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Introduction

Chicago on a Perfect Day

Chicago on a Perfect Day

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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.

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Neighbourhoods

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:

  • Lincoln Park is one of the more trendy neighborhoods in the city and home to several famous locations and residents.
  • Oldtown.
  • Wrigleyville.
  • The Loop is an area comprising of downtown and some of the neighborhoods near it.
  • North Michigan Ave and Streeterville is one of the main shopping and entertainment areas in Chicago and has an interesting history.
  • China Town is the center for the Chinese community in Chicago and is home to several great restaurants and shops.
  • Greater Hyde Park Area: Enjoy the Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago and many other famous things in this neighborhood.
  • Greater Wicker Park Area includes the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, Humboldt Park and Logan Square.
  • Far North Side includes neighborhoods like Andersonville, Irving Park, Rogers Park, Edgewater and Ravenswood.

Suburbs

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.

  • Evanston is the town directly north of Chicago and is a very interesting suburb.
  • The North Shore.
  • Oak Park.

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Sights and Activities

Millenium Park

Millenium Park

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Beaches

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.

Comedy Clubs

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.

  • The Second City Chicago Theater is the original and best Second City Theater. Second City has been the launching pad for many very successful comedians including Bill Murray, Chris Fraley, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Tina Fey and John Belushi, just to name a few. There are now several branches around the world due to the success of the original. There are great shows and improv every night. Remember to buy tickets far in advance because the theater sells out early.
  • Improv Olympic offers great shows and classes. It is usually pretty easy to buy tickets at the door and many of the more successful comedians here eventually go to Second City.

Museums

Leo d'Art

Leo d'Art

© All Rights Reserved zenjenn

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.

Day Tours

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.

Zoos

  • The Brookfield Zoo is located in the west suburbs and is fantastic zoo located on 216 acres. It features a fun and educational Ape habitat and the zoo participates in international preservation and breeding programs for endangered species. The only way to reach the zoo is by car.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo (2001 N. Clark Street) is the original zoo of Chicago, built in 1868. It has grown with the city. Located on the lake in Lincoln Park, the zoo has a very convenient inner city location. The zoo features many fascinating and exotic species along with a high quality Children's Zoo. One of the big perks is that the admission is free.

Music

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 Symphony Orchestra is a world class symphony orchestra located right downtown on North Michigan Avenue and Adams. It is possible to get discount tickets on Friday afternoons and there are student deals.
  • The Metro is an alternative music venue that has everything from rock, punk and hip hop to Brazilian pop. The venue is located near the Addison stop on the Redline.
  • The Double Door is a great small music venue that the Rolling Stones love. Located at 1572 N Milwaukee it is very easy to check out amazing up and coming groups at this venue. *closed as of February 6, 2017, may reopen in Logan Square.

Architecture

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.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is located in the suburb of Oakpark and is a great gateway for any Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast to explore all his houses scattered around Chicago. For more information on Robie House please read the Museums in Chicago in Chicago article.

Parks

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.

Other Sights and Activities

Chicago, view from Sears Tower

Chicago, view from Sears Tower

© All Rights Reserved JustJ

  • Navy Pier was once an industrial pier and is now one of the most popular tourist sights in Chicago. This long pier juts out into Lake Michigan and is home to several shops, restaurants, bars and an amazing ferris wheel! There are weekly fireworks on Saturday and Wednesday. Navy Pier comes off of the east terminus of Grand.
  • The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, is currently the tallest building in North America. It was also the tallest building in the world until 1998 when the title went to the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Completed in 1973, it has 108 floors and measures 1450 feet (442 metres) from the ground to the roof. The Skydeck is Chicago's highest observatory and was remodeled this last year with two clear glass floor balconies that hang out over the side of the building. Located on the 103rd floor or 1353 feet (412 metres) above street level, it gives visitors an amazing bird's eye view over Chicago. Visibility on a clear day can reach as far as 50 miles (80 kilometres) and one can see Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin just by walking around the Skydeck. The best time to visit the Skydeck is after 5:00pm to avoid the crowds and also for great sunset and twinkling night-scape views.
  • The John Hancock Building is one of the tallest buildings in Chicago and located on the north end of North Michigan Avenue. The observation deck offers great views of the city, some even argue better views than the Willis Tower. If looking to getting around paying the entrance fee to the observation deck it is possible to go to the Signature Room, which is bar on the floor below. The cost of one drink is cheaper than the ticket to the observation deck.
  • Buckingham Fountain is one of the main symbols of Chicago and located in Grant Park. This large fountain was built in 1927 and has more than 1,500,000 U.S. gallons (5,700,000 litres) going in its system. Every hour on the hour the main water cannon at the center of the fountain launches a stream of water vertically 150 feet (46 metres) into the air for 20 minutes. The fountain runs everyday from 8:00am to 11:00pm from mid-April to mid-October depending on the weather.

Outside of Chicago

Baha'i temple in Chicago

Baha'i temple in Chicago

© All Rights Reserved harisub

  • Bahá'í House of Worship is a wonderful temple built as a house of worship for the Bahá'í Faith, which believes that religion has universal similarities and people should follow the beliefs among the prophets and not the religion. It is a place open to any faith to worship so it is possible to see many different prayers happen in the temple at the same time. This temple is one of 8 around, this includes the one in Turkmenistan that was destroyed. Another temple is currently under construction in Chile. The site was bought in 1912 and construction began on the temple in 1921 although no completed ontil 1953. It is 138 feet tall (42 metres) and features an amazing dome. The inside and outside is craved and the architecture is stunning. The temple is located in Wilmette, a suburb north of Chicago at 100 Linden Ave, phone 847-853-2300. Admission is free and the fall is open daily 6:00am to 10:00pm, official website : http://www.bahai.us/bahai-temple
  • Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is run by the USA Park Service and is a nice wilderness and beach area near Chicago in North Eastern Indiana. These large sand dunes drastically enter the lake and can be great fun for the whole family. It is possible to reach the park by rail by taking the South Shore Line from Millennium Station in downtown Chicago.
  • Six Flags Great America & Hurricane Harbor is a pretty large amusement park and water park that is about 50 miles (80 kilometres) from downtown Chicago. There are some amazing roller coasters and the occasional concert during the summer. During the weekends it can get very crowded, but people can rent a fast pass that allows them to skip the lines for extra money. The only way to get to the Six Flags at the present time is by driving. The park is open from 10:00am to 10:00pm all summer long, and during the weekends in May and September. The entrance fee is $54, but there is always deals if you buy tickets from the website. There is also an additional charge for parking.
  • John Dillinger Museum is located in Hammond Indiana a suburb south and east of Chicago. This small museum features many artifacts from John Dillinger and is a good family visit. Admission is only $4 for adults and $2 for children.

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Events and Festivals

Inside the Stadium

Inside the Stadium

© All Rights Reserved Jess_F

  • The Chicago Gospel Music Festival is held yearly during the first weekend of June in Grant Park. It features local as well as international gospel performers over the 3-day event. The festival also includes an art fair and activities for children. Admission is free. Site links and additional information will be posted as they become available.
  • Chicago Blues Festival is held yearly during the second weekend of June in Grant Park. With 6 stages and over 70 performances scheduled, this 4-day event offers the "best of the best" in blues entertainment. Opening night of the 2008 Blues Fest will feature Johnny Winter and James Cotton. The infamous Koko Taylor, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater and Buckwheat Zydeco will also be making their appearances throughout the weekend. Admission is free. Hours are 11:00am - 9:30pm daily.
  • Taste of Chicago is a 10 day event beginning the last week of June and is held in Grant Park. (No, not everything is held in Grant Park, but almost...) "Taste" gives visitors a chance to enjoy a variety of foods and beverages from more than 70 Chicago restaurants and establishments. Cooking demonstrations are held daily at Dominick's Cooking Corner and the family can enjoy a variety of activities at the Family Village and Fun Time Stage. The Taste Stage highlights local bands throughout each day. Every evening there is a free concert on the Taste of Chicago's Main Stage (Petrillo Band Shell) featuring famous performers from around the world. Previous artists have included Sheryl Crow, Train, Los Lonely Boys, Santana and Counting Crows, just to name a few. The evening concerts begin approximately 7:00-8:00pm and 3:00-4:00pm on the weekend. Admission to the festival is free. Food and beverages are purchased with tickets only. Tickets are sold in strips of 12 for $8 and available at booths located throughout Grant Park. Food/beverage prices (in tickets) are posted on each vendor's booth. Hours are 11:00am - 9:00pm daily. July 3rd and 4th hours are 11:00am - 9:30pm Closing day hours are 11:00am - 8:00pm.
  • Independence Day is held on the 4th of July but in Chicago the fireworks in Grant Park are launched on the 3rd. Grant Park fills up that night although the fireworks launched from a barge in the water are stunning. Another good place to watch the fire works is on the Museum Campus by the Field Museum and Shed Aquarium.
  • Windy City Classic is the original name for the game played between the Cubs and White Socks every year on Memorial Day. This has changed since inter-league play has been allowed.

Art Fairs

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Weather

Face Fountain

Face Fountain

© All Rights Reserved zenjenn

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max-1.7 °C0.8 °C7.7 °C14.8 °C21.2 °C26.4 °C28.7 °C27.7 °C23.8 °C17.4 °C9.1 °C1.1 °C
Avg Min-10.6 °C-8.2 °C-1.9 °C3.7 °C8.7 °C14.2 °C17 °C16.4 °C12.2 °C5.7 °C-0.2 °C-7.2 °C
Rainfall38.9 mm34.5 mm68.3 mm92.5 mm84.3 mm96 mm93 mm107.2 mm97 mm61.2 mm74.2 mm62.7 mm
Rain Days7.36.299.58.9887.57.76.67.97.8

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.

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Getting There

By Plane

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

  • The best way to get to and from O'Hare from downtown is on the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) blue line train station in the airport which runs 24 hours a day. Currently, the fare is $5 for a one-way ticket or you can get a multi-day pass.
  • Alternative transportation is available with Airport Express Shuttle service for $27 (single) one way or $49 for (single) round trip. Group rates for 3 or more persons are available. Shuttles leave O'Hare approximately every 15 minutes and reservations for downtown Chicago are not required. Transportation to a suburban destination does require a reservation.
  • Taxi service to downtown is also available from each terminal. Average cost for one way is approximately $40.00. All taxis in and around Chicago are metered so a delay by rush hour traffic could double the price.
  • Vehicles enter and exit via I-190, which branches off I-90 (the Kennedy Expressway) leading to downtown Chicago. Cars may also access the airport locally from Mannheim Road, the airport's eastern boundary.

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

  • Rail: The best way to get to and from Midway Airport from downtown is on the CTA orange line train station in the airport, which runs 24 hours a day. CTA fare rate is $5 one way or get a multi-day pass.
  • Bus: The Airport Express Shuttle also services Midway Airport. Prices are $22 (single) and $37 (single) for one-way and round-trip, respectively. Again, group rates are available.
  • Car: Taxi service from Midway to downtown is approximately $25 depending on traffic time. There are numerous parking places and rental car facilities available at the airport as well.

By Train

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: [1].

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.

By Car

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.

  • I-290 - This expressway approaches Chicago from the west into the city.
  • I-90, I-94 - These two major expressways merge as they enter the city from the north or the south, they also run in and out of the heart of city making it a poor choice of roads if it is rush hour.
  • I-55 - This interstate approaches the city from the south east and terminates into the lake just south of downtown.
  • Historic Route 66 - The beginning and end of the historic Route 66 is near Union Station in downtown Chicago.

By Bus

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.

Other bus companies with services from Chicago include Indian Trails to Michigan and Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Coach which also has buses to Milwaukee and its airport.

By Boat

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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Getting Around

the 'EL'

the 'EL'

© All Rights Reserved Jase007

By Car

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.

By Public Transport

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:

  • The Red Line is the train line that runs north and south of most of the city. The most popular neighborhoods it has stops at are the Whites Sox's Stadium, China Town, The Loop, Lincoln Park and Wrigley Field.
  • The Blue Line goes all the way from O'Hare Airport to the northwest side, then Downtown, then out to the west side.
  • The Orange Line runs from Midway Airport, in the south west side, to the loop.
  • The Jackson Park Express Bus (Number 6) runs from the loop to Hyde Park where the Museum of Science and Industry is located.
  • The Museum Shuttle Bus (Number 10) runs among all the major museums in Chicago.

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.

By Foot

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.

By Bike

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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Eat

Sarah and Dave - Ginos East, Chicago

Sarah and Dave - Ginos East, Chicago

© All Rights Reserved davidarow

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.

Chicago Style Food

Chicago's most prominent contribution to world cuisine might be the deep dish pizza. Delivery chains as far away as Kyoto market "Chicago-style pizza," but the only place to be sure you're getting the real thing is in Chicago. To make a deep dish pizza, a thin layer of dough is laid into a deep round pan and pulled up the sides, and then meats and vegetables - Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, and more - are lined on the crust. At last, tomato sauce goes on top, and the pizza is baked. It's gooey, messy, not recommended by doctors, and delicious. When you dine on deep dish pizza, don't wear anything you were hoping to wear again soon. Some nationally-known deep dish pizza hubs are Pizzeria UNO and DUE, Gino's East, Giordano's, and Lou Malnati's, but plenty of local favorites exist. Ask around - people won't be shy about giving you their opinion.

But deep dish is not the end of the line in a city that takes its pizza so seriously. Chicago also prides itself on its distinctive thin-crust pizza and stuffed pizzas. The Chicago thin crust has a thin, cracker-like, crunchy crust, which somehow remains soft and doughy on the top side. Toppings and a lot of a thin, spiced Italian tomato sauce go under the mozzarella cheese, and the pizza is sliced into squares. If you are incredulous that Chicago's pizza preeminence extends into the realm of the thin crust, head south of Midway to Vito and Nick's, which is widely regarded among local gourmands as the standard bearer for the city.

The stuffed pizza is a monster, enough to make an onlooker faint. It's a true pie, with crust on the bottom and the top. Think deep-dish apple pie, but pizza. Allow 45 minutes to an hour for pizza places to make one of these and allow 3-4 extra notches on your belt for the ensuing weight gain. Arguably the best stuffed pizza in town is at Bella Bacino's in the Loop, which somehow is not greasy, but other excellent vendors include Giordano's, Gino's, Edwardo's, and Connie's.

Famous Pizzarias

  • Gino's East is located at 633 N. Wells St. and has many other locations throughout the city in suburbs. (Hint - in Chicago, never expect the cheese to be on top of the pie). Gino's first opened in the late 60s and has remained in the forefront throughout the decades. Reservations are not required but highly recommended as wait time for a table can be up to 2 hours on weekends.
  • Pizzeria Uno is located at 29 E. Ohio Street and is one of the original deep dish pizza places in Chicago. This is the original Pizzeria Uno and can be extremely crowded. Therefore you can walk around the corner to their sister restaurant Pizzeria Due located at 619 N. Wabash.
  • Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. is located at 2121 N. Clark St. in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. Unlike most pizzarias, CPOG serves delicious pizza pot pies and "Oven Grinder" sandwiches. The pizza pot pies are offered as half and one pound orders. (No pizza slices here.) Vegetarian pot pies are also available upon request. The restaurant is located on the lower level of an old brownstone house which may (or may not) have been connected with the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929. Reservations are recommended especially for weekend seating.

Chicago Hot Dog

This may come as a surprise to New Yorkers, but the Chicago hot dog is the king of all hot dogs - indeed, it is considered the perfect hot dog. Perhaps due to the city's history of Polish and German immigration, Chicago takes its dogs way more seriously than the rest of the country. A Chicago hot dog is always all-beef (usually Vienna beef), always served on a poppy-seed bun, and topped with what looks like a full salad of mustard, tomato slices, a dill pickle spear, sport (chili) peppers, a generous sprinkling of celery salt, diced onion, and a sweet-pickle relish endemic-to-Chicago that is dyed an odd, vibrant bright-green color. It's a full meal, folks.

Ketchup is regarded as an abomination on a proper Chicago-style hot dog. Self-respecting establishments will refuse orders to put the ketchup on the dog, and many have signs indicating that they don't serve it; truly serious hot dog joints don't even allow the condiment on the premises. The reason for Chicago's ketchup aversion is simple - ketchup contains sugar, which overwhelms the taste of the beef and prevents its proper enjoyment. Hence, ketchup's replacement with sliced tomatoes. Similarly, Chicagoans eschew fancy mustards that would overwhelm the flavor of the meat in favor of simple yellow mustard. And for the hungry visiting New Yorkers, the same goes for sugary sauerkraut - just no.

At most hot dog places, you will have the option to try a Maxwell Street Polish instead. Born on the eponymous street of the Near West Side, the Polish is an all-beef sausage on a bun, with fewer condiments than the Chicago hot dog: usually just grilled onions, mustard, and a few chili peppers.

In a tragic, bizarre twist of fate, the areas of Chicago most visited by tourists (i.e., the Loop) lack proper Chicago hot dog establishments. If you are downtown and want to experience a Chicago hot dog done right, the nearest safe bet is Portillo's. Although, if you're up for a little hot dog adventure, you can eat one right at the source, at the Vienna Beef Factory deli. Sadly, both baseball parks botch their dogs, although the 2011 return of Vienna Beef as the official hot dog of Wrigley Field is a step in the right direction.

Italian Beef Sandwich

The Italian Beef sandwich completes the Chicago triumvirate of tasty greasy treats. The main focus of the sandwich is the beef, and serious vendors will serve meat of a surprisingly good quality, which is slow-roasted, and thinly shaved before being loaded generously onto chewy, white, Italian-style bread. Two sets of options will come flying at you, so prepare yourself: sweet peppers or hot, and dipped or not. The "sweet" peppers are sautéed bell peppers, while the hots are a mixed Chicago giardiniera. The dip, of course, is a sort of French dip of the sandwich back into the beef broth. (Warning: dipped Italian Beefs are sloppy!) If you are in the mood, you may be able to get an Italian Beef with cheese melted over the beef, although travelers looking for the "authentic Italian Beef" perhaps should not stray so far from tradition.

The Italian Beef probably was invented by Italian-American immigrants working in the Union Stockyards on the Southwest Side, who could only afford to take home the tough, lowest-quality meat and therefore had a need to slow-roast it, shave it into thin slices, and dip it just to get it in chewable form. But today the sandwich has found a lucrative home downtown, where it clogs the arteries and delights the taste buds of the Chicago workforce during lunch break. Some of the city's favorite downtown vendors include Luke's Italian Beef in the Loop and Mr. Beef in the Near North, while the Portillo's chain is another solid option.

  • Al's Italian Beef is one of the most famous Italian Beef restaurants in Chicago. With two locations in the city, one on Taylor and the other on Ontario, this place can give you a dipped sandwich with hot peppers that will make your heart stop.
  • Mr Beef is the main rival to Al's and many would argue a better beef. Located at 666 N Orleans St this place is not open past 5:00pm on weekdays and 3:00pm on weekends.

BBQ and More

  • Carson's at 612 N. Wells St. has been a staple when it comes to barbequed ribs in Chicago. Their sauce is mild with just a touch of tang and very delicious. Their menu also includes steaks, pork chops, chicken and seafood. Whether you eat in or carry out, Carson's will not disappoint.
  • Hecky's and Hecky's Chicago are two great rib joints in the Chicagoland area. Their sauce is rich, spicy and a super secret. Hecky's offers both baby back and spare ribs depending on one's preference. Other items on the menu include beer-battered fish, fried chicken or shrimp, and assorted sandwiches. Side orders of hush puppies, baked beans, cole slaw and corn bread are also available. Hecky's is located north of the city at 1902 Green Bay Road in the suburb of Evanston, Illinois. A minimal amount of seating is available at this location. Hecky's Chicago is located at 1234 N. Halsted St. in Chicago and offers self-serve dine-in or carry-out options.

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Drink

Chicago is a drinking town, and you can find bars and pubs in every part of the city. It is believed that Chicago has the second highest number of bars per capita in the U.S. (after San Francisco). Unlike many other big cities where the hottest clubs are sought after, Chicago locals much prefer the dive bars and many don't seem to particularly like staying in one place. Most areas that thrive on the bar culture do so for the variety, and bar hopping is the norm. Grab a drink or two, then try the place next door. It is all about variety. Be prepared to be asked for identification to verify your age, even at neighborhood dive bars. Smoking is banned in Chicago bars (and restaurants).

The best places to drink for drinking's sake are Wicker Park and neighboring Logan Square and Bucktown, which have a world-class stock of quality dive bars and local craft breweries. North Center and Roscoe Village are also a great (and underrated) destination for the art of the beer garden. Beware the bars in Lakeview near Wrigley Field, though, which are packed on weekends, and jam-packed all day whenever the Cubs are playing. Just to the south, Lincoln Park has bars and beer gardens to indulge those who miss college, and some trendy clubs for the neighborhood's notorious high-spending Trixies.

Ill-informed tourists converge upon the nightclubs of Rush and Davidson Streets. The city's best DJs spin elsewhere, the best drinks are served elsewhere, and the cheapest beers are served elsewhere; the hottest of-the-moment clubs and in-the-know celebrities are usually elsewhere, too. For the last few years the West Loop's warehouse bars were the place to be, but the River North neighborhood has been making a comeback. Still, the Rush/Division bars do huge business. This area includes the "Viagra Triangle," where Chicago's wealthy older men hang out with women in their early 20s. Streeterville, immediately adjacent, exchanges the dance floors for high-priced hotel bars and piano lounges.

Although good dance music can be found in Wicker Park and the surrounding area, the best places to dance in the city are the expensive see and be seen clubs in River North and the open-to-all (except perhaps bachelorette parties) clubs in gay-friendly Boystown, which are a lot of fun for people of any sexual orientation.

Chicago is home to a number of breweries and micro-brews. The most widely recognized craft brewery is probably Goose Island Brewery, which was formerly independent but now owned by Inbev; it produces the usual range of craft and seasonal beers, gives tours and samplings, and has an excellent restaurant. The city's first post-Prohibition distillery is the Koval Distillery, an independent, family-run affair offering a variety of unusual and sometimes delicious whiskeys, most of which are distilled from 100% of whichever grain they're using (spelt, millet, rye, and others); it offers an extensive tour with samplings.

Jazz & Blues

The Lower Mississippi River Valley is known for its music; New Orleans has jazz, and Memphis has blues. Chicago, though far away from the valley, has both. Former New Orleans and Memphis residents brought jazz and blues to Chicago as they came north for a variety of reasons: the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought a lot of itinerant musicians to town, and the city's booming economy kept them coming through the Great Migration. Chicago was the undisputed capital of early jazz between 1917-1928, with masters like Joe King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Earl Hines, and Jelly Roll Morton. Most of Chicago's historic jazz clubs are on the South Side, particularly in Bronzeville, but the North Side has the can't-miss Green Mill in Uptown.

The blues were in Chicago long before the car chase and the mission from God, but The Blues Brothers sealed Chicago as the home of the blues in the popular consciousness. Fortunately, the city has the chops to back that up. Maxwell Street (Near West Side) was the heart and soul of Chicago blues, but the wrecking ball, driven by the University of Illinois at Chicago, has taken a brutal toll. Residents have been fighting to save what remains. For blues history, it doesn't get much better than Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation (Near South), and Bronzeville, the former "Black Metropolis," is a key stop as well. Performance venues run the gamut from tiny, cheap blues bars all over the city to big, expensive places like Buddy Guy's Legends (Loop) and the original House of Blues (Near North).

But don't let yourself get too wrapped up in the past, because Chicago blues is anything but. No other city in the world can compete with Chicago's long list of blues-soaked neighborhood dives and lounges. The North Side's blues clubs favor tradition in their music, and are usually the most accessible to visitors, but offer a slightly watered down experience from the funkier, more authentic blues bars on the South and Far West Sides, where most of Chicago's blues musicians live and hang. If one club could claim to be the home of the real Chicago blues, Lee's Unleaded Blues in Chatham-South Shore would probably win the title. But there are scores of worthy blues joints all around the city (many of which are a lot easier to visit via public transport). A visit to one of these off-the-beaten-path blues dives is considerably more adventurous than a visit to the touristy House of Blues, but the experiences born of such adventures have been known to reward visitors with a lifelong passion for the blues.

Although playing second fiddle to the blues in the city's collective consciousness, jazz thrives in Chicago, too, thanks in no small part to members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and their residencies at clubs like The Velvet Lounge and The Jazz Showcase (both of which see regular national acts) (Near South), The New Apartment Lounge (Chatham-South Shore) and The Hideout (Bucktown), with more expensive national touring acts downtown at The Chicago Theater (Loop). If you are staying downtown, the Velvet Lounge will be your best bet, as it is an easy cab ride, and its high-profile performances will rarely disappoint.

Fans should time their visits to coincide with Blues Fest in June, and Jazz Fest over Labor Day Weekend. Both take place in Grant Park (Loop).

The Loop

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.

North

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.

  • Spin is a LGBT mixed club located at 800 West Belmont two blocks east of the Belmont Red Line stop.

South

There are many neighbourhood bars, watering-holes and jazz clubs scattered across the south side. The only neighbourhood that has a small bar scene is in Hyde Park. There are some emerging scenes in Bronzeville, Bridgeport and China Town.

  • Checkerboard Lounge is a Jazz and Blues club that has different styles of music on different nights. The bar is located at 5201 S Harper Ct. and there phone number is 773 684 1472. It is best to call beforehand to see what is playing that night.
  • Woodlawn Tap, also known as Jimmy’s, is located at 1172 East 55th Street. This is the main bar of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago. In the early evening it is primarily a working class/professor bar and slowly morphs into a student bar around 11:00pm at night. Bar food, such as burgers and fries, is served till 12:30am.

West

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.

  • The Map Room is a great bar if looking to try beers from around the country and world. This bar has one of the best beer selections in the entire country. The Map Room is located at Armitage and Hoyne.

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Sleep

Chicago hosts many major conventions each year and has plenty of places to stay. The majority are either at O'Hare Airport or downtown in the Loop and the Near North (near the Magnificent Mile). If you want to explore the city, aim for downtown — a hotel near O'Hare is good for visiting one thing and one thing only, and that's O'Hare (although the CTA Blue Line is walking distance from most of them, so access to the city is easy, aside from 30 minutes). However, if you have a specific interest in mind, there are hotels throughout the city, and getting away from downtown will give you more of a sense of other neighborhoods. You'll appreciate that if you're in town for more than a couple of days. Make sure that where you're staying is within your comfort level before committing to stay there, though. More far flung transient hotels will be suitable for those seeking to relive Jack Kerouac's seedy adventures around the country, but may alarm and disgust the average traveler.

Budget-priced places are usually pretty far from the Loop, so when you're booking, remember that Chicago is vast. Travelers on a budget should consider accommodations away from the city center which can be easily reached via any of the several CTA train lines. There is a hostel in the Loop with another hostel by Wrigley Field, a hostel in Greektown within walking distance to Union Station and two others near the universities in Lincoln Park and Rogers Park, all of which are interesting neighborhoods in their own right, and close to the L for access to the rest of the city. For deals on mid-range hotels, there are good options far out from the center by Midway and in North Lincoln.

The Loop

  • Congress Plaza Hotel, 520 S Michigan Ave (Library CTA, Jackson Blue Line), ☎ +1-312-427-3800. The Congress Hotel has seen visits from most U.S. presidents since it was built in 1893. Today, other hotels have overtaken the Congress in the glamor class, leaving it behind as a great deal with a colorful past. Ask for a room with a view of the lake - if Buckingham Fountain is running, you will be treated to a magnificent view. The workers of the Congress hotel are currently engaged in the longest hotel strike in history. Rooms from $100.
  • Hostelling International Chicago (J Ira & Nicki Harris Family Hostel), 24 E Congress Pkwy (Library CTA, Jackson Red Line, LaSalle Blue Line), ☎ +1-312-360-0300. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Right in the middle of the downtown college ruckus, HI Chicago is not far from Union and Ogilvie, but will take some navigating from either airport into Chicago. Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. No curfew, no age restrictions (under 18 must be accompanied by adult). Ask for the coupon which gives $3 off the Chicago Architecture Foundation tours. Rates start at $29, plus $3 without HI membership.
  • Hard Rock Hotel, 230 N Michigan Ave (inside the Carbide & Carbon Bldg), ☎ +1-312-345-1000. Near Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile, with style points for being located in the beautiful Carbon & Carbide Building. Rooms come packed with audiovisual amenities apropos of the name. Rooms from $199.
  • Hotel 71, 71 E Wacker Dr, ☎ +1-312-346-7100. Located on the Chicago River at Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue with an impressive view, right on the border of the Near North. Rooms from $254.
  • Hotel Allegro, 171 W Randolph St (Clark/Lake Blue Line), toll-free: +1-866-672-6143. This lovely, Art Deco hotel calls itself a boutique, probably in reference to its friendly, full four-star service, designer decorated rooms and prices that are the same, or just a little bit more than you would pay for a blander three-star place just north of the river. Suites and some rooms have a double jacuzzi. Rooms from $209.
  • Hotel Burnham, 1 W Washington St, ☎ +1-312-782-1111. In the classic Reliance Building, near Millennium Park. A Kimpton Boutique hotel, like the Allegro. Rooms from $239.
  • Silversmith Hotel & Suites, 10 S Wabash Ave, ☎ +1-312-372-7696. The Silversmith boasts an enviable location, good value, and perfectly adequate suites, but light sleepers should be sure to ask for a room away from the noisy L lines. Don't miss the dessert hour: free high quality cake, cookies, and coffee/tea in the lobby M-Th 9PM-10PM. $180–315.
  • W Chicago City Center, 172 W Adams St, ☎ +1-312-332-1200. This outpost of the W Hotels chain is under the shadow of the Sears Tower, in the midst of the Loop, for a bit of stylish gloom at night. From $175.
  • The Fairmont Chicago, 200 N Columbus Dr, ☎ +1-312-565-8000. Upscale hotel that takes pride in its restaurants and offers a number of tour packages for Chicago attractions. From $269.
  • Hotel Monaco, 225 N Wabash Ave, ☎ +1-312-950-8500. The Monaco provides a bit better than four-star comfort at a bit less than four-star prices, though they are a little higher than at sister hotels like the Allegro or the Burnham. What you get for the extra money is a number of specialty services geared for business travelers, so if you are traveling for pleasure go for the Allegro. From $259.
  • Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E Wacker Dr, ☎ +1-312-565-1234. 2,000 guest rooms in two towers, a riverfront location, and what the management claims is the largest freestanding bar in the U.S. It's a favorite for convention groups, and is connected via covered walkways to the Illinois Center, which is a major business complex. From $259.
  • Marriott Renaissance Chicago Hotel, 1 W Wacker Dr, ☎ +1-312-372-7200. Elegant hotel with sweeping views and a Rejuvenation Center. From $259.
  • The Palmer House, 17 E Monroe St, ☎ +1-312-726-7500. With over 1,600 rooms and no shortage of luxuries, the Palmer House is one of Chicago's most memorable hotels. It was originally built by business magnate Potter Palmer for his socialite wife Bertha. This is actually the third version of the Palmer House - the first opened two weeks before the Great Chicago Fire. (Can't beat that for timing.) The current version, overlooking State Street, enjoyed an extravagant renovation in 2008, with tasteful 1920s style guest rooms and a magnificent lobby bar (with magnificently overpriced drinks). From $135.
  • Swissotel Chicago, 323 E Wacker Dr, ☎ +1-312-565-0565. This sleek, new skyscraper offers great views over the Chicago River and the lake. From $217.

View our map of accommodation in Chicago or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

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Work

Chicago still loves Carl Sandburg and his poems, but the city shucked off the hog butcher's apron a long time ago. In terms of industry, there's little that distinguishes Chicago from any other major city in America, save for size. Chicago is the world's largest commodities trading hub, and the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange are among the biggest employers, with stables of traders and stock wizards. Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago amid much fanfare a few years ago; United Airlines is another international company with headquarters in town. Abbott Labs, just outside city limits, is the biggest employer of foreign nationals in scientific fields. The Big Five consulting firms all have one or more offices in the Loop. And there's always construction work in Chicago, but with a strong union presence in the city, it's not easy for a newcomer to break into without an introduction.

For younger workers, the museums in the Loop and the Near South are always looking for low-paid, high-enthusiasm guides, and the retail outlets on the Magnificent Mile also need seasonal help. And with so many colleges and universities in the city, study abroad opportunities abound.

In Chicago, business is politics, and there's one word in Chicago politics: clout. The principal measure of clout is how many jobs you can arrange for your friends. Hence, if you want to work in Chicago, start asking around - email someone from your country's embassy or consulate and see if they have any leads, or figure out if there is a cultural association that might be able to help you. It's no coincidence that the Mayor's Office employs scores of Irish workers every summer. If you happen to contact somebody who met the right person at a fundraiser a few days ago, you might fall into a cushy job or a dream internship; it's worth a try.

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Learn

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Keep Connected

Internet

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.

  • Biznet Internet Cafe is located on 205 E. Ohio and is open Monday to Friday 8:00am to 10:00pm, Saturday 11:00am to 8:00pm and Sunday 12:00pm to 9:00pm. Phone: 312-645-0065.

Phone

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.

Post

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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Quick Facts

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Mayor
Rahm Emanuel (D)
Area Codes
312, 773, 847, 708
Population (City)
2,833,321
Population (Metro)
9,505,747
Time Zone
Central (UTC-6)
Daylight Saving Time
CDT (UTC-5)
Coordinates
  • Latitude: 41.879535
  • Longitude: -87.624333

Accommodation in Chicago

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Chicago Travel Helpers

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    I live just outside of the Chicago city limits in NW Indiana and frequently visit Chicago to eat, go to the theater, visit museums, shop, attend concerts and meet up with out of town visitors.

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