Cosmopolitan, classic, gritty, pleasant, modern, international, artsy, epicurean, architectural, friendly, musical, captivating, irresistible. Few cities can claim to be all this, and fewer still can pull it off with such grace and warmth as Chicago.
It is at once the cultural heart of the USA and a world-class city with international appeal. It has a taste for the finer things in life, yet a friendly and unhurried demeanor, famous for its Midwestern hospitality, eclectic neighborhoods, vibrant culture and arts scene, culinary prowess, and much more.
Eclectic and Vibrant Neighborhoods
Chicago can be divided into 77 vibrant and eclectic neighborhoods, each boasting a wealth of attractions, entertainment and dining options, as well as a unique identity and sense of self, ranging from artsy to artisanal, high-brow to down-to-earth. The city is home to one of the largest Chinatowns in North America, as well as Boystown, the first officially recognized gay community in the United States.
Head to the North Side neighborhoods (Wicker Park/Bucktown) for a taste of Chicago shopping and nightlife. The area is filled with action around the clock – browsing through vintage boutiques gives way to dining at excellent restaurants come evening and drinking at trend-setting watering holes all through the night. Another North Side attraction is Logan Square, an area known for its special focus on all things local, from produce sold at the lively farmers market to ingredients used to prepare food at local eateries and craft beer brews. To discover an edgier, creative side to the city, head to West Loop, a neighborhood still very much in the making. It’s an area once known for its industrial flair that now contains elegant design boutiques, galleries, fine restaurants and much more.
If in doubt as to where to start a day of exploration, head out to Michigan Avenue, and specifically to its liveliest section, the Magnificent Mile. This stretch of road is the city’s (and some would argue, the nation’s) most vibrant thoroughfare, combining dining, shopping and entertainment for all ages and interests. Make the Millennium Park and its iconic Cloud Gate (called “The Bean”) your next stop. Chances are you might happen upon a festival or celebration, held frequently during summer.
Exploring Chicago will prove rewarding to anyone, but especially architecture and design enthusiasts, who simply cannot overlook some of the city’s fantastic, cutting-edge architectural creations. Can’t-miss attractions include the eco-friendly and visually stunning Aqua tower (designed to foster a sense of community), the Marina City (a so-called “city within a city,” often visually likened to corn cobs) and the one-of-a-kind Unity Temple. Created by Frank Lloyd Wright, it represents a daring break from the conventional design of religious structures.
The 360 Chicago Observation Deck (pictured above), as well as the Willis Tower’s Skydeck and The Ledge are also known visitor darlings. The latter is not for the faint-hearted: glass box balconies protruding from the Tower at 1,353 feet (412 meters) above ground provide sweeping, entirely unobstructed views of Chicago and the surroundings, even including nearby states and, naturally, Lake Michigan. Stepping onto one of those will surely take your breath away, for the transparent floors make it appear as though thin air alone separates the observer from the ground 103 floors below.
A City-Shaped Museum
Chicago teems with museums, and whether it be the internationally renowned Art Institute, the Field Museum of natural history, the city’s oldest and venerable Chicago Academy of Sciences (at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum) or the family-friendly Shedd Aquarium and Lincoln Park Zoo that catch your fancy, an exhilarating experience is all but guaranteed. First on the list – the Art Institute of Chicago – contains a spectacular collection of nearly 300,000 pieces spanning periods from ancient times to the 21st century, while the Chicago Academy of Sciences proudly holds on to its title of the “first museum in the west,” showcasing nature’s curiosities in an imaginative and engaging way.
Animal-lovers and families simply must write the Lincoln Park Zoo into their itineraries for the opportunity to get close and personal with creatures from all around the planet, from fun-loving chimps to pigmy hippos and even a polar bear – one of the latest additions to the zoo’s animal family. The zoo simultaneously functions as a conservation and science center, and – best of all – admission is entirely free of charge.
For some close encounters with marine creatures and inhabitants of the world’s waters, the Shedd Aquarium is a place like no other. Visited by nearly 2 million people every year, the aquarium works to preserve endangered species and care for wildlife all across the world, all the while educating visitors about marine life and introducing them to creatures inhabiting the Great Lakes, the Amazon, Caribbean coral reefs, and many other underwater landscapes.
Festivals and Music
Festivals are held all through the year, adding vibrancy to an already thriving cultural scene. Summer is an especially attractive season in this regard: Chicago locals and city guests mingle to the sounds of live music that fill the air throughout the summer months, paying homage to the Windy City’s rich musical heritage. Jazz occupies a particularly honorable spot among the many Chicago-bred genres – among which feature blues, hip hop, gospel, metal and punk – and is celebrated annually at the dedicated Chicago Jazz Festival on Labor Day Weekend. Many of Chicago’s music festivals are also free of charge to attend, which makes them very accessible to the public.
Among Chicago’s most beloved festivals are those dedicated to culinary endeavors: Taste of Chicago and Chicago Gourmet are the two standouts in this regard, attracting culinary professionals, accomplished chefs, restaurateurs and all food aficionados from across the state and beyond.
These large-scale food celebrations are the best places to discover that Chicago’s food scene includes much more than its iconic deep-dish pizza. Explore the world’s cuisines in Chicago’s many ethnic food joints and restaurants, spanning Polish to Middle Eastern fare. A dive into the booming craft beer scene is definitely in order to finish off the culinary adventure, perhaps just before or right after catching a game of baseball at Wrigley Field to root for the beloved Chicago Cubs.
To learn more about the city and everything it has to offer,
download your free Chicago travel guide.