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Visit the Online Shop for travel books and guides in Chicago.  

The Windy City is the largest city in Illinois and the third largest in the whole US with the metropolitan area across three states being more than 9.5million.Variously known as the Second City (an allusion to the fact that it is second in importance in the nation to New York), the Windy City (not as many believe because of the actual ‘wind’ that besets the city but rather boastful 19th century Chicagoan politicians)

images courtesy of

and the City that Works (the double meaning also being a nod to the city’s blue collar credentials), Chicago is an unpretentious place but is still recognised throughout the world.

Officially founded in 1833 near a portage of the Great Lakes (it stands on Lake Michigan) and the Mississippi it became, and still is, a major transport hub within the US. Nowadays Chicago is also one of the world’s pre-eminent financial centres and attracts more than 40 million visitors annually who come to take advantage of the area’s natural resources such as the Lake upon which it stands. Chicago is also famed for being the birthplace of the skyscraper. After the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871 which destroyed nearly a third of the city including the business district, there was rapid growth and rebuilding in Chicago. This lead to ambitious building projects such as the steel-skeleton skyscraper back in 1885. Industry also expanded and with it jobs which encouraged large numbers of migrant workers from the South of the US, many of them African American. This Great Migration is what led to another of Chicago’s claims to fame, being a world centre for jazz.

How To Get There

All transatlantic flights to Chicago land at O’Hare Airport which is usually described as the world’s second busiest airport. As a US transport hub, O’Hare is home to both American and United airlines and internationally has a partnership with British Airways (One World Alliance) and BMI (Star Alliance). Alternatively Pakistan International Airlines operates from Manchester to Chicago.

Where to stay

As you might expect of a city of this magnitude, there are very few accommodation options that are not available in Chicago. From the more modest to the luxury chains there is something for everyone.


Chicago is home to shopping options from World Class to discount and everything in between. There is the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue which is an eight block stretch, home to more than 400 stores. Otherwise there is Oak Street which is an internationally recognised centre of style with high-end stores and salons just off Michigan Avenue. River North Gallery District is where lovers of arts and antiques should head. There are also plenty of options at the State Street Retail Historic District and just one block on from that is Jeweler’s Row which is the Midwest’s largest jewellery district. Other options include Lincoln Park and Armitage Avenue which can satisfy those looking for fashion, accessories and furniture. After all that shopping you might want somewhere to take a load off and enjoy a little “me” time. The city has a great range of spas which can do just that.


Ask people about things that they associate with Chicago and they may just say gangsters and prohibition-era speakeasies. Countless films have have depicted this all to the soundtrack of improv jazz. The nightlife that was famous in the 20s continues to be something of a destination today with the city filled with venues that offer everything from cosy Irish Bars to cavernous sports bars, many of which are to be found near to the city’s iconic Wrigley Field baseball stadium. For those who want something altogether smarter then the River North and Magnificent Mile might be just what the doctor ordered. Why not have a drink on top of the world at the John Hancock Building’s Signature Lounge. This bar is the venue for many who are about to pop the question and offers amazing panoramic views of the city from its 96th floor vantage point. As well as jazz, Chicago is renowned as being the home of Chicago blues and no trip to the city would be complete without sampling live the music made famous by such iconic names as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf.

Main attractions

Many say that despite its size Chicago retains much more of a small town spirit in comparison to the likes of New York and Los Angeles. Something else it is renowned for is the quality of its architecture. The city’s skyline is world famous and from up high is one of the best ways to get your bearings too. Why not try the John Hancock Observatory which provides a view of the city from 1,000ft in the air. Alternatively experience a 3D motion simulation of the city’s history at Navy Pier or see the city from the water by taking a boat tour on the lake which sets off from the adjacent pier. Chicago is also a city of culture with a thriving art scene which can be sampled at the

Art Institute of Chicago.

There are also numerous theatres and museums and Chicago is a genuinely family destination with the likes of the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. If you intend to visit many of these sights then the Go Chicago Card might be a good investment at $49 and which provides admission to many of the city’s key attractions and discounts on shopping. Art Institute of Chicago The Art Institute of Chicago houses one of the greatest art collections in the world with works from 3000BC to the present day. Field Museum The Field Museum is Chicago’s Natural History Museum and is to be found on Lake Shore Drive. It is also home to Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus fossil ever discovered.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home

Visit the home and architectural laboratory of America’s most famous architect which served for the first twenty years of his career. Lincoln Park This is Chicago’s largest park and follows the shore of Lake Michigan for several miles. It has beaches, a golf course, meadows, tended gardens and sports fields. Museum of Science and Industry This is Chicago’s most popular tourist attraction and displays everything the sub-molecular to giant feats of engineering. It is also renowned as being one of the world’s first interactive museums. Shedd Aquarium A Chicago institution, the Shedd remains the world’s largest indoor aquarium. It is also home to more than 8000 river, lake and sea creatures. Navy Pier On the lakefront is one of the city’s foremost tourist attractions. Navy Pier offers year-round attractions such as events and live entertainment. There are acres of parks and gardens as well as shops and restaurants and rides (the 15 storey ferris wheel is based on the one which made its debut in Chicago in 1893 and which is acknowledged as being the world’s first). Sears Tower Still the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere (and for some time the tallest building in the world), the Sears Tower Skydeck is one of the best places to see the city. It is on the 103rd floor and offers views from 1,353 feet above street level. Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum This is located on Lake Michigan, the Adler was America’s first planetarium and the only museum with two full size planetarium theatres. It has being showing the night sky since 1930.

Events in Chicago

College Baseball starts in January and continues through most of June Also in January, Winter Celebration in lights at The Garfield Park Conservatory. See how the world celebrates Christmas with the Christmas Around the World in the first week of January at the Chicago Cultural Center. February sees the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest which is hosted by the Chicago’s Children Museum. At McCormick Place for two weeks in February is the Auto Show which is the country’s oldest contemporary motor show. At Navy Pier at the end of March is the Bike Show as well as the Comedysportz March Madness which for nearly two decades has entertained crowds with comedy entertainment. The St Patrick’s Day Parade also takes place in March and the celebrations include turning the Chicago river green. The parade begins at noon on Dearborn and then down State Street Mall. April sees the start of the Major League Baseball season and for many Americans it signals the start of Spring. The city’s main baseball teams are the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox. On a sporting theme again, there is also Major League Soccer, with the local team being Chicago Fire. April Fool’s Day and Easter at the Children’s Museum are an opportunity for children to become acquainted with the museum and enjoy games too. For those who enjoy comedy there is the Chicago Improv Festival which has been around for nearly a decade now. May sees the Memorial Day Parade when the country honours its veterans. It begins with a ceremony at the Logan Memorial in Grant Park at 11am.

There is also Arts Chicago when you get the chance to sample contemporary and modern art from 200 galleries at the Festival Hall, Navy Pier. More comedy with the Chicago Comedy festival where performers from around the world entertain at various venues throughout the city. June is the Chicago Blues and Chicago Gospel Festivals. The biggest blues festival in the world showcases the talents of some of the biggest names in the world of music. This is at the Petrillo Music Shells, Grant Park. Internet Street Fair in June is chance to see some of the latest technology. It is also somewhere for professionals within that community to see what is cutting edge and what is passé.

June is also when the Annual Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade hits town. July is the time for the Taste of Chicago when over 60 restaurants throughout the city showcase their food. There is also free entertainment. Music is the order of the day with the Chicago Summerdance when around 40 bands perform a variety of dance and music styles at the Spirit if Music Garden. In August there is the Air and Water Show when two million spectators watch military aircraft perform stunts on the Waterfront. Admission is free. The largest underground film festival takes place in Chicago in August at the Fine Arts Theatre. Get your hips moving for Viva! which is Chicago’s annual latin music festival. Expect also to see artwork, traditional food at Grant Park in the last weekend of August. September sees the start of the NFL (National Football League)which will ultimately lead to the play offs and the Superbowl.

The local team to cheer on is the Chicago Bears. The same month there is the College football with names such as the Illinois Illini, the North Illinois Huskies, the Northwestern Wildcats and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. September is also the world’s largest free jazz festival at Grant Park and is sponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago. This month too is the County Fair where you can enjoy homemade produce, pie eating contests and pony rides. The venue is Garfield Park.

The middle of the month is Mexican Independence Day when you will get the chance to hear mariachi bands, enjoy Mexican food and see the floats as they pass from Albany Avenue to Kostner Street. October sees more sport as the Chicago Blackhawks compete in the NHL (National Hockey League). There is also SOFA Chicago when 92 international art galleries and dealers will have exhibitions at the Sculpture, Objects and Functional Art Exposition. Located at Navy Pier. Culture again at the International Film Festival hits town as movies from all over the world are shown at the Chicago and Music Box Theatres and Loews Cineplex.

It is a city that loves its sports and in November you get the chance to cheer on the Chicago Bulls as the NBA season starts. This is also joined by the college basketball which includes names such as the Chicago State Cougars and the Loyola Chicago Ramblers. November is also the Pow Wow annual festival at the American Indian Centre of Chicago. The last week of November is gearing up for Christmas with thousands gathering to see the Tree Lighting Ceremony at Daley Plaza. There is also a festive marketplace with an appearance from Santa Claus. In December why not serenade the animals at Lincoln Park Zoo with the city’s annual Caroling the animals event. Santa even feeds them too. A taste of Europe is what you will get at the Christkindlmarket on Daley Plaza with timbered stalls and festive gifts. The Apollo Chorus sings their version of Handel’s Messiah at the Symphony Centre the week before Christmas.

How to get around

You can walk around the city but in order to really get to see a lot of this sprawling city it is best to take advantage of the numerous transport options that Chicago has. Chicago’s mass transit system includes buses, the L (elevated trains) and subways. There are also plenty of taxis and limousines. The public transport system is one way of avoiding the confusion and stress of driving in the Chicago downtown. The Public Transit Trip Planner handily provides the best transit route from A to B as well as transfers and alternative options. If you are heading farther afield then you should have no trouble getting a connection in Chicago. As already mentioned, Chicago is one of the main transport hubs in the US and a glance at the national Amtrak map (Amtrak is the US’s intercity passenger train service) will reveal that all lines feed the city. The same goes if you are traveling by car as Chicago is also a Midwestern road hub with several major interstates connecting in Chicago’s downtown area. If you absolutely have to travel on foot you may be grateful for the Chicago pedway system when Winter really kicks in. This is a network of underground pathways in the Downtown which will keep you out of the Chicago weather’s worst excesses.

Fast Facts Location: On the Southwestern shores of Lake Michigan, American Midwest.

Time: GMT - 6 Hours. Language: English.

Climate: Humid continental with four distinct seasons; summers are warm and humid whilst winters are cold, windy and snowy.

Area: City 237 sq.m, urban 2,122 sq.m, metropolitan 10,874 sq.m. Population: City 2,836,658, urban 8,711,000, metropolitan 9,785,747.

Electricity: 120 volts at 60hz. Telephone Code: +1 312 Currency: US dollar.

Passport/visa requirements: Holders of a valid United Kingdom passport can stay for up to six months with a tourist visa. They would then have to have left the US for at least one day before returning.

Airports: O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport.

Flight time: Approximately eight and a half hours.

Public Holidays- 2009

1 Jan New Year's Day.

19 Jan Martin Luther King Day.

16 Feb Presidents' Day.

25 May Memorial Day.

4 Jul Independence Day.

7 Sep Labor Day.

12 Oct Columbus Day.

11 Nov Veterans' Day.

26 Nov Thanksgiving Day.

25 Dec Christmas Day.

Tourist Office: US Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, London, W1A 2LQ, Tel: 020-749 99000.

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