The Windy City is not for the faint of heart, literally – the food is some of the richest on offer in the United States, and the harsh winters are likely to test one’s resolve as well. Chicago, one of the Midwest’s few notable and renowned cities, is a treasure trove of world-class food, cheap beer and glorious architecture. The city retains an inherent friendliness and charm, and its food, mix of cultures and storied history are a big part of its appeal.
[Also see our travel article “The Most Visited Cities in the United States by Foreign Travelers“]
10. Eat, eat, eat in Fulton Market
Chicago is undoubtedly a red meat town, but even the pickiest of eaters can find something to soothe salivating taste buds in the Fulton Market neighborhood. Go later in the afternoon to enjoy the Mr. G sandwich at Chicago’s oldest family owned Italian market J.P. Graziano without having to wait in line. Publican Quality Meats smokes, cures and cooks all their meat, making the hometown crowd proud. For those who just can’t see why deep dish pizza is a (good) thing, head to Piece, which specializes in New Haven-style pizza. Settle heartburn with the slightly healthier option of a bowl of pho at Hai Yen.
9. Get serious about sports
Pick your loyalties wisely, because fair-weather sports fans will never hear the end of it in Chicago. The city is home to several teams across the four major sports. Da Bears, as they are affectionately known, are much more than an American football team – they’re a Chicago institution that dominate Sundays during the season. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s legacies still tower over the Bulls’ history, but the current basketball team has done an excellent job of making it to the playoffs several times in the last decade. Baseball splits the town, as Northsiders inevitably side with century-long underdogs the Cubs, while Southsiders cheer on the White Sox. Hockey team the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013.
8. Go outside to Oak Park
Technically, it’s not part of Chicago proper, but Oak Park is a still has plenty to offer. Those into architecture can join the Frank Lloyd Wright tour, which takes visitors to his first home and studio and Unity Temple in Oak Park as well as other sites in the city. Another tour well worth the time is a walk through Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home and museum. Get your brain ready for the onslaught of knowledge with a healthy vegetarian lunch at Munch.
7. Everything’s at the lakefront
[Also see our travel article “World’s Ten Best Skylines“]
Chicago’s lakefront remains unmarred by piers and large docks. It does, in fact, get warm enough to head to the beaches in summer, and they get plenty crowded. In winter, it’s incredible to see Lake Michigan freeze. The lakefront is home to practically everything and is an ideal place to hang out if just in town for a day or two. Grant Park, Millenium Park, Lincoln Park and Soldier Field are all there. A leisurely drive along Lake Shore Drive puts the nation’s largest freshwater lake on one side and the city’s brick-and-glass skyline on the other. For a more eco-friendly alternative, a bike ride or run along Lake Shore Trail is equally gorgeous.
6. Architecture and shopping downtown
[Also see our travel article “The Chicago Schools: American Architecture at its Best“]
Start the day on Michigan Avenue and see how long it takes to set credit cards alight on the Magnificent Mile. Once past the call of consumerism, take a gander around Tribune Tower, where one could spend an entire afternoon gaping at the architecture. Pieces from famous sites, like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, Abraham Lincoln’s tomb, Notre Dame and more have been incorporated into the lower outside levels of the building. See the view from above on the 103rd floor at Willis (that is, Sears) Tower. The glass deck is not for everyone! Right on Lake Michigan is Navy Pier, an all-American, family friendly good time with rides, a museum and a great view. After marveling at all the brick, take your picture in front of the Bean, a huge mirrored sculpture, and head to the lakefront.