Favorite thing: Since the winter holiday season is one of my favorite times of year in Chicago, here are some of my favorite fun things to do. For a complete list check out Explore Chicago or Winter Wonderloop or Loop Chicago
1) Kicking off the holiday season on Nov 22, 2014, the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival with a parade, fireworks, concerts, fireworks and more.
2) Macy's is carrying on Marshall Field's tradition of the Walnut Room, the lighting of the 45 foot Christmas tree is November 8, 2014, the windows theme is, um, does it really matter? "The Journey of a Christmas Wish" will be on display November 8, 2014-January 11, 2015 Anyone else miss Marshall Field's?
3) A couple of blocks from Macy's on State Street is the German Christkindlmarket, see separate tip in shopping, Nov 21-Dec 24, 2014, tree lighting ceremony at Daley Plaza, November 25, 2014 at 4:30pm with an appearance by Dee Snider of Twisted Sister
4) Hop on the Holiday Train, 6 car el train decorated for the holidays, November-December (dates not announced yet)
5) Museum of Science and Industry hosts Christmas Around the World featuring trees decorated by Chicago's ethnic communities (Nov. 13, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015)
6) Live theater- "A Christmas Carol" at the Goodman, Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker", Do it yourself "Messiah" at the Harris Theater, "Santaland Diaries", "The Christmas Schooner" at the Mercury Theater, and "A Christmas Story" at the Chicago Theater are just a few of the offerings. Click here for the Chicago Tribune's top 10 picks
7) Several of the downtown hotels have holiday teas. The Drake is probably the best known. Reservations are recommended, during the holidays there is harp music and sometimes Christmas carolers.
8) Lincoln Park Zoo has ZooLights Nov 28-30; Dec 4 (Members Only); Dec 5–7, 12–23; Dec 26–Jan 4, 2015. Free, ice skating extra charge
9) Next door to the Lincoln Park Zoo at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Winter Flower & train Show November 29, 2014-January 4, 2015
10) Ice skating at Millennium Park Nov. 14, 2014 – March 8, 2015. The Peninsula Hotel also has a skating rink overlooking Michigan Avenue. A skating ribbon is scheduled to open in November 2014 in the new Maggie Daley Park
11) Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier Dec 5, 2014-Jan 11, 2015
12) On New Year's Eve, head to Buckingham Fountain for the fireworks display
13) Caroling at Cloud Gate (better known as the bean) in Millennium Park Nov. 28–Dec.19, 2014 6 pm every Friday
14) Annual Wreathing of the lions at the Art Institute at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, November 28, 2014 in front of the museum with special holiday activities and exhibits scheduled from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. inside
Outside of Chicago
1) Brookfield Zoo has Holiday Magic on Saturdays and Sundays December 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, Friday to Wednesday, December 26-31, 2014
2) Illumination at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle November 21 2014-January 3, 2015
3) Winter Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe November 28, 2014-January 4, 2015
4) Victorian Christmas Tour at Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, Oak Park
Favorite thing: Hottix is Chicago's version of London or New York's TKTS, but unlike TKTS, you can also buy 1/2 price tickets online which is great for me since I no longer work near any Hottix locations. You have to pay a small Ticketmaster fee per ticket but it's worth it for the convenience. Tickets are usually available starting on Tuesday for the whole week until Monday, they do update the listings during the week so check back if you are looking for a specific show. 1/2 price tickets are also available at the Hot Tix locations.
For the major theaters such as the Cadillac Palace, Oriental or Bank of America you aren't likely going to get the best seats still available, I've noticed that there are a lot of closer seats still remaining even when the production begins, I usually get row S, T or U. But they are still good seats without obstruction.
It used to be that you wouldn't find good seats to the Broadway touring productions or Broadway warm ups, but the economy being what it is and show prices still being quite high, I've been able to find tickets for most of the shows I've wanted to see including the Broadway style shows. "Book of Mormon" is an exception, they don't have to discount. Weekend tickets for Second City are rare except for the late Friday night show. But you will find a lot of the longer running comedy productions, improv shows and many of the other smaller theater productions.
Hot Tix locations
72 E. RANDOLPH, Chicago-across from the Cultural Center
163 E. PEARSON, Chicago-Michigan Avenue in the Water Works Visitor Center
They are not open on Monday since most theaters are dark on MondayRelated to:
- Budget Travel
Best spots for photography
Favorite thing: A common question is where to get the best photos of Chicago's skyline and while being out on the water on a boat is the best, if you don't have sea legs, another great spot is along the walkway right outside the Adler Planetarium.
Favorite thing: Besides the essential guide book reading, here are a few other reading ideas before heading to Chicago
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, a very well written non fictional account of a serial killer interwined with the story of Daniel Burnham and the 1893 Columbian Exposition
If you are a fan of architecture and want to do some self guided touring, there's a comprehensive book called Chicago in and Around the Loop: Walking Tours of Architecture and History by Gerald Wolfe that you might find interesting. It's a little dated having been published in 1996 but I found some very interesting information in there.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, follows a Lithuanian immigrant and his family seeking the American dream in Chicago. Sinclair, a socialist, wrote it an indictment of the wealthy capitalists who ran the meat packing plants in Chicago but what really caught the public's interest was the poor pigs and cows sent off to slaughter in inhumane conditions, it led to reforms in the meat packing industry and ultimately the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.
Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott is a enjoyable non fictional account of the salacious side of Chicago around the turn of the century featuring the Everleigh sisters and their famous brothel in the Levee district, the notorious criminals and the politicians that they greased to keep the Levee district alive and hopping and the religious men and lawmen who finally brought an end to it.
For the Thrill of It: Leopold, Loeb, and the Murder That Shocked Chicago by Simon Baatz recounts the shocking random 1924 murder of Bobby Franks by Richard Leopold and Nathan Loeb and their defense by Clarence Darrow
Still on my to read list-"City of the Century, The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America" by Donald L. Miller, comes highly recommended by my husband
Movies filmed in Chicago
Favorite thing: Movies set in Chicago that were actually filmed here:
Ferris Bueller's Day Off Wrigley Field and Dearborn Street where they appear in a parade
Backdraft-I was working in the building (325 N. Wells) where they filmed the conference room scene
Blues Brothers largely filmed in Chicago, they crash through City Hall near the end
Weatherman-lots and lots of scenes shot in Chicago, I think Nicolas Cage's office was on Wacker Drive
When Harry Met Sally I know it made for better cinematography but were they going to New York via Canada?
While You Were Sleeping Sandra Bullock works for the CTA
My Best Friend's Wedding lots and lots of Chicago in this one, a boat ride on the Chicago River, US Cellular Field, Union Station, the Cuneo Mansion in Vernon Hills
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Movies set in Chicago, filmed in other locations
Chicago was ironically one of the ones filmed in Toronto
Union Station was filmed at Union Station in Los Angeles, not at Union Station in Chicago. I don't think the elevated trains scenes were filmed in Chicago either, if you look at the Stockyard scene there are palm trees in it!
Movies set in other cities, filmed in Chicago
Dark Knight has a lot of footage of Chicago which doubles for Gotham City, the Chicago Tribune published a list of movie locations
Batman Begins was also filmed in Chicago, this website has a list of movie locations.
Old Town - St. Michael's Church (R.C.)
Favorite thing: Old Town landmark. 1633 N. Cleveland, at the corner with Eugenie. The construction of the church, which served a largely south German congregation, started in the 1850s and was completed in 1869. It survived the great 1871 because of its solid brick construction. Interestingly, with its commanding spire, St. Michael's was technically the tallest building in Chicago from 1869 until 1885, when the original Board of Trade building downtown was opened.Related to:
- Religious Travel
Halloween in Chicago
Favorite thing: Halloween seems to be the 2nd most celebrated and decorated holiday in Chicago behind Christmas, the Halloween decorations go up in early October and there are many frightening activites for ghouls and goblins both young and old. Here are a few of the local happenings to check out during the month of October:
1)Chicagoween-go check out the fun at Daley Plaza, the fountain is dyed orange, there's a spooky village and there are daily performances by Midnight Circus
2) Navy Fear at Navy Pier
3) Boo at the Zoo-Brookfield Zoo
4) Haunted el rides
5) Haunted Sanitarium-Theater on the Lake
6) Spooky Seas-Shedd Aquarium
7) State Street Halloween Happening-parade, trick or treating, costume contests, etc.
When NOT to go to Chicago
Favorite thing: For starters there's the entire month of February-it's really, really cold, all of the fluffy white snow has turned gray, there's salt covering everything, Chicagoans are becoming very cranky being cooped up indoors, do I really need to say anything more? But beyond that you might also avoid these unless you are a participant:
Chicago Marathon weekend-hotels are expensive, restaurants will be packed, streets will be closed, usually the 1st or 2nd Sunday in October
Major conventions-here are a couple of good websites to check out, don't worry about the 500 person ones or the ones at the Donald Stephens center in Rosemont, but if there are 20,000 people converging on Chicago, you might consider another weekend because hotel prices will skyrocket and dinner/theater reservations much harder to get
Convention Calendar from Choose Chicago
Convention Calendar from Chicago Traveler
Top 10 reasons to visit Chicago
Favorite thing: 1) Food-Come for the infamous Chicago hot dogs or deep dish pizza or top ranked restaurants like Alinea or Next or celebrity driven restaurants like Frontera Grill and Girl and the Goat. My favorites tend to be mid priced ethnic restaurants out in the neighborhoods but there is something for everyone here.
2) Architecture-Several of the tallest buildings in the world are in Chicago but the architecture I like best are the old buildings with the fabulous detail work. Take the fabulous Architectural River Cruise or one of their neighborhood tours.
3) Museums-Chicago has several top notch museums including the Art Institute, Field Museum, Museum of Science & Industry, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. There are also many smaller fine museums throughout the city.
4) Summer-best time to visit Chicago, festivals every weekend, free concerts and movies in the parks. Go boating on Lake Michigan or walking/biking/ rollerblading on it's shores or just catch a few rays on it's many beaches.
5) Neighborhoods-Chicago is made up of many distinct interesting neighborhoods. Visitors should spend some time outside of the tourist areas to really get a flavor of the city.
6) Festivals-Chicago has festivals like no other city. From the biggies like the Taste of Chicago, Blues Fest, and the Chicago Air and Water Show to the smaller equally entertaining neighborhood festivals, there is always something going on in Chicago.
7) Theater-Chicago is home to Second City, the Steppenwolf, the Chicago Shakepeare Theater, the Goodman and several theaters that offer comedy productions. Frequently shows will come to Chicago that are Broadway caliber, sometimes as a warm up, sometimes as touring productions.
8) Sports and recreation-Rent a bike for a ride along the lakefront, take a walk through the parks, roller blade, ice skate or join one of the many organized bike rides or runs that occur throughout the summer.
9) Shopping-spend time shopping on the Mag Mile, State Street or boutiques in the neighborhoods.
10) Spectator Sports-Chicago has a major league team for every type of spectator sport-baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer plus several minor league teams.
Museum Free Days
Favorite thing: Everyone likes to save a few dollars when traveling, unfortunately for non Illinois residents the budget problems at the Chicago and Illinois levels has made virtually all of the museums pull their free days unless you can prove you live in Illinois
Adler Planetarium, check website for dates, Illinois residents only
Art Institute of Chicago 1st and 2nd Wednesdays of the month, Illinois residents only
Field Museum check website for dates, Illinois residents only
Museum of Science and Industry check website for dates, Illinois residents only
Shedd Aquarium check website for dates, Illinois residents only
Chicago History Museum check website for dates, Illinois residents only
DuSable Museum of African American History every Sunday .Illinois residents only
Museum of Contemporary Art every Tuesday Illinois residents only
Notebaert Nature Museum every Thursday Illinois residents only
But here are a few that non Illinois residents can still enjoy discounts on
Brookfield Zoo Zoo admission is free on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31
Chicago Children's Museum Free admission for kids 15 and under every first Sunday of the month. Free admission for everyone 5-8 p.m. every Thursday.
National Museum of Mexican Art always free.
Oriental Institute always free
Smart Museum of Art always free
Smith Museum of Stained Glass on Navy Pier always free
Choose Chicago has a nice list of free Museums and Attractions by day but double check as some have changed and the list not updated
Another list of things the are free everyday
Everything a city should be
Favorite thing: Amazed on how clean the city is and we walked up and down Michigan Ave and felt very safe. A terrif city with something for everyone. We took a Chicago mini bus tour and it was 3 hours and we had an excellent driver and got to see all of the Chicago highlishts.
Fondest memory: Seeing all of the historical buildings and also Wrigley Field and Soldier Field as well as the loop and we also drove along Lake Michigan.
What a wonderful cityRelated to:
- Historical Travel
- Family Travel
- Food and Dining
TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL & TOWER
Favorite thing: Named after real estate developer Donald Trump TRUMP INTERNATIONAL HOTEL & TOWER is a skyscraper in downtown Chicago. The 98-story structure reaches a height of 1,389 feet (423 meters) including its spire. It is built next to the main brance of the Chicago River, with a view of the entry to Lake Michigan. It is the second-tallest building in the U.S. after Chicago's Willis Tower, and the tenth-tallest building in the world.
The building includes retail space, a parking garage, a hotel (339 rooms) and condominiums (486 luxury condos).
Situated at 401 North Wabash Avenue in the River North Gallery district. The entire length of the building is visible from Chicago River Waterway Traffic. (pic # 3 taken during our River Boat Tour).
OLD TOWN CHICAGO
Favorite thing: Chicago's OLD TOWN is a neighbourhood bounded by the Ogden Ave. right-of-way on the Northwest, Larrabee Street on the west, Clyburn Avenue on the southwest, Division Street on the South and Clark street on the east and northeast.
Old Town is an historic neighbourhood, site of many of Chicago's older Victorian-era buildings and St. Michael's Catholic Church. The neighbourhood is also home to the famous Second City Improv, which was one of the venues for our VT Chicago Meet over the weekend. Also the venue for Saturday night's dinner was at the Adobo Grill at 1610 N Wells, which specializes in Mexican Fare.
Shopping in Old Town is a unique experience, as most of the shops are boutiques rather than well-known chain stores.
After hours, Old Town is popular as there are plenty of bars and clubs available.
ST. MICHAEL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
Favorite thing: Located in Old Town Parish ST. MICHAEL'S CATHOLIC CHURCH dates back to the 1800's. On September 23, 1866, workmen broke ground for a magnificent new brick church, to stand on the corner of Eugenie Street and Cleveland Avenue. The exterior walls were made of red sandstone bricks made locally. On September 29, 1869, the new church building was blessed and dedicated.
Two years later, tragedy struck not only the Parish, but the City as well. On October 8, 1871, the O'Leary house and barn on Chicago's south side, burst into flames, which fanned north, aided by strong southerly winds. Priests, nuns and parishioners loaded Parish Treasures onto Oxcarts and fled. Soon, flames tore into all the Parish buildings, leveling all of them - only the walls of the Church remained standing.
Rebuilding began and two years later, on October 12, 1873, the rebuilt St. Michael's was consecrated. St. Michael's was one of the first churches to rise again from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire.
The Church's Tower is capped by a gilded cross more than 24 feet tall and 9 feet wide. We could not enter the Church as there was a wedding just getting started. We could see the Bride waiting to make here grand entry into the Church.
Tipping In Chicago
Favorite thing: a few tipping tips. First of all, tipping is a culture here in the United States. WHY? since there is no service charge added in you bill that is why the service people like the waiters, doormen, Taxi Drivers, Housekeepers and more are extra caring for guests so that you will give them Gratuity (a euphemism for tipping) and also to show them that you are satisfied with their services. Here is some tipping tips below:
Fondest memory: Restaurants:
Waiter: 15 percent to 20 percent (pre-tax)
Buffet: 10 percent
Bartender: $1 per drink or 15 percent to 20 percent of the bar tab
Takeout: No need, but 10 percent for special favors
Host or maitre d': No need, but $10-$20 on occasion if you're a regular patron
Sommelier: 15 percent of the cost of the wine
Restroom attendant: 50 cents-$3, depending on the service
Cloakroom attendant: $1 per coat
Food delivery person: 10 percent of bill (pre-tax); $2 minimum
Doorman: $1-$2 for carrying luggage; $1-$2 for hailing a cab; $1-$4 for going beyond the call of duty
Bellhop: $2 first bag, $1 per additional bag
Housekeeper: $2-$5 per day, left daily in an envelope or with a note clearly marked for the maid
Concierge: $5 for tickets or reservations, $10 if they're hard to get
Room service: Check the bill to see if gratuity is included (delivery charge doesn't count); if not, tip 15 percent to 20 percent
Taxi driver: 15 percent, plus an extra $1-2 if he/she helps with bags
Airport sky cap: $2 first bag, $1 per additional bag
Tour guide: 10 percent to 15 percent of tour costRelated to:
- Budget Travel
- Luxury Travel
- Business Travel
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