Chicago is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — have a look at each of them.
Chicago is located in the Midwest along the Great Lakes shoreline. It is the third largest city and metropolitan area in the United States with a city population approaching 3 million and a metro population approaching 10 million. Chicago is a huge vibrant city and metropolitan area that sprawls over 10,874km². It’s well known for house music and electronic dance music, blues, jazz, comedy, shopping, dining, sports, architecture, highly-regarded universities and colleges, and premier cultural attractions such as museums, zoos, aquarium, and planetariums.
As the hub of the Midwest, Chicago is easy to find with its picturesque skyline calling across the waters of the huge freshwater Lake Michigan, an impressive sight that soon reveals world-class museums, miles of sandy beaches, huge parks, public art, and perhaps the finest looking downtown in the world.
With a wealth of iconic sights and neighborhoods to explore, there’s enough to fill a visit of months without ever seeing the end. Prepare to cover a lot of ground; the meaning of Chicago is only found in movement, through its subways and historic elevated rail lines, and eyes raised to the sky.
The most visited part of Chicago is its large central area, which contains neighborhoods such as Downtown, River North, Streeterville, Old Town, the Gold Coast, Central Station, the South Loop, Printer’s Row, Greek Town, and the Near West Side among others. Collectively, these neighborhoods contain many towers, skyscrapers, attractions, global and regional corporate headquarters, and highly ranked educational and cultural institutions. But there are also many attractions to be found in the city’s other districts. Chicago consists of Downtown, the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side – with each Side named according to its direction from Downtown. The Loop is the financial, cultural, and retail area located within Downtown. Another region in the central area is North Michigan Avenue. This portion of Michigan Avenue, and its adjacent side streets, is called the Magnificent Mile and contains luxury high-end shops, retail, and restaurants.
The North, South, and West Sides of Chicago are not neighborhoods themselves, they are instead large sides of the city that each contain numerous districts and neighborhoods. Residents tend to identify strongly with their neighborhood in Chicago, reflecting a real place of home and culture. Below are various regions of Chicago and some of the neighborhoods that they contain:
| Downtown (The Loop, Near North, Near South, Near West)
The center of the entire Midwest for work and play, and global importance with major corporate headquarters, skyscrapers, shopping, river walks, big theaters, parks, beaches, museums, a pier, a sports stadium; the area contains some of the country’s most famous sights
| North Side (Lakeview, Boystown, Lincoln Park, Old Town)
Upscale neighborhoods with entertainment aplenty in storefront theaters and the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, along with a ton of bars and clubs.
| Far North Side (Uptown, Lincoln Square, Rogers Park)
Ultra-hip and laid-back, with miles of beaches and some of the most vibrant immigrant communities in the country
| Southwest Side (Back of the Yards, Marquette Park, Midway)
Former home to the massive meatpacking district of the Union Stockyards, huge Polish and Mexican neighborhoods, and Midway Airport
| Far Southwest Side (Beverly, Mount Greenwood)
rarely does a neighborhood have such beauty as this in an urban setting
Chicago’s skyline viewed from Millennium Park
Chicago was known as a fine place to find a wild onion if you were a member of the Potawatomi tribe, who lived in this area of Illinois before European settlers arrived. It was mostly swamps, prairie and mud long past the establishment of Fort Dearborn in 1803 and incorporation as a town in 1833. The city later undertook civil engineering projects of unprecedented scale to establish working sewers, even reversing the flow of the Chicago river to keep unclean water out of the city’s drinking supply, and stop buildings from sinking back into the swamps — and that was just the first few decades.
By 1871, the growth of the city was a sight to behold, full of vibrancy and bustling commerce. But on October 8th, Mrs. Catherine “Cate” O’Leary’s cow reportedly knocked over a lantern in the crowded immigrant quarters in the West Side, and the Great Chicago Fire began. It quickly spread through the city’s many wooden structures that set in close proximity to one another, virtually destroying the entire area of the city at the time, and killing approximately 300 people. The stone Water Tower in the Near North area is the most famous surviving structure of the Great Chicago Fire. But Chicago seized this destruction as an opportunity to rebuild itself bigger than before; even inventing the skyscraper in Chicago, which of course, would be picked up and utilized in cities worldwide in the modern day. In addition, several architects and urban planners of Chicago would go on to become legends of modern architecture.
During the late 1800s, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. At the pinnacle of its rebirth, Chicago was known as The White City. Cultures from around the world came to Chicago to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which Chicago beat New York to host, to bear witness to the work of Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and the future itself. Cream of Wheat, soft drinks, street lights, safe electricity, the fax machine, and the new invention called the Ferris Wheel bespoke the colossus now resident in the city.
As every road had once led to Rome, every train led to Chicago. Carl Sandburg called Chicago the Hog Butcher for the World for its cattle stockyards and place on the nation’s dinner plate. Sandburg also called it the City of the Big Shoulders, referring to the tall buildings in Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper. The city is in no short supply of nicknames. Fred Fisher’s 1922 song (best known in Frank Sinatra’s rendition) calls it That Toddlin’ Town, where “on State Street, that great street, they do things they don’t do on Broadway.” It’s also referenced by countless blues standards like Sweet Home Chicago.
Chicago is also known as The Second City, which refers to its rebuilding after the fire — the current city is the second Chicago, after the one that nearly burned down in 1871. The moniker has stuck as Chicago had long-held the position of the nation’s second-largest city. And many know the nickname from Chicago’s great comedy theater Second City located in Old Town which has supplied countless talent to television’s Saturday Night Live and many American sitcoms.
Chicago is also known as The Windy City. That moniker may make you think the city has many windy days. Truth be told, Chicago is far from being excessively windy. In fact, according to the United States National Climatic Data Center, Chicago does not rank high on the list of windy cities. The origin of the saying Windy City comes from politics, some saying it may have been coined by rival New York City as a derogatory reference. At the time, Chicago and New York City were battling for the 1893 World’s Fair, which Chicago ultimately won. Others say that the term originated from Chicago’s strong political climate.
Finally, the city is also known as the The City That Works as promoted by long-time Mayor Richard M. Daley, which refers to Chicago’s labor tradition and its willingness to tackle grand civic projects. Daley and his father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, were continous voted into office for many terms and governed the city for decades. As other manufacturing cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo went into decline, Chicago thrived, transforming from a city of culture and manufacturing to a city of culture and finance. Chicago now houses the world’s largest future exchanges (the Chicago Mercantile Exchange). With Richard M. Daley deciding not to run for mayor again due to his ailing wife, and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel resigning from that post to become mayor of Chicago, the city elected its first Daley-less administration with Emanuel since Mayor Richard M. Daley was in office from April 1989 to May 2011.
While the city has many great attractions in its huge central/downtown area, lots of Chicagoans live and play outside of the central district as well. Travelers also go to the city’s vibrant neighborhoods to soak up the local nightlife, sample the wide range of fantastic dining, and see other sights that are a part of Chicago. Thanks to the city’s massive public transit system, which includes over 140 Chicago Transit Authority elevated and subway stations, a separate city and suburban rail network called Metra, and bus routes criss-crossing the city every few blocks apart, all parts of Chicago are indeed accessible.
During the Prohibition era, Chicago’s criminal world was emblemized with names like Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger, and later Sam Giancana. Carl Sandburg acknowledged the relentless current of vice that ran under the surface of the city.
|Daily highs (°F)||31||36||47||59||70||80||84||82||75||63||49||35|
|Nightly lows (°F)||18||22||31||42||52||62||68||66||58||46||35||23|
|Check Chicago’s 7 day forecast at NOAA|
As far as Chicago’s weather goes, well let’s just say that Chicago is an enormous city so things tend to get blown out of porportion more than they would in other cities, that includes the weather. The winters in Chicago are indeed cold, but the same is true for most of the United States from Maine to Utah, with the exception of the Deep South and Hawaii. In fact, Chicago receives less precipitation (snow and rain) in the winter than East Coast cities like New York City or Boston. And although Chicago is cold in winter, Wisconsin and Michigan are generally colder. Chicago’s summers are not much hotter than the East Coast, and usually not as hot as the South, though heatwaves do occur. There is a good time to be had in any season in Chicago, and the summer offers an array of parades, festivals, and events.
The winter months from December to March will see some cold temperatures with cold wind chill factors. Snow is usually limited to a few heavy snowfall per season, with a few light dustings in-between, and a little more along the lakefront —in the local parlance, that’s “lake effect snow”. Unlike many cities, Chicago is a city that’s well-accustomed for winter season, so city services and public transportation are highly unlikely to ever shut down.
A little-known fact: there are more days with a maximum temperature of 80-84°F (27-29°C) than any other five-degree range, this includes winter months. Some summer days can get as hot and humid feeling as near the Gulf of Mexico, however, these heatwaves are not for the entire duration of the summer, but rather in patches of days. Summer nights are usually reasonable and you’ll get a few degrees respite along the lakefront — in the local parlance again, that’s “cooler by the lake.”
Chicago does have several months of nice weather. June and September are very pleasant; April, May, and October are quite fine, although rain storms can occur in April; and July and August are okay as long as a heatwave hasn’t hit the entire country. Every few years apart, prolonged mild summer-like temperatures overlap from summer into November.
Chicago literature found its roots in the city’s tradition of lucid, direct journalism, lending to a strong tradition of social realism. Consequently, most notable Chicago fiction focuses on the city itself, with social criticism keeping exultation in check. Here are a few selections of some of the famous works about Chicago:
- Karen Abbott’s Sin in the Second City is a recent best-seller about Chicago’s vice district, the Levee, and some of the personalities involved: gangsters, corrupt politicians, and two sisters who ran the most elite brothel in town.
- Nelson Algren’s Chicago: City on the Make is a prose poem about the alleys, the El tracks, the neon and the dive bars, the beauty and cruelty of Chicago. It’s best saved for after a trip, when at least twenty lines will have you enraptured in recognition.
- Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March charts the long drifting life of a Jewish Chicagoan and his myriad acquaintances throughout the early 20th century: growing up in the then Polish neighborhood of Humboldt Park, cavorting with heiresses on the Gold Coast, studying at the University of Chicago, fleeing union thugs in the Loop, and taking the odd detour to hang out with Trotsky in Mexico while eagle-hunting giant iguanas on horseback. This book has legitimate claim to be the Chicago epic (for practical purposes, that means you won’t finish it on the plane).
- Gwendolyn Brooks’ A Street in Bronzeville was the collection of poems that launched the career of the famous Chicago poetess, focused on the aspirations, disappointments, and daily life of those who lived in 1940s Bronzeville. It is long out of print, so you’ll likely need to read these poems in a broader collection, such as her Selected Poems.
- Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is a Mexican-American coming-of-age novel, dealing with a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, growing up in the Chicago Chicano ghetto.
- Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie is a cornerstone of the turn of the 20th century Chicago Literary Renaissance, a tale of a country girl in the big immoral city, rags-to-riches and back again.
- Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago is a collection of fourteen marvelous short stories about growing up in Chicago (largely in Pilsen and Little Village) in a style blending the gritty with the dreamlike.
- John Guzlowski’s Lightning and Ashes chronicles the author’s experiences growing up in the immigrant and DP neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, talking about Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians.
- Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City is a best-selling pop history about the 1893 Colombian Exposition; it’s also about the serial killer who was stalking the city at the same time. For a straight history of the Exposition and also the workers’ paradise in Pullman, try James Gilbert’s excellent Perfect Cities: Chicago’s Utopias of 1893.
- Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife is a recent love story set in Chicago nightclubs, museums, and libraries.
- Mike Royko’s Boss is the definitive biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley and politics in Chicago, written by the beloved late Tribune columnist. American Pharaoh (Cohen and Taylor) is a good scholarly treatment of the same subject.
- Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems is without a doubt the most famous collection of poems about Chicago by its own “bard of the working class.”
- Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle sits among the canon of both Chicago literature and US labor history for its muckraking-style depiction of the desolation experienced by Lithuanian immigrants working in the Union Stockyards on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
- Richard Wright’s Native Son is a classic Chicago neighborhood novel set in Bronzeville and Hyde Park about a young, poor, black boy hopelessly warped by the racism entrenched in American society at the time.
Union Station. This train station is used in a scene in the film The Untouchables. Hold on to your baby carriages!
Chicago is America’s third most prolific movie and television industry city after Los Angeles and New York City, and there have been scores upon scores of films and television series filmed here. Here is a very small list of some very Chicago-centric movies that have been produced in the city:
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986). The dream of the northern suburbs: to be young, clever, and loose for a day in Chicago. Ferris and friends romp through the old Loop theater district, catch a game at Wrigley Field, and enjoy the sense of invincibility that Chicago shares with its favorite sons when all is well.
- Adventures in Babysitting (Chris Columbus, 1987). The flip side of Ferris Bueller — the dangers that await the suburbanite in the Loop at night, including memorable trips to lower Michigan Avenue and up close with the Chicago skyline.
- The Blues Brothers (John Landis, 1980). Probably Chicago’s favorite movie about itself: blues music, white men in black suits, a mission from God, the conscience that every Chicago hustler carries without question, and almost certainly the biggest car chase ever filmed.
- The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987). With a square-jawed screenplay by David Mamet, this is a retelling of Chicago’s central fable of good vs. evil: Eliot Ness and the legendary takedown of Al Capone. No film (except perhaps The Blues Brothers) has made a better use of so many Chicago locations, especially Union Station (the baby carriage), the Chicago Cultural Center (the rooftop fight), and the LaSalle Street canyon.
- High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000). John Cusack reviews failed relationships from high school at Lane Tech to college in Lincoln Park and muses over them in trips through Uptown, River North, all over the city on the CTA, his record store in the rock snob environs of Wicker Park, and returning at last to his record-swamped apartment in Rogers Park.
- Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005) and its sequel The Dark Knight (2008). Making spectacular use of the ‘L’, the Chicago Board of Trade Building, Chicago skyscrapers, the Loop at night, and lower Wacker Drive, the revived action series finally sets the imposing power and intractable corruption of Gotham City where it belongs, in Chicago.
Some others include Harrison Ford vs. the one-armed man in The Fugitive, the El rapid transit line vs. true love in While You Were Sleeping, action thriller film Wanted staring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, romantic comedy-drama The Break Up staring Jenifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, Autobots vs. Decepticons in Transformers 3, the greatest Patrick Swayze hillbilly ninja vs. Italian mob film of all time, Next of Kin, and the humble John Candy film Only The Lonely which captures the South Side Irish mentality, the love and comfort of neighborhood dive bars, as well as the Chicago working class, and political power, theme with the repeated line “Sometimes it’s good to be a cop”.
Smoking is prohibited by state law at all restaurants, bars, nightclubs, workplaces, and public buildings. It’s also banned within fifteen feet of any entrance, window, or exit to a public place, and at CTA train stations. The fine for violating the ban can range from $100 to $250.
Chicago’s visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information.
- Chicago Cultural Center Visitor Information Center, 77 E Randolph St, +1 312 744-8000, . M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-4PM (closed 1 Jan, 4th Th of Nov (Thanksgiving), 25 Dec). A centrally located place to pick up a host of useful, free materials. The Cultural Center itself makes a good first stop on your tour, with free, worthwhile art and historical exhibits throughout the year. edit
- Macy’s on State Street Visitor Information Center, 111 State St, +1 877 244-2246, . Same as Macy’s store hours (closed 1 Jan, 4th Th of Nov (Thanksgiving), 25 Dec). edit
Chicago (IATA: CHI for all airports) is served by two major airports: O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport. There are plenty of taxis both to and from the city center, but they can be expensive, especially during rush hour due to traffic. Expect upwards of $40 for O’Hare and $30 for Midway.
Chicago is quite unique in that it has established subway/elevated rapid transit rail service to its commercial airports; something many cities have not done at all, or perhaps have completed to one airport in their region. CTA trains provide direct service to both O’Hare and Midway airports. From Downtown, the Blue Line runs to O’Hare in about 45 minutes and the Orange Line runs to Midway in about 30 minutes. Cost $2.50, $5 if boarding at O’Hare from anywhere in the city – less expensive than a taxi.
Many large hotels offer complimentary shuttle vans to one or both airports, or can arrange one for a charge ($15-25) with advance notice.
O’Hare International Airport (IATA: ORD) is 17 miles (27km) northwest of downtown and serves many international and domestic carriers. United Airlines has the largest presence here (about 50%) followed by American Airlines with about 40%, transatlantic carriers include British Airways, Lufthansa, Iberia, and KLM. Most connecting flights for smaller cities in the Midwest run through O’Hare. It’s one of the biggest airports in the world, and it has always been notorious for delays and cancellations. Unfortunately, it’s too far northwest for most travellers who get stuck overnight to head into the city. As a result, there are plenty of hotels in the O’Hare area. See the O’Hare article for listings.
The CTA Blue Line runs between the Loop and O’Hare every 5-15 minutes, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. A lot of repair work has been completed on the Blue line and the trip from O’Hare to the Loop now takes 35-50 minutes. The O’Hare station is the end of the line and is essentially in the basement of O’Hare airport. Walking from the platform to the ticket counters should take 5-10 minutes for Terminals 2 or 3, slightly more for Terminal 1, and a great deal longer for the International Terminal 5 (It is necessary to take the free people mover for transfer). The fare to board the train at O’Hare is $5 – as opposed to $2.50 anywhere else – but it is still a bargain compared to a taxi and can even be faster when traffic is bad.
Blue Line trains are usually eight cars long during busier periods and sometimes reduced to four cars during non-peak times. At O’Hare station, travelers have a tendency of packing the rear cars of the train (closest to the station entrance). Walking forward to one of the middle or front cars will increase your chances of getting a seat for your journey.
The Blue Line is one of the longest train lines in the L system. As a result, homeless people are not an uncommon site in winter months as they can ride for an extended period of time. While their appearance may be disquieting, homeless residents are almost always harmless and are simply seeking shelter during the cold months.
Midway International Airport (IATA: MDW) is 10 miles (16km) southwest of downtown. Midway primarily serves low-cost carriers, with the exception of a handful of Delta flights, and is the largest airport for Southwest Airlines. If it’s an option for your trip, Midway is more compact, less crowded, has fewer delays, and usually cheaper. And, of course, it’s significantly closer to downtown. Midway has only one security clearance; plan accordingly for peak travel times.
Airlines serving Chicago-Midway (MDW):
The CTA Orange Line train runs between the Loop and Midway in around 25 minutes. It takes approximately eight to ten minutes to walk from the Midway Airport El station into the airport. There are a number of hotels clustered around Midway Airport — see the Southwest Side article for listings.
Note that some rush hour Orange line trains will become Brown line trains when you reach the Loop. Likewise, if you are traveling from Chicago’s North side to Midway Airport, some Brown line trains during rush hour will become Orange Line trains when in the Loop.
Milwaukee‘s General Mitchell International Airport  (IATA: MKE) is served by 7 Amtrak trains per day (6 on Sunday), and the Hiawatha Service has a 95% on-time rating. The trip from Chicago Union Station to Mitchell Airport Station is about one hour and 15 minutes. There are also buses from Mitchell Airport to Chicago O’Hare Airport.
Chicago Executive Airport (IATA: PWK) is nine miles north of O’Hare, serves the general and business aviation sector, and is the third busiest airport in Illinois. Approximately three hundred aircraft are based on the field and approximately 200,000 take-offs and landings occur annually. Air taxi and air charter companies such as Jetset Charter, Monarch Air Group, Mercury Jets fly a variety of private charter aircraft and jets, from charter luxury Gulfstream’s down to economical piston twins for small groups and individuals.
Private jet charter companies such as DuPage Aerospace and Chicago Private Jets offer access to thousands of private aircraft based at airports in Chicago and across the United States. Additional airports for private aviation around Chicago include DuPage Airport (IATA: DPA) in West Chicago, IL; Waukegan National Airport (IATA: UGN) in Waukegan, IL; Gary/Chicago International Airport (IATA: GYY) in Gary, IN; Lansing Municipal Airport (IATA: IGQ) in Chicago/Lynwood, IL; and DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport (IATA: DKB) in DeKalb, IL.
- Burlington Trailways, 630 W Harrison St, . 24 hours. Several daily buses headed to Davenport, Iowa City, Des Monies and Omaha at competitive prices. Onward connections to Denver. edit
- Greyhound, 630 W Harrison St, +1 312 408-5800, . 24 hours. Very frequent service to destinations throughout the Midwest with connections to most of the US, Canada and Mexico. The main terminal is near the southwestern corner of the Loop. There are secondary terminals at the 95th/Dan Ryan red line station and the Cumberland blue line station. edit
- Indian Trails, (at the Greyhound Station), . Indian Trails operates one of the largest and newest fleets of deluxe motor coaches in Michigan with daily motorcoach service throughout Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Services include bus charters, tours, shuttles, airport transfers, casino runs and daily scheduled routes throughout Michigan and into Chicago and Duluth as well as Milwaukee. Runs connect directly with both the Amtrak and Greyhound national networks, connecting passengers with some 60 other bus transportation companies in the U.S. and Canada. More information about Indian Trails. Call Indian Trails at: 800-292-3831. edit
- megabus.com, 1-877-462-6342, . Express bus service to/from Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbia, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Iowa City, Kansas City, Little Rock, Louisville, Madison, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Nashville, New York, Omaha, State College, St. Louis, St Paul and Toledo. Double Deck Coaches with WiFi, Restrooms, Power Outlets and seats starting at $1. edit
- Peoria Charter Coach Company, O’Hare Airport, +1 800-448-0572, . Offers daily service between several colleges/universities and cities around the Illinois area. Common destinations are Peoria, Normal, Champaign, Chicago. edit
- Wisconsin Coach, O’Hare Airport, +1 877-324-7767, . Offers 14 buses daily, departing every hour, from O’Hare to Southeastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee, including Milwaukee Airport. ORD: $26. edit
- ABC Charter Bus (Charter Bus), 1400 Renaissance Drive, Suite #300, Park Ridge, IL 60068, +1 312-559-7800 ([email protected]), . ABC Transportation Services provides safe, affordable and expedient airport transfers, private event transportation, corporate charters, school trips, sports team travel, out of town trips, wedding transportation. (42.0330312,-87.8659429) edit
Three-level streets in the Loop
Chicago is historically the rail hub of the entire United States. Today, Amtrak, +1 800 872-7245, uses the magisterial Union Station (Canal St and Jackson Blvd) as the hub of its Midwestern routes, making Chicago one of the most convenient U.S. cities to visit by train, serving the majority of the passenger rail company’s long-distance routes, with options from virtually every major U.S. city. With its massive main hall, venerable history, and cinematic steps, Union Station is worth a visit even if you’re not coming in by train.
Most (but not all) Metra suburban trains run from Union Station and nearby Ogilvie/Northwestern Station (Canal St and Madison St), which are west of the Loop. Some southern lines run from stations on the east side of the Loop. The suburban trains run as far as Kenosha, Aurora, and Joliet, while the South Shore line runs through Indiana as far as South Bend. Several CTA buses converge upon the two stations, and the Loop CTA trains are within walking distance.
Chicagoans refer to some expressways by their names, not the numbers used to identify them on the signs you’ll see posted on the U.S. interstate highway system. However, most expressway signs in the city have both the name of the expressway and the number. I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway) will take you from the southwest city and the southwest suburbs to downtown Chicago. I-90/94 (called The Dan Ryan south of downtown) comes in from Indiana to the east (via the Chicago Skyway – I-90 and Bishop Ford Freeway – I-94) and from central Illinois (via I-57). I-90 (called The Kennedy north of downtown) comes in from the northwest city and northwest suburbs. I-94 (called the Edens Expressway) comes in from the North Side and the northern suburbs to downtown. I-80 runs south of the city in an east-west direction, linking with several north-south expressways.
The Illinois tollway, which in addition to I-90, consists of I-88 which serves the west suburbs, I-355 (called The Vets or The Veterans Memorial Tollway) which connects Joliet with Schaumburg, and I-294 – The Tri-State which runs from the South Side to the far Northwest Side and passes next to O’Hare Airport. I-Pass/EZ-Pass is accepted for all tollways in Illinois (which is an electronic toll collection system used throughout the Northeastern/Midwestern US). Be prepared for toll booths off to the right hand side of the tollway if you are planning to pay tolls in cash which will cost about $1.50 per booth, a much lower cost than you will find on tolls in New York City or the Los Angeles area. When traveling the tollway, always have a few dollars in cash and coins to pay at the booths, which are staffed on mainline toll plazas.
If arriving downtown from the south on I-94 or I-90, or from the north on I-90/94, great views can be seen as you approach the downtown skyline. If arriving on I-55 from the southwest, or on I-290 (the Eisenhower Expressway, formerly and sometimes still called The Congress Expressway) from the west, the skyline is also visible. If arriving from north or south on Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Highway 41) a scenic introduction will be provided, day or night, on what has to be the most beautiful thoroughfare in the world.
Navigating Chicago is easy. Block numbers are consistent across the whole city. Standard blocks, of 100 addresses each, are roughly 1/8th of a mile long. (Hence, a mile is equivalent to a street number difference of 800.) Each street is assigned a number based on its distance from the zero point of the address system, the intersection of State Street and Madison Street. A street with a W (west) or E (east) number runs north-south (indicating how many blocks East or West of State St. it falls), while a street with a N (north) or S (south) number runs east-west (indicating how many blocks North or South of Madison St. it falls). A street’s number is usually written on street signs at intersections, below the street name. Major thoroughfares are at each mile (multiples of 800) and secondary arteries at the half-mile marks. Thus, Western Ave at 2400 W (3 miles west of State Street) is a north-south major thoroughfare, while Montrose Ave at 4400 N is an east-west secondary artery.
In general, “avenues” run north-south and “streets” run east-west, but there are numerous exceptions. (e.g., 48th Street may then be followed by 48th Place). In conversation, however, Chicagoans rarely distinguish between streets, avenues, boulevards, etc.
Several streets follow diagonal or meandering paths through the city such as Clark St, Broadway, Milwaukee Ave, Archer Ave, Vincennes Ave, and South Chicago Ave to name a few. Interestingly, many of the angled streets in Chicago (including Archer Ave., Clark Street and Lincoln Ave.) were originally Native American trails established long before Chicago was a city.
Downtown Chicago is very walkable, with wide sidewalks, beautiful architecture, and an abundance of hotels, shopping, restaurants, and cultural attractions. The Chicago Pedway System is helpful for walkers looking to avoid cold or snow. It is a system of underground, ground-level, and above-ground passages that connect downtown buildings.
By public transit
The best way to see Chicago is by public transit. It is cheap (basically), efficient (at times), and safe (for the most part). The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) oversees the various public transit agencies in the Chicagoland area. You can plan trips online with the RTA trip planner or get assistance by calling 836-7000 in any local area code between 5am and 1am. The RTA also has an official partnership with Google Maps, which can provide routes with public transit.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates trains and buses in the city of Chicago and some of the suburbs. Put simply, the CTA is Chicago. It is a marvel and a beast, convenient and irreplaceable. Even if you have the option of driving while you’re in town, no experience of Chicago is complete without a trip on the CTA.
Fares are paid with a card system called Ventra. Passes can be bought and re-filled at kiosks in the lobby of every CTA station, or online. The kiosks accept cash and credit cards. You have the option of buying a pass, good for unlimited rides for a set number of days, or simply putting cash on the card. A Ventra card costs $5, but you can get that amount back as credit on your card if you register the card online. With an online account, you can add more credit to your card or buy additional unlimited ride passes as needed. Note that the system will use an unlimited rides pass before it uses any transit credit that’s already on the card. Unlike many cities’ rail system that are set up on zone fares, Chicago’s L network, regardless of how many miles you’re traveling, only cost $2.50. At many stations, you can transfer to another L line at no additional cost. If you have exited the turnstiles, entering another CTA station or boarding a CTA bus costs an additional $0.25 with your transit card, and transferring a third time is free provided it is still within two hours of when you started the trip. You can pay for up to six additional riders fares with a single Ventra card by simply passing the card back to your travel companion after you go through the turnstiles at L stations or telling bus drivers you are paying for multiple fares upon entering a bus (they have to initiate the reader to accept multiple fares on the same card).
Locals refer to Chicago’s public train system as the “L”. (Most lines run on el-evated tracks — get it?) All train lines radiate from the Loop to every corner of the city. The “Loop” name originally referred to a surface-level streetcar loop, which pre-dated the elevated tracks.
A CTA bus – note the number/destination and symbol for wheelchair accessibility
CTA train lines are divided by colors: Red, Green, Brown, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Orange and Pink. All lines lead to the Loop except the Yellow Line, which is a shuttle between the suburb of Skokie and the northern border of Chicago. The Red and Blue lines run 24/7, making Chicago and New York City the two American cities that offer 24-hour rail service running throughout their city limits. Hours for the other lines vary somewhat by the day, but as a general rule run from about 4:30am-1am.
Before you travel, find out the name of the train station closest to your destination, and the color of the train line on which it is located. Once you’re on-board, you’ll find route maps in each train car, above the door. The same map is also available online. The name signs on platforms often have the station’s location in the street grid, e.g. “5900 N, 1200 W” for Thorndale.
There should be an attendant on duty at every train station. They cannot provide change or deal with money, but they can help you figure out where you need to go and guide you through using the machines.
A CTA bus stop: note the symbols for wheelchair accessibility and late-night hours.
Buses run on nearly every major street throughout the entire city, and in many cases, every four blocks apart. Look for the blue and white bus stop sign, which should show the route that the bus will take. Once inside, watch the front of the bus, a red LED display will list the names of the streets as they pass by, making it easy to know that your stop is approaching if you’re unfamiliar with the city. Rides of any length cost $2.25 with a Ventra card or $2.50 in cash. Note that if you transfer between buses and rail, you will be charged a transfer fee between $0.25-0.30.
Chicago has a large and comprehensive bus system, and buses typically run frequently. This allows Chicagoans to go to bus stops and wait for the bus without even looking at bus schedules, as buses usually run every few minutes apart. The major bus routes run every 7-15 minutes apart during the morning and afternoon hours. In the evening, these same routes run about every 15-20 minutes apart. The less traveled bus routes may run about 15-20 minutes apart during the day. There are many bus routes that run 24 hours a day; these are called OWL routes and the bus stop sign usually has a picture of an owl to belabor that point. Overnight OWL service is approximately every 30 minutes. (See individual district articles for major bus routes through different parts of the city.)
If you have a web-enabled mobile device, the CTA runs a little godsend called the CTA Bus Tracker, which uses GPS to provide reliable, real-time tracking information for almost all bus routes.
CTA buses accept transit cards but do not sell them. They also accept cash but do not provide change. Like any bus system, you pay exact fare or forfeit your change.
In compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, all CTA buses and some train stations are accessible to wheelchairs. Wheelchair-accessible ‘L’ stations are indicated by the international wheelchair symbol and have elevators or are at ground level. If you are trying to get to a place with a non-accessible station, there will be alternate routes by bus so contact the CTA for more information.
Crime on the CTA is low, but as with any major urban area, travellers should be aware of their surroundings, especially when travelling in the wee hours of the night. Some L cars have a button and speaker for emergency communication with the driver, located in the center aisle of the car on the wall next to the door. This is for emergencies only: do not press this just to ask questions, as the driver is required to halt the train until the situation has been confirmed as resolved, and your fellow passengers will not be amused.
Metra and South Shore
Metra train on the way to the Loop
Metra +1 312 322-6777, runs commuter trains for the suburbs, providing service within Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, out west, and to the South Shore railroad, which provides service to South Bend, Indiana. Metra trains are fast, clean, and punctual, but unpleasantly crowded during rush hour. Generally, every car or every other car on the train has a bathroom.
Metra’s Electric Line provides service to the convention center (McCormick Place), Hyde Park (Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago), and the Far Southeast Side‘s Pullman Historic District and Rainbow Beach. The Electric Line is fast, taking at most 15 minutes to reach Hyde Park from the Loop. Unfortunately, service outside of rush hours is infrequent (about once/hour), so be sure to check the schedules while planning your trip.
Although there are plans to change this in the future, none of the commuter trains currently accept CTA transit cards as payment. The fare to McCormick Place and Hyde Park, however, is only $2. Buy your tickets before boarding the train at a window or one of the automated vending machines. You can buy a ticket on the train, but that comes with an extra $5/ticket surcharge if the station you’re leaving from had an open ticket window or an operational ticket machine.
Ten-ride, weekly, and monthly passes are available. If you have a group of four or more people, it may be cheaper to purchase a ten-ride card and have all of your fares punched from that one card. If using Metra on Saturday and/or Sunday, you can purchase an unlimited ride weekend pass for just $10. Keep in mind that Metra only accepts cash at this time.
Digital tickets (including for weekend passes) can also be purchased using the Ventra app for iPhone and Android.
Transfers are allowed as long as you are traveling on the same line in the same direction when you make your transfer. For example, if you are traveling from station A to C going north, you can get off at station B, then get back on the train at station B and continue to C with the original ticket. However, you need to inform a conductor before making your transfer, so they can note the transfer on your ticket.
Note that on weekdays during rush hour, the second car from the front of the train and the second from the back of the train is designated as a quiet car.
Bikes are allowed for free on Metra trains during non-rush hour times. Metra’s schedules indicate which trains allow bikes. Note that on weekends, the schedules may indicate bikes are allowed, but bikes can be banned during weekends of expected heavy travel, like holiday weekends. Metra’s website and social media will generally announce when bikes are not allowed.
Metra tickets are not valid on the South Shore Line to Indiana, and you cannot transfer between the two trains.
If you are traveling in the winter months, be aware that LaSalle Street Station has a small indoor waiting area, and you may not be able to find seating.
Metra trains are fully accessible; 185 of its stations are fully accessible, 13 are partially accessible and 44 are non-accessible. List of stations by accessibility
Pace runs buses in the suburbs, although some routes do cross into the city, particularly in Rogers Park at the Howard (Red/Purple/Yellow Line) CTA station and the Far Northwest Side at the Jefferson Park (Blue Line) CTA station. Pace provides paratransit services should you need to go somewhere inconvenient via CTA.
Avoid driving in downtown Chicago if at all possible.
Traffic is heavy and garages in the Loop can cost as much as $70 per day. Chicago-based parking tech companies such as ParqEx, SpotHero, and ParkWhiz allow booking off-street parking in advance after searching by location and price, often at rates that are heavily discounted.
Although downtown streets are laid out on the grid, some streets have multiple levels which can confuse even the most hardened city driver. Even outside of the city center, street parking may not be readily available. If you do find a spot, check street signs to make sure that a) no residential permit is required to park, and b) parking is not disallowed during certain hours for street cleaning, rush hour or something along those lines. Parking restrictions are swiftly enforced in the form of tickets and towing — be especially wary during snowy weather.
On-street parking is handled by one-per-block kiosks, which will issue a slip for you to put in your front window. The kiosks will accept cash in the form of quarters ONLY, or credit cards. If the kiosk fails for any reason (such as the printer running out of paper), there should be a phone number to call to report it and ensure you don’t receive a ticket.
Be advised: talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal, and the police will write you a ticket. If you need to take or make a call, use a hands-free headset — or better yet, pull over.
Drivers on the city expressways can be very aggressive. For those used to driving on expressways in the Northeast US or Southern California, this may simply be a reminder of home. For everyone else, though, it may be intimidating.
Driving in the streets of the city’s working-class neighborhoods (mostly on the Northwest, West, South, and Southwest Sides) can be best described as “organized chaos”. There is generally less traffic in these parts of town than in the Loop, but the roads are not as well-maintained; and the drivers and pedestrians are even more aggressive than in the Loop. More often than not, drivers do not use turn signals and lane discipline is almost non-existent. A lot of pedestrians also do not use crosswalks; they cross at whatever point is most convenient. Local drivers are used to this, and are generally good at avoiding accidents despite the challenges. But if you find yourself driving through off-the-beaten-path parts of Chicago, you should pay extra attention to the road and be prepared to make turns or stops to compensate for any surprises on the road.
Rental cars are available at both airports (O’Hare and Midway) as well as from numerous rental offices in the Loop as well as other locations scattered throughout various neighborhoods and in the suburbs. O’Hare has the most and largest rental car offices, with many agencies operating 24 hours.
O’Hare hasn’t built any sort of consolidated rental car facility, so you’ll need to proceed out the door from baggage claim and find the shuttle bus belonging to the rental company you’re renting with and ride it to their office a few minutes away. (Check rates and book a reservation before boarding a bus.) Some companies are closer than others–the better companies are located just up the main airport access road, while the lower-end discount agencies might be several miles away around the other side of the airport. When returning, be sure to allow plenty of time to find the rental lot, return the car, and ride the bus back to the terminal.
Midway now has a consolidated rental facility hosting the rental counters and parking areas for all major companies. A dedicated rental facility bus for all companies picks up from the lower level of the main terminal building; once you arrive, find the counter for the company you’re renting with.
Your Name Here
Chicago has some of the least expensive taxi fares in the US for a major city. Taxis can be hailed from the street throughout the entire city, and are most plentiful in the downtown and North Side areas. Rates are regulated by the city; fares are standard and the initial charge (“flag pull”) is $2.25 for the first 1/9 mile, then $0.20 for each additional 1/9 mile or $0.20 for each elapsed 36 seconds. There is a $1.00 fuel surcharge added to the initial charge. There is also a flat $1.00 charge for the second passenger, and then a $0.50 charge for each additional passenger after that (for example, if four people take a taxi together, there will be $2.00 in additional flat fees).
Rides from O’Hare and Midway to outer suburbs cost an additional 50% over the metered fee. Give the driver the nearest major intersection to which you are heading (if you know it) and then the specific address. There is no additional charge for baggage or credit card use, although some drivers discourage credit card payments if the distance travelled is short.
If you are outside of Downtown, North Side, Near West, or Near South neighborhoods, it may be less easy to find cabs from the street and easier just to call one. Taxis typically take 10-15 min from the time you call to arrive. The principal companies are:
- American-United Taxi, +1 773 248-7600
- Checker Cab, +1 312 243-2537
- Flash Cab, +1 773 561-1444 
- Yellow Cab, +1 312 829-4222 
The above applies only to Chicago taxis. Suburban taxi cabs have their own fares and rates, depending on the laws and regulations of the town in which they are based.
- Shuttlewizard, To / From O’Hare Airport, +1 310-626-0067, . Offers airport transportation rides with shuttles, private sedans, SUVs, and limos. edit
Cycling in Chicago can be safe and rewarding if undertaken carefully. New divided bike lanes in the Loop area are especially attractive when other modes of transportation are at full capacity.
Most important to bike travel in Chicago is to plan routes ahead and make use of bike lanes and bike routes am much as possible. Interior neighborhood streets are also generally quite safe although they can be difficult to connect into a longer route. Google Maps “bicycling” layer can be extremely helpful for route planning. When riding, always be mindful of your visibility to cars. Avoid riding completely in the curb or very close to parked cars as “doorings” are not uncommon and can occasionally be deadly.
With miles of vehicle-free pavement and beautiful views, the Lakefront Trail can be a very attractive option for commuting and leisure. However, the secret is out and the trail will be fully packed on fair-weather weekends with bikers, runners, walkers, strollers, skaters, and even hoverboards. Please exercise care and courtesy during these times of peak usage. Take special care around Navy Pier (at least until the trail fly-over is complete). Please look elsewhere for sporty and group riding.
As of summer 2019, the Lakefront Trail now features separate paths for biking and for running and walking. However, high lake levels have covered some parts of the walking/running paths with water. Watch for runners and walkers in the bike lanes from North Avenue to Navy Pier.
Around Chicago you will notice many bright blue “Divvy” bike share kiosks. Divvy bike rates have recently been updated to include a $3 “single trip” ride for up to 30 minutes, along with a flat fee rate of $15 for 24 hours of hop on/off access. These bikes can be a great transit option (the absolute cheapest even) for visitors making several trips trips in a day. Using public transit may be cheaper for making only 1-3 trips in a day, so make sure to compare based on what you intend to do. Note that each $3 trip is limited to just 30 minutes. You may make longer trips but you must visit a station before 30 minutes to “check-in” and “check-out” again. Trips beyond 30 minutes will begin collecting extra charges. It’s strongly recommended to use the “Transit” smartphone app (or other Divvy-locator app) to check that a less-than-full Divvy kiosk is available near your destination. Also take care to ensure that your bike is properly docked (green light) to avoid surprise charges.
If kiosks, time limits, and heavy 3-speeds are not your speed, several businesses do offer rental of ordinary road, hybrid, and mountain bikes. Lock and helmet are generally included.
For longer, more recreational trips, the Northern and Western suburbs outside of the city have many attractive options. The Illinois Prairie Path is a bicycle trail that runs through DuPage and Kane Counties where it connects with the Fox River Trail, both of which make for some very scenic bicycle riding. Most other areas of DuPage and Kane County are crisscrossed with bicycle trails. There is also the Salt Creek Trail that starts around west suburban Brookfield and goes west to around Interstate 294.
By water taxi
In the summer, water taxis are sometimes more convenient than the CTA, if you are traveling around the fringes of downtown. They are also a relatively cheap way to take in some offshore views. Two private companies operate water taxi services around the Loop.
Chicago Water Taxi (Wendella Boats)  +1 312 337-1446, uses yellow boats and has three stops (Michigan Ave, LaSalle/Clark, Madison St), plus Chinatown on weekends ($2, $4 Chinatown/all day pass). Taxis run roughly M-F 6:30AM-6:30PM, Sa-Su 10:30AM-6:30PM.
Shoreline Sightseeing  +1 312 222-9328, has blue and white boats. It is more expensive ($5-7), but it serves seven destinations including some on Lake Michigan (Union Station/Sears Tower, Wells & Wacker, Michigan Ave Bridge, Navy Pier-Ogden Slip, Navy Pier-Dock St, Buckingham Fountain, and Museum Campus). Shoreline taxis run 10AM-6PM every twenty minutes and 6PM-9PM every half hour Memorial Day–Labor Day, with occasional and less frequent service in the spring and fall.
- Along the Magnificent Mile — one day and night in Chicago, with skyscrapers, shopping, food, parks, and amazing views of the city from high and low.
- Loop Art Tour — a 2 to 4 hour walking tour of downtown Chicago’s magnificent collection of modern sculptures.
Penguin triumphant, Lincoln Park Zoo
Chicago’s set of museums and cultural institutions are among the best in the world. Three of them are located within a short walk of each other in the Near South, on what is known as the Museum Campus, in a beautiful spot along the lake: the Adler Planetarium, with all sorts of cool hands-on space exhibits and astronomy shows; the Field Museum of Natural History, which features SUE, the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and a plethora of Egyptian treasures; and the Shedd Aquarium, with dolphins, whales, sharks, and the best collection of marine life east of California. A short distance away, in Hyde Park, is the most fun of them all, the Museum of Science and Industry — or, as generations of Chicago-area grammar school students know it, the best field trip ever.
In the Loop, the Art Institute of Chicago has a handful of iconic household names among an unrivaled collection of Impressionism, modern and classical art, and tons of historical artifacts. And in Lincoln Park, a short trip from the Loop, the cheerful (and free) Lincoln Park Zoo welcomes visitors every day of the week, with plentiful highlights like the Regenstein Center for African Apes.
Also, Chicago has some knockout less well-known museums scattered throughout the city like the International Museum of Surgical Science and the Loyola University Museum of Art in Gold Coast, Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park, DuSable Museum of African American History in Washington Park, National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, the Polish Museum of America in Wicker Park, the Museum of Photography in the Loop, and the Driehaus Museum in Near North. The University of Chicago, in Hyde Park, has several cool (and free) museums that are open to all visitors, showcasing a spectacular collection of antiquities and modern/contemporary art.
Discount packages like the Chicago CityPASS  and the Go Chicago Card  can be purchased before you arrive in town. They cover admission to some museums and other tourist attractions, allowing you to cut to the front of lines, and may include discounts for restaurants and shopping. Also, programs such as Bank of America’s Museums to Go offer free admission at multiple Chicago museums for designated times which can save you a small fortune on admission fees. Ticket comparison sites like Trevii,  automatically calculates you the best ticket option for your trip itinerary with consideration of various discount options, such as CityPASS, Bank of America’s Museums to Go, age-dependent discounts, and etc.
Most museums in the Chicago area offer some form of reciprocal admission, meaning if you have a membership with a museum in your hometown, check to see if they offer a reciprocal admission deal with your home museum.
If you are looking for a unique museum, don’t be afraid to venture outside of the city limits to visit the Illinois Railway Museum or the Fox River Trolley Museum. To get to the Illinois Railway Museum, take the Union Pacific NW Metra line(if you visit on a weekend, you can get a weekend pass for $10, otherwise be prepared to pay up to $7-9 for the train per person). Get off at Woodstock, and then take an Uber/Lyft to the museum.
See the Chicago skyline guide to find out more about the city’s skyscrapers.
From the sternly classical to the space-age, from the Gothic to the coolly modern, Chicago is a place with an embarrassment of architectural riches. Frank Lloyd Wright fans will swoon to see his earliest buildings in Chicago, where he began his professional career and established the Prairie School architectural style, with numerous homes in Hyde Park/Kenwood, Oak Park, and Rogers Park — over 100 buildings in the Chicago metropolitan area! Frank Lloyd Wright learned his craft at the foot of the lieber meister, Louis Sullivan, whose ornate, awe-inspiring designs were once the jewels of the Loop, and whose few surviving buildings (Auditorium Theater, Carson Pirie Scott Building, one in the Ukrainian Village) still stand apart.
The 1871 Chicago Fire forced the city to rebuild. The ingenuity and ambition of Sullivan, his teacher William Le Baron Jenney (Manhattan Building), and contemporaries like Burnham & Root (Monadnock, Rookery) and Holabird & Roche/Root (Chicago Board of Trade) made Chicago the definitive city of their era. The world’s first skyscrapers were built in the Loop as those architects received ever more demanding commissions. It was here that steel-frame construction was invented, allowing buildings to rise above the limits of load-bearing walls. Later, Mies van der Rohe would adapt Sullivan’s ethos with landmark buildings in Bronzeville (Illinois Institute of Technology) and the Loop (Chicago Federal Center). Unfortunately, Chicago’s world-class architectural heritage is almost evenly matched by the world-class recklessness with which the city has treated it, and the list is long of masterpieces that have been needlessly demolished for bland new structures.
Today, Chicago boasts four out of America’s ten tallest buildings: the Willis Tower (2nd), the Trump Tower (4th), the Aon Center (7th), and the John Hancock Center (8th). For years, the Willis Tower (at that time still called Sears Tower) was the tallest building in the world, but it has since lost the title. Various developers insist they’re bringing the title back with proposed skyscrapers. Until they do, Chicago will have to settle for having the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere with the Willis Tower, although the Hancock has a better view and is quite frankly better-looking.
Chicago is particularly noted for its vast array of sacred architecture, as diverse theologically as it is artistically. There were more than two thousand churches in Chicago at the opening of the twenty-first century. Of particular note are the so-called Polish Cathedrals like St. Mary of the Angels in Bucktown and St. Hyacinth Basilica in Avondale, as well as several treasures in Ukrainian Village — beautifully crafted buildings with old world flourishes recognized for their unusually large size and impressive scope. The National Shrine of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini in Lincoln Park is the masterpiece of renowned architect Leonard Gliatto.
Architectural tours cover the landmarks on foot and by popular river boat tours, or by just standing awestruck on a downtown bridge over the Chicago River; see individual district articles for details. For a tour on the cheap, the short trip around the elevated Loop train circuit (Brown/Purple Lines) may be worth every penny of the $2 fare.
Chicago’s African-American history begins with the city’s African-American founder, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable. Born to a Haitian slave and a French pirate, he married a woman from the Potawatomi tribe, and built a house and trading post on the Chicago River on the spot of today’s Pioneer Court (the square just south of the Tribune Tower in the Near North). Du Sable lived on the Chicago River with his family from the 1770s to 1800, when he sold his house to John Kinzie, whose family and friends would later claim to have founded the city.
Relative to other northern cities, African-Americans constituted a fairly large part of Chicago’s early population because of Illinois’ more tolerant culture, which was inherited from fervent anti-slavery Mormon settlers. As a non-slave state generally lacking official segregation laws, Illinois was an attractive place to live for black freedmen and fugitive slaves.
By the 1920s, Chicago had a thriving middle class African-American community based in the Bronzeville neighborhood, which at the time became known as “The Black Metropolis,” home to a cultural renaissance comparable to the Harlem Renaissance of New York. African-American literature of the time was represented by famous and local poetess Gwendolyn Brooks and the novelist Richard Wright, most famous for his Native Son, nearly all of which takes place in Chicago’s Bronzeville and Hyde Park/Kenwood. The Chicago school of African-American literature distinguished itself from the East Coast by its focus on the new realities of urban African-American life. Chicago became a major center of African-American jazz, and the home for the blues. Jazz great Louis Armstrong got his start there; other famous black Chicagoans of the day included Bessie Coleman — the world’s first licensed black pilot, the hugely influential African-American and women’s civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, the great pitcher/manager/executive of Negro League Baseball Andrew “Rube” Foster, and many more.
Helping to fuel Chicago’s black renaissance was one of the single most influential parts of African-American history: the Great Migration. African-Americans from the South moved to the industrial cities of the North (particularly Chicago) due to the post-WWI shortage of immigrant industrial labor, and to escape the Jim Crow Laws and racial violence of the South. The massive wave of migrants increased Chicago’s black population alone by more than 500,000. With it came southern food, Mississippi blues, and the challenges of establishing adequate housing for so many recent arrivals.
Black Chicago’s renaissance was halted momentarily, as was the entire world, by the Great Depression. In 1937 came the creation of the Chicago Housing Authority which sought to build affordable public housing for the city. However well-intentioned, the results were not good. The largest housing projects by far were the 1940 Ida B. Wells projects; the Cabrini Green projects, which developed a reputation as the most violent housing projects in the nation; and the massive 1962 Robert Taylor Homes, which stretched for several miles. In the beginning, the housing projects were indeed decent. As the years passed, unsavory people and less maintenance proved to be the downfall of the projects. The Black Metropolis was unable to cope with this development, and surrounding neighborhoods fell with it. Today, the city has torn down most of these structures and replaced them with lower rise, mixed used buildings; which has shown to have more success than the previous dwellings.
Further damaging to Chicago’s black population was the phenomenon of “white flight” that took place across the nation. Unwilling to live beside black neighbors, many white Chicagoans fled desegregation to the suburbs. This trend was accelerated by the practice of “blockbusting,” where unsavory real estate agents would fan racist fears in order to buy homes on the cheap. As a result, most of Chicago neighborhoods never truly integrated at that time, and the social, educational, and economic networks that incoming non-whites had hoped to join disintegrated in the wake of fleeing white citizens.
Today, integration has come a long way and integration exists in many Chicago neighborhoods including the communities on the entire eastern half of the North Side that border the lakefront, as well as communities such as Hyde Park/Kenwood, Logan Square, Little Italy, Auburn Gresham, Beverly, and Hegewisch. However, there are still parts of the city that are predominantly composed of one race.
In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to come north and chose Chicago as his first destination. However, from the moment of his arrival on the Southwest Side, King was utterly confounded. The death threats that followed his march through Marquette Park were challenge enough, but nowhere in the South was there a more expert player of politics than Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley. King left town frustrated and exhausted, but Rev. Jesse Jackson continued civil rights efforts in Chicago through his Operation PUSH. The 1983 election of Mayor Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, was a watershed event for Chicago’s African-American population, and although long battles with obstructionist and racist white politicians lay ahead, it marked the moment when Black elected officials became major, independent forces in Chicago.
Today, comprising well over a third of the city, Chicago’s black population is the country’s second largest in overall numbers, after New York City. However, blacks make up a larger percentage of Chicago than they do of New York City. The large South Side is the cultural center of Chicago’s black community. The South Side along with the adjoining south suburbs constitutes the largest single Black region in the entire country, and boasts the country’s greatest concentration of black-owned businesses. Some Chicagoans and outsiders from other parts of the country who are ignorant of this area may tell you that it is dangerous. North Siders in general do not think much of the West Side or the South Side (similar to the way Manhattanites in New York City do not think much of the other four boroughs of that city). Although the West Side of Chicago does contain many economically challenged neighborhoods, the reality of the South Side is more complex. On the South Side there are affluent, middle class, and economically challenged neighborhoods. Affluent and upper-middle class areas on the South Side include the South Loop, Hyde Park/Kenwood, upper Bronzeville, Chatham, South Shore, Beverly, Mount Greenwood, West Lawn, and western Morgan Park. Chicago is a very large city and the South Side is large, thus, many people outside the South Side may not be familiar with these affluent/upper-middle class areas on the South Side. The local newscasts also have a bad habit: When a crime happens on the North Side, the commentator will put an emphasis on the neighborhood in which it happened, which tends to not give the entire North Side a bad image. However, when a crime happens on the South Side, the emphasis is put on South Side, thus giving the entire South Side a bad image.
For those interested in African-American history, Bronzeville is a top destination. The Kenwood area also boasts interesting recent history, as it has been (or is) home to championship boxer Muhammad Ali, Nation of Islam leaders Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, and President Barack Obama. No one should miss the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Bronzeville, adjancent to Hyde Park, the first museum of African-American history in the United States. And if your interest is more precisely in African-American culture than history, head down to Chatham and South Shore to enter the heart of Chicago’s black community.
Wentworth Ave, Chinatown’s main street
Chicago is among the most diverse cities in America, and many neighborhoods reflect the character and culture of the immigrants who established them. Some, however, do more than just reflect: they absorb you in a place that can make an entire neighborhood feel like a chunk of another country. The best of Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods are completely uncompromised, and that makes them a real highlight for visitors.
Chicago’s Chinatown is among the most active Chinatowns in the world. It even has its own stop on the CTA Red Line. It’s on the South Side near Bridgeport, birthplace of the Irish political power-brokers who have run Chicago government for most of the last century. More Irish communities exist on the Far Southwest Side, where they even have an Irish castle to seal the deal. The Southwest Side houses enormous populations of Polish Highlanders and Mexicans, as well as reduced Lithuanian and Bohemian communities.
No serious Chicago gourmand would eat Indian food that didn’t come from a restaurant on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park. It’s paradise for spices, saris, and the latest Bollywood flicks. Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park was once called Seoul Drive for the Korean community that was originally there (although the demographic in the area has since declined significantly and has moved to suburban areas such as Glenview and Niles where authentic Korean restaurants and grocery stores are now abundant), and the Persian food on Kedzie Avenue nearby is simply astonishing. At the Argyle Red Line stop, by the intersection of Argyle and Broadway in Uptown, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you were still in America; Vietnamese, Thais, and Laotians share space on a few blocks of restaurants, grocery stores, and even dentists. Neither the Swedish settlers who built Andersonville or the Germans from Lincoln Square are the dominant presence in those neighborhoods any more, but their identity is still present in restaurants, cultural centers, and other discoveries to be made. Likewise, Little Italy and Greektown on the Near West Side survive only as restaurant strips.
A more contemporary experience awaits in Pilsen and Little Village, two neighborhoods on the Lower West Side where the Spanish signage outnumbers the English; in fact, Chicago has the second largest Mexican and Puerto Rican populations outside of their respective home countries. Pilsen and its arts scene is an especially exciting place to visit.
It’s hard to imagine displacement being a concern for the Polish community on the city’s Far Northwest and Southwest sides. The Belmont-Central business district is what you might consider the epicenter of Polish activity. Bars, restaurants, and dozens of other types of Polish businesses thrive on this strip, and on a smaller section of Milwaukee Avenue (between Roscoe and Diversey) in the vicinity of St. Hyacinth Basilica which bears the Polish name of Jackowo – Chicago’s Polish Village. Polish Highlanders, or Górals, on the other hand dominate the city’s Southwest Side with a cuisine and culture that is decidedly Balkan. A host of restaurants and cultural institutions visibly display the rustic touch of their Carpathian craft such as the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America at Archer Avenue just northeast of its intersection with Pulaski Road. Taste of Polonia, held over Labor Day weekend on the grounds of the Copernicus Foundation at the historic Gateway Theatre, draws an annual attendance of about 50,000 people and is touted as the city’s largest ethnic fest.
- Shedd Aquarium (Shedd Aquarium), 1200 S. Lake Shore Dr. Chicago, IL 60605, (312) 939-2438, . 9 am – 5pm. Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is the city’s premier location for aquatic life and family fun! With over 32,000 creatures, ranging from fish to crustaceans and everything in between, Shedd is the perfect place for children to learn and inspire curiosity about oceanic and aquatic life! Various exhibits include Aquatic Shows, Amazon Rising, Caribbean Reef, Jellies, Abbott Oceanarium, Polar Play Zone, Waters Of The World, Wild Reef, and A Holiday Fantasea. General Admission Adults – $39.95, Children (3-11) – $29.95, Children Under 3 – Free, special exhibits cost extra. (41.8676° N,87.6140° W) edit
- Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), 224 S. Michigan Avenue (at Michigan and Jackson), 312-922-3432, . 9-6. provides over 90 tours by boat, bike, trolley, bus and on foot of Chicago’s architecture. Tours offered every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Multiple walking tours through out the day; one bus or trolley tour daily, Chicago River Cruise from April thru November. prices vary. edit
- Bobby’s Bike Hike (BBH), 540 N. Lake Shore Drive (entrance on Ohio Street at Inner Lake Shore Drive), 312-245-9300, . 9am-5pm. is Chicago’s top-rated company for seasonal bike tours and year-round walking and food tours and bike rentals. Discover the true pulse of the city on urban adventures that are fun for all ages, interests, and fitness levels. Tours offered daily from March to November except Thanksgiving Day. prices vary. edit
- Free Chicago Walking Tours (FCWT), The Loop, Riverwalk, Millennium Park & More, 847-875-5655, . 10am-5pm. Free Chicago Walking Tours offers a variety of “pay-what-you-want” tours of Chicago’s most iconic neighborhood and sights. Our tours are led by experienced, local guides who have a passion for sharing their city. Group sizes are limited and tours fill up fast, book online today! FREE!. edit
The five Great Lakes together form one of the largest masses of freshwater on Earth, containing around 20% of the world’s surface fresh water alone, and Chicagoans enjoy flocking to the beaches of Lake Michigan. Chicago has great beaches and anyone can show up and swim. There are no admission fees on the city’s miles upon miles of beaches, and nearly the entire waterfront is open as public beach and parkland; what amounts to terrific planning by the city. The water is quite warm in the summer and early fall (check with the NOAA for temperatures ). The Chicago shore has been called the second cleanest urban waterfront in the world, and that’s really saying something for a metropolitan area of nearly 10 million people. Bacteria levels in the water do force occasional closures, but they are very rare. Lifeguards will be posted when the beach is officially open.
Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach (in the Near North and Lincoln Park) are the fashionable places to sun-tan and be seen and are usually crowded due to their proximity to downtown and area hotels. Rogers Park, Edgewater, and 35th Street Beach allow visitors more individual space and an enjoyable vibe as well. Hyde Park’s Promontory Point is beautiful, and offers skyline views from its submerged beach by the rocks, although a swim there is technically against city rules. Hollywood Beach in Edgewater is the main gay beach. Montrose Beach in Uptown is the city’s largest beach and hosts a large dog beach and a full service, outdoor restaurant in addition to July 3 fireworks and a variety of live music events. A large bird sanctuary and one of the few hills in Chicago are also located near Montrose Beach.
Volleyball tournaments are occassionally held at Chicago beaches. The city has 33 beaches of various sizes within the city limits alone. There are additional beaches in the northern suburbs as well.
The Osaka Garden on Jackson Park’s Wooded Isle
Where there are beaches, there are waterfront parks. During the summer months, the parks are a destination for organized and impromptu volleyball and soccer games, chess matches, and plenty more, with tennis and basketball courts dotted along the way.
There are also terrific parks going inland. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts music festivals throughout the year, and Millennium Park is a fun destination for all ages, especially during the summer. Millennium Park is where the famous Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain are located. In Hyde Park, Midway Park offers skating, and summer and winter gardens in the shadow of the academic giant, the University of Chicago, and Jackson Park has golf, more gardens and the legacy of the city’s shining moment, the 1893 World’s Colombian Exposition. In Bronzeville, Washington Park is one of the city’s best places for community sports. Lincoln Park contains the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Conservatory. And that’s just a brief overview. Almost every neighborhood in Chicago has a beloved park.
Chicago is also home to the Bloomingdale Trail/606. This is a linear park in the sky. This elevated greenway, created from railroad right-of-ways and its viaducts, is 2.7 miles, running through several Chicago neighborhoods, and complete with walking paths, bike lanes, benches, flowers and plants. This type of linear park, over former rail lines, is the third such type in the entire world, after a nearly 3 mile long version in Paris, and a 1 mile long version in New York City.
Events & Festivals
The Lollapalooza Music Festival
If you’re absolutely determined and you plan carefully, you may be able to visit Chicago during a festival-less week. It’s a challenge, though. Most neighborhoods, parishes, and service groups host their own annual festivals throughout the spring, summer, and fall . And the city has several in the winter. There are a few can’t-miss city-wide events, though. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts Taste of Chicago in July, the largest outdoor food festival in the world; and there are four major music festivals: Blues Fest and Gospel Fest in June, Lollapalooza in August, and Jazz Fest in September. All but Lollapalooza are free. The Chicago-based music website Pitchfork Media also hosts their own annual three day festival of rock, rap, and more in the summer at Union Park on the Near West Side.
With entries in every major professional sports league and several universities in the area, Chicago sports fans have a lot to keep them occupied. The Chicago Bears play football at Soldier Field in the Near South from warm September to frigid January. Since the baseball teams split the city in half, nothing seizes the Chicago sports consciousness like a playoff run from the Bears. Aspiring fans will be expected to be able to quote a minimum of two verses of the Super Bowl Shuffle from memory, tear up at the mention of Walter Payton, and provide arguments as to how Butkus, Singletary, and Urlacher represent stages in the evolution of the linebacker, with supporting evidence in the form of grunts, yells, and fists slammed on tables.
The Chicago Bulls play basketball at the United Center on the Near West Side. They are an exciting team to watch, led by star Zach LaVine. The Chicago Blackhawks share quarters with the Bulls. As one of the “Original Six” teams in professional hockey, the Blackhawks have a long history in their sport, and the team is experiencing a renaissance after capturing the Stanley Cup in 2010 for the first time in 49 years and winning two more championships in 2013 and 2015. Home games for both teams tend to sell out, but tickets can usually be found if you check around. Both the Bulls and the Blackhawks play from the end of October to the beginning of April.
It’s baseball, though, in which the tribal fury of Chicago sports is best expressed. The Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field (the oldest National League ballpark and the second oldest active major league ballpark) on the North Side, in Lakeview, and the Chicago White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park, underneath the corporate naming rights) on the South Side, in Bridgeport. Both franchises have more than a century’s worth of history, and both teams play 81 home games from April to the beginning of October. Everything else is a matter of fiercely held opinion. The two three-game series when the teams play each other are the hottest sports tickets in Chicago during any given year. If someone offers you tickets to a game, pounce.
There are plenty of smaller leagues in the city as well, although some play their games in the suburbs. The Chicago Fire (Major League Soccer) and Chicago Red Stars (National Women’s Soccer League) play soccer in the suburb of Bridgeview, the Chicago Sky play women’s professional basketball at the UIC Pavilion on the Near West Side, and the Windy City Rollers skate flat-track roller derby in neighboring Cicero. Minor league baseball teams dot the suburbs as well.
While college athletics are not one of Chicago’s strong points, Northwestern football (in Evanston) and DePaul basketball (off-campus in Rosemont) show occasional signs of life. If you find yourself in Hyde Park, ask someone how the University of Chicago football team is doing — it’s a surefire conversation starter.
The Gateway Theatre in Jefferson Park, seat of the Copernicus Foundation. The theater’s Baroque spire is a replica of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
Modern American comedy — the good parts, at least — was born when a group of young actors from Hyde Park formed The Compass Players, fusing intelligence and a commitment to character with an improvisational spark. One strand of their topical, hyper-literate comedy led, directly or indirectly, to Shelly Berman, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; another strand, namely The Second City, led to Saturday Night Live and a pretty huge percentage of the funny movies and television of the last thirty years. Still in Chicago’s Old Town (and few other places as well), still smart and still funny, Second City does two-act sketch revues followed by one act of improv. If you only see one show while you’re in Chicago, Second City is a good choice.
Improvisational comedy as a performance art form is a big part of the Chicago theater scene. At Lakeview and Uptown theaters like The Annoyance Theater, I.O., and The Playground, young actors take classes and perform shows that range from ragged to inspired throughout the week. Some are fueled by the dream of making the cast of SNL or Tina Fey’s latest project, and some just enjoy doing good work on-stage, whether or not they’re getting paid for it (and most aren’t). There’s no guarantee that you’ll see something great on any given night, but improv tends to be cheaper than anything else in town, and it can definitely be worth the risk. Another popular theater experience is the comedy/drama hybrid Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, offering 30 plays in 60 minutes every weekend in Andersonville.
Steppenwolf, in Lincoln Park, is Chicago’s other landmark theater. Founded in 1976, they have a history of taking risks onstage, and they have the ensemble to back it up, with heavyweights like Joan Allen, John Malkovich, and Gary Sinise. Steppenwolf isn’t cheap any more, but they mix good, young actors with their veteran ensemble and still choose interesting, emotionally-charged scripts. It’s the best place in town to see modern, cutting-edge theater with a bit of “I went to…” name-drop value for the folks back home.
Most of the prestige theaters, including the Broadway in Chicago outlets, are located in the Loop or the Near North. Tickets are expensive and can be tough to get, but shows destined for Broadway like The Producers often make their debut here. For the cost-conscious, the League of Chicago Theatres operates Hot Tix , which offers short-notice half-price tickets to many Chicago shows.
One theater to see, regardless of the production, is The Auditorium in the Loop. It’s a masterpiece of architecture and of performance space. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, who were on a commission from syndicate of local business magnates to bring some culture to the heathen city, it was the tallest building in Chicago and one of the tallest in the world at the time of its opening in 1889, and it’s still an impressive sight, inside and out.
The University of Chicago’s Gothic campus is in Hyde Park, which is, famously, “home to more Nobel Prizes per square mile than any other neighborhood on Earth.”
The iconic L rumbling overhead in the Loop
Chicago still loves Carl Sandburg and his poems, but the city shucked off the hog butcher’s apron a long time ago. In terms of industry, there’s little that distinguishes Chicago from any other major city in America, save for size. The Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange are among the biggest employers, with stables of traders and stock wizards. Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago amid much fanfare a few years ago; United Airlines, Abbott Laboratories, and AbbVie are other international companies with headquarters in town. The Big Five consulting firms all have one or more offices in the Loop. And there’s always construction work in the city; the city has a strong union presence.
For younger workers, the museums in the downtown area are always looking for high-enthusiasm guides, and the retail outlets on the Magnificent Mile and State Street are also good options. And with so many colleges and universities in the city, study abroad opportunities abound.
Whatever you need, you can buy it in Chicago, on a budget or in luxury. The most famous shopping street in Chicago is a stretch of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile, in the Near North area. It includes many designer boutiques, and several multi-story malls anchored by large department stores like 900 N Michigan and Water Tower Place. Additional brands are available from off-strip shops to the south and west of Michigan.
State Street used to be a great street for department stores in the Loop, but it’s now a shadow of its former self, with Carson Pirie Scott’s landmark Louis Sullivan-designed building now a Target store, and invading forces from New York holding the former Marshall Field’s building hostage under the name Macy’s (Most locals still insist that it is “Marshall Field’s”). Even Filene’s Basement, the famous discount location, is now closed, though a few other discount shops persist.
For a classic Chicago souvenir, pick up a box of Frango Mints, much-loved mint chocolates that were originally offered by Marshall Field’s and are still available at Macy’s stores. Although no longer made in the thirteenth-floor kitchen of the State Street store, the original recipe appears to still be in use, which pleases the loyal crowds fond of the flavor — and too bad for anyone looking to avoid trans-fats.
However, for a more unique shopping experience, check out the fun, eclectic stores in Lincoln Square, or the cutting-edge shops in Bucktown and Wicker Park, which is also the place to go for music fiends — although there are also key vinyl drops in other parts of the city as well. Southport in Lakeview and Armitage in Lincoln Park also have browser-friendly fashion boutiques.
For art or designer home goods, River North is the place to go. Centered between the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago Avenue Brown Line “L” stop in the Near North, River North’s gallery district boasts the largest arts and design district in North America outside of Manhattan. The entire area is walkable and makes for fun window-shopping.
Goods from around the world are available at the import stores in Chicago’s many ethnic neighborhoods; check See for descriptions and district articles for directions.
If you are the type that loves to browse through independent bookstores, Hyde Park has a stunning assortment of dusty used bookstores selling beat-up-paperbacks to rare 17th century originals, and the world’s largest academic bookstore. Printer’s Row in the Near South is also a great stop for book lovers.
Groceries and other basics
The major supermarket chains in Chicago are Jewel Osco, Mariano’s, Meijer, Food 4 Less, Aldi, Whole Foods Market, and Trader Joe’s. In addition, the nation’s three largest discount store chains Walmart, Target, and Kmart have several stores in Chicago as well. 7-Eleven convenience stores are usually found every couple of blocks and are always open 24-7, but have limited selection and high prices. The Walgreens drug store chain which is based in the city are also ubiquitous throughout Chicago with many locations open twenty four hours a day. Competitor CVS also has many locations in the area.
Due to its huge expat and immigrant population, Chicago also features a large variety of ethnic grocery stores, including Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Polish, and Mexican.
Chicago’s love affair with Polish sausages runs deep. As Hyde Park is to academics, and Near North is to department stores, so Avondale is to Polish sausages. Cavernous delis line the streets here, particularly up Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago is one of the great restaurant towns in America. If you’re looking for a specific kind of cuisine, check out the neighborhoods. Greektown, the Devon Ave Indian corridor, Chinatown, and Chatham‘s soul food and barbecue are just the tip of the iceberg. Other areas are more eclectic: Lincoln Square and Albany Park have unrivaled Middle Eastern, German, and Korean food, while Uptown offers nearly the whole Southeast Asian continent with Ghanaian, Nigerian, contemporary American, stylish Japanese, and down-home Swedish a few blocks away.
If you’re interested in celebrity chefs and unique creations, Lincoln Park and Wicker Park have plenty of award-winners. River North has several good upscale restaurants, but don’t waste your time on tourist traps like Rainforest Cafe, Cheesecake Factory, or the Hard Rock Cafe. In fact, you should never submit to standing in line — there are always equally good restaurants nearby. No matter what you enjoy, you’ll have a chance to eat well in Chicago, and you won’t need to spend a lot of money doing it — unless you want to, of course.
But while Chicago has a world class dining scene downtown, it is the low-end where it truly distinguishes itself. No other city on earth takes fast food so seriously; for those who don’t concern themselves with calorie counting, Chicago is cheap, greasy heaven. Head northwest and you’ll find sausage shops and old-style Polish restaurants that carry on as if health food and celebrity chefs never happened in Jackowo – Chicago’s Polish Village, as well as at Belmont-Central – an Eastern European culinary heaven. The suburb of Des Plaines on the northwest side of the city near O’Hare is where you can find the world’s first McDonalds. Quite a few other local “culinary specialties” in particular deserve further description.
The city’s three most iconic dishes are Chicago-style hot dogs, deep dish pizza, and Italian beef. However, there are other unique fast foods that are local favorites (particularly in the South Side). These lesser-known include the Maxwell Street Polish (a grilled kielbasa served on a hot dog bun with grilled onions), the pork chop sandwich (a tender pork chop with grilled onions and hot pepper on a hamburger bun; be advised, this tasty sandwich has a bone in the pork chop), and Chicago-style thin-crust pizza (which has a much crispier crust than that of a New York thin-crust pizza). Maxwell Polishes and pork chop sandwiches are available throughout “Maxwell”-style eateries in the city, but are much more prevalent in the West Side and the South Side; the three most popular Maxwell-style eateries are Jim’s Original (1250 S. Union Ave.), Express Grill (1260 S. Union Ave.) and the Maxwell Depot (411 W. 31st St.). Chicago-style thin-crust pizza is available in almost every pizzeria in the South Side.
Chicago’s deep dish pizza is incredible
Chicago’s most prominent contribution to world cuisine might be the deep dish pizza. Delivery chains as far away as Kyoto market “Chicago-style pizza,” but the only place to be sure you’re getting the real thing is in Chicago. It’s the pizza of four dimensional beings, as a slice of it is three- dimensional! To make a deep dish pizza, a thin layer of dough is laid into a deep round pan and pulled up the sides, and then meats and vegetables — Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, and more — are lined on the crust. At last, tomato sauce goes on top, and the pizza is baked. It’s gooey, messy, not recommended by doctors, and delicious. When you dine on deep dish pizza, don’t wear anything you were hoping to wear again soon. Some nationally-known deep dish pizza hubs are Pizzeria UNO and DUE, Gino’s East, Giordano’s, and Lou Malnati’s, but plenty of local favorites exist. Ask around — people won’t be shy about giving you their opinion.
But deep dish is not the end of the line in a city that takes its pizza so seriously. Chicago also prides itself on its distinctive thin-crust pizza and stuffed pizzas. The Chicago thin crust has a thin, cracker-like, crunchy crust, which somehow remains soft and doughy on the top side. Toppings and a lot of a thin, spiced Italian tomato sauce go under the mozzarella cheese, and the pizza is sliced into squares. If you are incredulous that Chicago’s pizza preeminence extends into the realm of the thin crust, head south of Midway to Vito and Nick’s, which is widely regarded among local gourmands as the standard bearer for the city.
The stuffed pizza is a monster, enough to make an onlooker faint. Start with the idea of a deep dish, but then find a much deeper dish and stuff a lot more toppings under the cheese. Think deep-dish apple pie, but pizza. Allow 45 minutes to an hour for pizza places to make one of these and allow 3-4 extra notches on your belt for the ensuing weight gain. Arguably the best stuffed pizza in town is at Bella Bacino’s in the Loop, which somehow is not greasy, but other excellent vendors include Giordano’s, Gino’s, and Edwardo’s.
The Chicago Hot Dog
A charred Chicago-style hot dog with all the trappings
This may come as a surprise to New Yorkers, but the Chicago hot dog is the king of all hot dogs — indeed, it is considered the perfect hot dog. Perhaps due to the city’s history of Polish and German immigration, Chicago takes its dogs way more seriously than the rest of the country. A Chicago hot dog is always all-beef (usually Vienna beef), always served on a poppy-seed bun, and topped with what looks like a full salad of mustard, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, sport (chili) peppers, a generous sprinkling of celery salt, diced onion, and a sweet-pickle relish endemic-to-Chicago that is dyed an odd, vibrant bright-green color. It’s a full meal, folks.
Ketchup is regarded as an abomination on a proper Chicago-style hot dog. Self-respecting establishments will refuse orders to put the ketchup on the dog, and many have signs indicating that they don’t serve it; truly serious hot dog joints don’t even allow the condiment on the premises. The reason for Chicago’s ketchup aversion is simple — ketchup contains sugar, which overwhelms the taste of the beef and prevents its proper enjoyment. Hence, ketchup’s replacement with tomato slices. Similarly, Chicagoans eschew fancy mustards that would overwhelm the flavor of the meat in favor of simple yellow mustard. And for the hungry visiting New Yorkers, the same goes for sugary sauerkraut — just no.
At most hot dog places, you will have the option to try a Maxwell Street Polish instead. Born on the eponymous street of the Near West Side, the Polish is an all-beef sausage on a bun, with fewer condiments than the Chicago hot dog: usually just grilled onions, mustard, and a few chili peppers.
In a tragic, bizarre twist of fate, the areas of Chicago most visited by tourists (i.e., the Loop) lack proper Chicago hot dog establishments. If you are downtown and want to experience a Chicago hot dog done right, the nearest safe bet is Portillo’s. Although, if you’re up for a little hot dog adventure, you can eat one right at the source, at the Vienna Beef Factory deli. Sadly, both baseball parks botch their dogs, although the 2011 return of Vienna Beef as the official hot dog of Wrigley Field is a step in the right direction.
The Italian Beef sandwich completes the Chicago triumvirate of tasty greasy treats. The main focus of the sandwich is the beef, and serious vendors will serve meat of a surprisingly good quality, which is slow-roasted, and thinly shaved before being loaded generously onto chewy, white, Italian-style bread. Two sets of options will come flying at you, so prepare yourself: sweet peppers or hot, and dipped or not. The “sweet” peppers are sautéed bell peppers, while the hots are a mixed Chicago giardiniera. The dip, of course, is a sort of French dip of the sandwich back into the beef broth. (Warning: dipped Italian Beefs are sloppy!) If you are in the mood, you may be able to get an Italian Beef with cheese melted over the beef, although travelers looking for the “authentic Italian Beef” perhaps should not stray so far from tradition.
The Italian Beef probably was invented by Italian-American immigrants working in the Union Stockyards on the Southwest Side, who could only afford to take home the tough, lowest-quality meat and therefore had a need to slow-roast it, shave it into thin slices, and dip it just to get it in chewable form. But today the sandwich has found a lucrative home downtown, where it clogs the arteries and delights the taste buds of the Chicago workforce during lunch break. Some of the city’s favorite downtown vendors include Luke’s Italian Beef in the Loop and Mr. Beef in the Near North, while the Portillo’s chain is another solid option.
Four fried chickens and a coke…
Harold’s Chicken Shack, a.k.a. the Fried Chicken King, is a South Side institution like no other. The Chicago-style fried chicken is considered by many connoisseurs to be some of the nation’s best (certainly in the North), and it is fried in a home-style mix of beef tallow and vegetable oil, then covered with sauce (hot or mild). Crucially, it is always cooked to order — ensuring that essential layer of grease between the skin and the meat. A half chicken meal can come as cheap as $4 and includes coleslaw, white bread, and sauce-drenched fries — make like a local and wrap the fries in the bread.
Initially, the fried chicken chain spread throughout black neighborhoods, which were ignored by other fast food chains, but in later years the franchise has extended its greasy fingers to the West and North Sides, as well as downtown. While chances are you will not find better fried chicken outside of Harold’s walls, the quality, pricing, and character vary between individual locations. Your safest bets are on the South Side — if you are served through bullet-proof glass under signs bearing a chef chasing a chicken with a hatchet, rest assured you are getting the best.
Chicago is a drinking town, and you can find bars and pubs in every part of the city. It is believed that Chicago has the second highest bars-per-capita in the U.S. (after San Francisco). Chicagoans have their choice of the hottest clubs or the best dive bars in town. Most areas that thrive on the bar culture do so for the variety, and bar hopping is quite common. Grab a drink or two, have a good time, and then try another place. It is all about variety. Be prepared to be asked for identification to verify your age, even at neighborhood dive bars. Smoking is banned in Chicago bars (and restaurants).
The best places to drink for drinking’s sake are Wicker Park and neighboring Logan Square and Bucktown, which have a world-class stock of quality local breweries and dive bars, which can be reached by the CTA Blue Line. These two areas are where the majority of Chicago’s hipsters live, with the effect that most of the bars are considered Hipster Bars. North Center and Roscoe Village are also great destination for the art of the beer garden. Just to the west of the Addison CTA Red Line stop and near Wrigley Field in Lakeview is the Wrigleyville district with bars that are popular with twenty-somethings. These bars are crowded on weekends and whenever the Cubs are playing. One block to the East of the Addison stop on Halsted Street, is the center of Chicago’s gay community, known as Boystown. Boystown centers around Halsted street and stretches from Belmont Avenue to the south to Irving Park Road on the North. Clark Street runs at an angle through the area. This district is filled with many trendy shops, bars, clubs, and restaurants. Housing is at a premium rate in this area. Boystown is busy most nights of the week and very busy on weekends. Just to the south, the Lincoln Park neighborhood has bars and beer gardens, and some trendy clubs for the neighborhood’s notorious high-spending Trixies. This is another very expensive neighborhood.
Tourists and locals also converge upon the nightclubs of Rush and Division St. This area remains very popular although other areas of the city are becoming increasing popular as nightlife destinations as well. For the last few years the West Loop’s warehouse bars were the place to be, but more recently the River North neighborhood has become popular. Still, the Rush/Division bars do huge business. Streeterville, immediately adjacent, exchanges the dance floors for high-priced hotel bars and piano lounges.
Although good dance music can be found in Wicker Park and the surrounding area, the best places to dance in the city are the expensive see and be seen clubs in River North and the open-to-all (except perhaps bachelorette parties) clubs in gay-friendly Boystown, which are a lot of fun for people of any sexual orientation. Halsted St in Boystown has many LGBT bars and nightclubs, for every age and type of music. Take the Redline train and get off at Belmont station.
Jazz and Blues
See The Jazz Track for a wealth of information about current and historic jazz clubs in Chicago.
The Lower Mississippi River Valley is known for its music; New Orleans has jazz, and Memphis has blues. Chicago, though located far away from the valley, has both. Former New Orleans and Memphis residents brought jazz and blues to Chicago as they came north for a variety of reasons: the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought a lot of itinerant musicians to town, and the city’s booming economy kept them coming through the Great Migration. Chicago was the undisputed capital of early jazz between 1917-1928, wih masters like Joe King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Earl Hines, and Jelly Roll Morton. Most of Chicago’s historic jazz clubs are on the South Side, particularly in Bronzeville, but the North Side has the can’t-miss Green Mill in Uptown.
The blues were in Chicago long before the car chase and the mission from God, but The Blues Brothers sealed Chicago as the home of the blues in the popular consciousness. Fortunately, the city has the chops to back that up. Maxwell Street  (Near West Side) was the heart and soul of Chicago blues, but the wrecking ball, driven by the University of Illinois at Chicago, has taken a brutal toll. Residents have been fighting to save what remains. For blues history, it doesn’t get much better than Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation (Near South), and Bronzeville, the former “Black Metropolis,” is a key stop as well. Performance venues run the gamut from tiny, cheap blues bars all over the city to big, expensive places like Buddy Guy’s Legends (Loop) and the original House of Blues (Near North).
But don’t let yourself get too wrapped up in the past, because Chicago blues is anything but. No other city in the world can compete with Chicago’s long list of blues-soaked neighborhood dives and lounges. The North Side’s blues clubs favor tradition in their music, and are usually the most accessible to visitors, but offer a slightly watered down experience from the funkier, more authentic blues bars on the South and Far West Sides, where most of Chicago’s blues musicians live and hang. If one club could claim to be the home of the real Chicago blues, Lee’s Unleaded Blues in Chatham-South Shore would probably win the title. But there are scores of worthy blues joints all around the city (many of which are a lot easier to visit via public transport). A visit to one of these off-the-beaten-path blues dives is considerably more adventurous than a visit to the touristy House of Blues, but the experiences born of such adventures have been known to reward visitors with a life-long passion for the blues.
Although playing second fiddle to the blues in the city’s collective consciousness, jazz thrives in Chicago, too, thanks in no small part to members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and their residencies at clubs like The Velvet Lounge and The Jazz Showcase (both of which see regular national acts) (Near South), The New Apartment Lounge (Chatham-South Shore) and The Hideout (Bucktown), with more expensive national touring acts downtown at The Chicago Theater (Loop). If you are staying downtown, the Velvet Lounge will be your best bet, as it is an easy cab ride, and its high-profile performances will rarely disappoint.
Fans should time their visits to coincide with Blues Fest in June, and Jazz Fest over Labor Day Weekend. Both take place in Grant Park (Loop).
Wicker Park and Bucktown are the main place to go for indie rock shows: the Double Door and the Empty Bottle are the best-known venues, but there are plenty of smaller ones as well. In Lakeview, the Metro is a beloved concert hole, with Schubas, Lincoln Hall, The Vic, and the Abbey Pub nearby (the latter on the Far Northwest Side). Other mid-sized rock, hip-hop and R&B shows take place at the Riviera and the awesome Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. The Near South has become an underrated destination for great shows as well.
The Park West in Lincoln Park has light jazz, light rock, and other shows you’d sit down for; so does Navy Pier (Near North), particularly in the summer. The venerable Chicago Theater in the Loop is better-known for its sign than for anything else, but it has rock, jazz, gospel, and spoken-word performances by authors like David Sedaris. The world-renowned Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is the main bulwark in the city for classical and classy jazz, with occasional curve-balls like Björk. You’ll find musicians from the CSO doing outreach all over the city, along with their counterparts at the Lyric Opera. Both are in the Loop.
A few big concerts are held at the UIC Pavilion, the Congress Theater, and the United Center on the Near West Side every year, and some huge concerts have taken place at Soldier Field (Near South). The Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, both in the Loop, tend to host big, eclectic shows and festivals in the summer, which are sometimes free.
Otherwise, most big shows are out in the suburbs, primarily at the Allstate Arena and the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont, the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in Tinley Park, Star Plaza in Indiana, and the Alpine Valley Music Theater over the Wisconsin border in Elkhorn. You’ll also have to head out to the suburbs for Ravinia, which features upscale classical, jazz, and blues outdoors throughout the summer. See Chicagoland for details on suburban venues.
Chicago hosts many major conventions each year and has plenty of places to stay. The majority are either at O’Hare Airport or downtown in the Loop and the Near North (near the Magnificent Mile). If you want to explore the city, aim for downtown — a hotel near O’Hare is good for visiting one thing and one thing only, and that’s O’Hare (although the CTA Blue Line is walking distance from most of them, so access to the city is easy, aside from 30 minutes). However, if you have a specific interest in mind, there are hotels throughout the city, and getting away from downtown will give you more of a sense of other neighborhoods. You’ll appreciate that if you’re in town for more than a couple of days. Make sure that where you’re staying is within your comfort level before committing to stay there, though. More far flung transient hotels will be suitable for those seeking to relive Jack Kerouac’s seedy adventures around the country, but may alarm and disgust the average traveler.
Budget-priced places are usually pretty far from the Loop, so when you’re booking, remember that Chicago is vast. Travelers on a budget should consider accommodations away from the city center which can be easily reached via any of the several CTA train lines. There is a hostel in the Loop, a hostel in Greektown within walking distance to Union Station, a hostel by Wrigley Field and three others near the universities in Lincoln Park,Rogers Park and in Wicker Park, all of which are interesting neighborhoods in their own right, and close to the L for access to the rest of the city. For deals on mid-range hotels, there are good options far out from the center by Midway and in North Lincoln.
- Embassy Suites Chicago – North Shore/Deerfield, 1445 Lake Cook Road Deerfield, IL 60015, 1-847-945-4500, . edit
- IHSP Chicago Hostel, 1616 North Damen (Damen on the Blue Line), 3127314234, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 11 AM. Rooftop deck, common room, free breakfast, social atmosphere. $20 -200 USD. edit
- Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown/Magnificent Mile, 10 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611, 312-595-0000, . edit
- Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago (Trump Hotel Chicago), 401 N Wabash Ave (Downtown), 312.588.8000, . 5 star, luxury downtown Chicago hotel on Michigan Avenueoffers river, lake and skyline views, accommodations, spa & health club, 5 star Michelin-rated dining, and meeting and wedding venues. edit
- Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, 540 North Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611, +1-312-836-0100 (fax: +1-312-836-6139), . checkin: 16:00; checkout: 12:00. Located on Magnificent Mile within walking distance of Navy Pier, American Girl Place, Shedd Aquarium, Millennium Park, Theater and Museum Districts. Hotel has indoor pool, fitness center, on-site bar, coffee shop and restaurant. $199 USD and above. edit
- JW Marriott Chicago, 151 West Adams Street Chicago, IL 60603, +1-312-660-8200 (fax: +1-312-660-8201), . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 12:00. Located at LaSalle and Adams, this Chicago Loop hotel features an on-site spa, restaurant and bar. $229 USD and above. edit
- Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel, 1 West Wacker Drive Chicago, IL 60601, +1-312-372-7200 (fax: +1-312-372-0093), . checkin: 16:00; checkout: 12:00. Situated on the north edge of the Loop, this downtown Chicago, IL hotel is steps from upscale shopping, fine dining and Millennium Park. On-site spa, fitness center, indoor pool, bar and restaurant. $209 USD and above. edit
- The Blackstone Hotel (The Blackstone), 636 South Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60605, +1-312-447-0955 (fax: 1-312-765-0545), . checkin: 16:00; checkout: 12:00. Conveniently located next to Grant Park and the downtown Chicago Loop, the Blackstone offers luxury accommodations and upscale dining. $179 USD and above. edit
- Chicago Marriott O’Hare, 8535 West Higgins Road Chicago, IL 60631, +1-773-693-4444 (fax: +1-773-693-3164), . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 12:00. Newly renovated and conveniently located three miles from Chicago O’Hare International Airport, 15 miles from downtown and ‘L’-train access just one block away. Features indoor pool, fitness center, on-site bar, coffee shop and restaurant. $119 USD and Up. edit
- Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites Hotel, 8500 West Bryn Mawr Avenue Chicago, IL 60631, +1-773-380-9600 (fax: +1-773-380-9601), . checkin: 16:00; checkout: 12:00. Features indoor pool, fitness center, on-site bar, coffee shop and restaurant. Located steps from the “L” Chicago Blue Line-O’Hare and offering complimentary 24-hour shuttle service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport. $119 USD and above. edit
- Chicago Getaway Hostel, 616 W. Arlington Pl., +1 (773) 929-5380. Backpackers Hostel in a residential neighborhood, providing dorm and private rooms. edit
- Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront‘,71 East Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL, 60601, phone 1-312-346-7100, Formaly Hotel 71, this hotel is located near the intersection of Michgan Avenue and Wacker Drive. Near The Loop and the Magnificent Mile. On site restaurant and an event room that can seat 250 people. Rates $129 and above.
- Courtyard Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile, 165 E Ontario Street, 312-573-0800, . checkin: 3pm; checkout: 12pm. With spectacular shopping, world-class museums, dynamic corporations and breathtaking architecture, the Windy City has it all and this hotel is located right in the heart of everything! edit
- Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Chicago-Downtown (Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Chicago-Downtown), 506 West Harrison Street, Chicago, Illinois 60607, 1-312-957-9100, . checkin: 3PM; checkout: 12PM. Conveniently located near the Chicago Loop, and other prominent area attractions. Located off I-290 on South Canal Street, this downtown Chicago hotel is ideal for leisure and business travelers. edit
- Hotel Lincoln, 1816 North Clark Street, 312-254-4700, . Boutique hotel offering complimentary Wi-Fi and seasonal bike rentals, and on-site restaurants and bars. edit
- The Talbott, 20 E Delaware Pl, 312-944-4970, . Newly renovated European-style hotel with on-site restaurant and bar. edit
- Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue, 312-922-4400, . checkin: 3pm; checkout: 11am. Located across from Grant Park within the Cultural Mile featuring magnificent views of Lake Michigan, Museum Campus, Navy Pier and Soldiers Field. Enjoy two-bed, two-bath accommodations, large indoor swimming pool, seasonal sundeck perched within the skyline of Chicago, largest hotel fitness center in Chicago featuring Peloton bikes, Kitty O’Sheas Irish Pub and more at this hotel consistently awarded for sustainability. Digital check-in, comp Wi-Fi for Hilton Honors Members, Lyft rideshare perks and pet-friendly. edit
- Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, 17 East Monroe Street, 312-726-7500, . checkin: 3pm; checkout: 11am. North America’s most established hotel, Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, first opened its doors in 1871. In the heart of the Loop, Chicago’s business and performing arts pulse, makes it a popular pick for business and leisure travelers alike. The hotel is surrounded by Chicago destinations such as the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Symphony, Wabash Arts Corridor, Chicago Theatre district, Jewelers Row, State Street shopping and Millennium Park. Palmer House offers The Magic Palour Performances, History is Hott Tours, tasting the first brownie recipe ever created, afternoon tea service at Lockwood Restaurant and The Spa at Palmer House. Digital check-in, comp Wi-Fi for Hilton Honors Members, Lyft rideshare perks and pet-friendly. edit
- The Drake, a Hilton Hotel, 140 East Walton Place, 312-787-2200, . checkin: 3pm; checkout: 11pm. Overlooking Lake Michigan with direct access to Oak Street Beach, The Drake, a Hilton Hotel anchors the north end of The Magnificent Mile and continues to illuminate Lake Shore Drive with historic authenticity marked by illustrious service and Real Chicago experiences for nearly 100 years. Enjoy guestrooms and suites with Lake Michigan or Chicago City views, sip on history steeped in tradition with afternoon tea service at Palm Court, and clutch a famed executive pour martini at Coq d’Or, the second establishment in Chicago to receive its liquor license following Prohibition. Digital check-in, comp Wi-Fi for Hilton Honors Members, Lyft rideshare perks and pet-friendly. edit
Violent crime rates by neighborhood
As in almost the entire United States, dial 911 to get emergency help. Dial 311 for all non-emergency situations in Chicago. The Chicago Police Departments serves the greater area and provides law enforcement within the city. Chicago Police older livery marked cars are white with a thin blue strip running across the middle and red lettering CHICAGO POLICE on it. Newer livery cars are also white however they have a small are of blue on the front and rear doors that is diagonal shaped. CHICAGO POLICE is lettered white and on top of the blue decal is white and blue battenburg checkboard style markings. On the rear shows a badge that says Chicago Police and on top of the checkerboard markings labeled We Serve and Protect. Chicago Police Officers wear navy blue uniform. Those with a higher ranking will wear white uniform with the correct ranking chevrons or starts on it. Regular patrol officers wear uniform hat with a blue/white checkerboard. Those with higher ranks wear blue/yellow checkerboard uniform hat.
Chicago Police Department is the only police department in the state of Illinois to utilize full blue emergency lighting with the exception of airport units and motorcycle units. Chicago is sometimes portrayed as an active war zone, under the moniker “Chiraq”. A lot of this is media hype, especially when drawing this to the entire city, but in some neighborhoods this is a reality for many. As of 2017, Chicago is experiencing elevated rates of violent crime following a spike in 2016, placing it in many “top ten” lists for violent crime in cities. This is compounded by protests against a police force, which has various public scandals of its own. Combined with constant construction forcing sidewalks and streets to close or divert in unexpected ways, it is not unusual for travelers new to the city to feel a little uneasy.
While Chicago police are able to be trusted more than not, be aware there are more corruption cases in Chicago PD than in a majority of other cities other than maybe Detroit. Be aware that that in itself is a risk. Also, be aware that Chicago is trying to rapidly shed that dishonest image so any situation involving bribes or corruption could easily be a sting operation.
As with a lot of major cities in America, there are two very different Chicagos: one that’s vibrant, upscale, and very safe and the other that’s poor, gang-infested, and crime-ridden. Although most of the city’s tourist attractions are well-distanced from any areas with high crime rates, it is important to understand where in Chicago you will be visiting, and best avoid the neighborhoods you hear have a bad reputation. Overall, the North Side and the downtown area have the good reputations, and the South and West Sides have the bad reputations, with a few areas being the exception.
You can tell if you are in a rougher part of town just by looking at the area; if most of the buildings are dilapidated and the houses abandoned, then you probably aren’t in a good neighborhood. There are some neighborhoods on the South Side that are pretty nice, most notably the Hyde Park/Kenwood and Beverly/Mount Greenwood areas, but keep in mind that they are not far from some of the more troubled neighborhoods. Areas such as Englewood, Roseland, Auburn-Gresham, Back of the Yards, South Shore, and Grand Crossing are constantly in the news for shootings and other violent crimes. The West Side is also like the South Side where some areas are nice and others, very dangerous. The Near West Side areas of Greektown, Little Italy, UIC, Rush Medical District, and the United Center are now vibrant, up-and-coming places, but go past Western Avenue and it quickly becomes run-down and crime-ridden until you reach the suburb of Oak Park which can also be sketchy at times, the closer you are to its boundary with the city. But, even in an area with a bad reputation, you might still have a perfectly good time, as long as you feel comfortable and don’t do anything to attract unwanted attention.
Take caution in the Loop at night; after working hours, the Loop gets quiet and dark in a hurry west of State Street, but you’ll be fine near hotels close to Michigan Avenue and the lake. When disembarking a crowded CTA train, especially in the downtown-area subways, be wary of purse snatchers and Apple pickers (thieves who snatch your smart phone–iPhones are a particular favorite–out of your hand and exit the train just before the doors close).
People coming into the city via popular tourist routes – including major transit hubs such as Union Station near downtown, or those choosing to walk the Magnificent Mile- are likely to be confronted by Chicago’s homeless who are for the most part harmless. Some sell a local newspaper called Streetwise to make a living. These people should be wearing a badge of some kind to indicate they sell the newspaper and they keep all the profits they make. If you’re feeling generous but want to be safe, those selling Streetwise are your best bet. Otherwise the safe method is to avoid eye contact and if necessary take the first possible turn toward a more populated street or business.
In general, common sense will keep you safe in Chicago: avoid unfamiliar side streets at night, stay out of alleys at night, know where you’re going when you set out, stick to crowded areas, and as a rule cabs accept credit or debit cards now.
Dress appropriately for the weather. Chicago’s winter is famously windy and cold, so cover exposed skin and wear layers in the winter. Heat exhaustion is an equal risk in the summer months, especially July and August.
Stay off the road during a snowstorm. Chicago’s streets and sanitation department generally does a good job clearing the major roads in the center of the city, but the neighborhoods can take longer, and the construction-littered expressways are anyone’s guess.
If you happen to be driving in Chicago during or right after a snowstorm, be aware that certain areas have a tradition of parking “dibs” where residents place debris on the street to mark their cleared parking spots when their cars aren’t present. If you see broken furniture or wooden crates covering up a potential parking spot, don’t move the debris to park as this might result in a serious altercation with residents or deliberate damage to your vehicle (eg slashed tires, broken windows, key scratches, etc).
Chicago has a reputation of being a segregated city, yet this image has finally started to erode somewhat. In many ways, it is like any other city; what may be okay behavior in one neighborhood may get you into trouble in another. Homosexuality is not accepted outside the Magnificent Mile with areas being unsafe with discrimination and attacks being a high risk, although Chicago does host one of the largest gay pride events in the country every June on the North Side. There are many neighborhoods in Chicago where various races live in harmony, and race isn’t an issue whatsoever. Then there are other neighborhoods that are mainly populated by one race and outsiders may be looked at with a curious eye.
Topics regarding Chicago’s racial segregation, police department, political corruption, and homicide rate are best to be avoided when meeting new people. Some may get offended if they feel you are talking badly about their city, so if one of these topics do come up in a conversation, at least talk about it in a respectful and mature manner. Do not mock or joke about the city being nicknamed “Chiraq” as certain people may be confrontational about it. You never know who may have lost someone due to gang or gun violence. Also, Chicago is very much a Democrat stronghold and is why the state of Illinois tends to lean left, so most people in the city are going to have liberal viewpoints.
If you get lost, it is recommended that you try and flag down a police officer, as the Chicago Police Department can be quite helpful. You should also have a map with you of the city or area of the city that you intend to explore in case you get lost, so you don’t have to bother someone for directions.
The first Internet cafe in the United States was opened in Chicago, but they never really caught on here. There are still a few, though; check individual district articles. If you have a computer with you, free wireless Internet access is now standard-issue at coffee shops throughout the city including major ones like Starbucks. Most hotels above the transient level offer free Wi-Fi, too.
The good news is that all branches of the Chicago Public Library system offer free internet access, via public terminals and free, password-free, public wireless. If you do not have a Chicago library card, but you have a photo ID that shows you do not live in Chicago, you can get a temporary permit from the library information desk. (If you are from Chicago and don’t have a library card, though, all you can get is a stern look and a brief lecture on how Chicagoans need to support the library system.) The most centrally located branch is the giant Harold Washington Library in the Loop, but there are branch libraries in every part of the city — again, see individual district articles. Only Harold Washington and the two regional libraries (Sulzer and Woodson) are open on Sundays.
312 was the area code for all of Chicago for a long time; it’s still the code of choice for the Loop, and most of the Near North and Near South. 773 surrounds the center, covering everything else within city limits.
Suburban areas close to the city use 847 (north/northwest), 224 (north/northwest), 708 (south), 815 (southwest), 630 (west), and 219 (northwest Indiana).
Hospitals & Heathcare Centers
- Chicago Family Health Center (Family Health Center), 9119 S. Exchange Avenue Chicago, IL 60617, 773-768-5000. ([email protected]), . Chicago Family Health Center (CFHC) South Chicago is a state-of-the-art facility located in the heart of the city’s South Chicago neighborhood. We offer primary medical care for children and adults, as well as dental care, prenatal care and women’s health services, OB/GYN, behavioral health services, vaccines and flu shots, HIV testing, and STI testing and treatment. edit
- Wicker Park Dental Group (Dentist), 1738 W. North Ave, Chicago,IL 60622, 773-974-1922. ([email protected]), . Wicker Park Dental Group are a leading dental practice serving the Wicker Park-Bucktown neighborhoods for over 45 years. They provide our patients with high-quality, comprehensive dental care in a comfortable environment. Our every day goal is to help you understand your treatment options and always make sure you are not in pain. edit
- The Chicago Tribune (The Trib), . The Tribune is Chicago’s oldest daily, recently converted into a tabloid format for newsstand purchases. New ownership has shed much of the Trib’s former prestige with a debt-leveraged purchase and forced bankruptcy, widespread staff layoffs, and an ill-advised redesign. edit
- The Chicago Sun-Times, . The Sun-Times is Chicago’s other “major” newspaper. It has a long-standing reputation for aggressive (some might say “sensationalist”) investigative journalism. It has also been teetering on the verge of oblivion for some time. edit
- The Redeye, . Redeye is a free weekdays-only newspaper produced by the Tribune. Although its covers appear to report from some parallel universe where topics like sandwiches and being tired at work are the top stories of the day, it does have basic news coverage inside along with entertainment gossip. edit
- The Chicago Defender, . The Defender is Chicago’s biggest African-American daily, and it played a major role in the city’s African-American history. Its distribution network today is comparatively small, though. edit
- Hola Hoy, . Hola Hoy produces a free Spanish-language newspaper with wide distribution. edit
- The Chicago Reader, . The Reader is a free weekly newspaper distributed throughout the city each Wednesday. It includes extensive listings of arts, music, and events. Nobody knows more about Chicago than the Reader, but it’s definitely oriented toward locals. edit
- Crain’s Chicago Business, . Crain’s is a long-standing weekly newspaper covering the Chicago area business community, with a dash of politics and lifestyle — definitely worth a look if you’re in town on business. edit
- New City, . New City is a free weekly alternative arts and entertainment magazine, distributed every Wednesday. Event listings and local content are skimpy, but it is free. edit
- Time Out Chicago, . Time Out produces a weekly magazine available at most newsstands and bookstores. Its listings for events, bars, and restaurants are by far the most comprehensive and easiest to use for visitors to the city. edit
- Windy City Times, . Free weekly LGBT newspaper. edit
- The Daily Herald. The Daily Herald is wide serving suburban newspaper based in Arlington Heights, a Chicago suburb. edit
- Project Nande, . Project Nande publishes a weekly subscription-based series of city travel guides that feature planned itineraries of off the beaten path things to do and places to explore around Chicago. edit
There are places of worship all over the city; the front desk of your hotel will almost certainly be able to direct you to one nearby. Otherwise, the following are centrally located in either the Loop or the Near North, unless otherwise noted.
For churches of specific Orthodoxies, check in neighborhoods that feature communities with ties to that region. There’s a majestic Orthodox church in Ukrainian Village, for example. Evangelical Christian ministries are mostly on the South Side, with some historic churches in Bronzeville. For the Baha’i faith, visit the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette, easily accessible by the CTA Purple Line.
- Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel, 540 W Melrose St (Belmont Red Line), +1 773 248-9200, . Modern Orthodox Judaism. In a remarkably beautiful building by the lake. Shacharit Su 8:30AM, M, Th 6:45AM, Tu W, F 7AM; Mincha Su-Th 7:45PM. edit
- Armitage Baptist Church, 2451 N Kedzie Blvd. (Logan Square Blue Line), +1 773 384-4673, . Sunday worship 9:30AM, 11AM, and 6PM. edit
- BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, 4N739 IL Route 59, Bartlett, +1 630 213 2277, . Everyday worship 11:30 AM Aarti. Free. edit
- Chicago’s Central Synagogue, 15 W Delaware Place (Chicago Red Line), +1 312 787-0450, . Conservative Judaism. Shabbat services Sa 9:15AM. edit
- Chicago Loop Synagogue, 16 S Clark St (Madison/Wabash Brown/Purple/Green/Orange/Pink Line), +1 312 346-7370, . Traditional Judaism. Shachris Sa 9AM, Su 9:30AM; Mincha Sa 3:45PM, Su 4:15PM, M-F 1:05PM; Maariv 4:45PM. edit
- Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W Delaware Pl (Chicago Red Line), +1 312 867-7000, . Liberal Reform Judaism. Torah study Sa 10:30AM; Shabbat Eve service F 6:15PM, Sunday service 11AM. edit
- Christ the Savior Orthodox Church, 927 N LaSalle Dr (Chicago Red and Brown line), +1 312 202-0423 (fax: +1 312 202-0427), . OCA parish with services in English. Saturday Great Vespers 4:30pm. Sunday Liturgy 9:15am. Wednesday Daily Vespers 6:30pm. edit
- Downtown Islamic Center, 231 S State St (Jackson Red Line), +1 312 939-9095, . M-F 10:30AM-5:30PM. Friday prayers: Khutba 1:05PM / Aqama 1:30PM (1st Friday Jamaa), Khutba 2:05pm / Aqama 2:30pm (2nd Friday Jamaa). edit
- Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, 10915 Lemont Rd, Lemont, IL, +1 630 972-0300, . M-F 10AM-8PM. 25 miles southwest of Chicago. Call temple to schedule priest services. edit
- Holy Name Cathedral, 735 N State St (Chicago Red Line), . Open for private prayer or reflection from 5:30am-7pm. Flagship of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. Sunday Masses at 7am, 8:15am, 9:30am (incl sign language), 11am, 12:30pm, and 5:15pm. See website for Saturday, weekdays, and Holy Days schedules, as well as other sacraments. edit
- Saint James Cathedral, 65 E Huron St (Chicago Red Line), +1 312 787-7360, . Episcopalian services. Office hours M-F 9am-4pm. Eucharist Su 8am, 10:30am; W 5:30pm; Th,F 12:10pm edit
Here’s a quick list of foreign consulates in Chicago:
- Forest preserves are prevalent on the far north, northwest, and southwest sides, and into the nearby Chicagoland suburbs. They are excellent for biking, jogging, picnics, and various outdoor activities.
- SeatGeek Stadium (formerly Toyota Park) in Bridgeview, IL is an outdoor stadium that hosts several sporting events and concerts including, until 2020, the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer. It is located on Harlem Avenue south of the Stevenson Expressway/Interstate 55. An express bus runs from the Midway station on the CTA Orange Line on event days.
- The Brookfield Zoo, which is Chicagoland’s other world-class zoo, is located in nearby Brookfield, IL. Though not accessible via the CTA, the Hollywood station on METRA’s Burlington Northern line is 2 blocks away. It is located on 31st Street close to the Eisenhower Expressway/Interstate 290.
- Evanston is over the northern border of Chicago. In addition to Northwestern University, the city has a vibrant downtown area, some historical homes scattered about, and a lovely lakefront. Just beyond that is Wilmette, with the fascinating Baha’i Temple. Both suburbs are accessible via the CTA Purple Line.
- The Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, IL is a 385 acre garden featuring 25 display gardens, four natural habitats, and 2.5 million plants. Though not accessible by the CTA, the Braeside station along METRA’s Union Pacific North line is nearby. It is located on Lake Cook Road near the Edens Expressway/Interstate 94 and US Route 41.
- In the same category as the Chicago Botanic Garden is the Morton Arboretum in western suburb of Lisle, IL. It hosts over 186,000 catalogued plants, the largest restored Prairie in Chicagoland, 16 miles (26 km) of hiking trails and nine miles (14 km) of roadways for driving/bicycling on 1700 acres. The Lisle station on METRA’s Burlington Northern line is about 2 miles away. It is located on IL Route 53 near the Reagan Tollway/Interstate 88.
- Naperville has a wonderful and trendy downtown area. It boasts numerous restaurants, shops, and a riverwalk. It is located on The Reagan Tollway/Interstate 88 or near the Naperville Station on Metra’s BNSF (Burlington Northern/Santa Fe) line.
- Schaumburg is the shopping hub of Chicago’s Northwest Suburbs. It’s home to one of the 10 largest malls in the United States, Woodfield Mall, and has a wide range of shopping and entertainment offerings. It is located off of the Jane Adams (I-90, Kennedy from O’Hare Airport to Chicago) about 15 miles northwest of the Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
- Oak Park was the home of architecture legend Frank Lloyd Wright. The village boasts many houses designed by him and his personal home and studio are now a museum. Walking tours to see his designs are a must for anyone who appreciates architecture. The museum and beautiful downtown Oak Park are located near the Oak Park CTA Green Line station or not too far from the Eisenhower Expressway/Interstate 290.
- Ravinia is the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The arts and crafts style architecture coupled with a dazzling array of acts make this a classic summer destination for Chicagoans and tourists. Bring food, a blanket, wine, and a citronella candle; buy anything you forgot on-site. The Ravinia Park station on METRA’s Union Pacific North line stops at the park gates and a return train waits for late-ending concerts. It is located on Green Bay Road about a mile from the Edens Expressway/Interstate 94 and US Route 41.
Elsewhere in Illinois
- Six Flags Great America has the biggest and wildest roller coasters in Illinois. It is located off of Interstate 94 in Gurnee.
- Historic Galena, is great for hiking, sightseeing, and antiquing. Drive here in just over 3 hours via Interstate 90 and US Route 20.
- Peoria is in some ways a miniature Chicago. It is located about about 3 hours southwest of Chicago via Interstates 55 and 74.
- Springfield is the Illinois state capital and a city closely tied to Abraham Lincoln. This final resting place of the 16th president of the United States is located about 3 1/2 hours south of Downtown Chicago on Interstate 55.
- Starved Rock State Park, defined by its numerous canyons and waterfalls, sits on over 2600 acres. It is located near the junction of Interstates 39 and 80, about 2 hours southwest of Downtown Chicago.
- The Quad Cities bridge the Mississippi River forming a unique metropolitan area on the border of Iowa and Illinois. They sit about 3 hours west of Downtown Chicago on Interstates 80 and 88.
- The Indiana Dunes are a moderate drive away, and are also accessible via the South Shore commuter rail. If you’ve enjoyed the beaches in Chicago, you owe the Indiana Dunes a stop — that’s where all the sand came from. Taking the Skyway/Interstate 90 to the Indiana Toll Road is the easiest way to visit.
- Gary is just over the border on the Skyway, with a skyline that rivals Chicago’s for strength of effect — industrial monstrosity, in this case — with casinos, urban ruins, and a few entries by Prairie School architects Frank Lloyd Wright and George Maher. You can drive to Gary on the Indiana Toll Road/Interstates 80/90.
- South Bend is about a two hour drive to the east or a simple ride on the South Shore from Millennium Station. It is most famous as the home of the University of Notre Dame but also has a history as the location of former automobile manufacturer Studebaker. Another half an hour drive east to Elkhart County will land you in Northern Indiana Amish country. Both are accessible via the Indiana Toll Road/Interstates 80/90. The South Shore terminates at the South Bend Airport.
- Indianapolis is about a three hour drive southeast of Chicago and is worth a visit if you have time. Just follow Interstate 94 to Interstate 65.
- Also just over the Skyway (before you reach Gary) is East Chicago’s bizarre 19th century planned community, Marktown, which looks like a small English village totally incongruous with the gigantic steel mills and the world’s largest oil refinery which surround it.
- Further along the lake from the Indiana Dunes are Michigan’s dunes and summer resorts in Harbor Country. Keep your eyes open because notables such as former Mayor Richard M. Daley, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, and others summer here. This region, well-known for its wineries and fresh fruit, is about an hour and a half drive from Chicago on Interstate 94.
- Saint Joseph & Benton Harbor are two towns about 2 hours northeast of Chicago. St. Joseph sits on a bluff that overlooks Silver Beach State Park and Lake Michigan. The view will knock your socks off – especially at sunset. St. Joseph has numerous shops and various festivals throughout the summer. It is easily accessible via Interstate 94.
- Grand Rapids is the second-largest metro area in Michigan and is home to a thriving craft beer industry. Annual festivals such as ArtPrize and Laugh Fest draw thousands to the area. Additionally, many great restaurants and activities populate this growing city and Lake Michigan’s picturesque beaches are only 30 minutes away. Take Interstate 94 to Interstate 196.
- Detroit has many of Chicago’s most hated sports rivals. Although it has fallen on hard times, it has a musical and architectural heritage comparable to the Windy City. It is a little over 4 hours away on, you guessed it, Interstate 94.
- Lake Geneva, across the Wisconsin border, is the other big summer getaway. Nearby are the Kettle Moraine state parks, with good mountain biking.
- Madison is located about two and half hours from Chicago on I-90 and via Van Galder buses. It is a vibrant city home to the giant University of Wisconsin and is known for its lively downtown, thriving culture, and beautiful scenery.
- Milwaukee and its venerable breweries are less than two hours from Chicago on I-94, via Amtrak, and by intercity bus services.
- Spring Green is an easy weekend trip from Chicago, about three and a half hours from town on I-90. It’s the home of two unique architectural wonders: Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnificent estate Taliesin, and Alex Jordan’s mysterious museum The House on the Rock.
- The Wisconsin Dells are another (wet) summer fun destination, just three hours north of the city by car (I-90/94), also accessible by Amtrak train.
- Cedarburg is a popular festival town with a charming downtown featured on the National Register of Historic Places. It is located 20 miles north of downtown Milwaukee. Take 1-94 to Milwaukee and continue north on I-43.
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