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Chicago is the United States' third largest city although still called the Second City, a haven of art, architecture and jazz. It's home to elevated trains, Oprah, a wealth of museums, and wonderful places to eat, drink and be entertained. You can even laze on the beach in summer.
Chicago was originally a small fort on the Chicago River, which was destroyed in a massacre. The city remained a small trading post until the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Galena and Chicago Union Railroad were opened in 1848, after which Chicago grew rapidly. In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed most of downtown and the north side of town. After the fire, Chicago changed as skyscrapers started to sprout out of the ground like wild grasses.
Chicago's location on the banks of Lake Michigan ensures steamy hot summers and frigid cold winters, with frequent biting winds giving the city its nickname: The Windy City.
Chicago has over 75 different neighborhoods, which are actually very different. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the neighborhoods of Chicago were very divided and it was like crossing the borders of different countries. You can still get that feeling sometimes, but these days most of the neighborhoods blend together. Over time, neighborhoods have changed drastically, such as Pilson, which used to be an Eastern European neighbourhood - it is now one of the main Mexican neighborhoods. Here is a list of the most popular tourist neighborhoods:
The sprawl outside of Chicago can be intense. It seems to go forever, even spilling over into Indiana. Here is a short list of Suburbs and Suburban areas that would interest tourists.
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One of the great activities to be enjoyed during Chicago’s extreme summer is the beach. Chicago offers over 33 beaches with 29 located on Lake Michigan. The beaches in Chicago are a great way to spend a summer’s day escaping from the brutal heat.
Further information: Beaches in Chicago.
Being the home of improv comedy is another Chicago claim to fame. It all started at the University of Chicago with a group of young undergrads in the early 1950s in a bar called Jimmies. Then they moved up north to create the famous Second City Theater. To this day Chicago is still an epicenter for many rising comedy stars.
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The museums in Chicago are some of the best in world. If you are interested in science and fun check out the Museum of Science and Industry on the south side of the city. Wanting a little of the dinosaur or Egyptian pyramid experience? Try the Field Museum of Natural History. If you want to have a great time with fish, dolphins and whales, go to the Shedd Aquarium. Prefer star-gazing to the denizens of the deep? Then a visit to the Adler Planetarium and Museum, which houses the world's first 360º sky theatre, is perfect. In need of some culture or just like medieval armor? The Art Institute of Chicago is an excellent place. If you're a little tired of the old paintings and want something new, take a trip up north Michigan Ave and go to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see what is cool in the current art world. At this point, if your kids or the inner kid inside you needs a little more attention go to the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier for some interactive learning.
There are also plenty of great smaller museums spread across the city such as the DuSauble Museum of African American History, The Oriental Institute of Chicago, The Smart Museum of Art, Robie House and The National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum.
Further information: Museums in Chicago.
There are several different day tours that are great. Most of the tours have different themes and play to different markets. The majority of tours are given by either boat or bus. The bus tours tend to run year round while the boat tours, which are better, run from the spring to the fall.
Further information: Chicago Boat and Bus Day Tours.
Chicago is known for having an amazing music scene. From jazz and blues to more modern styles of hip hop and punk there is something for everyone to listen to. Chicago is famous for its blues and jazz legacy and for more information on jazz and blues clubs read the Chicago Jazz and Blues Clubs article. If looking for something more traditional Chicago is also home to the world famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra and less known local orchestras.
Chicago is a dream destination for architecture buffs because the city is the birthplace of the modern skyscraper and home to stunning buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.
Chicago is home to several amazing city parks. Many of the most famous parks are located right in the loop, including the famous Millennium Park, which has doubled tourism in Chicago since its construction. Chicago is one of the few cities in the world where the entire lake front is park with bike, running and walk trails. For the traveler with more time exploring the parks out in the neighborhoods can be a great way to spend several days. For more information on parks look at the neighborhood articles.
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|Avg Max||-1.7 °C||0.8 °C||7.7 °C||14.8 °C||21.2 °C||26.4 °C||28.7 °C||27.7 °C||23.8 °C||17.4 °C||9.1 °C||1.1 °C|
|Avg Min||-10.6 °C||-8.2 °C||-1.9 °C||3.7 °C||8.7 °C||14.2 °C||17 °C||16.4 °C||12.2 °C||5.7 °C||-0.2 °C||-7.2 °C|
|Rainfall||38.9 mm||34.5 mm||68.3 mm||92.5 mm||84.3 mm||96 mm||93 mm||107.2 mm||97 mm||61.2 mm||74.2 mm||62.7 mm|
On a typical Chicago mid-summer day, humidity is usually moderately high and temperatures ordinarily reach anywhere between 78 °F and 92 °F. Overnight temperatures in summer usually drop to around 65 °F, but can sometimes remain well above 70 °F. Yearly precipitation comes in at an average of about 36 inches (920 mm). Summer in Chicago is prone to thunderstorms, and summer rain arises from short-lived hit-or-miss storms rather than a prolonged rainfalls. In a normal summer, temperatures exceed 90 °F on 24 days. Contrary to what one might think, summer is actually the rainiest season in Chicago.
Winter in Chicago proves variable and fickle, but even in mild winters one will experience bouts of cold weather. The average Chicago winter produces 37.0 inches (94 centimetres) of snow. This number can prove unreliable, as Chicago winters have produced between 9.8 and 87.0 inches (25 centimetres and 221 centimetres respectively) of snow. Snow tends to fall in light accumulations of around 2 inches (5 cm), but about once per year Chicago experiences a storm that can produce 10 to 14 inches (25 centimetres to 35 centimetres) of snow in one day. Unlike across Lake Michigan in western Michigan or in northern Indiana, Chicago rarely gets lake-effect snow because prevailing westerlies that cross the region pick up moisture from Lake Michigan after passing Chicago. Rare northeasterly winds during the winter may deposit the sort of snowfall that one associates with nearby snowbelt cities such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and South Bend, Indiana with the more usual westerly winds. Temperatures can vary wildly within the span of one week, but extended periods of temperatures below 32 °F are not uncommon in January and February. The temperature in January averages about 29 °F in the afternoon, and 14 °F at night. Temperatures can be expected to drop below 0 °F on 15 days throughout the winter season. Although rare, temperatures in Chicago even in the middle of winter can surpass 50 °F.
1. O'Hare International Airport (ORD) is one of the busiest airports in the world. From O'Hare there are hundreds of flights to just as many cities within the USA and almost all continents. It is located in the far north west corner of the city, about 17 miles (27 kilometres) from the Chicago Loop. It's the 4th busiest airport in the world with around 65 million passengers a year.
There are numerous airlines serving hundreds of cities, both in the USA as well as other countries in North America, the Caribbean, South America, Asia and Europe. Some of the main destinations include New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Tokyo, Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Mumbai, Dublin, Delhi, Toronto, Vancouver, Seoul, London, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Zürich, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Mexico City. Nearly all main cities and towns in the USA have direct flights to Chicago O'Hare.
To/from the airport
Midway international Airport (MDW) is the smaller of the Chicago airports. It is located conveniently near the city centre on the west side of the city. Midway Airport is a hub for many domestic discount airlines, flying to almost any city in the USA and has limited international service.
To/from the airport
Chicago's Union Station is the national hub for Amtrak passenger rail services. All Amtrak's intercity train routes in the Midwest region originate from or terminate at Chicago, making it the busiest (passenger) rail station in the country.
Amtrak's Midwest Routes: .
Union Station is also the hub for the Metra commuter train system which connects the city to towns in six different counties and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Trains run hourly with increased frequency during weekday rush hour periods.
There are several major expressways that enter Chicago. Because Chicago is located on Lake Michigan if approaching from the east one must drive south around the lake first.
Greyhound is the only bus company that services the entire United States with additional bus transportation into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. Greyhound also works in conjunction with the Amtrak rail service, providing transportation to cities where train travel is not available. The Chicago Greyhound Station is open 24 hours a day, including holidays, and located on the city's near South Side. Though the station is not centrally located, access to public transportation is very convenient and taxi service is also readily available. The station was redesigned in 1991, making it a much safer environment for travelers visiting Chicago. The Greyhound bus service operates on a "first come, first served" basis and does not accept reservations. Greyhound Station address: 630 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, Illinois 60607. Station main phone: 312-408-5800. Toll-free ticket sales: 800-231-2222.
Megabus offers more localized bus service. Daily routes connect cities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and Ohio with Chicago. Unlike Greyhound, Megabus is by reservation only and offers limited departure schedules. Chicago's stop for all arrivals and departures is located adjacent to Union Station on the east side of S. Canal St., between Jackson Blvd. and Adams St. Phone: 877-462-6342.
Currently there is no ferry service to and from Chicago. If someone wants to come to Chicago by boat that person would need to own a boat and arrange it with a harbor to have a temporary dock. Although very few people do this except during the Race to Mackinac, which is a sailboat race from Chicago to Mackinac Island in Northern Lake Michigan.
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It is much easier to drive in Chicago than compared to other USA cities like New York or San Francisco. The city is laid out on a nice grid system with the occasional angle street. All street names have a corresponding number indicating how far north, south, west and sometimes east of city centre that location is. The street North Ave will have next to it 1600 N, meaning 16 blocks north of the city centre. For all north south streets 8 blocks is 1 mile.
On the southern half of the city it is much simpler. All east west streets are numbered while all north south streets have names. Therefore if someone wants to meet you at the corner of 55th Street and Harper it must be on the south side.
All the major car rental companies have offices at both the international airport as well as several locations downtown. These include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
Chicago has a great public transport. It is possible to get anywhere in the city by public transport. There are many trains and buses to choose from. If you want to figure out the best way to get between two addresses the RTA website can be a big help. Just put the two addresses in, then the date, and it will figure out the best way to get between two locations in Chicago on public transportation.
CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) is the main provider of public transportation in the city of Chicago. They operate all the El buses and many of the trains. The El train system is an efficient, air-conditioned way to get around Chicago, though only the Blue Line from O’Hare to the Loop and the Red Line from Howard to 95/Dan Ryan run trains 24 hours.
The best thing to do is to buy a prepaid card at any train stop. This will allow you one ride on any bus for $2.25 or train for $2.50 and then two transfers for 25 cents. There are also several multi-day passes meant for tourists: one day ($5), two days ($9), three days ($12), and seven days ($20). These are available from vending machines found in both airport El stations and at visitor centers, as well as at a few other stations and some hotels and hostels, or you can buy them online.
Here is a list of the major trains and buses:
Metra has several commuter trains within the city. Because it is a commuter train be sure to check the train schedule. The major downside of Metra is that the different lines are not linked to each other easily.
Pace Bus is a bus service in the suburbs of Chicago.
Chicago is a very large city, so walking around the entire city is difficult. However, the downtown area around the Loop and North Michigan Ave can easily be navigated by foot, although if you're in poor health or the weather is bad it might not be that much fun to walk around those areas. As noted, remember that the walk from the Museum Campus to the Museum of Science and Industry is over 8 miles (13 kilometres) and therefore not recommended.
Chicago is one of the few cities in the world where over 90% of the lake front is public land. Along that public land are some great parks and beaches. Right behind those beaches and running through the parks are bike, running and inline skating paths. This makes it possible to bike all the way from the far north side to the far south side of the city. All trains allow bikes to be brought on board and so do many buses. For more information check out the website Chicago Bike Program.
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Dining in Chicago is as diverse as dining in any other metropolitan city. The catch: they like to put the words "Chicago-style" in front of the menu item and it magically becomes their own. Okay, so it's not magical but when it says "Chicago-style", it's the truth. From Chicago-style deep dish pizza to Chicago-style hotdogs to Chicago-style BBQ ribs, there is something for everyone. For information on restaurants look under the neighborhood pages.
Italian Beef is a submarine sandwich which consists of thin slices of beef that has been soaked and cooked in a brown sauce. Usually people only add peppers or asked for the whole sandwich to be dipped into the brown sauce before eating.
BBQ and More:
Chicago has a great nightlife and bar scene, and there is a bar for any kind of person on any kind of budget. Just remember that not every bar has the same liquor license, so some bars have a 2:00am license while other have a 4:00am license. To make it even more complicated all liquor licenses are extended for 1 hour on Saturday night. Therefore a 4:00am bar on a Friday night becomes a 5:00am bar on a Saturday night. To make matters simple all bar hours are given for regular days of the week, but not Saturday. There are more bars in the neighborhood articles.
The Loop and the near north side is one of the busiest areas of the city during the day time. Although during the weekends and evenings the number of people in that part of the city drops off drastically. The drinking scene in the Loop is primarily the after work crowd and most people soon migrate to one of the other big bar areas of town pretty early in the evening. This might change in the near future because more and more people are starting to live in the West Loop, South Loop and Streeterville area.
The majority of the nightlife in Chicago is located in the northern neighborhoods in the city. There are several bars and bar streets in neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. These bars tend to be a little more yuppy although there are still many hipster and neighborhood bars in these areas. If looking for the LGBT scene, it tends to be located around the Belmont stop on the Red Line in Boys Town area in Lincoln Park or further north in Andersonville.
There are many neighborhood bars, watering-holes and jazz clubs scattered across the south side. The only neighborhood that has a small bar scene is in Hyde Park. There are some emerging scenes in Bronzeville, Bridgeport and China Town.
The west side of the city's nightlife is focused around the Greater Wicker Park Area, which includes many bars for any kind of person. The nightlife starts around the Damen Blue Line stop but extends for a while in all directions.
Chicago has a wide range of accommodation option, from hostels to 5-star luxury.
|The Drake Hotel||140 E. Walton Place||Hotel||312-787-2200 or toll free at: 800-553-7253||-|
|Parthenon Hostel||310 S. Halsted Street GreyHound Amtrak Stations||HOSTEL||-|
|AAE Hostels Chicago||675 W Roscoe St||Hostel||-|
|Arlington House||616 West Arlington Place||Hostel||773-929-5380 or toll free at: 800-467-8355 (800-HOSTEL5)||87|
|H.I. Chicago||24 East Congress Parkway||Hostel||312-360-0300||-|
|Roscoes Lakeview B.T. Hostel||673 W Roscoe St||Hostel||-|
|Chicago O'Hare Garden Hotel||8201 w Higgins Rd||HOTEL||-|
|Days Inn Chicago||644 W Diversey Pkwy||HOTEL||84|
|Regal Motel (O'Hare Airport) - Chicago||2448 N. Mannheim Rd||Hotel||-|
|America's Best Value Inn.||405 W. Northwest Hwy NW Hwy and Barrington Rd||Hotel||-|
|Four Points by Sheraton Chicago O'Hare Airport||10249 W Irving Park Road Schiller Park||Hotel||-|
|Travelodge Hotel Downtown||65 E. Harrison St||HOTEL||84|
|Days Inn Elk Grove Village / Chicago||1920 East Higgins Road Higgins & Oakton/I-90 Elk Grove Village||Hotel||-|
|DeWitt Place||900 N. DeWitt Place||APARTMENT||-|
|Super 8 Chicago OHare Airport||2951 Touhy Avenue Rt 72 and Elmhurst Road Elk Grove Village||Hotel||-|
|Wingate By Wyndham||2112 S. Arlington Heights Rd Arlington Heights||Hotel||-|
|Comfort Inn O'Hare||2175 E. Touhy Ave. Des Plaines||Hotel||-|
|Quality Inn & Suites - Elk Grove||100 Busse Road Elk Grove Village||Hotel||-|
|Best Western Naperville Inn||1617 N Naperville Road Naperville||Hotel||-|
|Super 8 St. Charles||1520 E. Main St. Charles||Hotel||-|
|Ohio House Motel||600 North LaSalle Chicago||HOTEL||-|
|AWA Chicago City Center Hotel||600 North LaSalle Street, IL 60654||HOTEL||79|
|Motel 6 Chicago O'Hare - Schiller Park||9408 West Lawrence Avenue Chicago||HOTEL||-|
|Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza||350 West Mart Center Drive||Hotel||84|
|Springhill Suites Chicago O'Hare||8101 West Higgins Road||HOTEL||-|
|Hotel 71||71 East Wacker Drive||Hotel||-|
|Motel 6 Chicago - Elk Grove||I-90 West at Elmhurst Road North/Highway 83 Elk Grove Village||HOTEL||-|
|Motel 6 Chicago North - Glenview||1535 Milwaukee Avenue I-294 at Willow Road, then south 2 miles Glenview||HOTEL||-|
|Motel 6 Chicago N Central-Arlington Hgt||441 West Algonquin Road I-90 at Arlington Heights Road North Arlington He||HOTEL||-|
|Motel 6 Chicago West - Villa Park #1268||10 W Roosevelt Rd Villa Park||Hotel||-|
|Red Roof Inn Chicago||162 East Ontario St||Hotel||-|
|IHSP Chicago Hostel at Damen CTA||1616 N. Damen Ave CTA Blue Line||HOSTEL||90|
|Chicago Parthenon Hostel||310 S HALSTED ST||Hostel||-|
|Urban Holiday Lofts||2014 W Wabansia Ave||HOSTEL||87|
|Oak 112||112 West Oak Street||HOSTEL||-|
|AAE Chicago Guest Apartments & Rooms||IHSP Office, 2nd floor at 1616 N. Damen||APARTMENT||-|
|O'Hare Inn and Suites||4101 Mannheim Rd, Schiller Park||HOTEL||84|
|Fornelli Tower||55 E Washington||APARTMENT||-|
|Comfort Inn & Suites||1555 East Fabyan Parkway Geneva||HOTEL||-|
|Wrigley Hostel||3514 N Sheffield Ave||HOSTEL||-|
|Wrigley Hostel||3514 North Sheffield Avenue||Hostel||-|
|Travelodge O'Hare Melrose Park||1900 North Mannheim Rd||Hotel||-|
Chicago is one of those cities that always has openings for new jobs. As a center for the Midwest and an international city there is plenty of opportunity for finding work. Just update that resume and create cover letter!
Finding an internet bar can be difficult in the city. There are few scattered around downtown but they tend to be down side streets. If you have your own laptop it is easy to find a cafe, bar or restaurant with free wifi in the city.
See also International Telephone Calls
The general emergency phone number is 911.
The inner city area codes are 312 and 773, with 312 mainly covering the loop downtown area and 773 covering the rest of the inner city. 847 and 708 cover the suburban areas. 708 tends to cover the more southern suburbs. While 847 tends to cover the more northern suburbs. The western suburbs are mix of 847 and 708 area codes.
There are still plenty of public phones scattered around the city. Most of them only take change, which means have plenty of quarters and dimes ready. Most pharmacies and grocery stores sell phone cards that have much better rates than paying pay phone rates. Although in recent years the number of pay phones has been going down because of cellphone use.
The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.
We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Chicago searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Chicago and areas nearby.
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