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 23, 2013, 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 2, 2013, the windows theme is the Magic of Christmas. Anyone else miss Marshall Field's? November 2, 2013-January 5, 2014
3) A couple of blocks from Macy's on State Street is the German Christkindlmarket, see separate tip in shopping, Nov 26-Dec 24, 2013, tree lighting ceremony at Daley Plaza, November 26, 2013 at 5:00pm with an appearance by Darlene Love
4) Hop on the Holiday Train, 6 car el train decorated for the holidays, November-December (Nov 29-Dec 23, various lines)
5) Museum of Science and Industry hosts Christmas Around the World featuring trees decorated by Chicago's ethnic communities (Nov. 14, 2013-Jan. 5, 2014)
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 29–Dec 1; Dec 6–8, 13–23; Dec 26–Jan 5, 2013–14 (Closed Dec. 24 & 25) 5-9 p.m. Free
9) Ice skating at Millennium Park Nov. 15, 2013 – March 9, 2014. The Peninsula Hotel also has a skating rink overlooking Michigan Avenue.
10) Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier Dec 6, 2013-Jan 12, 2014
11) On New Year's Eve, head to Buckingham Fountain for the fireworks display
12) Winter Wonderland at the Hancock with the holiday train and Santa's sleigh, not sure if they are still doing this (2013 not announced yet)
13) Caroling at Cloud Gate (better known as the bean) in Millennium Park Nov. 29–Dec.20, 2013 6 pm every Friday
14) Annual Wreathing of the lions at the Art Institute at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, November 29 in front of the museum with special holiday activities and exhibits scheduled from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. inside
Outside of Chicago
1) Brookfield Zoo has Holiday Magic through December 31, 2013
2) Illumination at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle December 7-8, 14-15, 21-23
3) Winter Wonderland Express at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe
4) Victorian Christmas Tour at Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, Oakbrook Dec 14 & Dec 21
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 Monday
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.
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 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.
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.
Arvid, Welcome to VT
OK, since I am the first actual Chicagoan to reply let's get down to specifics.
You will be arriving at Terminal 5 (the International Terminal) It will probably take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes for you to clear customs. I've never done a transfer to a domestic flight from international since Chicago is my final destination and I can't remember what others have said about baggage, but I'm sure you will get an answer about that soon.
If you do want to take the "L" train to the city you will first have to get on the people mover train from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3. This will take about 5 minutes from waiting to arrival at Terminal 3. From Terminal 3 you will exit the people mover train cross the bridge heading to Terminal 3 and then go downstairs to the "L" train terminal (just follow the signs). Travel time on the "L" train to downtown is 45 minutes at a cost of $2.25. So your time from Terminal 5 to downtown would probably be about 1 hour. If you take a cab at mid-day which you can get directly at Terminal 5 you could probably get downtown in about 25 to 30 minutes but at a cost of about $30.
If you take the "L" train you will be on the Blue Line. I would get off at the Clark and Lake stop. From there you can walk about 1 block north and be at the north branch of the Chicago River. I would walk along the upper or lower part of the walk by the river and get a really good view of some of the Chicago architecture. Take this to Michigan Avenue and then head north (left) and walk a bit down what is called the "Magnificent Mile" past some nice stores, restaurants, etc. If you want to go up to the top of a tall building you could go up to the top of the John Hancock Building. There are some restaurants right across the street from the John Hancock Building at Water Tower Place. The Water Tower (a survivor of the great 1871 Chicago Fire) might be an interesting place to visit.
From there I would then proceed south either along Michigan Ave or a block or 2 east again seeing some different Chicago architecture. If you walk along the east side of Michigan Avenue be sure to take a look at the Tribune Tower along the Illinois Street side (north side of the tower) and the Michigan Avenue side and look at the various stones from various buildings and monuments from around the world (The Great Pyramids, Berlin Wall, various stones from various parts of the United States).
Recross the river heading south at either Michigan Avenue or a few block east on Columbus Drive and head over to Millennium Park. It is not as fun as during the summer months when there are many people and the glass wall fountains have kids playing there, but it is my favorite spot in all of downtown Chicago. Take a walk across the Serpentine Bridge which crosses Columbus Drive for an interesting view of Chicago. Take a quick walk through the Millennium Park gardens and do see the "Bean". It's actual name is Cloud Gate, but everybody knows it as the "Bean".
It then might be time to start heading back to O'Hare. You can catch the "L" Blue Line back to O'Hare 3 blocks west of Millennium Park at the corner of Monroe and Dearborn. From Millennium Park you can walk west on Monroe to Dearborn. If you have some additional time you might want to head into one of the buildings that looks interesting and take a look at some of the buildings interiors.
Do not head as far north as Wrigley Field (as xymmot calls it the other Cubs Park) It is not the other Cubs park it is "THE CUBS PARK". Also do not head as far south as Soldier Field. Although the ball parks are interesting you would only be able to see them from the outside. I would also not make a special trip to Navy Pier.
As far as food is concerned if you do order a Chicago Hot Dog (we don't call them Chidog) make sure you do not put ketchup on it. If you have a pizza you can order several different types. Thin crust is the most common around the world, the Chicago Deep Dish pizza is what it says cooked in a Deep Dish pan. You will only be able to eat a slice or two of this size, so do not order a large one. They will take about 30 minutes to cook. The other Chicago favorite is an Italian Beef sandwich.
Enjoy, and if you have any specific questions let me know. If you click on the Chicago Travel Guide link at the top of the page you will have a number of different things you can check out.
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.
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
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.
Hopefully like DABS said the end of May is after the NATO Summit meetings.
If it is then you should really enjoy Chicago. The weather has been strange this year in Chicago with May type weather in March. Hopefully the March weather won't invade May.
Besides all the information available here on VirtualTourist here is a website that I find a lot of information for visitors on restaurants, neighborhoods, etc. http://www.explorechicago.org
The Museum campus consists of the National History Museum, Planetarium and Aquarium. You can walk from one to another if you wanted to visit 2 of the 3 on any given day. My favorite Chicago museum has always been the Museum of Science and Industry. It is a little south of downtown in the Hyde Park Neighborhood where the University of Chicago is and near wear Bararck Obama has his Chicago home.
If you are into baseball Wrigley Field (you have to be careful that you call it that exact name when you are in Chicago) is the home of the Chicago Cubs and a great place to soak up the atmosphere of Chicago and its people.
I tell people coming to Chicago for the first time to try to take one of the boat tours. My favorite has always been the Sunset cruises on Lake Michigan where you get a great view of the city and when the lights start turning on it is truly magical. We also have great architectural boat tours on the Chicago River or you could do what we did with a VT group that came to Chicago last June and do a combined River and Lake tour.
Also walking up and down North Michigan Avenue is the equivalent of walking up and down the Champs Elysees in Paris. Along that stretch is also where the Chicago Water Tower is which is the survivor from the great 1871 Chicago Fire.
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
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 city
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).
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.
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