Seeing the city by boat really is worthwhile, and was a much more interesting experience than I had expected. You get some excellent architectural and shoreline views
On the recommendation of local Vt-er Riorich I took the Wendella cruise, which leaves from base of the Wrigley building, on the Chicago river where it meets N Michigan Avenue. I decided on the combined river + lake cruise, as I wanted to experience both lots of water.
I decided the 1030 am cruise might not be so full, though I was wrong. It didn't matter though: it's easy to see everything and easy to walk around the upper deck.
The cruise took 90 minutes, first going down the Chicago river into the city (we were lucky enough to see one of the bridges rising) before turning round and heading out into the lake. The guide was very good, offering lots of interesting snippets about the architecture. 26USD (about 16GBP) seemed a pretty reasonable price.
I particularly liked the fact that I didn't have to trek down to Navy Pier for this tour: the Wendella base is in easy walking distance of central Chicago. Access to the boat is fairly easy but does involve a few steps from the docking point.
Do take an extra layer or two of clothes: it's always colder on the water, and it was pretty windy once we got out onto the lake!
As well as looking at the architecture itself, keep your eyes open for small details.
Chicago has a reasonable number of older buildings in its centre, many of which have intricate twiddles and fiddles. And if you can get into the lobby (as you very often can) to have a look around, you may be amazed at what you see.
I'll be making tips about some specific buildings, but let's just say for now that you might come across a wealth of shimmering golden swirls, detailed Art Nouveau or Art Deco sculptures or fitments, walls covered in quotes, or a series of carved plaques telling the story of a famous Chicagoan....
So....remember to look for, and appreciate, the smaller details. :-)
I must admit that Chicago had more interesting architectural bits & pieces than I had expected.
I'm not much into modern architecture (by which i mean anything much later than 1800 or so!) but when there is no other choice I can amuse myself by looking at the twiddles and embellishments on buildings.
I especially liked the earlier 'skyscrapers' I saw along Michegan Avenue, some with faux-Gothic windows and turrets...but, oddly, I also liked the rather strange 'corn-cob' buildings of 'Marina City' on the Chicago river.
And I very much enjoyed taking photographs of buildings reflected in the glass of buildings. You can see some of my photos in my travelogue here
So...make sure you look up as you wander!
The Chicago CityPass is booklet of admission tickets designed to fit in a pocket – contains admission to Chicago’s most-visited attractions and landmarks at a 50% saving. Included in the booklet are the tickets with attraction information, transportation directions, a map and best times to visit. With a CityPass, you will not have to wait in queues at most of the attractions.
The attractions included are: -
1. Shedd Aquarium
2. SkyDeck Chicago
3. Field Museum
4. John Hancock Observatory or Museum of Science and Industry
5. Adler Planetarium or Art Institute of Chicago
Cost as of September 2012
Adult (Over 12): $84.00
Children (3-11): $69.00
CityPass booklets are valid for nine consecutive days beginning with the first day of use.
+1 (208) 787-4300
During a 4 day span in August, 2012 I spent 2 full days in Chicago. Now this may not seem like much for visitors or people who actually live and work in Chicago, but as someone from the suburbs of Chicago about 30 miles away this is unique.
The first day I was in town was on a Saturday for the annual Chicago Air and Water Show. The second day was 3 days later when VT member Leics was in town. On Saturday I drove my bike into town and did some biking along the lakeshore and on Tuesday I biked from my house to the train station in Naperville, took a 30 minute express train and then spent the day showing Leics some familiar and unfamiliar locations in Chicago.
As I started researching some things I had seen in Chicago that I had never seen before I came across this guide on the internet called the "Chicago Public Arts Guide" that is a very comprehensive 92 page guide that one can use to help interpret and find some very famous Chicago works of art and some art that is hidden away in various buildings or parts of Chicago that many visitors or locals never get to.
Here is the link to the guide that I am going to personally use on my next trip downtown.
In August, 2012 I attended the Chicago Air and Water Show for the second time in my life.
The 2 day (same show both days) show is held along the Lake Michigan shore of Chicago. The prime viewing spot is at North Avenue Beach just north of downtown Chicago, but just about anywhere a couple of miles on each side of the beach up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline is a great viewing area.
Be prepared for crowds as about 1 million people each day attend the event. If you want really good seats in the sand arrive early in the morning for the show that goes from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on the 3rd weekend of the month.
The first time I attended was back in the late 1990's with 2 of my 3 sons. On that day we arrived around 9:00 a.m. and dug our seats in the sand and hung out for the next 6 hours. This time I arrived at 9:30 a.m. with my bike in the car and actually pedaled a bit up and down the lakeshore and met up with a friend for the last couple of hours of the show.
The pictures will give you some idea of the crowds and a couple of the fast flying plane shots I was able to capture
Located on Navy Pier is the Smith Stained Glass Museum. The Smith contains a number of stained glass works salvaged from various locations around Chicago. It isn't your typical museum - the exhibits are just located along the halls of one of the exhibition halls on the pier. There is no admission fee and a careful viewing off all the works takes only about an hour. Featured among the works are a number of windows by Tiffany & Co. and Frank Lloyd Wright
Chicago's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, located on the Riverwalk between Wabash Avenue and State Street, is one of the largest in the nation outside of Washington, D.C. It features a fountain and a black granite block with the names of Illinois soldiers either killed or missing in action.
Also known as: Wabash Plaza
Construction completed: 2005
Designed by: Ross Barney & Jankowski Architects
I'm not a fan of passes as they often require cramming a lot into limited time frames to make them worthwhile, and a lot of that is stuff we really don't want to see. We did spring for this one as it was good for nine days, covered sightseeing of interest to us, and included entrance to some special exhibits plus "fast line" privileges. You may either purchase one in advance or at any of the attractions it lists.
To know if a pass is worth the price you need to do the math: look at the attractions it covers, go to the websites of those attractions that interest you, jot down the comparative entrance fees (i.e. fast pass entrance; museum +Omni theater, etc.) and then compare the total against the cost of the pass. CityPASS offers admission to a choice of five hot spots:
Skydeck and The Ledge
The Field Museum
John Hancock Observatory OR Museum of Science and Industry
Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago
Our five picks would have totaled $152 individually so the $76 (adult) passes saved us $76 apiece: 50% off non-pass entry fees PLUS gave us line-skipping privileges. Sweet! See the website for current prices, children's passes and purchase details.
There are tons of things to do in Chicago. Considering the weekend trip, you can enjoy the great nightlife as well.
Top Attractions in Chicago
Millennium Park - Metal Bean
Sky Deck at Willis Tower formerly known as Sear Tower
Field Museum of Natural History
During summer days you might want to take one of the boat tour or at least water-taxi from Chicago downtown to Navy Pier. That will take you through Chicago downtown's skyscraper buildings.
Chicago city also offers great nightlife and fine dining options. If you want to have few drinks at top notched bars then I would recommend you to visit Signature Lounge , located on 97th floor on John Hancock tower. Also, for sizzling Yuppi crowd you might want to check out the wit roof top. This place is great to chill.
You can get more information about things to do in Chicago at http://www.chicagovacationstoday.com
Pioneer Court is an open space which is the start of Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Located on the east side of North Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River and just south of the Tribune Tower.
The area of Pioneer Court is a nice open space where during the summer you may find some street musicians, possibly a social gathering and a place to look up the Magnificent Mile or down the Chicago River toward Lake Michigan.
It is also believed to be where Chicago's 1st Permanent Resident, Jean Baptiste Pont du Sable had his residence and trading post (see picture 2).
For the past couple of years it has also been the place for some very interesting sculpture. A few years ago the American Gothic Farm Couple (the one with the guy with the pitchfork) stood larger then life here. Since the summer of 2011 a little more controversial temporary sculpture of Marilyn Monroe (Playboy's First Centerfold - Hugh Hefner is from Chicago) in her wind blow skirt (it is the Windy City) have adorned the site.
I love street art: it's alternately amusing, startling, majestic, beautiful or just plain baffling but almost always engaging. From plazas to parks, Chicago has simply oodles of this stuff by artisans both famous (Henry Moore, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, etc.) and obscure, and from utilitarian to commemorative. Here are just a few of the works you may see:
"Four Seasons": Marc Chagall, 1974
Exelon Plaza at Dearborn and Monroe streets.
This is a favorite of mine! Thousands of colorful tesserae illustrate Chicago places and the turn of seasons both spiritual and physical.
"The Picasso": Pablo Picasso, 1967
Richard Daley Civic Center Plaza, 50 W Washington
Colossal and controversial
"Defense, Regeneration, The Pioneers and The Discoverers"
James Earle Fraser and and Henry Hering, 1928
Michigan Avenue Bridge/Chicago River
Four bridge houses illustrate early events in Chicago's story
"Cow", Nathan Mason, 2001
Chicago Cultural Center,
Corner of Washington Street and Michigan Ave.
A prime opportunity for the Stupid Tourist Photo Op. With time to kill before a walking tour, Goodfish cheerfully mounted the metal moo for one of those.
The URL below provides a printable guide to the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) works about town.
This is an interesting Romanesque-style Roman Catholic church; particularly so because it's one of the few structures to partially survive the Great Fire of 1871. Located in Old Town - on the city's north side - it was established by German immigrants and the 200-ft. spire was the tallest in Chicago until 1885. Stepping through the doors of the sturdy, red-brick exterior, you're immediately transported into an airy world glimmering with gold, silver and delicate pastels, and illuminated by jewel-toned windows. Five ornately hand-carved and painted altars serve the devotions of St. Mike's faithful under a gracefully arching ceiling supported by slender, gilt-embellished columns: lovely. This is a highly recommended stop for visitors of any faith during a tour of the historic Old Town neighborhood.
See the website for hours, masses and musical programs by the church's choirs and guest musicians. The church is free but donations are gratefully accepted.
Special note: a family of peregrine falcons has been nesting for years behind the statue of St. Michael over the front doors so keep an eye out for the icon's feathered friends!
Dating from 1875, this is the church of the Archbishop of Chicago and another Gothic design. Unlike Fourth Presbyterian (see previous tip) the exterior is fairly plain but the interior boasts an equally impressive ceiling, elaborate organ and all sorts of interesting accoutrements. Notable are the bronze entry doors and contemporary shrine, and pretty rose window. See the website for hours and services.
This MetrowalkZ guide can be picked up for free from visitor services in the Cultural Center and Chicago Water Works, and maps out eight fun walks through various parts of the city. They are easy to follow and provide some background about the magnificent architecture, fountains, churches and historic landmarks you'll see along the way. We took several of the routes in the guide and were happy we had it in hand to fill us in on the good stuff. I'll cover some of the best of that stuff in separate tips but here are a few tidbits from our rambles:
Carbide and Carbon Building: incredible 1929 Art Deco gem of black granite and marble, rich green terra-cotta, and lavished with brilliant gold-leaf trim. Now the Hard Rock Hotel, this is probably my favorite piece of architecture in Chicago.
The Rookery: stunning light-filled atrium with a fascinating floating stairway and beautiful white marble, gold-scrolled embellishes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright - who officed there around the turn of the century. This is a must for anyone with an interest in architecture.
Harold Washington Library: postmodern structure of nebulous design that people seem to either love or hate, it has enormous and very interesting roof ornamentation symbolic of wisdom and knowledge (owls).
Marina City: early 1960's twin towers that were the tallest residential buildings in the world at time of construction. They were designed to be self-contained communities with shops, offices, entertainment facilities, elevated parking and, yes, a marina on the river level.
You may also download the walks (printed or mobile) from the website below before you go. Downloadable tours include three not included in the pamphlet and cost $2.99 for PDFs of all eleven but are free for mobile devices.
The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago is an absolutely wonderful hotel! Every detail is thought through and...more
Had a great time at the Monaco. We've stayed at the SF version and it was pretty much the same...more
Most visitors to Chicago will want to stay near the Magnificent Mile/River North area in Chicago....more
The quintessential American city, Chicago offers world-class culture with zero attitude. You'll see Chicago at its best if you visit during the summer or fall. Summer offers a nonstop selection...