Chicago Travel Tips
Keep in Mind...
- You're in the Windy City Chicago winters bring biting breezes and average temperatures in the teens and 20s. Make sure to pack a hat, gloves and a scarf if you plan to brave this snowy season.
- You don't need wheels Leave your car at home; the extensive public transportation system is a much better (and much easier) way to see the city.
- You've got a lot to see There are more than 75 neighborhoods, and you'll get the most out of your visit if you focus on only a few at a time. Neighborhoods worth your time include the Loop, Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville and the Magnificent Mile.
Whether you refer to it as the Windy City, Chi-town or Chicagoland, America's third largest city has a long history of contradictions. Once a haven for organized crime and crooked politicians, it later served as a gateway to westward expansion, attracting businessmen, architects and engineers. Today, you can find a swanky restaurant alongside a deep-dish pizza dive or a hot dog stand. And it's these contrasting identities, top-notch attractions and a mouth-watering foodie scene.
Chicago's neighborhoods still hold fast to their industrial roots, but they have also welcomed a more diverse array of identities. Start in the Loop, where some of Chicago's most famous buildings are clustered. From here, art buffs can head to Grant Park, home to the Art Institute of Chicago, while shopaholics can stroll north past the boutiques on the Magnificent Mile. For a worldly culinary experience, head west to Greektown or south to Chinatown. Or head north for more family-oriented activities.
How To Save Money in Chicago
- Bundle up The weather outside may be frightful, but there are plenty of deals to be found during the winter months. Many hotels slash their rates to attract business, while cheap flights are easy to come by. If you're really worried about the cold, rest assured that you can find warmth in one of Chicago's many museums.
- Head north Hotels in the Loop cater to the business class. For a more down-to-earth (and more affordable) place to hang your hat, check out the B&Bs found in northern neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Andersonville.
- Schedule wisely Many of the best museums -- including the Field Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago -- offer free entrance on certain days, so check ahead before heading over. Also, take advantage of programs like Chicago CityPASS and the Go Chicago Card that offer admission to several attractions for one price.
Chicago Culture & Customs
Compared to other large U.S. cities, Chicagoans are generally more approachable, so don't be hesitant to ask for directions. If you're traveling during the summer, a great way to meet and mingle with the city folk is to search out some of the neighborhood block parties, which take place throughout the city. Many parties feature live music and local cuisine.
Speaking of cuisine, Chicago boasts its fair share of fine restaurants, but don't miss your chance to sample the regional fare. Chicagoans strongly believe that their pizza and hotdogs surpass those of New York City. And when you're ordering a beverage, remember that in Chicago, soda is called "pop."
Residents of Chicago are also dedicated to their sports teams. You should have no trouble finding a fellow fan of "da Bears" or "da Cubs" (phrases made famous by Saturday Night Live) at one of the many sports bars scattered around Wrigleyville.
If you prefer performing arts to sports, make sure to pick up a free copy of The Reader, which highlights musical and theatrical performances taking place in the city. When looking for evening events, head north: Many northern neighborhoods offer great nightlife options, and it's safe to walk around after dark.
While Chicago has earned a reputation for more traditional American cuisine (think hot dogs, pizzas and steaks), these clichés should be laid to rest. It's true that there's no shortage of deep dish pizzerias or steakhouses, but Chicago now offers decidedly finer fare, which earned Chicago the number-five spot on TripAdvisor's 2010 Travelers' Choice list of the Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in the World.
From Alinea, Gourmet magazine's top restaurant in America of 2006, to the numerous restaurants owned by renowned chefs like Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz, the city excels at top-notch dining.
Head to the Magnificent Mile or neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview for the most upscale restaurants. For a more eclectic meal, try Rogers Park in the North Side (for a wide array of Indian restaurants) or the West Loop (Greek cuisine). South Side is home to Chinatown, where Chinese restaurants and stores dominate. Pilsen, another South Side neighborhood, is where Mexican cuisine reigns supreme. If you have room left over, try an authentic Chicago hot dog (don't forget the pickles, tomatoes, peppers and onions) at Hot Doug's Inc., west of Wrigleyville.