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The Loop can be considered the heart of Chicago. Literally The Loop is the area inside the L Tracks forming a circle running above the ground bordered on the north by Lake Street, on the east Wabash Avenue, on the south Van Buren Street and Wells on the west. Although no local or traveler should think of The Loop in such basic terms. When people say The Loop they mean the area bordered by the river to the north and to the west, Roosevelt Road to the south and the lake to the east.
This area of the city was the business center of the city since before the Fire and the term The Loop was coined in the 1920s and remained strong ever since. The skyscrapers in this area are mix of art deco skyscrapers from before World War II and more modern structures. This is a great place to spend hours walking around looking at buildings, shopping, watching shows, relaxing in parks or enjoy a museum.
State Street: From the river to Van Buren is some great shopping options from small stores to department stores built in the early 20th century.
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There are several parks located the loop area that are great. Some of these parks are very old while others have only been added in the last decade.
The Museum Campus is located in the south east corner of The Loop area. The Field Museum of Natural History, The Shed Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium are located on the campus. The Art Institute of Chicago is located further north at the intersection of Michigan Ave and Adams St. For more information read the Museums in Chicago article.
All roads lead to the centre and The Loop is the centre. Trains, roads and major buses from every corner of the city go directly to The Loop.
Driving to The Loop is an option and there are several parking garages around however they tend to be expensive and fill up during peak times. The easiest way to get to The Loop is to take Lake Shore Drive to the Roosevelt Road exit in the south or the North Michigan Ave Exit in the north. If coming by Interstate 90/94 take any of The Loop exits.
Countless buses from the city go to The Loop. It is best to check with your hotel or host to find out the best buses to reach downtown.
During the day traffic is terrible in The Loop. It is best to park the car and walk or use public transport.
There are several buses that run around The Loop that would be useful to a tourist. Here is a list of a few of them.
AAE Chicago Parthenon Hostel is right in downtown Chicago near the main bus and train stations. Private rooms and dorm beds available. Address: 314 S. Halsted Street, Amtrak Station, Chicago. Book now.
There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.
See also International Telephone Calls
The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.
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.
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