I just got back from a very delightful trip to Chicago, and I thought I'd share the sights and activities that I enjoyed the most during my week's stay there.
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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. It 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 Midwest 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.
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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 décor 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; 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 runs 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.
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Browse an extensive collection of art
The Art Institute of Chicago houses a huge number 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 – 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.
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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. Chicago bars offer a large selection of beers, both international and local. Recommended brews are the local Blue Moon and Goose Island wheat beers.
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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.
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