To understand why Chicago boasts 32 million domestic leisure travelers and over 1.3 million overseas visitors each year one really has to experience the ‘Windy City’ for themselves. Chicago is the largest city in the Midwest and the third most-populous city in the United States. Located at the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan, Chicago has something to offer every type of visitor. Families will want to check out the LEGOLAND Discovery Center and thrill seekers of all ages can face their fears and take in the wondrous views provided by Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). Cultural enthusiasts will relish the city’s renowned comedy and theatre troupes, including The Second City, while sports buffs will quickly understand why The Sporting News named Chicago the best sports city in the United States in 2006. Chicago lays claim to franchises in all four major sports leagues including the MLB Cubs and White Sox, the NHL Blackhawks, the NBA Bulls, and the NFL Bears (one of the last two remaining charter members of the NFL). Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, is the second oldest active major league ballpark, and the Chicago Marathon is one of the five World Marathon Majors.
Chicago features a wide variety of attractions to tempt every type of traveler. In terms of culture, the city is home to critically acclaimed theatre and comedy troupes, including the world-renowned Second City improv troupe. Chicago also prides itself on its historic Cultural Center and Museum Campus. The Cultural Center, erected in 1897, originally housed the Chicago Public Library and now features various galleries and exhibit halls that highlight rotating exhibits, as well as the city’s Visitor Information Center. The Museum Campus encompasses the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Shedd Aquarium.
While undoubtedly one of the United States’ major metropolises, Chicago pays homage to Mother Nature with its 7300 acres of municipal parkland, including 29 public beaches along historic Lake Shore Drive. Visitors to these beautiful beaches can enjoy bike rentals and a refreshing dip in Lake Michigan. Lincoln Park stretches 5.5 miles along the waterfront and features the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is home to more than 1,000 animals. Grant Park, flanked by the aforementioned Museum Campus, is home to the beautiful Buckingham fountain and also hosts the immensely popular Taste of Chicago culinary event and Lollapalooza music festival each summer. Millennium Park, one of the city’s newest additions, offers visually stunning attractions such as the stainless steel Cloudgate sculpture, while also providing for ice skating in the winter and the interactive Crown fountain in the summer.
Navy Pier once again highlights the importance of Lake Michigan as a defining factor in Chicago’s identity, and, as Chicago’s number one tourist attraction, is certainly not to be missed. The 3,000 foot long pier boasts a 150 foot-tall Ferris wheel that attracts more than 8 million people annually. Navy pier is also home to various exhibitions throughout the year and is an embarkation point for tour and excursion boats, such as the popular Tall Ship Windy.
When to Go
The peak season for travel to Chicago is from April through December, with throngs of visitors flooding the city for popular summer events such as Taste of Chicago. Chicago has notoriously cold winters, but cost-conscious travelers willing to brave the elements can take advantage of promotions from hotels and cheap airfare during the low season from January through March.
How to Get There
Chicago is a major transportation hub and airline travel is available from just about every U.S. city. O’Hare International Airport is the second-busiest airport in the world, and Midway Airport also sees a great deal of air traffic. The Chicago Transit Authority’s rapid transit rail system, locally known simply as the ‘L,’ costs only $2.25 per rider and serves both O’Hare and Midway, making travel from either airport to downtown Chicago a breeze. Taxi fare from both airports is about $35 on average for those who prefer ground-level transportation.
While the vast offering of attractions can make it difficult for travelers to choose how to spend their time in Chicago, visitors and locals alike agree that there are certain must-dos in the Windy City. Recommendations typically include the following attractions, in no particular order. Navy Pier, with its stunning Ferris wheel, shopping and dining, and excursion boats; Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs and the United States’ second-oldest major league ballpark; the Museum Campus, which hosts exhibits for all ages; and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), where visitors can take in 360 degree views of up to four states from over 1300 feet above ground level.