour.
Cruise the Chicago River
This is a great way to learn more about Chicago’s history, as well as enabling you to see parts of the city which might be less accessible on foot. The Chicago Architecture Foundation do a fantastic 90 minute tour (even if it does involve freezing half to death on a cold, windy day!) narrated by a well-informed member of the foundation. I’m not usually a fan of river tours, but this is something which I would recommend (and only did myself based on my dad’s recommendation). If you’re keen to do a tour and are travelling in peak season, it’s advisable to book in advance. The dock is located at the south east corner of Michigan Avenue Bridge and Wacker Drive.
Try a Deep-Pan Pizza (and Debate the Experience Later)
Chicago’s contribution to the culinary world is widely recognised as the deep-pan (or Chicago) pizza. We went to Pizzeria Uno (29 East Ohio Street), acknowledged by many as the original deep-dish pizzeria. Luckily, for those who aren’t entirely sure of portion sizes, their staff are only too happy to advise; we shared a small between us, and still ended up taking half of it home! In all honesty, I can’t say it’s something I’d eat again, but when in Chicago . . .
Visit Lincoln Park Zoo
On this occasion, my lovely friend Chrissy from Chicago met up with us and we walked to the zoo and back into town; it’s not on the metro line, but is accessible by bus from the city centre. Entry is free and you get more than you bargain for: the zoo is expansive, with an array of animals which most people would be fully prepared to pay to see. I promise there is way more than just the duck in this photo! All of the exhibits and animal houses were well maintained, and it’s easy to while away a few hours wandering around.
Admire the Skyline from the John Hancock Observatory (360 Chicago)
For stunning views of Lake Michigan, ascend the John Hancock Observatory, now known as 360 Chicago. Daredevils can purchase a ticket for Tilt (N.B. At time of writing, 15/08/15, the attraction is currently closed for maintenance), where they will experience a downward facing view of The Magnificent Mile. If you want to skip the tourist section (ID is required; you must be 21) head up to The Signature Room; you’ll get the same views whilst avoiding the queues and paying for a tourist ticket – all you need to do is buy a drink.
Walk Along the Harbourside
If you have the time, take a walk along the edge of Lake Michigan to the Museum Campus (the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Adler Planetarium are all located here, all three of which are included in the Chicago CityPASS) for a view of the Chicago skyline from afar. On a sunny day, you can spend some time relaxing on the grass by the lake, before walking back into the centre through Grant Park.
Brave “The Ledge”
If you fancy a different view of the city to that offered at 360 Chicago, head to Skydeck at the Willis Tower, Chicago’s tallest skyscraper. Adrenaline junkies can head to The Ledge: four glass boxes which extend out beyond the edge of the building and test most people’s nerve to the limit! The Skydeck experience is also included in the Chicago CityPASS.