Chicago – the Windy City – Chicago, USA

Chicago – Walking the Windy City
Chicago, USA

Michigan Avenue Walk
Chicago sits on the south-western shores of Lake Michigan but it might as well be the ocean, as it stretches as far as the eye can see with no glimpse of land on the horizon. The main street – Michigan Avenue – runs the length of the city and is dissected by the Chicago River splitting the city into North and South. North Michigan Avenue is better known as the Magnificent Mile, the city’s main shopping district, but if you can tear yourself away from the shop windows you will discover most of the city’s famous landmarks.

Chicago View
Chicago View
Begin your walk at the top of North Michigan Avenue at either the Drake Hotel or Bloomingdale’s. The first landmark you will pass is the John Hancock Tower, the second highest building in Chicago before coming to the historic water tower and pumping station that resembles a medieval castle and one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1871. Halfway down the avenue is Garrett’s popcorn store which has been around since 1949 and where ordering a bag of cheese and caramel popcorn mixed together is extremely popular. The gothic Tribune Tower where the city’s newspaper is published has 150 pieces of stones from historic landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle, the Taj Mahal and The Great Wall of China set into its walls. Opposite the Tribune on the river bank is the equally impressive Wrigley Building, headquarters of the Wrigley Chewing Gum company. As you cross Michigan Avenue Bridge take a moment to enjoy the views up and down the river before continuing on your way.

With North Michigan Avenue having such a grand alias, you might think South Michigan Avenue not worth exploring but in fact the whole street is truly magnificent. With the mix of old and new skyscrapers behind you the architecture becomes quite different and it is not difficult to imagine the city in the days of Al Capone as you walk thirteen blocks of pre 1930’s architecture all with uninterrupted views across Grant Park to the lake. Walk back through Grant Park, home to many festivals throughout the summer as well as the famous Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world.

Navy Pier and Chicago River Walk
Navy Pier is the city’s most visited attraction, jutting out into the lake with its 150 ft Ferris Wheel, as much a landmark as the skyscrapers that tower above it. There is an old-fashioned fairground atmosphere as you walk to the end of the pier lined with boats waiting to take you on trips of the lake and the river. Inside you will find an IMAX theatre, restaurants, a food mall and gift shops and from here it is easy to find the mouth of the Chicago River before it disappears amongst the skyscrapers.

Chicago Sculptures
Chicago Sculptures
Following the river upstream offers a different perspective of the city, especially when a flotilla of yachts sail past, causing all traffic to stop and the wide wrought iron bridges to split in two creating a Mexican wave affect all the way down the river. Tall boats have the right of way in Chicago and the yachts’ crews must feel like royalty as the city grinds to a halt and watches them silently pass by.

The path along the river is not continuous and is a good opportunity to vary your walk by crossing back and forth over the Mechano-like bridges following Wacker Drive along the South Branch of the river. You will get a chance to see the city’s elevated train system (the El) and after passing 14 of the city’s bridges you will arrive at the Sears Tower – Chicago’s tallest building. From here it is worth visiting the Marshall Field’s department store, built in 1852, on State Street and enjoy lunch in the stunning but unpretentious Walnut Room.

Lake Michigan South Shore Walk

Chicagoland Rising High!
Chicagoland Rising High!
Standing on Oak Street Beach, a small sandy beach at the end of North Michigan Avenue is a pretty bizarre feeling. In front of you there is nothing but water and immediately behind you looming skyscrapers, giving a feeling that you are on the edge of the world. There is a jogging, cycling and pedestrian footpath that follows the shoreline and if you take it southwards you will pass Navy Pier, yacht clubs and eventually come parallel with Grant Park.

At the end of the park you will arrive at the Museum Campus and three beautiful pre 1930’s buildings – the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and the Alder Planetarium & Astronomy Museum. Even if you don’t want to visit the Planetarium it is worth the extra walk for the views of the city across Chicago Harbour. Also here is Soldier Field – home to the Chicago Bears, although it looks more like a space ship has landed on the Coliseum rather than a football stadium.

Lake Michigan North Shore Walk

Back at Oak Street Beach but this time heading in the opposite direction will take you along a beautiful shore line past North Avenue Beach until you reach the Theatre on the Lake. You can join the cyclists and hire bikes from the Boat House, shaped like an old steamer ship, or take your shoes off and get sand between your toes. It is easy to forget you are in a metropolis and it is worth stopping now and then to look back as the views just keep getting better and better. Even from this distance Michigan Avenue still holds your attention as it divides the skyscrapers in half, creating a canyon through the city.

Upon reaching the small theatre cross under the highway and enter one of the city’s other parks – Lincoln Park. Located in the centre is Lincoln Park Zoo which is free to the public and well worth walking through. On the other side lies a boating pond, baseball pitches and picnic grounds. A pedestrian bridge crosses the highway and will take you back along the shoreline or alternatively follow North Lake Shore Drive past the doorways of some exclusive and expensive condominiums before arriving back at Oak Street, the designer shopping street and North Michigan Avenue.

The wind, blowing off the lake, will have cleared away your cobwebs and you will have seen Chicago’s skyline from every possible angle – well almost! Take the elevator up to the 96th floor of the John Hancock Tower where you will find the Signature Room. Its décor may be bit tired and will be crammed full of tourists but the views are unbeatable and it is well worth staying for a cold beer or cocktail. The bar covers almost an entire floor providing a memorable bird’s eye view of everywhere you have walked. It is the perfect place to put your feet up and toast the beautiful city of Chicago.

Note: Allow half a day for each of the above four walks.

Getting there
British Airways flies direct to Chicago O’Hare

Where to stay
Four Seasons Hotel, 120 E. Delaware Place/North Michigan Avenue – Suite x has great views down N. Michigan Avenue and Oak Street Beach.

Upmarket/trendy – n9ne Steakhouse, 440 W. Randolph Street
Chicago style pizza – Pizzeria Uno & Due (established in 1943)
Lunch – Walnut Room, 7th Floor Marshall Field’s department store
Steak Restaurant and Upmarket Sports & Cigar Bar – Mike Ditka’s (famous coach of Chicago Bears), 100 East Chestnut Street
Steak/Fish – Gibsons, 1028 North Rush Street (corner of Bellevue and Rush)
French Bistro – 101 Bistro, 110 East Pearson Street

Bars in Four Seasons and Penninsula Hotel serve great cocktails

Blues – Buddy Guy’s Legends, 754 S. Wabash Street

Architectural River Tour and Lakefront Speedboat Tours – departing from Navy Pier

Chicago Trolley Company – hop on hop off downtown tour

Untouchables Tour – tour of the haunts of Capone and other mobsters

Bike Hire
Bike Chicago – Navy Pier and beginning of North Avenue Beach