Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ten things to do in Chicago if you're a tourist (or even a local)

I just got back from a very enjoyable trip to Chicago, and I thought I'd share the sights and activities that I enjoyed the most during my week's stay there.

Wander around Millennium Park
One of the city’s biggest attractions, the 24.5 acre park is located right in the middle of the city centre and offers plenty of lush green lounging space, striking architecture, structural art and refreshments. Our favourites were the Crown Fountain, two high towers made of glass bricks across a granite square where children and adults alike splashed around in the hot sun; and the Cloud Gate, a huge stainless steal structure that is so highly polished that it reflects the surrounding skyline, greenery and people milling around.

Eat the best steak of your life
The Mid-West boasts some of the best beef in America. As a treat we went to David Burke's Primehouse which wasn’t cheap, but that night we had the best steak we have ever eaten. (And I’ve wolfed down a lot of steak in my lifetime!) All the meat comes from animals sired by Prime, the owner’s bull, and aged in house. Highly recommended.

Lunch at the Loop
The Loop is the city’s central business district, which is at its most lively during the day. Fantastic lunches during our trip included Patty Burger, which offers hand-formed Angus patties; Frontera Fresco at Macy’s, where celebrity chef Rick Bayless offers reasonable but excellent Mexican food; and Russian Tea Time, a Russian restaurant with a d├ęcor harking back to Communist excess and food that just melts in your mouth.

Shop on the Magnificent Mile
As a typical Irish tourist, I packed light on the flight over and dragged a bulging suitcase on the flight back. The Magnificent Mile, actually the section of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Water Tower Place, is lined with department stores and flagships including Gap, Banana Republic, French Connection and other big ticket brands. The Loop contains a big Old Navy, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters.

Watch the Cubs at Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field has served as the home ballpark of the Cubs since 1916, and it remains a historic American landmark. We were lucky enough to get tickets to the Memorial day game there; it was packed with good natured fans and families, and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. The surrounding area is known as Wrigleyville, and is dominated by watering holes. We took the El to Wrigley Field, it’s extremely close to the city centre.

Take an architecture tour
Chicago is the birthplace of the skyscraper, which moved from load-bearing wall structures in the early 1880’s to steel skeletal frames only a few years later. The Chicago Architecture Foundation run many excellent tours around the city, including boat tours and neighbourhood walks. We took in the Historic Skyscraper tour which was both an introduction to Chicago’s beautiful architecture and a useful orientation around the Loop.

Browse an extensive collection of art
The Art Institute of Chicago houses a huge amount of great art; we were there for several hours and were only able to view the Photography Collection on the lower level and the American 1900-1950 Collection in great detail. The highlight for me was Grant Wood’s American Gothic – it was exciting to see such an iconic piece of artwork so close up.

Walk along the lakefront
Chicago is on Lake Michigan, which is more like an sea by European standards. We walked along the lakefront from Millennium Park, past the picturesque dock and well-kept greenery to the touristy but fun Navy Pier, which provides a 15-storey Ferris Wheel, a crazy golf course and a spate of family-friendly cafes and restaurants.

Go bowling
We were determined to take part in some all-American activities, so we headed down the central Lucky Strike Lanes, which actually has a dress code (if a relatively lax one), a wine bar, a very decent restaurant and some pool tables if bowling isn’t your thing. There was a curtained off section for groups too.

Have a few cheeky drinks
A full spectrum of bars exist in Chicago; from slick cocktail places like J Bar, to old hotel bars like 17 West, to Oirish pubs like Timothy O'Toole's Pub. Wrigleyville is chockful of sports bars, and many offer great pub grub that we enjoyed. Chicago bars offer a large selection of beers, both international and local. Recommended brews are the local Blue Moon and Goose Island wheat beers.

Of course Chicago has plenty more to offer, but we just couldn't do everything. It's a great city; if you ever get a chance to visit, you'll have a fantastic time.


Anna said...

You have me beat - I've been there twice and not done all of that! Wrigley Field - now that's cool!

alfaking said...

Marvellous. A good guide to Chicago. I can "see" the places you describe so nicely.

Angie said...

Sounds like loads of fun. I really must check out Chicago.

Betty the Sheep said...

Sounds like a really great place to visit!

Ginafish said...

I'm so upset...the most "American" thing you could think of was to go bowling??? *sigh*

Course, if I ever get to Ireland, I hope to do the most Irish thing I can think of...sit in a bar all day and night. :D

hellojed said...

Ginafish, the most American thing we could think of was going to a ballgame...but we thought bowling was pretty American too. You're pretty spot on about the Irish and drinking!

laurie said...

post pictures! i've done all those things except go to wrigley field.

and don't you let ginafish dis you on the bowling thing. bowling has become very funky and cool here. sort of retro-cool.

you were being hip!

hellojed said...

Laurie, retro-cool, I like the sound of that...it certainly was a great evening, the place was quite slick and grownup, not like the bowling alleys here that are family places really.

Will definitely post pictures when I get them organised!

Macoosh said...

i think you hit all the spots i want to go to when i visit. and, bowling is a good american choice but going to a ballgame (especially at wrigley) is a much better one so score you for doing both!!! i miss going to ballgames. i still have to go to a game here...be it gaelic football, football, or rugby. soon...soon.

glad you had such a great time. welcome home!

laurie said...

did you think downtown chicago looked like a little like dublin? in a way? i think it's laid out the same, with the wide street leading down to the chicago river the way upper mcconnell street leads down to the liffey.... though the bridge isn't as nice....

hellojed said...

Macoosh, I really enjoyed the ballgame, it was definitely a highlight of the trip. Croke Park is a great stadium to see Gaelic football matches if you can make it...

Laurie, I agree it did remind me of Dublin, especially when you cross the bridges there and you can see bridges stretch away on both sides...but the architecture in Chicago is definitely more impressive!

Ginafish said...

Didn't mean to dis bowling...I just never thought of as an "American" sport. Going to Wrigley's is much closer to an "American" experience. And I figure in Ireland there are way more better things to do than spend all day in a bar. :D I'm sure I'd do typical 'touristy' things with my sparkling white tennis shoes and fanny pack. :D He!

It sounds like you enjoyed your holiday, and I hope you can come again. Next time try glow in the dark miniature golf. It rocks! :D

hellojed said...

Ginafish, I didn't think you dissed me on the bowling, but thanks for coming back! There are plenty of other things to do in Ireland than drinking in pubs like you say, but I reckon it's my favourite and I'd recommend it to anyone. The pubs and the atmosphere can't be beaten! Much better than going to Riverdance and kissing the Blarney Stone anyway. ;)

polomex said...

Yay Chicago! I actually live just a mile or so north of Wrigley Field. Glad to hear that you had a great time.

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