My ultimate 11 travel tips for Chicago.
Looking for an alternative to New York? Consider the „windy city“. I have visited Chicago in late December and what can I say – I am raving!
Well, be patient when entering the US these days, immigration takes a bit of your time. Be prepared for intense controls. „Put your left hand here for taking prints, now your thumb, now the right hand, look into the cam (oops, I am not shaved after the long flight...)“ ,says the (somewhat friendly) officer. Don’t take it personal - the world has changed after all what happened last year. And make sure your credit card is resistant – with the current exchange rate the US is not really cheap these days.
Chicago is also named the „windy city“ (guess why). On my first day I would have rather named it the „icy city“ – and wondering why they still put tons of ice into the drinks since there is so much of that stuff outside. And why is it constantly hooting somewhere? Well, you get used to that. Don`t think about Al Capone & Co. I have never felt insecure during my stay. Ah, and you can certainly travel by cab if you are not into using the public service, it is rather inexpensive. And another nice surprise: most people are friendly and polite (and well dressed!), that was at least my impression. Cars stopped many times when I crossed the street – would you expect this from drivers in New York ;-)?
If you are into architecture, Chicago is your city! I could just not get enough of the stunning buildings from various epochs. Even got a stiff neck from looking up all the time. Nothing better than walking around on a clear and sunny winter day – just make sure you are nicely covered. Not enough good reasons yet for a visit? Maybe my personal 11 tips can finally convince you.
#1 - The Magnificent Mile
That`s how they call part of the fabulous Michigan Avenue right downtown. Architecture at its best and loads of shops (you will find all the Chanels and Guccis of this world) – maybe rather for window shopping than actual buying. Take your time to walk up and down, have a look into the historic Water Tower (built in 1869) and maybe climb up to the top of the John Hancock Center (100 floors, 344 m tall). I also LOVED the old Wrigley Building (opened in 1922 - see my gallery) – maybe because it houses Peete`s, one of the best coffee shops in town (and there are too many of them, very unfortunately).
#2 - The Willis Tower
Formerly called Sears Tower and the tallest building (442 m, 108 floors) in the world until 1998 (today it still ranks no. 10). Make sure to buy your ticket online – and consider to pay 52$ for a fast-speed pass. You will still have to wait in a long queue outside the building but once you are inside, everything will go (rather) fast, just bypassing the big crowds. The views will make up for it – in particular the glass boxes called „The Ledge“ (only for those who are free from giddiness). You can step inside, crawl on the floor if you want and get your touristy pic taken (26 bucks again – I told you, this city is not cheap!). – And you cannot miss the inevitable gift shop when leaving the building – hey, we`re in the US, after all...!
# 3 - Millennium Park
I visited this site on a clear but crispy cold day. When I first saw the buildings and monuments I was really raving – modern state-of-the-art architecture and design at its finest! I love the work of award-winning Frank Gehry who has designed the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The Silver Cloud Gate nicely reflects the skyscrapers around – stunning! In winter you can skate on a popular ice rink, during the summer season there are plenty of events and concerts going on here. What a fantastic place! – Tip for a nice meal after your visit: the Atwood restaurant in a historic building on Washington Street. Delicious food and great coffee in a stylish ambiance.
#4 - Navy Pier
Really touristy but you don`t have to visit all the trash shops (sorry...) inside – just enjoy the great view on the skyline next to Lake Michigan! It can get chilly here in winter but is still worthwhile to visit. In warmer months a ride along the bike trail or a boat tour on the lake may be options. Check out the events – in particular in 2016 when this site turns 100. Pretty old for North American standards!
#5 - Trump Tower
Well, whatever you may think about that guy – his towers are impressive and the one in Chicago is no exception. The construction (98 floors, 327 m – close to Michigan Avenue) reminded me a bit of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Cost to build this masterpiece was around 750 million USD – just peanuts for Mr. Trump! - Have a drink (or meal) on the 16th floor – gorgeous views and nice service (had a nice chat with host Lilly who told me about her travel adventures in Berlin).
#6 - Wicker Park
Tired of all the skyscrapers? Time to explore Wicker Park, one of Chicago`s trendy neighborhoods. A bit shabby but many hip shops and coffee places. And you may spot a beardy hipster from time to time. Vintage Underground offers cool fashion, jewelry and other stuff you may not need, Myopic is a great bookstore. Both are located on Milwaukee Avenue, the heart of Wicker Park. If you stroll further down you will see Bucktown, a beautiful residential area. Although cabs are not that expensive in Chicago (promised!) you may wish to take the train back to downtown (20-30 minutes) – people watching and life entertainment in some stations included!
#7 - Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) and Museum of Science and Industry
Needless to say that Chicago has a wide array of museums but these two are my favorites. This has, of course, to do with the fact that I am not into the „old stuff“. I`d rather see modern pop art such as in a current exhibition of the MCA (and modern art post 1945) which is located in a pretty ugly building that looks a bit like Bauhaus (close to Michigan Avenue). The MoCP includes exhibits of Irving Penn, Cartier-Bresson and Siskind - just to name a few - as well as digital experiments. Right on Michigan Avenue! – Ever put your feet into a real submarine? You can do that (and many other interesting things) in the Museum of Science and Industry – not to miss!
#8 -) Elevated Train
Also called „Chicago L“. This train system has been existing since 1892 and is a great way to explore the city from elevated tracks. Not to miss when visiting Chicago.
#9 - RH Chicago (Restoration Hardware Holding) and Three Arts Club
Very cool exhibition of design furniture in an interesting brick building downtown. In the central garden courtyard you can have a bite (if you find a seat...) or just sip one of the best coffees you can get in town. Very cool (and the entrance is free).
#10 - Soho House
I have asked two locals for their insider tips on Chicago and both included this place – hotel, restaurant, member`s club, spa. I have to confess that I missed visiting Soho House but the website looks great. And I totally rely on the experts`recommendations. No pic but look at their site.
#11 - The James Hotel
That`s the place I have stayed at. My reco if you are tired of Intercontinentals and Marriotts of this world. A boutique hotel close to Michigan Avenue, within walking distance from most interesting sites. Friendly staff, nice atmosphere and a state-of-the-art gym (with latest HAMMER equipment). I loved the quiet breakfast with excellent food (although the double espresso is a bit expensive, 7 USD – come on guys!). Starbuck fans may wish though to have a cheaper start into the day just across the street.
You will find more images in my gallery "Pictures from Chicago".
For further information on Chicago and the area visit