Chicago has been on my ‘places to visit’ list for a while now and I wasn’t disappointed having recently enjoyed a splendid week in downtown Chicago. We stayed in a beautiful luxury hotel called the Palomar on North State Street very centrally located just a few blocks parallel away from the main shopping street Michigan Avenue. I found the city to be architecturally stunning with friendly people and a pleasant vibe. We fitted in a lot in our few days there and some of my highlights include:
1. Get your bearings with a sightseeing bus tour. We took the Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. tour. It was good value with a hop-on hop-off option on four different tours – the Signature tour and tours to the North, South and West neighbourhoods – over three days. We also got a good few freebies (Garrett’s popcorn, an ice-cream and a free T-shirt) and discount coupons for many of the other tourist attractions in our accompanying guidebook and even better there was a real live tourguide! We only had time to do the Signature tour but it took us all around the loop and pointed out the key sights.
2. Spend a morning in The Art Institute - you’ll be glad you did! It is the city’s #1 museum and the second largest art museum in the country. For the time-constrained the visitor guide offers a handy “what to see in an hour”. Especially liked the Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows and Grant Wood’s American Gothic with the farmer and his spinster sister. The whole experience made me feel cultured!
3. Say hello to the Chicago Bean. Sitting pretty in Millennium Park, you can’t really miss it. It is the famous metallic bean sculpture called “Cloudgate”. It is really popular with tourists taking photos of their reflections. We were lucky enough to see it in sunshine and in rain and ate lunch sitting admiring it. We got sandwiches from Potbelly across the road [I'd recommend their fabulous milkshakes].
4. Rent bikes and cycle along lakeshore drive. There is an excellent 18-mile bike path all along Lake Michigan. We rented bikes at Bike and Roll beside Millennium Park. We cycled firstly down to Museum Campus so called as it has The Field Museum, The Museum of Science & Industry, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium, as well as Soldier Field. We passed the Buckingham Fountain with it’s hourly display. We stopped off at Navy Pier before hitting the beaches of Oak Street and North Avenue turning back at Lincoln Park.
5. Go up the Skydeck at Willis (formerly known as Sears) Tower. Standing at 1,450 feet and 110 stories high, Willis Tower is the tallest building in the western hemisphere although this will be overtaken soon by the Freedom Tower in New York. With fabulous views of Chicago on a clear day you can see over the plains of Illinois and across Lake Michigan to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. It takes about 60 seconds to soar to the top and includes all-glass boxes allowing visitors to look through the floor to the street 1,353 feet below [not for the faint hearted].
6. Have cocktails at the John Hancock Signature Lounge and watch the sunset over Chicago. The Signature Room at the 95th floor offers a dining experience with a cocktail bar on the 96th floor and offers 360° degree views of the entire city.
7. For those who love to shop be sure to check out “The Magnificent Mile”. I’d recommend the Water Tower Place for everything under one roof. Over the eight levels, it offers over 100 shops including Macy’s.
8. Try the famous, award-winning stuffed deep dish pizza at Giordanos. I found it a bit too heavy for my liking but it had to be tried. One tip though is to definitely share one small pizza among three people. I found the portion sizes in Chicago a little on the large size and understand their need for ‘doggie bags’.
9. Go on an architectual river cruise. Chicago’s skyline is one of the world’s tallest and easily ranks among its most magnificent and a river cruise is one of the best ways to view this. This 90-minute tour travels through the heart of the city on the Chicago River and are fully narrated by experts in Chicago history and its architecture. It also includes a short trip through a lock and out onto Lake Michigan past Navy Pier.
10. Go see a show in the theatre district. We went to Jersey Boys in the Bank of America Theatre. Discounted tickets can be bought from Hot Tix outlets.
11. Check out Navy Pier - Chicago’s number one tourist attraction. It is located in the Streeterville neighborhood of the Near North Side community area. Navy Pier attractions include sightseeing tours, the Ferris wheel, the Shakespeare Theatre, a large beer garden as well as numerous retail and food outlets.
12. Experience the rock’n'roll duelling piano’s at Howl at the Moon. There is a good atmosphere and requests are welcomed. There is a coupon for free admission for two in the guidebook otherwise it is $10 each.