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City slickers

A wander in the windy city

Suzanne Harvey and Alison Silva May 27, 2014

Chicago

Where is it? And what is there to do? These are two of the most frequently asked questions about Chicago. 

An exciting first for both of us was our recent visit to the “Windy City” which sits on Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois. Non stop flights from the UK take you directly to Chicago O’Hare airport one of the busiest airports in the world. Transfers from the airport to downtown Chicago, are readily available from taxis, Go Airport Shuttles and the famous “EL” are available. Fans of ER will remember how characters took the “EL”, the elevated subway. 

From distinguished museums, beautiful parks, Magnificent Mile shopping, top-notch theatre, lakefront beaches and incredible food, there really is something for everyone. The winters in Chicago can be harsh, so my advice would be to visit in spring through to fall. The summer months give way to “Movies in the Park”, Chicago Summer Dance and the smooth sounds of the saxophone, the guitar and a thousand voices filling the air at concerts and festivals every weekend.

The best way to get a feel for Chicago is to take the Chicago Trolley or double decker bus tour.  The Signature tour has over thirteen stops taking you to places like popular museums, Millennium Park, Navy Pier, the Magnificent Mile, John Hancock Observatory and the Skydeck Chicago, where you can get off and explore at your leisure and then hop back on to the next stop.  The tickets are valid for 48 hours giving you plenty of time to see and do it all.

My favourite place in the city is the Lakefront and the best way to see Chicago is to rent a Divvy Bike from the 400 stations across the city. You can rent and return your bike to any station, very much how they work in London and are inexpensive at only $7 for a 24 hour pass. We spent a great morning riding along the lakefront whilst taking in all of the sights, working up our appetites, to sample the great food without feeling guilty.

Another great way to see the city is from the water. We took a seventy minute guided architectural boat cruise. The guides are all certified and you will see over fifty breathtaking buildings that are all so different and rich in history.

If you want to see Chicago from up above then a visit to the John Hancock Observatory is a must, where the fastest elevator in North America will speed you up 94 floors for a 360 degree view of Chicago by day and night. Or head up the tallest building in the Western Hempishere and at 1,353 feet, step into the SkyDeck, where you will find glass boxes that extend out 4.3 feet… it offers the most amazing views and yes, your legs will go to jelly!

There are restaurants to suit every palate and budget, from rooftop restaurants, riverfront dining, beer gardens and sidewalk patios but no visit to Chicago would be complete with trying a “deep dish pizza”.  We ate at Pizano’s a little “hole in the wall, Mom and Pop” restaurant on State Street, delicious pizzas are made to order and can take up to thirty minutes to arrive at your table but they’re well worth the wait accompanied by a nice glass of Chianti - what could be better? 

Another area we made a point of heading to was Rush Street, which is just teeming with lively bars, restaurants and a secret gem called The BackRoom. The approach seems a little strange as it’s down an alley but you will have a great evening of incredible live music. Head down late into the night as that’s when the atmosphere is at its best.

If beer is your preference, Chicago is home to some of the best beers and breweries in the US, from Rock Bottom, located just off the Magnificent Mile to Atlas Brewing Company in Lincoln Park. Like we did, you can do a Brewery Tour and on this you will find places that tourists definitely don’t get to see… if you are like me though and you don’t normally drink beer, brace yourself, they have some strong beers!

Last, but not least, you have to take in a game. The exciting and electric atmosphere of any sporting event in America is just out of this world and the basketball game we went to did not disappoint. Before I went, I had no idea what the rules were but it really doesn’t matter. I was rooting for the home team and before I knew it I was jumping up and down and cheering with the best of them. Matches aren’t that expensive, so if you want to go make sure you plan your trip around a game and look it up before you go.

So, when thinking of your next visit to the US, take a closer look at all that Chicago has to offer, we know you will be glad you did.