Chicago, Illinois

Introduction

Skyline

Chicago is a town of awe-inspiring architecture and a great diversity of culture…never mind great food.

Attractions

There are many things to do in Chicago. I list below some of the most popular. Even after a few visits to the city there are still things I have never seen including visiting The Second City, but there is always the next time…

This is a city you can enjoy any time of the year though the winters can be a bit harsh. The locals make the best of it with an ice rink in Millennium Park.

Ice Skating

The below attractions marked with “*” are included in the CityPass which is a booklet that you can purchase at any of the attractions which includes free tickets to all of these indicated attractions but with a 9-day expiry date. If you use all the tickets then you will save up to 50% off of normal admission charges. Considering each attraction is about $20 to get into, this is a terrific bargain if you are planning to visit 3 or more of these attractions, though check to make sure you will be able to best make use of the pass.

The Adler Planetarium (*)

The Adler Planetarium is located just down the road from the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium in the “Museum Quarter”. Normal admission price allows viewing of all permanent exhibits though the number and quality of the exhibits is a bit dubious. Not a lot for children to do, though there are a few things to do while waiting for a show in the planetarium or “virtual reality” theatre. The shows are worth attending but are all on top of normal admission. Free admission on Tuesday. Catch the free trolley shuttle from downtown on Michegan Avenue. Great views of the skyline.

The Art Institute of Chicago (*)

Art Institute Main Entrance

The Art Institute of Chicago offers a tremendous assortment of art from just about all genres including a tremendous collection of modern (20th century) art including the classics “American Gothic” and “Nighthawks”. The museum is spread through several buildings, divided into different periods and styles of art. Free days are on Tuesday when they remain open until 8 PM. The admission cost is quite steep and there is a small charge for checking your bag (which is mandatory for anything larger than a small purse).

"A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat

The Field Museum (*)

Exterior

Interior

The Field Museum is a great, classic, museum with a large number of exhibits geared for children but is a lot of fun for children of all ages. Though it is not that small, it makes up for in diversity of the exhibits. In addition to the major exhibits, there are quite a few of the older exhibits with nature dioramas, botany, rocks and gems displays. Be sure to see “Sue”, their famous tyrannosaurus rex skeleton who now has his (her?) own room as part of their impressive dinosaur rooms on the upper level.

Sue

Free day is on Wednesday (avoid like the plague, not worth saving the entrance fee). Take the free shuttle from downtown on Michegan Avenue.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Frank Lloyd Wright - Nathan G. Moore House, Oak Park

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park is the original home and studio of the famous architect (truly an icon in Chicago due to all of the homes and buildings he designed here). A great glimpse of the man, offering guided tours of the home (every day) and the neighbourhood which features many of his designs (only on weekends). 951 Chicago Avenue. Call (708) 848-1976 for tour information. Take the Metra train (“Oak Park” stop) or the “L” (“Harlem/Lake” stop) and walk north to Chicago and east to Forest. Also of interest is the Robie House near the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park (5757 S. Woodlawn). All are a bit expensive but really worth it for the information and glimpse into the mind of an absolute artist.

Museum of Science and Industry (*)

Exterior

The Museum of Science and Industry is a massive museum located well south of the downtown area (though there is a bus service from downtown direct to the museum). Entrance is through a massive underground foyer which includes a large shop and access to their parking garage. The museum seems to be well-used and the exhibit (written) material seems to be quite basic but it is GREAT for children. The entrance fee is quite high and there is an additional charge for many of the more popular exhibits (as separate timed tickets).

Interior

My personal highlight is their U-boat which now has it's own massive indoor exhibit. Tours of the boat are an extra cost (and quite short at about 15 minutes long) so you will need to pre-purchase your ticket for a particular time slot but these are well worth it, showing what it is like to live aboard these famous second world war machines.

Be sure to see the Coal Mine exhibit which is also a separate charge but it is very well done and gives you a sense of what it must have been like to be a coal miner in the heart of the museum!

Coal Mine Exhibit

Free admission on Thursday.

For fun and a relaxing way to spend the day, there are always things to do at the Navy Pier, on the north side of where the Chicago River meets Lake Michegan - free trolleys service this area daily. Navy Pier plays hosts to many events including the Tall Ships weekend but also has a number of small attractions including rides and small shops.

Navy Pier - During Tall Ships

Skydeck Chicago (*)

Willis Tower

Though Skydeck Chicago might not have the greatest view of Chicago from above (the Hancock tower reportedly has a better one) there is a lot of information about Chicago both prior to boarding the elevator and at the top observation deck. Be prepared for LARGE crowds (going up and coming down). The windows are somewhat small and be sure to visit on a clear day. Some of the fastest elevators in the world (careful of popping ears!) up to the 103rd floor viewing platform. I think the views at night are much more spectacular than during the day.

“The Ledge” is a glass box sticking out from the side of the building you can enter to get a whole new experience…well worth it though there are often lines and a time limit is quite strictly enforced. The attendants are more than happy to take your picture.

The Ledge

The entrance fee is quite high and the staff are really keen to push their “Fast Pass” which is effectively triple the standard entrance charge. Given that both allow you to spend as much (or as little) time as you like at the top with the standard fee simply meaning possibly longer waits, I don't think the fast pass is really worth it unless you are in a hurry.

Shedd Aquarium (*)

Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium is billed as having the largest single tank in the world the aquarium seems to be quite small though the beluga whales (who had just had a baby when I visited) were quite interesting. It is located between the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium.

Further Afield

Wilson Hall - Fermilab

Just outside Chicago (about 45 miles to the east) is the particle accelerator Fermilab which offers self- guided tours of the main office complex to visitors. Great view from the 15th floor of the accelerator path (which is several miles in circumference). The grounds, largely parkland, are also open to the public with several nature trails.

Getting Around

There are a few free shuttles (see https://chicagoonthecheap.com/free-chicago-trolleys/) operating in the “Loop” (downtown) area. These shuttles operate regularly in the summer. The free trolley shuttles operate on:

  • North Michigan - service to the Art Institute, Grant Park, the Symphony, the Goodman, Buckingham Fountain, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears NFL team)
  • Navy Pier to North Michigan area - service to the Magnificent Mile, River North and Navy Pier
  • Lincoln Park - service to local residential areas and museums

Look for signed stops along these routes (large brown and white bus stop signs beside the street).

The "L"

The Chicago Transit Authority operates the transit in the city, operating the “L” (the elevated portion of the light rail system), the subway, buses and the Metra (which services further points in the city). The downtown portion of the “L” is known as “the Loop” (which also collectively names the core downtown area). All transit makes use of a “Ventra” stored value card which can be topped up or you can load a 1 or 3 day unlimited pass. All transit is “flat fee” with different fares for different services (bus or train).

Restaurants

It is not for nothing that Chicago is a foodie destination with a great and diverse food scene well beyond simply pizza. I have not even scratched the surface but have a look at my reviews here

Tours

There are a few companies offering tours of the city including:

Cloud Gate in Millennium Park

Further Information

For further information, please see: