If you’ve got a trip to the Windy City coming up, chances are it’s for business rather than for a vacation. Though Chicago is the third-largest city in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles, it doesn’t get nearly as much publicity as a tourist destination, either from domestic or international visitors. That’s really unfortunate because there is actually a wide variety of fun and exciting things to do no matter where your interests lie. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular tourist spots that visitors to this great city should see.
The Sears Tower
The fabulous Chicago skyline is dominated by the Sears Tower. Constructed in 1974, this 1,454-foot structure is still the tallest building in the United States, and still ranks as the fourth tallest in the world. The Sears Tower is primarily used as an office building, but the Skydeck on the 103rd floor is open to the public. It is said that when visibility is good, you can actually see parts of four different states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana) from the observation deck.
To make your visit to the Sears Tower as pleasant as possible, I suggest the following: first of all, take the train. Driving and parking in the city is a nightmare (not to mention very expensive). Second, arrive either early in the day or late in the afternoon. During peak daytime hours, you could end up spending a lot of time waiting in line. If you arrive right when the doors open at 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m., you should have no trouble getting in without much of a wait. Third, plan more time than you think you need. A lot of people figure that a visit to the Sears Tower will take less than an hour. Of course you could finish that quickly if you really had to, but most guests find the view to be so beautiful and mesmerizing that they just can’t pull themselves away. It’s best to go there with a flexible schedule.
When the weather is good, nothing beats walking around Navy Pier for an afternoon. Navy Pier is a tourist hotspot, and even attracts its share of locals as well. There are plenty of shops for you to browse through, restaurants (and a beer garden) for you to visit, and activities for the kids, such as an IMAX theater and a children’s museum.. In the summer, there are often special events that you won’t want to miss. While you’re there, you’ll have to be sure to take a ride on the Ferris wheel, which will afford you with another grand view of the city.
This is another place that you won’t want to drive to. While there is a parking lot near the premises, it’s almost always full no matter what the day or hour. Instead of driving to the Pier, you can actually park at the Shedd Aquarium and take a so-called water taxi.
Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is another of Chicago’s great family attractions. It is very easy to find and admission is free (though you do have to pay for parking), so there’s no reason to miss out. Although the zoo grounds are relatively small compared to some of the city zoos across the country (this certainly isn’t the San Diego Zoo, for example), there are still over 1200 animals of more than 200 different species that you can see.
Once you’ve had your fill of walking around and looking at the animals, you might want to rent a paddle boat and have fun in the lagoon. While paddling, you’ll be treated to an awesome view of downtown Chicago. In addition to the paddle boats, other attractions include a carousel, train, Safari Audio Tour, and a children’s zoo. You’ll also find several souvenir shops and cafes for your shopping and dining pleasure.
The Art Institute
If you want to add a little culture to your trip to Chicago, I recommend visiting the Art Institute. Located on Michigan Avenue in the heart of the city, the Art Institute is one of the true symbols of Chicago. Outside the museum you’ll see the statues of two lions that were made famous by a movie called “The Ghost and the Darkness.”
As with most museums, the Art Institute has a regular, permanent collection of its own, and also frequently hosts traveling exhibits that are on loan from other museums or personal collections. You’ll probably have to pay extra to see special exhibits, so keep that in mind if you’re dealing with a tight budget. Admission is free every Tuesday, so if you can plan your visit accordingly, that would be another way to save money.
The Art Institute’s regular collection features works from such masters as van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Monet, Gauguin, and more. The collection consists of objects dating back to antiquity, as well as works from most of the major movements in art throughout history all the way to modern times.
Take in Some Live Blues Music
The Chicago music scene is varied and distinct, meaning that you can go to just about any kind of concert you want — and blues is no exception. It would be a shame for you to visit Chicago and not duck into at least one blues club for a drink and a few sets of great music, or to spend an evening in a restaurant enjoying a fantastic meal with live music in the background. There are lots of different clubs and restaurants that you can go to, and since music tastes vary so much, I’m not going to recommend a specific one. Suffice it to say that you can either go to a national chain like the House of Blues or to a club that is well-known only to the locals.
Catch a ballgame at Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field, located at the famous intersection of Clark and Addison, is one of the oldest ballparks in baseball. It is of course home to the Chicago Cubs, and during the major league baseball season, which runs from April to September (many optimists might say October), you can easily purchase tickets to catch a game in person. I recommend sitting in the outfield bleachers if you can, just for the experience of it all. The Bleacher Bums are definitely a different breed of fans!
The Cubs play both day and night games, so when they’re in town, chances are you’ll be able to go to a game that fits in with your schedule. If you want to throw caution to the wind, you can probably wait and buy your tickets from the Wrigley Field box office on the day of the game. However, Cubs games do sell out quite frequently, especially during the summer months when school is out and the weather is fantastic. So if missing a game would crush you, I recommend that you play it safe and order your tickets in advance.
Indulge in a Deep-Dish Pizza
Many cities offer what they call “Chicago-style,” or deep-dish, pizza. But for the most part, these imitations can’t hold a candle to the real thing. Chicago has many famous pizza joints that specialize in deep-dish creations, with two of the best being Gino’s East and Pizzeria Uno. Each of these restaurants has a full menu of mouth-watering pizza varieties to choose from, so rest assured that you’ll get a great-tasting pie no matter what you like on your pizza. These places tend to be packed during traditional lunch and dinner hours, so if you can eat a little earlier or a little later than everyone else, you’ll save yourself the trouble of a long wait. But be warned: once you’ve had an authentic Chicago-style pizza, you might not be able to settle for anything less!