Why visit Chicago?
In our eyes, Chicago is THE American city par excellence and the promise of a vibrant city trip! Everything is there: magnificent skyscrapers, endless avenues, giant sculptures in the streets, interesting museums and if you love art and architecture, Chicago will make you vibrate! Do you need more? Lake Michigan, so big that it gives the city a seaside feel. Not to mention the blues and culinary specialities.
At first glance, with all these skyscrapers, you might think visiting Chicago is oppressive, but not at all. It is a beautiful city with historic buildings that, far from crushing you, captivate your eyes with the countless details that adorn the facades. And if you feel a need for nature, take a moment to stroll through the beautiful Millennium Park or take a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan, just like the locals. It’s ideal to escape the city… without leaving the city.
What about the Chicagoans? Contrary to the image we often have of the inhabitants of financial megacities, they are very kind and helpful, really! For example, if they see you with a map in your hand looking for your way, they will gladly help you. If you’re taking a picture, they either stop or lower themselves. It’s quite surprising to see a trader in an impeccable suit stop walking between two appointments to let you take your picture ;o)
If I summarize: unique skyscrapers, mythical places, friendly people, a very rich cultural life and delicious local specialities. So many reasons to visit Chicago!
A little anecdote, if you think the name Chicago sounds Indian, it’s because it’s an Indian name, it probably means onions! Indeed, the city is built on old onion fields.
The 10 must-see places to visit in Chicago
We will get into the details of the visits later, now as promised here are the 10 must-see places to visit in Chicago. I (it’s Alexandra writing) remember the first time I organized our trip, I had a hard time knowing what to visit, because the city is huge! But don’t panic, with this article, you will see more clearly and if you still have questions after that, don’t hesitate to write us a comment.
It is obvious that you will have to make choices of visits according to the length of your stay, your desires and interests. In addition, the climate of Chicago is not that of Los Angeles, it rains there, there is wind and it can be very hot or very cold! Here are the 10 must-see places to visit in Windy City:
- Millennium Park (I could live in this park!)
- The Loop (including the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower)
- Mag Mile: nickname of the Magnificent Mile and “neighbourhood” between River North and the north of the Loop on the Chicago River
- Chicago Architecture
- Navy Pier
- John Hancock or Big John with 360° Chicago
- Walk between Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach
- Lincoln Park
- The Street Art
- And a little bonus (because we’re not savages): take a boat trip either on the river or on Lake Michigan (despite our 2 trips, we couldn’t make this activity happen, but it looks great!)
What to visit in Chicago?
One thing is for sure: you won’t get bored here, the activities are not lacking! Our first advice is to visit Chicago as much as possible on foot, because it is there that you discover the most, that you see the most details and above all you feel the city.
You have to take into account that architecture in Chicago is very important, I would even say that it is the foundation of the city, so walking around with your nose in the air is an integral part of the visit. We will discuss this later in the article.
You can also see that there are sculptures all over the city, so keep your eyes open!
Magnificent Mile and the Chicago River
Between the Loop and River North, there is the Chicago River, which defines its boundary. This place coupled with the part of Michigan Avenue that is Magnificent Mile is one of our favorite places, and the river gives a crazy charm to this place, with all the typical steel bridges. Be careful, your camera may heat up severely in this part of town.
Here you will see examples of Chicago’s most famous buildings, including the sublime Wrigley Building that sits with its friends in the Tribune Tower, Marina Towers, Trump Tower, The Mart, etc.
There are also entrances to the 2.5 km long Riverwalk. You are almost at the river level in the middle of the buildings, it is really a unique point of view and to be done at any time of the year. On sunny days, there are restaurant terraces that are open, it gives a lot of life. Really very nice!
Well, before I start talking to you about Millennium Park, you should know that I’m going to be totally subjective, because he’s my favorite. The most beautiful, the most awesome, the best park in the world, in the universe! I assume.
I’m going to talk to you about Millennium Park in the broad sense, so the Buckingham Fountain (which is more on Grant Park) at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion Concert Hall.
To fully enjoy Millennium Park, you must go there in the spring. The fountains will be activated, there are flowers everywhere and small concerts. But you can go there any season, because its “headliners” are always there: The Cloud Gate, the concert hall and the Crown Fountain. The park is worth a visit both day and night.
Here’s what you’ll find in Millennium Park:
- The magnificent Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage, the acoustics are wonderful thanks to the metal structure. At night, it’s just beautiful. With any luck, you’ll come across a group that rehearses there.
- The famous Bean or The Cloud Gate: this sculpture in the shape of a mercury drop is no longer presented; don’t hesitate to walk around to play with the different views of the Bean and the city’s buildings.
- Crown Fountain, these 2 huge fountains that represent faces; during the day it’s nice, at night it’s even better!
- Millennium Monument and its columns staggered in front of the Downtown Skyline
- Maggie Daley Park, take the bridge for a little height.
- Lurie Garden: a kind of botanical garden, with many plants and flowers.
- Buckingham Fountain, very refreshing with the Downtown in the background.
Visit the Loop
The Loop is the business district, it’s Chicago’s Downtown. It is also very rich in skyscrapers, 2 of which are essential for me. First the dizzying Willis Tower where you can go up to the 103rd floor skydeck (ticket here: Skydedck and The Ledge) and have a breathtaking view of the city. Secondly, I particularly like the Chicago Stock Exchange building. For the banker that I am, the stock exchange building is not insignificant, but apart from that the building is very beautiful. It is also the site of theatres, with the famous red and bright sign “Chicago”.
Feel free to enter the Chicago Cultural Center and go to the top floor. You will discover Tiffany’s magnificent stained glass window on the ceiling, and the decoration is superb.
The little info for fans of Route 66: you will find the “Begin Route 66” sign at the intersection of Adam Street and Michigan Avenue.
The Loop is architecture, sculpture, prohibition atmosphere, in short it’s the soul of Chicago!
Visiting the Loop is an immersion in a very special atmosphere, the kind of atmosphere you expect to experience in Chicago, here you feel right at home in Gotham. The skyscrapers are high, the streets are dark, the aerial metro constantly rhythms the tempo, in short the Loop can be visited, but also felt. Batman, are you there?!
Plan a good half day to visit.
Visit the Gold Coast
In the Gold Coast, in addition to shopping, you will find 2 legends. The first is Big John, the John Hancock, and the second is the Water Tower.
You can go up to the Big John Observatory, called 360° Chicago, with a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan and the beaches. You can also go up for a “free” panoramic view by going to the 95th floor at The Signature Lounge, it will cost you the price of the cocktail. Alternatively, you can find tickets here: queue cutter ticket for the observation platform.
North of the Gold Coast, there is Astor Street, where you will find very pretty houses and mansions. At the corner of E North Bld and N State Parkway, you discover the strange Cardinal’s Mansion.
The north of the Gold Coast touches the Old Town district, nice, but it hasn’t transcended us…
Allow 2-3 hours (without the queue at 360° Chicago) to visit. However, it also depends on your shopping preferences.
The Navy Pier
Navy Pier is not just a jetty, it’s one of Chicago’s must-see places, with a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan. Note the cute little lighthouse you can see from Navy Pier, it’s hard to believe we’re in Illinois (especially since in March, there were ice floes).
It is especially necessary to walk there and if you have the courage to take a ride on the Ferris wheel, which is a nice attraction of the pier. Six years ago, I had the experience of going up there at nightfall. I feel dizzy, I didn’t get smart, but the view was magical with the buildings lighting up and the sky colored by the sunset.
In summer, there are even fireworks from Navy Pier.
Allow a good hour to go around it.
Visit Lincoln Park
There is Lincoln Park, the real park, which is the largest green space in the city and there is Lincoln Park, the neighbourhood.
The neighborhood is nice, but that’s all. It’s a little fancy. We smiled because they set up the Cat Watch. They have cats, which you have to leave alone, because they have an important mission: to chase rats! That being said, it is something that is taken very seriously.
Lincoln Park is indeed impressive, with a beautiful view of the city. There’s the zoo, where we didn’t really linger. Since we discovered Lincoln Park in winter, we were mainly interested in greenhouses, including the water lily greenhouse, because it was deliciously hot there…
In spring and summer, it must be extremely pleasant to walk around Lincoln Park.
1-2 hours of visits depending on the season. Why not go along the lake on the Lakefront Trail if the weather is fine? It’s not very close, but the ride is beautiful from the Gold Coast.
Visit the museums
We haven’t visited any museums in Chicago, but there are some particularly interesting ones:
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Field Museum of Natural History
- Adler Planetarium
- Chicago History Museum
Chicago Lakefront Trail
One of the additional reasons we love Chicago is its Lakefront Trail, an 18-km trail along Lake Michigan. The trail is open to bicycles and pedestrians, that’s all. You can walk around quietly, it’s a real breath of fresh air that you can easily take in the middle of a city trip.
The Chicago Lakefront Trail is located between Lincoln Park in the north and Jackson Park in the south.
The most beautiful panoramic views of Chicago
Here are the spectacular views of the Chicago Skyline:
- Navy Pier
- In front of the Adler Planetarium on Northerly Island (a peninsula of Near South Side where there are several museums)
- Lincoln Park, the park
- Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach
- John Hancock (360° Chicago, The Signature Lounge)
- Willis Tower, the skydeck on the 103rd floor
Chicago, the architectural capital
I’m not going to go in four directions: visiting Chicago through its architecture is the essence of a day in this city.
For the record, the city of Chicago before the 20th century was built entirely of wood. Legend has it that a cow, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, kicked an unfortunate lantern and the fire spread throughout the city.
This fire, the rise of steel, combined with the World Expo that was to take place, turned Chicago into a real vertical construction laboratory, giving rise to a particular architecture and the famous eponymous school. The names to know are Louis Sullivan (the Chicago “father” who created revolutionary buildings), Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Daniel Burnham, you will also hear about the Prairie style. It is also the story of a race in which Chicago and New York fought for the highest skyscraper.
Classic, neo-classical, neo-gothic, baroque, in short, even if you don’t know anything about architecture and you’re not interested, by visiting Chicago you have the opportunity to enjoy it. And you realize how important it is.
We had made an article especially dedicated to Chicago buildings that you can find here: visit the Chicago buildings. It will be updated following our second trip, more beautiful photos and better knowledge.
If you want to know more, come to the new Chicago Architecture Center, more info here: Architecture.
Visit Chicago’s Street Art
Street art is what has changed a lot since our first trip. Six years ago, there was almost no street art, it was just beginning. We who love to discover street art during our travels, we were happy to see that Chicago had gotten into it. Now, you can find some in several places, including one that really highlights street art, the Wabash arts corridor which is much visited for its beautiful large frescoes.
You can also find a pretty flamingo on the wall of the Flamingo Rum Club in Near North.
Wabash arts corridor
Wabash is Chicago’s new Street art district, very close to downtown, near Columbia College. You can find more information here: map of the Wabash arts corridor.
It is in Wabash arts corridor that you will find the famous fresco with elk and gum. Here, the frescoes are huge, they easily take the whole facade.
Pilsen is far from downtown, you have to go if you have time to visit Chicago. A lot of street art along the railway line. Instead of listing all the places where you can find street art in Pilsen, I invite you to visit this site: Pilsen street art card, where there is a map with murals.
It takes a short half day to visit the street art of Pilsen. Pilsen is a district with a high concentration of Mexicans, but also with a Slavic population, not at all touristic, located in the Lower West Side of Chicago.
Just be careful along the railway line, there are a lot of homeless people who are sometimes very drunk.
Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square
These neighbourhoods are also quite far from the centre, so go ahead if you only have time. A plus in your visit but not a purpose of visit.
You find pretty houses in Wicker Park, the atmosphere is relaxed.
Street art is located on Milwaukee Ave between Logan Square and Wicker Park and along Damen Avenue between Wicker Park and Bucktown. Honestly, it’s not worth making such a long trip just for street art. Even if it is along Milwaukee Ave that you find the fresco “Greetings from Chicago”.
How to visit Chicago?
Visit Chicago on foot
If you go to Chicago, one thing is for sure and certain: you will walk a lot, a lot, a lot, to madness!
So, you’ll need foot and calf massages, ointment (a lot of ointment), blister plasters, good comfortable shoes and courage!
To give you an idea, during our visit to Chicago last March, when it was between -15 and -25 degrees, we walked easily 15 km a day (yes, we are sick…).
Why do you have to do this to yourself? We have always been convinced that walking in a city is the best way to visit it. And Chicago is no exception, I would even say, all the more so! Chicago is an architectural capital, there are sculptures everywhere, details on the buildings, it’s a city that feels like, in short, nothing like walking to enjoy all this.
Visit Chicago by public transport
Chicago is also well served by the subway. During our stay, to save time or because it was really too far away we took the subway or a Uber (very cheap).
Taking the subway in Chicago could also be a tourist attraction if you’re interested. Also called “L”, it is particularly nice to take the aerial metro to go around the Loop (the brown line). You’re really very close to skyscrapers.
Another very nice option and that even with 2 trips to Chicago, we couldn’t do it, it’s the cruise on the Chicago River. That must be really nice, so don’t hesitate if the climate is with you!
Visiting Chicago: our good addresses
Considering the unconditional gourmands that we are, you can well imagine that we like to go in search of little delicious things during our travels.
I don’t know if we were less sensitive to it 6 years ago, but now the city is also known for its gourmet and gourmet side. Many good addresses, which are quickly taken over, but we feel that Chicagoans like to eat and eat well. You shouldn’t see the big junk food that makes the country’s reputation, but rather nice and trendy addresses and lots of delicacies.
Finally, there are few of them, because we either cooked in our accommodation in the evening to eat light (yes, we are starting to be sensitive to that too…), we were having a salad at the Whole Food Market.
During our stay in March, the weather had a little problem… He even broke the plombs ! As you were told, it was -15 degrees with a feeling of -25 degrees. At this point, you’re in survival mode, so we had a mission in the morning: to fill up with calories and not pretend! In short, it was the perfect excuse to test the donuts we met on our way…
- Yolk: our morning headquarters. Several addresses in town, we went almost every morning to the one at the foot of the Marina Towers.
- Portillo’s Hot Dogs: delicious hot dogs and the place is typically American.
- Eataly: a supermarket with only Italian products, practical if you want good products to cook in your home.
- Lou Mitchell’s: a must! Mythical! Considered as the unofficial starting point for Route 66.
- Jojo’s Milk Bar: for indecent milkshakes.
- Doughnut vault: delicious donuts, but go early, because they close as soon as the goods are sold.
- Revival Food Hall: a short food.
- Tempo Cafe: ideal for a hearty breakfast.
- The Original Pancake House: apple pancake, huge poooomme pancake!!!!
Addresses that have not been tested, but that are the envy of
Since we sometimes ate in our room in the evening (we hadn’t planned to be so cold), we didn’t go out to eat as much as we thought we would. Here are some addresses that can be nice:
- Little Goat: a kind of dinner opened by the winner of Top Chef
- Girl & The Goat: it’s the restaurant of the winner of the Top Chef award
- On horseback: it would be the best hamburgers in the USA (and to think we missed it!)
Chicago’s specialty: deep dish pizza
Deep dish pizza is the dish made in Chicago. Being half Italian, I can’t call it a pizza, even if it was invented by an Italian… but why?!
It’s more like a quiche with the ingredients of a pizza, than a pizza. There are very good addresses where they do it like at Giardino’s.
This information dates back to our first stay in Chicago, because I couldn’t taste it the second time. It turns out that the first time I got caught up in the big portions and it was 2 kilos of food in front of me… I might as well tell you that I ate deep dish pizza for the next 10 years.
However, my advice is to try this pizza, because it is really THE Chicago specialty.
When to Visit Chicago?
Summers in Chicago are hot and rainy and winters are cold and windy. That’s it, that’s it, Chicago! She’s hard to tame! Don’t forget that the beautiful girl is not nicknamed Windy City for nothing.
At the beginning of June 2013, in 4 days we had had a lot of rain, but the temperature was pleasant. At the beginning of March 2019, the climate has forgotten itself and we have never been so cold in our lives with -15 degrees, with a feeling of -25 degrees, thanks to its delicious little refreshing wind and a little snow.
Theoretically, March is also the month with the least rainfall. On the other hand, from the summer Chicago comes alive with lots of small concerts, beaches that are open, flowers in parks, etc..
You know what? I’ll tell you what. Go to Chicago when you like it!
How many days to visit Chicago?
Determining the number of days to visit Chicago will depend on how much you walk, whether you like spending time in museums, etc.
In all, we have 13 nights total and we haven’t even visited the museums… But I would say that we should spend at least 4 or 5 days visiting Chicago. With 4 or 5 days, you will have had time to visit the must-see without getting too stressed out.
Where to stay to visit Chicago?
Our advice, and this is also what we did during our 2 stays in Chicago, is to stay at the centre like Mignificent Mile, River North or where there is the Chicago River north of the Loop. I wouldn’t get out of the centre too much for several reasons: 1) Chicago remains a city where you could feel insecure/unsafe in some places and 2) in the centre, you are at the heart of all the main activities.
There are many choices for hotels in Chicago as the city is becoming more and more fashionable, but both times we had stayed about a hundred meters from the Magnificent Mile on the banks of the Chicago River. Very convenient to visit all the interesting attractions of the city and 15 minutes walk from the famous Bean and Millennium Park (as a reminder of the best park in the universe)!
First trip: accommodation at the River Hotel, very well located, small room.
Second trip: accommodation at the Trump Hotel, we will not argue about the choice of hotel eh (as a reminder, we are Swiss = neutral!). The Americans haven’t missed us yet. That being said, the hotel was perfect, because it is a 5-star hotel with a small kitchen, very well placed, very cosy, just perfect bedding.
Is it safe to visit Chicago? What to expect?
Paradoxically, what also makes Chicago so charming is its criminal past, and there are organized tours in this direction. When you walk around in the Loop and discover the building where Al Capone would have hidden his loot, it makes something of a difference. It’s mythical!
Chicago has changed a lot, from a city where you barely had to look outside to an energetic, cultural city that is becoming fashionable.
However, it should be kept in mind that despite everything, the city is also known for its gangs (southern districts). Moreover, as for many American cities unfortunately, there is a lot of poverty and a lot of pickpockets.
It’s not cinema, Chicago is a potentially dangerous city, so caution and common sense are required, but neither should we get into a paranoia, because it’s going to go very well!
For our part, we never felt in danger. Oh, yeah, except once, but we’ll talk to you about it below.
Mostly common sense was used (do not exhibit or provoke) and risk areas were avoided (request to the hotel or premises). In the subway we were careful and in the evening we stayed in the busy places.
A small news item just for fun
I guess you’d rather I didn’t talk about the bomb threat on our first trip? Yeah, you want to? Oh well, since you’re asking… but I’ll keep it short.
One Sunday morning, we were quietly leaving our hotel when we saw many police officers and all kinds of strange devices. In short, there was a lot of turpitude, because we had to deal with an undercover cop, who made us very scared by coming to stick to us, without us knowing that he was a policeman, but well aware that he was armed (there, we really thought we were going to be attacked). All because we were taking pictures. In summary, there was a bomb on one of the bridges and the police did not want any pictures to be taken. But in the end, everything went well! It was defused and a few hours later, normal life resumed.
How to reach O’Hare Airport from downtown?
From O’Hare Airport to downtown Chicago, in the Loop, take the blue subway line. It takes about 45 minutes. This subway line is quite safe, you just have to be careful with pickpockets.
Otherwise, to travel from downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport, we also took Uber. It takes about 35 minutes.
Our advice: if you want to go to the airport in Uber or taxi, check with your Plan application, the road conditions. Depending on the day and time, traffic jams quickly increase. Either you take a time margin on your journey or you take the subway option.
Why do we like visiting Chicago so much?
Well, you understand, we’re completely under the spell of Chicago. This city has everything for it, an exciting and magnificent architecture, beautiful parks, a gigantic lake, sculptures everywhere, it is gourmet and a unique atmosphere.
We hope you too will have a great time visiting Chicago!