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Welcome to Chicago


Chicago is the major metropolis of America's heartland, with three million people hustling and bustling in the city of skyscrapers that appears to rise straight out of the waters of Lake Michigan, in northern Illinois. Once a gangster's hang-out synonymous with infamous names such as Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde, the 'windy city' today has a squeaky-clean reputation as an international business and commercial capital boasting an eclectic mix of architecture, world-class theatre, art exhibitions, fantastic music and super-enthusiastic sportsmanship.

Chicago emerged as a rough and tough survivor after being destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, and a huge influx of immigrants from all over the world in the early 20th century brought with them a determined spirit infusing the city with ethnic diversity and the unmistakable sound of Chicago-style blues music. Chicagoans have built a city that is to be reckoned with, boasting soaring skyscrapers like the Sears Tower (one of the tallest in the world); thriving ethnic neighbourhoods; a lakefront business district, the re-energised downtown; unbeatable shopping along the famed Michigan Avenue; and top-class sports teams.

One thing that does not attract visitors to Chicago is the weather, which, because of its geographical location is breezy at best, and freezing and gale-ridden at worst. It is possible to ignore the weather though, especially in summer, when getting caught up in the myriad of things to do, see and experience in this Midwestern metropolis - there are 30 excellent museums alone.

Information & Facts


Chicago has an extreme climate with very hot summers and bitterly cold winters, its lakeside setting only slightly moderating the temperatures and adding some humidity to the atmosphere. Chicago has distinct seasons, with a short spring, when temperatures are moderate and nights frosty. Summers are hot, sunny and humid, from June to the end of September, and are prone to thunderstorms. August is usually the wettest month of the year. Autumn is a lovely time of year when the air is crisp and cool, with blue skies and sunshine. Winters in Chicago are icy and prone to cold, harsh winds. Snow is common.

Eating Out

By some estimation there are over 6,000 restaurants in Chicago, representing just about every cuisine across every price range imaginable. It can certainly be a thrilling experience to eat an authentic Ethiopian meal or a true south Goan curry under the shadow of the Sears Tower.

Chicago has been earning a growing reputation at the cuisine capital of America, with its concentration of award-winning chefs and world-beating fine dining establishments. Two local restaurants - Alinea and Charlie Trotter's - recently made the influential San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurantslist for 2008.

While Chicago offers everything from haute cuisine to hotdogs with all the trimmings, its true specialty is the world-famous deep-dish pizza invented at Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and now available throughout the city.

Top areas for dining include trendy Lincoln Park, China Town, Little Italy, and Pilsen, a Mexican neighbourhood.

Getting Around

Chicago has the largest public transportation system in the country and getting around the city is fast, easy and inexpensive, with an extensive network of rapid transit trains and buses. The train system has both underground lines and elevated tracks above the city and is known as the El; most visitors only use the El, but buses also cover every part of the city including the suburbs, albeit less regularly. Most train lines run 24 hours a day, with Overnight or Night Owl services taking over between midnight and 5am, though only on some lines. The Metra commuter trains link the city to the outer suburbs, including Lake Michigan, Hyde Park and McCormick Place. Fares for the bus, subway and the El are standard, and a variety of visitor passes are available offering more economical travel. During the summer months, a free trolley system operates in the downtown area, connecting Chicago's top cultural attractions, shopping areas and visitor destinations. Taxis are easy to find, and the metered rates are reasonable for short journeys. Although traffic is not as bad as in other major cities (outside rush hour), parking is expensive and difficult to find.

Kids Attractions

The windy city may not at first glance seem like a city that caters to the little ones, but children on holiday in Chicago will find there are more than enough attractions and activities to keep them busy. On clear days, enjoy the panoramic views over the city form atop the iconic Sears Tower, which was renamed the 'Willis Tower' on 16 July 2009, or the Hancock Observatory or enjoy a stroll through Lincoln Park or the Chicago Botanic Gardens on a sunny day. When it's really hot, head off to one of the many indoor playgrounds or even the CoCo Key Water Resort where children can splash around for hours in the massive water park. The Navy Pier is a great place to walk along the docks and enjoy the spectacular views from the Ferris wheel or even a ride on the carousel or the funhouse. When the wind is blowing and the rain bucketing down, take the kids to the any one of the fascinating and exciting museums Chicago has to offer. With so many attractions on offer and plenty more lurking round every corner, children on holiday in Chicago will be just as enchanted with this city as their parents.

English is the most common language but Spanish is often spoken in south-western states.

The US Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency and is divided into 100 cents. Only major banks exchange foreign currency. ATMs are widespread and credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted. Travellers cheques should be taken in US Dollars to avoid hassles. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3pm.


Chicago's unassuming nightlife scene comes as a refreshing change to other US cities and although most locals prefer to stay close to what they know and hang out at their local watering hole, Chicago still has its fair share of hip and happening places to see and be seen in. Most nightclubs and music bars are dotted throughout the windy city with the most popular haunts located in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Lakeview where revellers can find music clubs devoted to just about every genre from rhythm and blues and jazz to alternative rock and Indie. The city's waterfront nightlife is popular with residents and tourists alike while the piano bars at The Drake Hotel and the Ambassador East Hotel's Pump Room are favourites with locals. Wells Street in the Old Town offers some great restaurants and bars as well as the popular Zanies Comedy Club. Chicago's gay scene is grouped together on a stretch of North Halsted Street in Lakeview and men's bars dominate the strip. The birthplace of house music in the 1980s, Chicago has plenty of loud and pumping clubs full of 20-somethings dancing the night away to the latest offerings of the resident DJ. Many of these types of clubs pop up and disappear at a dizzying rate while others have been around for decades. The culture scene in Chicago is bustling with shows and plays running throughout the year at renowned Chicago theatre companies, such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the Goodman Theatre, and the Victory Gardens Theater. Broadway-style entertainment can be found at the LaSalle Bank Theater and the Cadillac Palace Theater. And when in town, a visit to Symphony Center to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform is an absolute must.


The fact that Chicago has a city-appointed Director of Fashion tells you that this is a great place to shop for haute couture. If you want to dress for success there is one destination: The Magnificent Mile along Michigan Avenue. Along an eight-block stretch over 460 stores offer luxury items and fashion bargains to suit most budgets. Another area worth exploring is Oak Street, a renowned concentration of designers and salons.

Chicago is equally famous for its art and antiques dealers which are congregated around the River North Gallery District. And on Sunday mornings don't miss the Maxwell Street Market, with over 500 stalls selling everything under the sun. Get there early and don't be afraid to bargain.

Malls and department stores are open from 10am to 9pm Monday to Saturday; 12pm to 6pm Sundays. A GST of 8.75% is levied on most products and is added at point of purchase, not on the price tag.


Of all America's large cities, Chicago just might rank as the friendliest. And what it lacks in New York bravado and LA style, Chicago makes up for in the astonishing variety of its architecture, vibrant culture and thriving art scene, highlighted by the Art Institute of Chicago. It is also a true family-friendly destination with world-class attractions such as the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium.

With so much to see, its worth getting a sense of perspective from the start. Visit the John Hancock Observatory for a view of the city from 1000ft (600m) in the air. Then check out Navy Pier for a 3-D motion simulation of Chicago's fascinating history and exciting future. Afterwards, hop on a boat tour departing from the adjoining pier.

A good option for visitors is the Go Chicago Card which gives you admission to all the city's key attractions, shopping and dining discounts, various free tours and a guide book. The card is available from the Segway Experience (224 South Michigan Ave. Tel: (1)312 663 0600 or (1)800 887 9103) and costs start from US$49.

Located on Lake Michigan, the Adler is America's first planetarium and is the only museum in the world with two full-size planetarium theaters. The night sky has been visible from the historic Sky Theatre since 1930, while the all-digital StarRider Theatre is the first of its kind in the world and affords a virtual outer space experience in its 55-foot (17m) wide and three story high area. The Adler is also home to numerous exhibits including antique astronomical instruments dating back to 12th-century Persia and interactive displays.

An impressive pair of bronze lions guards the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago in South Michigan Avenue, housing one of the greatest art collections in the world. Works date from 3,000 BC through to the present, including a renowned collection of Impressionist art featuring numerous Monet paintings. The Institute has it all, from Japanese ukiyo-e prints and ancient Egyptian bronzes to masterpieces of 20th century sculpture. Exhibits include paintings and drawings, photographs, textiles, sculpture and architectural works. The Institute has two restaurants, one set in a garden, as well as a gift shop.

Located alongside Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Park, often referred to as the city's front yard, Buckingham Fountain is one of the city's most popular attractions and was the official starting point of US Route 66. Donated to the city by Kate Buckingham in memory of her brother on 26 August 1927, Clarence Buckingham, the fountain represents Lake Michigan and each sea horse symbolises a state bordering the lake. Water shows run every hour on the hour and last for 20 minutes. The last show of the night is at 10pm.

A great place for families to unwind and relax with a picnic, is the Chicago Botanic Gardens. With plenty of wide-open space for kids to run around, the Botanic Gardens is one of Chicago's most tranquil and beautiful attractions. During the summertime, the Rose Garden, where over 7,750 plants are in full and glorious bloom, is a must and an unforgettable experience to wander through. There are also children's programmes available during the summer, check the website for information.

The Chicago Children's Museum is a must for kids of all ages. Located on Navy Pier, the museum offers three floors of interactive exhibits offering plenty of hands-on fun. The main attraction at the museum is without a doubt the three-storey tall replica of a 1850s Schooner. The 'Inventing Lab', 'Waterways' and Dinosaur attractions are also highly popular with the little ones.

Chicago's wildly popular Field Museum of Natural History in Lake Shore Drive is home to 'Sue', the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found. The dinosaur came to rest here after being unearthed in South Dakota when the Museum bought her remains for more than $8-million. Sue is just one of the drawcards at the museum which offers other marvels like getting a bug's eye view in an underground adventure; descending into an Egyptian tomb; watching a glowing lava flow; and getting up close and personal with the man-eating lions of Tsavo. The museum specialises in interactive and diorama-type exhibits across its nine acres of exhibition space, and is a must-visit for families on holiday in Chicago.

Chicago has a colourful and fascinating history, ranging from devastating fires to gangster assassinations and more. The Chicago History Museum has fascinating collections of artefacts from the city's past, including the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago L system, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls jersey, and every postcard ever made of Chicago.

This large indoor water park features 65,000 square-foot (6,038 sq-metre) of rides, slides, pools and tubes for children of all ages to enjoy. Highlights at the CoCo Key Water resort include the Coconut Grove Adventure River, Parrot's Perch, Loco's Lagoon Wave Beach and the Palm Grotto.

America's most renowned architect lived and worked in the complex, which served as private residence, studio and architectural laboratory for the first twenty years of his career, between 1889 (when he was 22) and 1909. Wright's haven started out as a simple cottage and was continually added on to by the architect resulting in unusual features such as a balcony suspended on chains. The complex is administered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust which offers guided tours. The neighbourhood of Oak Park contains the world's largest concentration of Wright-designed buildings and self-guided exterior audio tours of the 26 structures in the area are available.

The John Hancock building is Chicago's third highest skyscraper with a distinctive x-bracing exterior skin, and its Observatory competes with the facilities of the Sear's Tower Skydeck across town in the Financial District. Located on the 94th floor 1,000 feet (305m) above street level, the Observatory boasts the city's only open-air skywalk, as well as 360-degree views, a talking telescope, audio Skytours that provide an overview of the city with 16 stops, and the History Wall, with more than 100 photos featuring Chicago's history. Visitors can also have fun with some unique 'daring' photo opportunities. An annual 'Hustle up the Hancock' stair climb race up the 94 floors is held every February; the record time is nine minutes 39 seconds.

The world loves Oprah Winfrey and a visit to her production studios, Harpo, is a must for anyone visiting the windy city. Let's face it, you probably won't end up getting a ticket to one of her shows as this is her final season, you can still hang around outside where you might just be lucky enough to spot a few celebrities cruising into the studios.

Lincoln Park, beginning at North Avenue and following the shore of Lake Michigan northwards for several miles, is Chicago's largest park. It contains several attractions, bathing beaches, a botanical conservatory, golf course, grassy meadows, formal gardens and sports fields. Pride of place is held by the standing statue of Abraham Lincoln, sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. His sitting Lincoln is in Chicago's other famous park, Grant Park. The most popular attraction within the park is the Lincoln Park Zoo, which not only houses hundreds of exotic animals in natural habitats, but offers experiences like paddle boat rides, a virtual safari trip, and the Endangered Species Carousel with 48 artisan-crafted wooden animals that accommodates up to 50 riders at a time.

This stretch of Michigan Avenue in Chicago that runs from Chicago River to Oak Street is known as the Magnificent Mile. Famed for its nightlife, it also served as the main thoroughfare between Chicago's Loop business district and the Gold Coast. Visitors will love discovering everything the Magnificent Mile has to offer, from over 460 exclusive stores and boutiques to over 200 restaurants such as Spago, there is also fabulous architecture to be admired on a boat or trolley tour, including the Wrigley Building and the John Hancock Center. Indulge in a deep dish pizza, stroll past media houses like the Chicago Tribunenewspaper, stop to enjoy the local street performers, or watch the ambience of the Magnificent Mile change with the seasons where everything from tulips and lush gardens to weekly fireworks displays.

Millennium Park is one of Chicago's most popular destinations and is seen by Chicagoans as the crowning glory of their city. The award-winning park is famous for its innovative architecture and landscape design, featuring the work of several prominent artists, architects and designers. The park's most outstanding feature is the state-of-the-art outdoor concert venue, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which seats more than 4,000 people and hosts regular concerts. Another fascinating piece of architecture is the polished stainless steel Cloud Gate, shaped like a 66-foot (20m) long bean with a 12-foot (4m) high archway. Other interesting features include the Crown Fountain, the Lurie Garden, BP Bridge, and the Millennium Monument. Visitors can also enjoy changing exhibitions, local art works, and ice skating in winter.

The Museum of Science and Industry is by far one of the best attractions for children in Chicago. Featuring an exciting array of interactive exhibits, kids will love exploring all the museum has to offer. With an IMAX Theatre showing new films and educational documentaries, the learning experience is made fun.

Situated on the lakefront, Navy Pier has developed into one of the city's main tourist destinations, offering year-round attractions, events and entertainment for the whole family. Navy Pier encompasses acres of parks and gardens, shops, restaurants, and numerous attractions and rides, as well as serving as an embarkation point for tour and excursion boats. Its 150ft (46m) Ferris wheel attracts more than eight million people annually; other main attractions include an IMAX theatre, Chicago's Children's Museum, and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Other special attractions are offered throughout the year.

Illinois' second city, Rockford, is just a hop and skip to the northwest of Chicago, set in rolling hills. It is worth a visit for culture vultures and golfers, in particular. The city is known for its 'cultural corridor' of which the highlight is the Rockford Art Museum's stunning permanent collection focusing on 19th and 20th century works. There is also a wealth of private galleries and historical museums in the city centre. Rockford is also known for its many antique shops and markets, and the many golf courses in the city and vicinity that have earned it the title of Illinois' 'holey' city.

The world-famous Route 66 is colloquially known as the 'Main Street of America' or the 'Mother Road' as it originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending in Los Angeles. The stretch of highway has been immortalised by famous singers such as Nat King Cole and even the Rolling Stones and it has undergone some changes in the last few decades. The starting point in Chicago has moved a few times over the years and in 1933, the start (and end) was moved to Jackson and Lake Shore Drive. To cut a very long and complicated story short, the starting point remained here, so even while Adams Street at Michigan Avenue is marked as the starting point, Route 66 never actually departed from there. The recognised end of Route 66 is located at the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue (which is marked as the terminus).

'You haven't seen Chicago until you've seen it from the Skydeck' is what many visitors will hear from locals and other tourists in the city. The iconic Sears Tower was renamed on 16 July 2009 to the 'Willis Tower', and located on its 103rd floor the Skydeck is 1,353 feet (412m) above street level and one of Chicago's most famous tourist attractions. Elevators whisk visitors up to the observation deck where the views stretch out across the city and Lake Michigan, and as far as neighbouring states on a clear day. Inside, there are some interesting, interactive exhibits and computer information terminals for a tour of the city's landmarks. The Willis Tower, standing at 110 stories high, is the tallest building in North America and one of the tallest in the world.

One of Chicago's best known attractions the Shedd, which opened in 1930, remains the world's largest indoor aquarium. The octagonal marble building houses more than 8,000 river, lake and sea creatures. The main attraction is the Caribbean Coral Reef exhibit and other marine habitat exhibits like a recreation of the Amazon basin and a 'Seahorse Symphony'. The aquarium also features an indoor saltwater Oceanarium housing marine mammals where dolphin shows are scheduled daily.

Top of the list of attractions for families on holiday in Chicago, the Six Flags Great America is a must for children of all ages. Featuring some of the country's most exciting theme park rides, such as the Dark Knight Coaster, Bedrock Boulder Roller and the Condor, the Six Flags Great America Park is a great way to spend the day with the kids, who will love meeting their favourite comic book superheroes and cartoon characters. You can also cool off on a hot day with the rides at Hurricane Harbour, the attached water park.

Designed by architect David Adler and built in 1899 for Dr George Swift Isham, the original Playboy Mansion was a 70-room classic French brick and limestone residence in Chicago. Playboy founder and editor in chief, Hugh Hefner, bought the mansion in 1959 and adorned the front door with a brass plate that read in Latin, Si Non Oscillas, Noli Tintinnare- If you don't swing, don't ring. Playboy is one of the most recognised and popular consumer brands in the world, and although the Playboy Mansion is now located in Los Angeles, the original Playboy Mansion is still a popular attraction for those visiting the city. Playboy's Corporate Headquarters are still located in Chicago.

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