Chicago is the dynamo of America’s Mid West, a hard-working, hard-playing enclave where skyscrapers sprout from the ground, lively bars and restaurants dot almost every corner, and pockets of culture nestle on streets where a busy populace goes about its business. So how to spend your time when you arrive in the Windy City? There are numerous ways, but you should certainly dip a toe into each of the following:
Hit the shops on the Magnificent Mile
An epic strip of tarmac that dissects the heart of the city, Michigan Avenue is Chicago’s key artery, spearing far north and south of the centre on both sides of the Chicago River.
But its most revered section is the stretch that forges directly north of the river – an area generally referred to as the Magnificent Mile (a title it has worn since the 1940s). Here is one of the planet’s most wallet-troubling retail zones, home to some 460 stores, 275 restaurants and 50 hotels – as well as several grand malls. Just about every major commercial player is here, including the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales.
It is a place where you could easily blow the budget – although if you look up from your spending, you should also notice a couple of the city’s icons. The Chicago Water Tower is a pointed pile, dating back to 1869, now used as a tourist information office. And the John Hancock Center, 1127ft tall, is the perfect place to relax over a cocktail once you’ve visited every shop on the Mile – its 94th floor Observatory bar offers tremendous views.
Feast on fine food
Chicago comes equipped with near-endless possibilities for eating and drinking – and not just on the Magnificent Mile. True, you can find myriad culinary options in The Loop (the core of Chicago, just below the river). And if pizza is your thing, you will never starve, but the hunt for dinner is also a chance to venture into more peripheral areas. Chinatown, south of the centre is, unsurprisingly, an enclave of authentic Chinese cuisine. You can find excellent Indian fare on Devon Avenue in the Rogers Park District, to the north. And Pilsen, on the lower west side of the city, has a marked Mexican influence and restaurants to match. Those seeking to go gourmet should dash to Lincoln Park, north of the centre, where an outstanding (if rarely cheap) array of high-end outlets compete for your custom – among them Alinea and the legendary Charlie Trotter’s. Wicker Park, to the west, is also a mix of the cool and the cosmopolitan, where you can sate your appetite in everything from Ukrainian bakeries to the sushi paradise of Mirai.
Absorb a spot of culture and nature
Chicago is also bursting with culture and beauty – museums and galleries, soft beaches and leafy parks. Chief of these is the Art Institute Of Chicago, a temple of paintbrush genius, where A-list European masters (Van Gogh, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec) share space with the looks-like-the-future works of 20th century American luminaries (including Grant Wood and Edward Hopper). And all of it held in a glorious quasi-palace just south of the river.
Elsewhere, you can indulge your Sunday-supplement side in the heritage of the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park, or at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen.
And then there are the must-see parts of Chicago that do not hang on a wall. The city is one large film set, and movie buffs can point their cameras at any number of cinematic locations – such as Union Station, which stars so spectacularly in Brian De Palma’s 1987 Prohibition classic The Untouchables, or the Downtown seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
And don’t forget the city’s sandy playgrounds. Chicago may not have seafront, but it still has beaches – long curves of sand pinned to the edge of Lake Michigan, such as North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach. Find an empty spot here and sit down to wonder at the magic of it all – or do the same in the green lungs of Grant Park and Millennium Park.
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