If you’re looking for a big city to add to your getaway list, it might be time to consider Chicago. Even if you just have a day because of a work trip or a layover, store your luggage and head out to explore the Windy City. You might find you want to come back for me once you do.
The following are things to know about visiting Chicago, the must-sees, and any other information that might relevant to travelers.
For the most part, everywhere you need to go in Chicago, you can get there by public transportation. If you fly into Midway or O’Hare, you can take an L train from the airport to downtown and beyond.
There are eight L lines and 140 bus lines, and if you get a Chicago Transit Authority map (CTA), it’s relatively easy to navigate public transport in the city.
If you want to ride the CTA, you’ll need a Ventura Card. You can buy a Ventura Card at kiosks at both of Chicago’s main airports, and you can find options for passes that are for one day, three days, or seven days.
You can also load your Ventura Card with a set amount of money, and when you use your card, you just hold it over the L turnstiles and wait for a green arrow. It’s the same when you get on a bus, but you hover it inside the bus doors.
Chicago is one of the best cities in the country for using public transportation to get into the city from the airports.
If you’re driving for any reason, make sure you have the ParkChicago app. The app will help you find places to park, and you can add your license plate number and credit card so you can pay for parking via the app.
Chicago’s streets are a grid layout, and the intersection of State and Madison Streets is the center point of said grid.
Street numbers go out from there running north-to-south and east-to-west.
If you have somewhere you need to be in Chicago at a set time, such as a dinner reservation, give yourself plenty of time.
Reasons To Visit
If you’re not sure whether or not Chicago is worth a visit, consider the following:
- Architecture: There are more than 100 skyscrapers making up the Chicago skyline and there are often new ones popping up. You’ll see modern architecture paired with Art Deco 1920s buildings and some of Chicago’s skyscrapers and buildings are among the most visually unique and interesting anywhere in the world.
- Museums: Culturally, Chicago is rich and diverse. Some of the best museums in the world call Chicago Home, such as The Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Chicago History Museum. There’s also the Art Institute of Chicago and many galleries and studios.
- The Food: Chicago isn’t necessarily known for light fare, but in their areas of specialty, it’s tough to think you might find any better. Try out a deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, or a Chicago hot dog while you’re there. Of course, there are fine-dining options too.
- Lake Michigan: Chicago is situated right next to beautiful Lake Michigan, and during the warm summer months, this is where many city residents spend their free tie. There are trails, parks and sandy beaches surrounding Lake Michigan, so people are often picnicking and boating.
- The Sports: Chicago is home to iconic sports teams like the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Sox. Chicago sports fans are enthusiastic, to say the least, and attending either a game or a local sports bar will show you that energy on full display.
- Parks: While Chicago winters can be brutal, residents take advantage of the summer. Around 10% of the city is dedicated to parks, including famous Lincoln Park. There’s also a free zoo in Lincoln Park, and Grant Park is within the Loop and is home to many music and food festivals during the summer.
- Shopping: Magnificent Mile is home to department stores, luxury brands and also some more budget-friendly shopping options. If you like smaller shopping venues, go to Lincoln Park, Old Town or Wicker Park for independent boutiques.
Navy Pier should be mentioned as a reason to head to Chicago in and of itself. Navy Pier projects onto Lake Michigan, and it features waterfront attractions for visitors of all ages, paired with amazing views.
If you have time, venture a little west of downtown to Oak Park. Oak Park is a Chicago suburb that has the largest collection of buildings designed by the famed Frank Lloyd Wright in the world. The homes in Oak Park are primarily designed in his signature Prairie style.
Mistakes to Avoid
If you’re thinking about a trip to Chicago, avoid these mistakes:
- Avoid the winter if you can. Chicago winters are tough to handle even for the residents and if you go during the winter, you’re not going to have the chance to see the city in all its glory with sparkling Lake Michigan and outdoor events and festivals. If you can wait until summer. If you do have to go in winter, use the Pedway, which is a set of underground tunnels that run through 40 city blocks downtown.
- Try not to book a chain hotel. There are some unique independent hotels that have their own sense of interest to them.
- Skip Broadway shows and instead see comedy. If you want Broadway, do that in New York. Chicago does host Broadway musicals and shows, but for a uniquely Chicago experience, see a comedy act at Second City.
- Don’t stay within the downtown area if you have time to venture out. The Chicago suburbs are worth the trek out there.
Finally, don’t miss a tour from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. They offer a 1 ½-hour guided riverboat cruise on the Chicago River that will provide you with background and information on Chicago’s most important buildings.