Chicago is the hub of the Midwest and America's third biggest city. It contains world-class museums, architecture, theatre, and parks as well as classic American blues, jazz, comedy, nightlife, and charm. Lake Michigan only enhances the beauty of the city while providing it with miles of beach.
Dress warm in the winter, and prepare to cover a lot of ground: the meaning of Chicago is only found in movement, through subways and archaic elevated tracks, in the pride of tired feet and eyes raised once more to the sky.
Many visitors never make it past the attractions downtown, but you haven't truly seen Chicago until you have ventured out into the neighborhoods. Chicagoans understand their city by splitting it into large "sides" to the north, west, and south of the central business district (the Loop). Chicagoans also tend to identify strongly with their neighborhood, reflecting real differences in culture and place throughout the city. Rivalries between the North and South Sides run particularly deep, while people from the West Side are free agents in critical issues like baseball loyalty.
Chicago was known as a fine place to find a wild onion if you were a member of the Potawatomi tribe, who lived in this area of Illinois before European settlers arrived. It was mostly swamps, prairie and mud long past the establishment of Fort Dearborn in 1803 and incorporation as a town in 1833. It could be argued that nature never intended for there to be a city here; brutal winters aside, it took civil engineering projects of unprecedented scale to establish working sewers, reverse the flow of the river to keep it out of the city's drinking supply, and stop buildings from sinking back into the swamps — and that was just the first few decades.
By 1871, the reckless growth of the city was a sight to behold, full of noise, Gothic lunacy, and bustling commerce. But on October 8th, Mrs. O'Leary's cow reportedly knocked over a lantern in the crowded immigrant quarters in the West Side, and the Great Chicago Fire began. It quickly spread through the dry prairie, killing 300 and destroying virtually the entire city. The stone Water Tower in the Near North is the most famous surviving structure. But the city seized this destruction as an opportunity to rebuild bigger than before, giving canvas for several architects and urban planners who would go on to become legends of modern architecture.
At the pinnacle of its rebirth and the height of its newfound powers, Chicago was known as The White City. Cultures from around the world were summoned to the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition, to bear witness to the work of Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and the future itself. Cream of Wheat, soft drinks, street lights and safe electricity, the fax machine, and the Ferris Wheel bespoke the colossus now resident on the shores of Lake Michigan.
As every road had once led to Rome, every train led to Chicago. Carl Sandburg called Chicago the Hog Butcher for the World for its cattle stockyards and place on the nation's dinner plate. Sandburg also called it the City of the Big Shoulders, noting the tall buildings in the birthplace of the skyscraper — and the city's "lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning." But Chicago is a city in no short supply of nicknames. Fred Fisher's 1922 song (best known in Frank Sinatra's rendition) calls it That Toddlin' Town, where "on State Street, that great street, they do things they don't do on Broadway." It's also referenced by countless blues standards like Sweet Home Chicago.
Chicago is also known as The Second City, which refers to its rebuilding after the fire — the current city is literally the second Chicago, after the one that disappeared in 1871. The moniker has stuck, in no small part due to its popular association with the city's long-held former position as the United States' second largest city. And many know the nickname from Chicago's great comedy theater in Old Town.
Chicago's history with corruption is legendary. During the Prohibition era, Chicago's criminal world, emblemized by names like Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and later Sam Giancana, practically ran the city. The local political world had scarcely more legitimacy in a town where voter turnout was highest among the dead and their pets, and precinct captains spread the word to "vote early, vote often." Even Sandburg acknowledged the relentless current of vice than ran under the surface of the optimistic city.
Today, Chicago is known as The Windy City. Walking around town, you might suspect that Chicago got this nickname from the winds off Lake Michigan, which shove through the downtown corridors with intense force. But the true origin of the saying comes from politics. Some say it may have been coined by rivals like Cincinnati and New York as a derogatory reference to the Chicagoan habit of rabid boosterism and endless political conventions. Others say that the term originated from the fact that Chicago politicians change their minds as "often as the wind."
Finally, the city is known as the The City That Works, as promoted by current Mayor Richard M. Daley, which refers to Chicago's labor tradition and the long hours worked by its residents, its willingness to tackle grand civic projects and to make fortunes for a lucky few. Daley and his father, former Mayor Richard J. Daley, have ruled the city for decades in what can only be described as a benevolent dictatorship. The Daleys kept Chicago pre-eminent through decades when other Midwestern manufacturing cities went into decline, transforming it from a city of stockyards and factories to a financial giant at the forefront of modern urban design. It's not democracy, but it has worked pretty well for most (and not as well for a few others).
While the city has many great attractions downtown, most Chicagoans live and play outside of the central business district. To understand Chicago, travelers must venture away from the Loop and Michigan Avenue and out into the vibrant neighborhoods, to soak up the local nightlife, sample the wide range of fantastic dining, and see the sights Chicagoans care about most — thanks to the city's massive public transit system, every part of Chicago is only slightly off the most beaten path.
Residents of Chicago are known for their fierce championing of the city. If from another major world city, like Tokyo or Moscow, don't mention it. Chicago's defenders will berate the many failings of your city compared with Chicago. This is especially true for New Yorkers, who give Chicago's people deep feelings of inadequacy.
Weather is definitely not one of the attractions in Chicago. There's a good time to be had in any season, but it is a place where the climate has to be taken into consideration.
Obscured by Chicago's ferocious winters are the heat waves of summer. Many days in July and August are disgustingly hot and humid. Summer nights are more reasonable, though, and you'll get a few degrees' respite along the lakefront — in the local parlance, that's "cooler by the lake."
But then there are those winters. The months from December to March will see very cold temperatures, with even more bitter wind chill factors. Snow is usually limited to a handful of heavy storms per season, with a few light dustings in-between. (And a little more along the lakefront — again in the local parlance, that's "lake effect snow".) Ice storms are also a risk. It's a city that's well-accustomed to these winters, though, so city services and public transportation are highly unlikely to shut down.
That said, Chicago does have a few nice months of weather. May and September are pleasant and mild; April and June are mostly fine, although thunderstorms with heavy winds can also occur suddenly. Although there may be a chill in the air in October, it rarely calls for more than a light coat. The lake effect may prolong a pleasant autumn through October, and sometimes into November.
Chicago literature found its roots in the city's tradition of lucid, direct journalism, lending to a strong tradition of social realism. Consequently, most notable Chicago fiction focuses on the city itself, with social criticism keeping exultation in check. Here is a selection of Chicago's most famous works about itself:
Chicago is America's third most prolific movie industry and a host of very Chicago-centric movies have been produced here. These are just a few:
Others include Harrison Ford vs. the one-armed man in The Fugitive, the CTA vs. true love in While You Were Sleeping, and the greatest Patrick Swayze hillbilly ninja vs. Italian mob film of all time, Next of Kin.
Smoking is prohibited by state law at all restaurants, bars, nightclubs, workplaces, and public buildings. It's also banned within fifteen feet of any entrance, window, or exit to a public place, and at CTA train stations. The fine for violating the ban can range from $100 to $250.
Chicago's visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists.
Chicago (IATA: CHI for all airports) is served by two major airports: O'Hare International Airport  and Midway Airport . There are plenty of taxis both to and from the city center, but they are quite expensive, especially during rush hours. Expect upwards of $40 for O'Hare and $30 for Midway. CTA trains provide direct service to both larger airports for $2.25 from anywhere in the city — faster than a taxi during rush hour and a lot less expensive.
Many large hotels offer complimentary shuttle vans to one or both airports, or can arrange one for a charge ($15-25) with advance notice.
O'Hare International Airport (IATA: ORD, ICAO: KORD) is 17 miles northwest of downtown and serves many international and domestic carriers. United Airlines  has the largest presence here (about 50%) followed by American Airlines  with about 40%. Most connecting flights for smaller cities in the Midwest run through O'Hare. It's one of the biggest airports in the world, and it has always been notorious for delays and cancellations. Unfortunately, it's too far northwest for most travelers who get stuck overnight to head into the city. As a result, there are plenty of hotels in the O'Hare area. See the O'Hare article for listings.
The CTA Blue Line runs between the Loop and O'Hare in 45-60 sluggish minutes. On weekends, the Blue Line is usually getting some overdue repair work — this means you will have to take a (free) shuttle bus between stations, which can add even more time to the trip. If you've got a plane to catch, allow extra time.
Midway International Airport (IATA: MDW, ICAO: KMDW) is 10 miles southwest of downtown. Southwest Airlines  is the largest carrier here, followed by AirTran . If it's an option for your trip, Midway is more compact, less crowded, has fewer delays, and usually cheaper. And, of course, it's significantly closer to downtown.
The CTA Orange Line train runs between the Loop and Midway in around 25 minutes. There are a number of hotels clustered around Midway, too — see the Southwest Side article for listings.
Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport  (IATA: MKE, ICAO: KMKE) is served by 7 Amtrak trains per day (6 on Sunday), and the Hiawatha Service has a 95% on-time rating. The trip from Chicago Union Station to Mitchell Airport Station is about one hour and 15 minutes. There are also buses from Mitchell Airport to Chicago OHare Airport.
²Train. AAA, ISIC, SA, Senior (walk-up) discounts: Milwaukee $18, Minneapolis from $47. ³Tickets must be purchased via internet or telephone($3 fee).
Chicago is historically the rail hub of the entire United States. Today, Amtrak , ☎ +1 800 872-7245, uses the magisterial Union Station (Canal St and Jackson Blvd) as the hub of its Midwestern routes, making Chicago one of the most convenient U.S. cities to visit by train, serving the majority of the passenger rail company's long-distance routes, with options from virtually every major US city. With its massive main hall, venerable history, and cinematic steps, Union Station is worth a visit even if you're not coming in by train.
Most (but not all) Metra suburban trains run from Union Station and nearby Ogilvie/Northwestern Station (Canal St and Madison St), which are west of the Loop. Some southern lines run from stations on the east side of the Loop. The suburban trains run as far as Kenosha, Aurora, and Joliet, while the South Shore line runs through Indiana as far as South Bend. Several CTA buses converge upon the two stations, and the Loop CTA trains are within walking distance.
Chicagoans have a maddening habit of referring to some expressways by their names, not the numbers used to identify them on the signs you'll see posted on the U.S. interstate highway system, so you'll have to commit both name and number to memory. I-55 (the Stevenson Expressway) will take you directly from St. Louis into downtown Chicago. I-90/94 (The Dan Ryan) comes in from Indiana to the east (via the Chicago Skyway and Bishop Ford Freeway) and from central Illinois (via I-57). I-90 (The Kennedy) comes in from Madison to the northwest. I-94 (the Edens Expressway) comes in from Milwaukee to the north, but recent roadwork has slowed traffic considerably compared to I-90. I-80 will get you to the city from Iowa which neighbors Illinois to the west.
If arriving downtown from Indiana, from the south on I-94 or I-90, or from the north, Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Highway 41) provides a scenic introduction in both directions, day or night. If arriving on I-55 from the southwest, or on I-290 (the Eisenhower Expressway, formerly and sometimes still called The Congress Expressway) from the west, the skyline may also be visible from certain clear spots, but without the shore view. It should also be noted that I-55 from the southwest and I-90 through much of northwest Indiana are chock full of heavy industries with odors that'll knock your socks off, so plan your route downtown wisely.
Navigating Chicago is easy. Block numbers are consistent across the whole city. Standard blocks, of 100 addresses each, are roughly 1/8th of a mile long. (Hence, a mile is equivalent to a street number difference of 800.) Each street is assigned a number based on its distance from the zero point of the address system, the intersection of State Street and Madison Street. A street with a W (west) or E (east) number runs north-south, while a street with a N (north) or S (south) number runs east-west. A street's number is usually written on street signs at intersections, below the street name. Major thoroughfares are at each mile (multiples of 800) and secondary arteries at the half-mile marks. Thus, Western Ave at 2400 W is a north-south major thoroughfare, while Montrose Ave at 4400 N is an east-west secondary artery.
In general, "avenues" run north-south and "streets" run east-west, but there are numerous exceptions. (e.g., 48th Street may then be followed by 48th Place). In conversation, however, Chicagoans rarely distinguish between streets, avenues, boulevards, etc.
Several streets follow diagonal or meandering paths through the city such as Clark St, Lincoln Ave, Broadway, Milwaukee Ave, Ogden Ave, Archer Ave, Vincennes Ave, and South Chicago Ave.
By public transit
The best way to see Chicago is by public transit. It is cheap (basically), efficient (at times), and safe (for the most part). The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)  oversees the various public transit agencies in the Chicagoland area. You can plan trips online with the RTA trip planner  or get assistance by calling 836-7000 in any local area code between 5AM-1AM. The RTA also has an official partnership with Google Maps, which can provide routes with public transit.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)  operates trains and buses in the city of Chicago and some of the suburbs. Put simply, the CTA is Chicago. It is a marvel and a beast, convenient, frustrating, and irreplaceable. Even if you have the option of driving while you're in town, no experience of Chicago is complete without a trip on the CTA.
Fares are paid with transit cards, which can be purchased and re-filled at kiosks in the lobby of every CTA station. All accept cash, and some accept credit cards. Many locals use the Chicago Card, which cannot be purchased at stations, but can be ordered online  and also purchased at grocery stores and currency exchanges. Visitor passes are sold for unlimited travel on the CTA and Pace: 1-Day (24 hours) for $5.75; 3-Days for $14; 7-Days for $23 and 30-Days for $86. These passes are on sale at certain train stations (notably, the O'Hare Blue Line station), currency exchanges and some convenience stores, and online . Transit cards for single rides or larger increments can also be purchased online.
Train rides of any length, from one side of the city to another or just one stop, cost $2.25. At certain stations, you can transfer to other train lines at no extra cost. Once you have exited the turnstiles, entering another CTA station or boarding a CTA bus costs $0.25 — and doing it a third time is free, provided it's still within two hours of when you started the trip.
Locals refer to Chicago's public train system as the "L". (Most lines run on el-evated tracks — get it?) All train lines radiate from the Loop to every corner of the city. The "Loop" name originally referred to a surface-level streetcar loop, which pre-dated the elevated tracks; that any form of transportation preceded the present one may come as a surprise, given how old some of the stations look. But they work.
CTA train lines are divided by colors: Red, Green, Brown, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Orange and Pink. All lines lead to the Loop except the Yellow Line, which is a nonstop shuttle between the suburb of Skokie and the northern border of Chicago. The Red and Blue lines run 24/7, making Chicago one of only two American cities with 24-hour rail service. Hours for the other lines vary somewhat by day, but as a general rule are from about 4:30AM-12:40AM, slightly later on weekends.
Before you travel, find out the name of the train stop closest to your destination, and the color of the train line on which it is located. Once you're on-board, you'll find route maps in each train car, above the door. The same map is also available online . The name signs on platforms often have the station's location in the street grid, e.g. "5900 N, 1200 W" for Thorndale.
There should be an attendant on duty at every train station. They can't provide change or deal with money, but they can help you figure out where you need to go and guide you through using the machines.
Buses run on nearly every major street in the city. Look for the blue and white sign, which should give a map of the route taken by the bus and major streets/stops along the way. Once inside, watch the front of the bus — a red LED display will list the names of the streets as they pass, making it easy to stop exactly where you'd like, even if it's a small side-street. To request a stop, pull the cord hanging above the window and make sure you hear an audible 'ding'. Hollering at the bus driver will raise tempers but works in a pinch.
Rides of any length cost $2 with a transit card or Chicago Card, and $2.25 in cash. Major bus routes run 7-15 minutes apart during daylight hours, depending on the route. Less-traveled routes or routes during off-peak hours may run less frequently. Check the sign to be sure the bus is still running. There are several bus routes that are on a 24 hour/7 day a week schedule — these are called OWL routes, and the signs usually have an owl to belabor that point. (See individual district articles for major bus routes through different parts of the city.)
If you have a web-enabled mobile device, the CTA runs a little godsend called the CTA Bus Tracker , which uses GPS to provide reliable, real-time tracking information for almost all bus routes. If your mobile phone doesn't have internet service, you can use CTA By Text  to receive bus arrival times via text message.
CTA buses accept transit cards but do not sell them. They also accept cash, but do not provide change. If you overpay, the CTA keeps the extra cash, so carry exact change if possible.
In compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, all CTA buses and some train stations are accessible to wheelchairs. Wheelchair-accessible 'L' stations are indicated by the international wheelchair symbol and have elevators or are at ground level. If you are trying to get to a place with a non-accessible station, there will be alternate routes by bus — contact the CTA for more information.
Crime on the CTA is low, but as with any major urban area, travelers should be aware of their surroundings when traveling in the wee hours of the night, and sit close to the driver if you feel uncomfortable for any reason. Buses are being equipped with video cameras as the fleet is upgraded. Some train cars have a button and speaker for emergency communication with the driver, located in the center aisle of the car on the wall next to the door. Do not press this just to chat — the driver is required to halt the train until the situation has been confirmed as resolved, and your fellow passengers will be unamused.
Metra and South Shore
Metra , ☎ +1 312 322-6777, runs commuter trains for the suburbs, providing service within Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, out west, and to the South Shore railroad, which provides service to South Bend, Indiana. Metra trains are fast, clean, and punctual, but unpleasantly crowded during rush hour. Generally, every car or every other car on the train has a bathroom.
Metra's Electric Line provides service to the convention center (McCormick Place), Hyde Park (Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago), and the Far Southeast Side's Pullman Historic District and Rainbow Beach. The Electric Line is fast, taking at most 15 minutes to reach Hyde Park from the Loop. Unfortunately, service outside of rush hours is infrequent (about once/hour), so be sure to check the schedules while planning your trip.
Although there are plans to change this in the future, none of the commuter trains currently accept CTA transit cards as payment. The fare to McCormick Place and Hyde Park, however, is only $2. Buy your tickets before boarding the train at a window or one of the automated vending machines. You can buy a ticket on the train, but that comes with an extra $2/ticket surcharge.
Ten-ride, weekly, and monthly passes are available. If you have a group of four or more people, it may be cheaper to purchase a ten-ride card and have all of your fares punched from that one card. If using Metra on Saturday and/or Sunday, you can purchase an unlimited ride weekend pass for just $7. Keep in mind that Metra only accepts cash at this time.
Pace  runs buses in the suburbs, although some routes do cross into the city, particularly in Rogers Park at the Howard (Red/Purple/Yellow Line) CTA station and the Far Northwest Side at the Jefferson Park (Blue Line) CTA station. Pace provides paratransit services should you need to go somewhere inconvenient via CTA.
Avoid driving in downtown Chicago if at all possible. Traffic is awful, pedestrians are constantly wandering into the street out of turn, and garages in the Loop can cost as much as $40 per day. And although downtown streets are laid out on the grid, many have multiple levels which confuse even the most hardened city driver. Even outside of the city center, street parking may not be readily available. If you do find a spot, check street signs to make sure that a) no residential permit is required to park here and b) parking is not disallowed during certain hours for "street cleaning", rush hour or something along those lines. Parking restrictions are swiftly and mercilessly enforced in the form of tickets and towing — be especially wary during snowy weather.
Parking meters are mixed between old coin-op meters and newer one-per-block kiosks, which will issue a slip for you to put in your front window.
Be advised: talking on a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal in Chicago, and the police are eager to write tickets for it. If you need to take a call, use a hands-free headset — or better yet, pull over.
The perpetual construction is bad enough, but drivers on the city expressways can be very aggressive. For those used to driving on expressways in the Northeast, this may be a welcome reminder of home. For everyone else, though, it can be intimidating.
Outside of the downtown, North Side, Near West and Near South neighborhoods, you will likely have greater difficulty hailing a taxi directly from the street. In these situations, you can easily call for a taxi to come pick you up. Taxis typically take less than 10 minutes from the time you call to arrive. The principal Chicago taxi companies are:
The above applies only to City of Chicago taxis. Suburban-based taxi cabs have their own fares and rates, depending on the laws and regulations of the town in which they are based.
Chicago has a bike path along the shores of Lake Michigan, making north-south travel very convenient if you're far enough east, as long as the weather is favorable by the lake. Most major city streets have bike lanes, and the biking culture is established enough that cars tend to accommodate and (grudgingly) yield to bicycles. Bike trips can also be combined with rides on the CTA. See the bicycling section below for more details.
By water taxi
In the summer, water taxis are sometimes more convenient than the CTA, if you are traveling around the fringes of downtown. They are also a relatively cheap way to take in some offshore views!
Two private companies operate water taxi services around the Loop. Chicago Water Taxi (Wendella Boats)  ☎ +1 312 337-1446, uses yellow boats and has three stops (Michigan Ave, LaSalle/Clark, Madison St), plus Chinatown on weekends ($2, $4 Chinatown/all day pass). Taxis run roughly M-F 6:30AM-6:30PM, Sa-Su 10:30AM-6:30PM.
Shoreline Sightseeing  ☎ +1 312 222-9328, has blue and white boats. It is more expensive ($5-7), but it serves seven destinations including some on Lake Michigan (Union Station/Sears Tower, Wells & Wacker, Michigan Ave Bridge, Navy Pier-Ogden Slip, Navy Pier-Dock St, Buckingham Fountain, and Museum Campus). Shoreline taxis run 10AM-6PM every twenty minutes and 6PM-9PM every half hour Memorial Day–Labor Day, with occasional and less frequent service in the spring and fall.
Chicago's set of museums and cultural institutions are among the best in the world. Three of them are located within a short walk of each other in the Near South, on what is known as the Museum Campus, in a beautiful spot along the lake: the Adler Planetarium, with all sorts of cool hands-on space exhibits and astronomy shows; the Field Museum of Natural History, which features "Sue," the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and a plethora of Egyptian treasures; and the Shedd Aquarium, with dolphins, whales, sharks, and the best collection of marine life east of California. A short distance away, in Hyde Park, is the most fun of them all, the Museum of Science and Industry — or, as generations of Chicago-area grammar school students know it, the best field trip ever.
In the Loop, the Art Institute of Chicago has a handful of iconic household names among an unrivaled collection of Impressionism, modern and classical art, and tons of historical artifacts. And in Lincoln Park, a short trip from the Loop, the cheerful (and free) Lincoln Park Zoo welcomes visitors every day of the week, with highlights including the brand-new Great Ape House.
Those are the most famous ones, but Chicago has some knockout small museums scattered throughout the city like the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, The Polish Museum of America (purportedly haunted by the once famous pianist Paderewski) in Wicker Park, and the Museum of Photography in the Loop. The University of Chicago, in Hyde Park, has several cool (and free) museums that are open to all visitors, including a spectacular collection of antiquities.
Discount packages like the CityPass  and the Go Chicago Card  can be purchased before you arrive in town. They cover admission to some museums and other tourist attractions, allowing you to cut to the front of lines, and may include discounts for restaurants and shopping.
From the sternly classical to the space-age, from the Gothic to the coolly modern, Chicago is a place with an embarrassment of architectural riches, where the past meets the future. Modern architecture was born here. Frank Lloyd Wright fans will swoon to see his earliest buildings in Chicago, where he began his professional career and established the Prairie School architectural style, with numerous homes in Hyde Park/Kenwood, Oak Park, and Rogers Park — over 100 buildings in the Chicago metropolitan area! He learned his craft at the foot of the lieber meister, Louis Sullivan, whose ornate, awe-inspiring designs were once the jewels of the Loop, and whose few surviving buildings (Auditorium Theater, Carson Pirie Scott Building, one in the Ukrainian Village) still stand apart.
The 1871 Chicago Fire forced the city to rebuild. The ingenuity and ambition of Sullivan, his teacher William Le Baron Jenney (Manhattan Building), and contemporaries like Burnham & Root (Monadnock, Rookery) and Holabird & Roche/Root (Chicago Board of Trade) made Chicago the definitive city of their era. The world's first skyscrapers were built in the Loop as those architects received ever more demanding commissions. Later, Mies van der Rohe would adapt Sullivan's ethos with landmark buildings in Bronzeville (Illinois Institute of Technology) and the Loop (Chicago Federal Center). Unfortunately, Chicago's world-class architectural heritage is almost evenly matched by the world-class recklessness with which the city has treated it, and the list is long of masterpieces that have been needlessly demolished for bland new structures.
Chicago is particularly noted for its vast array of sacred architecture, as diverse theologically as it is artistically. Numerous masterworks such as the church of St. Mary of the Angels or St. Hyacinth Basilica amaze visitors every year. Of particular note are the city's so-called "Polish Cathedrals", beautifully crafted buildings with old world flourishes recognized for their unusually large size and and impressive scope. There were more than two thousand churches in Chicago at the opening of the twenty-first century, and motorists traveling on Chicago expressways note the skyline of steeples, perched atop buildings designed expressly for the purpose of religious worship.
Architectural tours cover the landmarks on foot and by popular river boat tours, or by just standing awestruck on a downtown bridge over the Chicago River; see individual district articles for details. For a tour on the cheap, the short trip around the elevated Loop train circuit (Brown/Purple Lines) may be worth every penny of the $2 fare.
Chicago is also the birthplace of the skyscraper. It was here that steel-frame construction was invented, allowing buildings to rise above the limits of load-bearing walls. Naturally, competition with New York was fierce, but in the end, Chicago built them taller. Chicago boasts three out of America's tallest five buildings: the Sears Tower (1st), the Trump Tower (2nd), and the Aon Center (5th) (although the local favorite is actually #6: the John Hancock Center). For years, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world, but it's since lost the title. Various developers insist they're bringing the title back. Until they do, though, the Sears Tower will have to settle for being the tallest building in North America, although the Hancock is not much shorter, is better located for tourists, has a better view, and is quite frankly better-looking.
Chicago's African-American history begins with the city's African-American founder, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable. Born to a Haitian slave and a French pirate, he married a woman from the Potawatomi tribe, and built a house and trading post on the Chicago River on the spot of today's Pioneer Court (the square just south of the Tribune Tower in the Near North). Du Sable lived on the Chicago River with his family from the 1770s to 1800, when he sold his house to John Kinzie, whose family and friends would later claim to have founded the city.
Relative to other northern cities, African-Americans constituted a fairly large part of Chicago's early population because of Illinois' more tolerant culture, which was inherited from fervent anti-slavery Mormon settlers. As a non-slave state generally lacking official segregation laws, Illinois was an attractive place to live for black freedmen and fugitive slaves.
By the 1920s, Chicago had a thriving middle class African-American community based in the Bronzeville neighborhood, which at the time became known as "The Black Metropolis," home to a cultural renaissance comparable to the better-known Harlem Renaissance of New York. African-American literature of the time was represented by local poetess Gwendolyn Brooks and novelist Richard Wright, most famous for his Native Son, nearly all of which takes place in Chicago's Bronzeville and Hyde Park/Kenwood. The Chicago school of African-American literature distinguished itself from the East Coast by its focus on the new realities of urban African-American life. Chicago became a major center of African-American jazz, and the center for the blues. Jazz great Louis Armstrong got his start there; other famous black Chicagoans of the day included Bessie Coleman — the world's first licensed black pilot, the hugely influential African-American and women's civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, the great pitcher/manager/executive of Negro League Baseball Andrew "Rube" Foster, and many more.
Both fueling and threatening Chicago's black renaissance was the single most influential part of Chicago's African-American history: the Great Migration. African-Americans from the rural South moved to the industrial cities of the North due to the post-WWI shortage of immigrant industrial labor, and to escape the Jim Crow Laws and racial violence of the South. The massive wave of migrants, most from Mississippi, increased Chicago's black population by more than 500,000. With it came southern food, Mississippi blues, and the challenges of establishing adequate housing for so many recent arrivals — a challenge that they would have to meet themselves, without help from a racist and neglectful city government.
Black Chicago's renaissance was brought to its knees by the Great Depression; its fate was sealed ironically by the 1937 creation of the Chicago Housing Authority, which sought to build affordable public housing for the city. However well-intentioned the project may have sounded, the results were disastrous. The largest housing projects by far were the 1940 Ida B. Wells projects, which were designed to "warehouse" Chicago's population of poor African-Americans in a district far away from white population centers, the Cabrini Green projects, which developed a reputation as the most violent housing projects in the nation, and the massive 1962 Robert Taylor Homes in Bronzeville, which were forced to house an additional 16,000 people beyond their intended 11,000 capacity. The Black Metropolis proved unable to cope with this massive influx of new, impoverished residents, and the urban blight that came from concentrating such a great number of them in one place.
Further damaging to Chicago's black population was the phenomenon of "white flight" that accompanied the introduction of African-Americans to Chicago neighborhoods. Unwilling to live beside black neighbors, many Chicagoans fled desegregation to the suburbs. This trend was accelerated by the practice of "blockbusting," where unsavory real estate agents would fan racist fears in order to buy homes on the cheap. As a result, Chicago neighborhoods (with the notable exceptions of Hyde Park/Kenwood, and Rogers Park) never truly integrated, and the social, educational, and economic networks that incoming African-Americans hoped to join disintegrated in the wake of fleeing white communities. During this period, Chicago experienced a huge population loss and large sections of the city became covered with vacant lots, which in turn created the conditions for crime to flourish. A number of Chicago's major roads, most notably the Dan Ryan Expressway, were built in part to segregate these areas from more prosperous ones like the Loop.
In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to come north and chose Chicago as his first destination. However, from the moment of his arrival on the Southwest Side, King was utterly confounded. The death threats that followed his march through Marquette Park were challenge enough, but nowhere in the South was there a more expert player of politics than Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley. King left town frustrated and exhausted, but Rev. Jesse Jackson continued civil rights efforts in Chicago through his Operation PUSH. The 1983 election of Mayor Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, was a watershed event for Chicago's African-American population, and although long battles with obstructionist white politicians lay ahead, it marked the moment when African-American elected officials became major, independent forces in Chicago.
Today, with a plurality of nearly 40%, Chicago's black population is the country's second largest, after New York. The broader South Side is the cultural center of Chicago's black community; it constitutes the largest single African-American neighborhood in the country and boasts the nation's greatest concentration of black-owned businesses. Chicagoans ignorant of these areas may tell you that they are dangerous and crime-ridden, but the reality is much more complex. There are strong, middle and upper class black communities throughout the city, some of the more prominent of which include upper Bronzeville, Hyde Park/Kenwood, Chatham, South Shore, and Beverly.
Bronzeville is the obvious destination for those interested in African-American history, although Kenwood also boasts interesting recent history, as it has been (or is) home to championship boxer Muhammad Ali, Nation of Islam leaders Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, and President Barack Obama. No one should miss the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Bronzeville, the first museum of African-American history in the United States. And if your interest is more precisely in African-American culture than history, head down to Chatham and South Shore to enter the heart of Chicago's black community.
Chicago is among the most diverse cities in America, and many neighborhoods reflect the character and culture of the immigrants who established them. Some, however, do more than just reflect: they absorb you in a place that, for several blocks at a time, may as well be a chunk of another country, picked up and dropped near the shores of Lake Michigan. The best of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods are completely uncompromised, and that makes them a real highlight for visitors.
Chicago's Chinatown is among the most active Chinatowns in the world. It even has its own stop on the CTA Red Line. It's on the South Side near Bridgeport, birthplace of the Irish political power-brokers who have run Chicago government for most of the last century. More Irish communities exist on the Far Southwest Side, where they even have an Irish castle to seal the deal. The Southwest Side houses enormous populations of Polish Highlanders and Mexicans, as well as reduced Lithuanian and Bohemian communities.
No serious Chicago gourmand would eat Indian food that didn't come from a restaurant on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park. It's paradise for spices, saris, and the latest Bollywood flicks. Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park is sometimes called Seoul Drive for the Korean community there, and the Persian food on Kedzie Avenue nearby is simply astonishing. At the Argyle Red Line stop, by the intersection of Argyle and Broadway in Uptown, you'd be forgiven for wondering if you were still in America; Vietnamese, Thais, and Laotians share space on a few blocks of restaurants, grocery stores, and even dentists. Neither the Swedish settlers who built Andersonville or the Germans from Lincoln Square are the dominant presence in those neighborhoods any more, but their identity is still present in restaurants, cultural centers, and other small discoveries to be made. Likewise, Little Italy and Greektown on the Near West Side survive only as restaurant strips.
A more contemporary experience awaits in Pilsen and Little Village, two neighborhoods on the Lower West Side where the Spanish signage outnumbers the English; in fact, Chicago has the second largest Mexican and Puerto Rican populations outside of their respective home countries. Pilsen and its arts scene is an especially an exciting place to visit.
It's hard to imagine displacement being a concern for the Polish community on the city's Far Northwest and Southwest sides. The Belmont-Central business district is what you might consider the epicenter of Polish activity. Bars, restaurants, and dozens of other types of Polish businesses thrive on this strip, and on a smaller section of Milwaukee Avenue (between Addison and Diversey). Fans of sacred architecture will particularly want to look for the city's numerous "Polish Cathedrals", opulently decorated churches noted for their old world design found throughout Chicago's "Polish Patches. Taste of Polonia, held over Labor Day weekend on the grounds of the Copernicus Foundation at the historic Gateway Theatre, draws an annual attendance of about 50,000 people and is touted as the city's largest ethnic fest.
Chicago is not well known as a beach destination, but Lake Michigan is the largest freshwater lake located entirely within the United States, and Chicagoans flock to it. Anyone can show up and swim — virtually none of Chicago's lakefront is spoiled by "private" beaches. And despite the latitude, the water is quite warm in the late summer and early fall Template:Web. The Chicago shore has been called the second cleanest urban waterfront in the world, although bacteria levels in the water do force occasional — but rare — beach closures (which are clearly posted at the beach, and online ). Lifeguards keep a stern watch for safety, and if one's in a row boat, they're both keeping an eye out and setting a boundary for swimmers (usually waist-deep).
Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach (in the Near North and Lincoln Park) are the fashionable places to sun-tan and be seen, but Rogers Park has mile after mile of less pretentious sand and surf. Hyde Park's Promontory Point is beautiful, and offers skyline views from its submerged beach by the rocks (although a swim there is technically against city rules). Rainbow Beach in South Shore is actually one of the city's nicest, although it is rarely visited by sun lovers from outside the neighborhood.
Where there are beaches, there are lakefront parks. During the summer months, the lakefront parks are a destination for organized and impromptu volleyball and soccer games, chess matches, and plenty more. There are also a couple of tennis courts in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Rogers Park. There are also terrific parks further away from the lake. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts music festivals throughout the year, and Millennium Park is a fun destination for all ages, especially during the summer. In Hyde Park, Midway Park offers skating, and summer and winter gardens in the shadow of the academic giant, the University of Chicago, and Jackson Park has golf, more gardens and the legacy of the city's shining moment, the 1893 World's Colombian Exposition. In Bronzeville, Washington Park is one of the city's best places for community sports. And that's just a brief overview. Almost every neighborhood in Chicago has a beloved park.
Events & Festivals
If you're absolutely determined and you plan carefully, you may be able to visit Chicago during a festival-less week. It's a challenge, though. Most neighborhoods, parishes, and service groups host their own annual festivals throughout the spring, summer, and fall . There are a few can't-miss city-wide events, though. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts Taste of Chicago in July, and four major music festivals: Blues Fest and Gospel Fest in June, Lollapalooza in August, and Jazz Fest over Labor Day Weekend. All but Lollapalooza are free. The Chicago-based music website Pitchfork Media also hosts their own annual three day festival of rock, rap, and more in the summer. The city's largest ethnic fest is the annual Taste of Polonia, held over Labor Day weekend on the grounds of the Copernicus Foundation at the historic Gateway Theatre.
With entries in every major professional sports league and several universities in the area, Chicago sports fans have a lot to keep them occupied. The Chicago Bears play football at Soldier Field in the Near South from warm September to frigid January. Since the baseball teams split the city in half, nothing seizes the Chicago sports consciousness like a playoff run from the Bears, who dominated the 2006 season before losing in the Super Bowl. Aspiring fans will be expected to be able to quote a minimum of two verses of the Super Bowl Shuffle from memory, tear up at the mention of Walter Payton, and provide arguments as to how Butkus, Singletary, and Urlacher represent the premier linebackers of their respective eras, with supporting evidence in the form of grunts, yells, and fists slammed on tables.
The Chicago Bulls play basketball at the United Center on the Near West Side. After a few miserable years, the Bulls are in playoff form again, and while ticket prices may never reach Jordan-era mania, they're still an exciting team to watch, even if the United Center doesn't hold in noise like the old Chicago Stadium did. The Chicago Blackhawks share a building with the Bulls. As one of the "Original Six" teams in professional hockey, they have a long history in their sport, and while they've been awful for years, the team is experiencing a renaissance. Home games tend to sell out, but tickets can usually be found if you check in advance. Both the Bulls and the Blackhawks play from the end of October to the beginning of April.
It's baseball, though, in which the tribal fury of Chicago sports is best expressed. The Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field on the North Side, in Lakeview, and the Chicago White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park, underneath the corporate naming rights) on the South Side, in Bridgeport. Both stadiums are open-air, and both franchises have more than a century's worth of history. Everything else is a matter of fiercely held opinion. Both teams play 81 home games from April to the beginning of October. The two three-game series when the teams play each other are the hottest sports tickets in Chicago during any given year. If someone offers you tickets to a game, pounce.
There are plenty of smaller leagues in the city as well, although some play their games in the suburbs. The Chicago Fire (Major League Soccer) and Chicago Red Stars (Women's Professional Soccer) play soccer in the suburb of Bridgeview, the Chicago Sky play women's professional basketball at the UIC Pavilion on the Near West Side, and the Windy City Rollers skate flat-track roller derby in neighboring Cicero. Minor league baseball teams dot the suburbs as well.
While college athletics are not one of the city's strong points, Northwestern football (in Evanston) and DePaul basketball (off-campus in Rosemont) show occasional signs of life, and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana is usually at least competitive. If you find yourself in Hyde Park, ask someone how the University of Chicago football team is doing — it's a surefire conversation starter.
Modern American comedy — the good parts, at least — was born when a group of young actors from Hyde Park formed The Compass Players, fusing intelligence and a commitment to character with an improvisational spark. One strand of their topical, hyper-literate comedy led, directly or indirectly, to Shelly Berman, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; another strand, namely The Second City, led to Saturday Night Live and a pretty huge percentage of the funny movies and television of the last thirty years. Still in Chicago's Old Town (and few other places as well), still smart and still funny, Second City does two-act sketch revues followed by one act of improv. As the saying goes, if you can only see one show while you're in Chicago, even if you have no particular interest in theater, Second City is one to see.
Improvisational comedy as a performance art form is a big part of the Chicago theater scene. At Lakeview and Uptown theaters like The Annoyance Theater, I.O., and The Playground, young actors take classes and perform shows that range from ragged to inspired throughout the week. Some are fueled by the dream of making the cast of SNL or Tina Fey's latest project, and some just enjoy doing good work on-stage, whether or not they're getting paid for it (and most aren't). There's no guarantee that you'll see something great on any given night, but improv tends to be cheaper than anything else in town, and it can definitely be worth the risk. Another popular theater experience is the comedy/drama hybrid Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, offering 30 plays in 60 minutes every weekend in Andersonville.
Steppenwolf, in Lincoln Park, is Chicago's other landmark theater. Founded in 1976, they have a history of taking risks onstage, and they have the ensemble to back it up, with heavyweights like Joan Allen, John Malkovich, and Gary Sinise. Steppenwolf isn't cheap any more, but they mix good, young actors with their veteran ensemble and still choose interesting, emotionally-charged scripts. It's the best place in town to see modern, cutting-edge theater with a bit of "I went to..." name-drop value for the folks back home.
Most of the prestige theaters, including the Broadway in Chicago outlets, are located in the Loop or the Near North. Tickets are expensive and can be tough to get, but shows destined for Broadway like The Producers often make their debut here. For the cost-conscious, the League of Chicago Theatres operates Hot Tix , which offers short-notice half-price tickets to many Chicago shows.
One theater to see, regardless of the production, is The Auditorium in the Loop. It's a masterpiece of architecture and of performance space. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, who were on a commission from syndicate of local business magnates to bring some culture to the heathen city, it was the tallest building in Chicago and one of the tallest in the world at the time of its opening in 1889, and it's still an impressive sight, inside and out.
The Lithuanian Opera Company of Chicago was founded by Lithuanian Chicagoans in 1956, and presents operas in Lithuanian. It celebrated fifty years of existence in 2006, and operates as a not-for-profit organization. It is noteworthy for performing the rarely-staged Rossini's William Tell (1986) and Ponchielli's I Lituani (1981, 1983 and 1991), and also for contributing experienced chorus singers to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The historic Gateway Theatre in Jefferson Park, designed by architect Mason Rapp, is host to numerous ethnic performances, particularly Polish language productions for Chicago's large Polish speaking population .
Chicago has a strong, passionate bicycle culture, and riding opportunities abound. Pedaling your way around the city is one of the best ways to get to know Chicago. And the terrain is mostly flat — a boon for easy-going cyclists!
The scenic Lakefront Trail runs for 18 continuous miles along the city's beautiful shoreline. Even while riding at a moderate pace, traveling downtown along the lakefront can be faster than driving or taking the CTA! Further inland, many streets have bike lanes, and signs direct riders to major bike routes. The City of Chicago maintains helpful bicycle resources online , including major civic bike events and (slow) interactive maps of major streets with bike lanes.
Bicyclists have to follow the same "rules of the road" as automobiles. Police officers will write citations for bicyclists in violation of traffic laws (especially disregarding stop signs and traffic lights). Bicycle riding is never allowed on sidewalks (except for children under age 12). This rule is strictly enforced in higher density neighborhoods, mostly areas near the lake, and is considered a criminal misdemeanor offense. You must walk your bike on the sidewalk.
Conveniently, CTA buses are all equipped with bike racks which carry up to two bicycles, and 'L' trains permit two bicycles per car except during rush hour (roughly 7-9:30AM and 3:30-6:30PM weekdays, excluding major holidays on which the CTA is running on a Sunday schedule). With the buses, inspect the rack closely for wear or damage and be absolutely certain that the bike is secured before you go, lest it fall off in traffic (and be immediately flattened by the bus). The CTA will fight tooth and nail to avoid reimbursing you for the loss, and the driver might not stop to let you retrieve it.
Bikes may be rented from the North Avenue Beach House (Lincoln Park), Navy Pier, (Near North), the Millennium Park bike station (Loop), and from several bike shops in the city. Another option is to contact the terrific Working Bikes Cooperative , an all-volunteer group of bike lovers that collects and refurbishes bikes, and then sells a few in Chicago to support their larger project of shipping bikes to Africa and South America. You could buy a cheap bike and donate it back when you're done, or even spend a day or two working as a volunteer.
For an opportunity to connect with the local bike community and take a memorable trip through the city, don't miss the Critical Mass  rides on the last Friday of every month, starting from Daley Plaza in the Loop (5:30PM). With numbers on their side, the hundreds or even thousands of bike riders wind up taking over entire streets along the way, with themed routes that are voted upon at the outset of the trip. Anyone is free to join or fall away wherever they like. Police are generally cooperative — take cues from more experienced riders.
Several major and minor universities call Chicago home. The University of Chicago and Northwestern University are undoubtedly the most prestigious among them. The University of Chicago's Gothic campus is in Hyde Park, which is, famously, "home to more Nobel Prizes per square kilometer than any other neighborhood on Earth." Further north, in the Bronzeville area, is the Illinois Institute of Technology, which has notable programs in engineering and architecture. Northwestern University has its main campus in Evanston, just north of Chicago, but it also has campuses in the Near North off Michigan Ave, including its medical, law, and business schools.
On the North Side, there are two major Catholic universities with over a hundred years in Chicago: DePaul University, in Lincoln Park, and Loyola University, in Rogers Park. Both schools also have campuses in the Loop. Rush University Medical School, on the Near West Side, traces its roots back even further, to 1837. Dating back to 1891, North Park University serves as another fine private liberal arts university in Albany Park on the Northwest Side.
A handful of schools in the Loop attract students in the creative arts. Columbia College has an enviable location on Michigan Avenue, and its programs in film are continually noted as one of the top in the nation, along with its programs in creative writing and photography which are also are well-regarded. The School of the Art Institute is generally regarded as one of the top three art and design schools in the country and is one of the few art schools that does not require its students to declare majors. The Illinois Institute of Art specializes in different fields of art and design. The main campus of Roosevelt University, former home to Chicago heavyweights like Harold Washington and Ramsey Lewis, is in the Auditorium Building on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Congress Parkway.
To the west of the Loop, built over the remains of Little Italy and Maxwell Street neighborhoods is the brutalist Near West Side campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the second-largest member of the Illinois state university system.
The City Colleges of Chicago  are scattered throughout the city. They include Harold Washington College (Loop), Harry S. Truman College (Uptown), Malcolm X College (Near West Side), Wright College (Humboldt Park), Kennedy-King College (Englewood), Daley College (Southwest Side), and Olive-Harvey College (Far Southeast Side).
Chicago still loves Carl Sandburg and his poems, but the city shucked off the hog butcher's apron a long time ago. In terms of industry, there's little that distinguishes Chicago from any other major city in America, save for size. The Chicago Board of Trade  and Chicago Mercantile Exchange  are among the biggest employers, with stables of traders and stock wizards. Boeing  moved its headquarters to Chicago amid much fanfare a few years ago; United Airlines  is another international company with headquarters in town. Abbott Labs , just outside city limits, is the biggest employer of foreign nationals in scientific fields. The Big Five consulting firms all have one or more offices in the Loop. And there's always construction work in Chicago, but with a strong union presence in the city, it's not easy for a newcomer to break into without an introduction.
For younger workers, the museums in the Loop and the Near South are always looking for low-paid, high-enthusiasm guides, and the retail outlets on the Magnificent Mile also need seasonal help. And with so many colleges and universities in the city, study abroad opportunities abound.
In Chicago, business is politics, and there's one word in Chicago politics: clout. The principal measure of clout is how many jobs you can arrange for your friends. Hence, if you want to work in Chicago, start asking around — email someone from your country's embassy or consulate and see if they have any leads, or figure out if there is a cultural association that might be able to help you. It's no coincidence that the Mayor's Office  employs scores of Irish workers every summer. If you happen to contact somebody who met the right person at a fundraiser a few days ago, you might fall into a cushy job or a dream internship; it's worth a try.
Whatever you need, you can buy it in Chicago, on a budget or in luxury. The most famous shopping street in Chicago is a stretch of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile, in the Near North area. It includes many designer boutiques, and several multi-story malls anchored by large department stores like 900 N Michigan and Water Tower Place. Additional brands are available from off-strip shops to the south and west of Michigan.
State Street used to be a great street for department stores in the Loop, but it's now a shadow of its former self, with Carson Pirie Scott's landmark Louis Sullivan-designed building closed, and invading forces from New York holding the former Marshall Field's building hostage under the name Macy's. Discounts can still be found at places like Filene's Basement, though.
For a classic Chicago souvenir, pick up a box of Frango Mints, much-loved mint chocolates that were originally offered by Marshall Field's and are still available at Macy's stores. Although no longer made in the thirteenth-floor kitchen of the State Street store, the original recipe appears to still be in use, which pleases the loyal crowds fond of the flavor — and too bad for anyone looking to avoid trans-fats.
However, for a more unique shopping experience, check out the fun, eclectic stores in Lincoln Square, or the cutting-edge shops in Bucktown and Wicker Park, which is also the place to go for music fiends — although there are also key vinyl drops in other parts of the city as well. Southport in Lakeview and Armitage in Lincoln Park also have browser-friendly fashion boutiques.
For art or designer home goods, River North is the place to go. Centered between the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago Avenue Brown Line "L" stop in the Near North, River North's gallery district boasts the largest arts and design district in North America outside of Manhattan. The entire area is walkable and makes for fun window-shopping.
Goods from around the world are available at the import stores in Chicago's many ethnic neighborhoods; check See for descriptions and district articles for directions.
If you are the type that loves to browse through independent bookstores, Hyde Park has a stunning assortment of dusty used bookstores selling beat-up-paperbacks to rare 17th century originals, and the world's largest academic bookstore. Printer's Row in the Near South is also a great stop for book lovers.
Chicago is one of the great restaurant towns in America. If you're looking for a specific kind of cuisine, check out the neighborhoods. Greektown, the Devon Ave Desi corridor, Chinatown, and Chatham's soul food and barbecue are just the tip of the iceberg. Other areas are more eclectic: Lincoln Square and Albany Park have unrivaled Middle Eastern, German, and Korean food, while Uptown offers nearly the whole Southeast Asian continent with Ghanaian, Nigerian, contemporary American, stylish Japanese, and down-home Swedish a few blocks away.
If you're interested in celebrity chefs and unique creations, Lincoln Park and Wicker Park have plenty of award-winners. River North has several good upscale restaurants, but don't waste your time on tourist traps like Rainforest Cafe, Cheesecake Factory or Hard Rock Cafe. In fact, you should never submit to standing in line—there are always equally good restaurants nearby. No matter what you enjoy, you'll have a chance to eat well in Chicago, and you won't need to spend a lot of money doing it—unless you want to, of course.
But while Chicago has a world class dining scene downtown, it is the low-end where it truly distinguishes itself. No other city on earth takes fast food so seriously; for those who don't concern themselves with calorie counting, Chicago is cheap, greasy heaven. A couple "culinary specialties" in particular deserve further description.
Chicago's most prominent contribution to world cuisine might be the deep dish pizza. Delivery chains as far away as Kyoto market "Chicago-style pizza," but the only place to be sure you're getting the real thing is in Chicago. To make a deep dish pizza, a thin layer of dough is laid into a deep round pan and pulled up the sides, and then meats and vegetables — Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, and more — are lined on the crust. At last, tomato sauce goes on top, and the pizza is baked. It's gooey, messy, not recommended by doctors, and delicious. When you dine on deep dish pizza, don't wear anything you were hoping to wear again soon. Some nationally-known deep dish pizza hubs are Pizzeria UNO and DUE, Gino's East, Giordano's, and Lou Malnati's, but plenty of local favorites exist. Ask around — people won't be shy about giving you their opinion.
But deep dish is not the end of the line in a city that takes its pizza so seriously. Chicago also prides itself on its distinctive thin-crust pizza and stuffed pizzas. The Chicago thin crust has a thin, cracker-like, crunchy crust, which somehow remains soft and doughy on the top side. Toppings and a lot of a thin, spiced Italian tomato sauce go under the mozzarella cheese, and the pizza is sliced into squares. If you are incredulous that Chicago's pizza preeminence extends into the realm of the thin crust, head south of Midway to Vito and Nick's, which is widely regarded among Chicago gourmands as the standard bearer for the city.
The stuffed pizza is a monster, enough to make an onlooker faint. Start with the idea of a deep dish, but then find a much deeper dish and stuff a lot more toppings under the cheese. Think deep-dish apple pie, but pizza. Allow 45 minutes to an hour for pizza places to make one of these and allow 3-4 extra notches on your belt for the ensuing weight gain. Arguably the best stuffed pizza in town is at Bella Bacino's in the Loop, which somehow is not greasy, but other excellent vendors include Giordano's, Gino's, and Edwardo's.
The Chicago hot dog
This may come as a surprise to New Yorkers, but the Chicago hot dog is the king of all hot dogs — indeed, it is considered the perfect hot dog. Perhaps due to the city's history of Polish and German immigration, Chicago takes its dogs way more seriously than the rest of the country. A Chicago hot dog is always all-beef (usually Vienna beef), always served on a poppy-seed bun, and topped with what looks like a full salad of mustard, diced tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, sport (chili) peppers, a generous sprinkling of celery salt, diced onion, and a sweet-pickle relish endemic-to-Chicago that is dyed an odd, vibrant bright-green color. It's a full meal, folks.
Ketchup is regarded as an abomination on a proper Chicago-style hot dog. Self-respecting establishments will refuse orders to put the ketchup on the dog, and many have signs indicating that they don't serve it; truly serious hot dog joints don't even allow the condiment on the premises. The reason for Chicago's ketchup aversion is simple — ketchup contains sugar, which overwhelms the taste of the beef and prevents its proper enjoyment. Hence, ketchup's replacement with diced tomatoes. Similarly, Chicagoans eschew fancy mustards that would overwhelm the flavor of the meat in favor of simple yellow mustard. And for the hungry visiting New Yorkers, the same goes for sugary sauerkraut — just no.
At most hot dog places, you will have the option to try a Maxwell Street Polish instead. Born on the eponymous street of the Near West Side, the Polish is an all-beef sausage on a bun, with fewer condiments than the Chicago hot dog: usually just grilled onions, mustard, and a few chili peppers.
In a tragic, bizarre twist of fate, the areas of Chicago most visited by tourists (i.e., the Loop) lack proper Chicago hot dog establishments. If you are downtown and want to experience a Chicago hot dog done right, the nearest safe bet is Portillo's. Although, if you're up for a little hot dog adventure, you can eat one right at the source, at the Vienna Beef Factory deli. Sadly, both baseball parks botch their dogs.
The Italian Beef sandwich completes the Chicago triumvirate of tasty greasy treats. The main focus of the sandwich is the beef, and serious vendors will serve meat of a surprisingly good quality, which is slow-roasted, and thinly shaved before being loaded generously onto chewy, white, Italian-style bread. Two sets of options will come flying at you, so prepare yourself: sweet peppers or hot, and dipped or not. The "sweet" peppers are sautéed bell peppers, while the hots are a mixed Chicago giardiniera. The dip, of course, is a sort of French dip of the sandwich back into the beef broth. (Warning: dipped Italian Beefs are sloppy!) If you are in the mood, you may be able to get an Italian Beef with cheese melted over the beef, although travelers looking for the "authentic Italian Beef" perhaps should not stray so far from tradition.
The Italian Beef probably was invented by Italian-American immigrants working in the Union Stockyards on the Southwest Side, who could only afford to take home the tough, lowest-quality meat and therefore had a need to slow-roast it, shave it into thin slices, and dip it just to get it in chewable form. But today the sandwich has found a lucrative home downtown, where it clogs the arteries and delights the taste buds of the Chicago workforce during lunch break. Some of the city's favorite downtown vendors include Luke's Italian Beef in the Loop and Mr. Beef in the Near North, while the Portillo's chain is another solid option.
Chicago is a drinking town, and you can find bars and pubs in every part of the city. It is believed that Chicago has the second highest bars-per-capita in the U.S. (after San Francisco). Be prepared to be asked for identification to verify your age, even at neighborhood dive bars. Smoking is banned in Chicago bars (and restaurants).
The best place to drink for drinking's sake is Wicker Park and its neighbor Bucktown, which have a world-class stock of quality dive bars. North Center and Roscoe Village are also a great (and underrated) destination for the art of the cheap beer and the beer garden. Beware the bars in Lakeview near Wrigley Field, though, which are packed on weekends, and jam-packed all day whenever the Cubs are playing. Just to the south, Lincoln Park has bars and beer gardens to indulge those who miss college, and some trendy clubs for the neighborhood's notorious high-spending Trixies.
Ill-informed tourists converge upon the nightclubs of Rush and Division St. The city's best DJs spin elsewhere, the best drinks are served elsewhere, and the cheapest beers are served elsewhere; the hottest of-the-moment clubs and in-the-know celebrities are usually elsewhere, too. For the last few years the West Loop's warehouse bars were the place to be, but more recently the River North neighborhood has been making a comeback. Still, the Rush/Division bars do huge business. This area includes the "Viagra Triangle," where Chicago's wealthy older men hang out with women in their early 20s. Streeterville, immediately adjacent, exchanges the dance floors for high-priced hotel bars and piano lounges.
Although good dance music can be found in Wicker Park and the surrounding area, the best places to dance in the city are the expensive see and be seen clubs in River North and the open-to-all (except perhaps bachelorette parties) clubs in gay-friendly Boystown, which are a lot of fun for people of any sexual orientation.
Jazz and Blues
The Lower Mississippi River Valley is known for its music; New Orleans has jazz, and Memphis has blues. Chicago, though located far away from the valley, has both. Former New Orleans and Memphis residents brought jazz and blues to Chicago as they came north for a variety of reasons: the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought a lot of itinerant musicians to town, and the city's booming economy kept them coming through the Great Migration. Chicago was the undisputed capital of early jazz between 1917-1928, wih masters like Joe King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Earl Hines, and Jelly Roll Morton. Most of Chicago's historic jazz clubs are on the South Side, particularly in Bronzeville, but the North Side has the can't-miss Green Mill in Uptown.
The blues were in Chicago long before the car chase and the mission from God, but The Blues Brothers sealed Chicago as the home of the blues in the popular consciousness. Fortunately, the city has the chops to back that up. Maxwell Street  (Near West Side) was the heart and soul of Chicago blues, but the wrecking ball, driven by the University of Illinois at Chicago, has taken a brutal toll. Residents have been fighting to save what remains. For blues history, it doesn't get much better than Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation (Near South), and Bronzeville, the former "Black Metropolis," is a key stop as well. Performance venues run the gamut from tiny, cheap blues bars all over the city to big, expensive places like Buddy Guy's Legends (Loop) and the original House of Blues (Near North).
But don't let yourself get too wrapped up in the past, because Chicago blues is anything but. No other city in the world can compete with Chicago's long list of blues-soaked neighborhood dives and lounges. The North Side's blues clubs favor tradition in their music, and are usually the most accessible to visitors, but offer a slightly watered down experience from the funkier, more authentic blues bars on the South and Far West Sides, where most of Chicago's blues musicians live and hang. If one club could claim to be the home of the real Chicago blues, Lee's Unleaded Blues in Chatham-South Shore would probably win the title. But there are scores of worthy blues joints all around the city (many of which are a lot easier to visit via public transport). A visit to one of these off-the-beaten-path blues dives is considerably more adventurous than a visit to the touristy House of Blues, but the experiences born of such adventures have been known to reward visitors with a life-long passion for the blues.
Although playing second fiddle to the blues in the city's collective consciousness, jazz thrives in Chicago, too, thanks in no small part to members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and their residencies at clubs like The Velvet Lounge and The Jazz Showcase (both of which see regular national acts) (Near South), The New Apartment Lounge (Chatham-South Shore) and The Hideout (Bucktown), with more expensive national touring acts downtown at The Chicago Theater (Loop). If you are staying downtown, the Velvet Lounge will be your best bet, as it is an easy cab ride, and its high-profile performances will rarely disappoint.
Fans should time their visits to coincide with Blues Fest in June, and Jazz Fest over Labor Day Weekend. Both take place in Grant Park (Loop).
Wicker Park and Bucktown are the main place to go for indie rock shows: the Double Door and the Empty Bottle are the best-known venues, but there are plenty of smaller ones as well. In Lakeview, the Metro is a beloved concert hole, with Schubas, The Vic Theatre, and the Abbey Pub nearby (the latter on the Far Northwest Side). Other mid-sized rock, hip-hop and R&B shows take place at the Riviera and the awesome Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. The Near South has become an underrated destination for great shows as well.
The Park West in Lincoln Park has light jazz, light rock, and other shows you'd sit down for; so does Navy Pier (Near North), particularly in the summer. The venerable Chicago Theater in the Loop is better-known for its sign than for anything else, but it has rock, jazz, gospel, and spoken-word performances by authors like David Sedaris. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is the main bulwark in the city for classical and classy jazz, with occasional curve-balls like Björk. You'll find musicians from the CSO doing outreach all over the city, along with their counterparts at the Lyric Opera. Both are in the Loop.
A few big concerts are held at the UIC Pavilion, the Congress Theater, and the United Center on the Near West Side every year, and some huge concerts have taken place at Soldier Field (Near South). The Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, both in the Loop, tend to host big, eclectic shows and festivals in the summer, which are sometimes free.
Otherwise, most big shows are out in the suburbs, primarily at the Allstate Arena and the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont, the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, Star Plaza in Indiana, and the Alpine Valley Music Theater over the Wisconsin border. You'll also have to head out to the suburbs for Ravinia, which features upscale classical, jazz, and blues outdoors throughout the summer. Template:Web
Chicago hosts many major conventions each year and has plenty of places to stay. The majority are either at O'Hare Airport or downtown in the Loop and the Near North (near the Magnificent Mile). If you want to explore the city, aim for downtown — a hotel near O'Hare is good for visiting one thing and one thing only, and that's O'Hare. However, if you have a specific interest in mind, there are hotels throughout the city, and getting away from downtown will give you more of a sense of other neighborhoods. You'll appreciate that if you're in town for more than a couple of days. Make sure that where you're staying is within your comfort level before committing to stay there, though. More far flung transient hotels will be suitable for those seeking to relive Jack Kerouac's seedy adventures around the country, but may alarm and disgust the average traveler.
Budget-priced places are usually pretty far from the Loop, so when you're booking, remember that Chicago is vast. Travelers on a budget should consider accommodations away from the city center which can be easily reached via any of the several CTA train lines. There is a hostel in the Loop and two others near the universities in Lincoln Park and Rogers Park, all of which are interesting neighborhoods in their own right, and close to the L for access to the rest of the city. For deals on mid-range hotels, there are good options far out from the center by Midway and in North Lincoln.
The first Internet cafe in the United States was opened in Chicago, but they never really caught on here. There are still a few, though; check individual district articles. If you have a computer with you, free wireless Internet access is now standard-issue at coffee shops throughout the city — only the big chains like Starbucks charge for it. Most hotels above the transient level offer free wi-fi, too.
The good news is that all branches of the Chicago Public Library system offer free internet access, via public terminals and free, password-free, public wireless. If you do not have a Chicago library card, but you have a photo ID that shows you do not live in Chicago, you can get a temporary permit from the library information desk. (If you are from Chicago and don't have a library card, though, all you can get is a stern look and a brief lecture on how Chicagoans need to support the library system.) The most centrally located branch is the giant Harold Washington Library in the Loop, but there are branch libraries in every part of the city — again, see individual district articles.
312 was the area code for all of Chicago for a long time; it's still the code of choice for the Loop, and most of the Near North and Near South. 773 surrounds the center, covering everything else within city limits.
Suburban areas close to the city use 847 (north/northwest), 708 (south), 815 (southwest), and 630 (west).
As in almost the entire United States, dial 911 to get emergency help. Dial 311 for all non-emergency situations in Chicago.
Despite a big decline in the crime rate from the 1970s and 1980s, Chicago is still a big city with big city problems. There are run-down areas within a few blocks of some well-traveled places such as near the United Center and US Cellular Field. The majority of the city's violent crimes occur within a relatively small number of neighborhoods well off the beaten path in the South and West Sides, but given the chance nature of crime, you should exercise the usual precautions wherever you go. Even in a neighborhood with a bad reputation, though, you might still have a perfectly good time, as long as it falls within your comfort level.
Take caution in the Loop at night; after working hours, the Loop gets quiet and dark in a hurry west of State Street, but you'll be fine near hotels and close to Michigan Avenue and the lake. When disembarking a crowded CTA train, especially in the downtown-area subways, be wary of purse snatchers.
Beggars are common downtown. They are very unlikely to pose any kind of problem, though. Some sell a local newspaper called Streetwise to make a living.
Dress appropriately for the weather. Chicago's winter is famously windy and cold, so cover exposed skin and wear layers in the winter, but heat exhaustion is an equal risk in the summer months, especially July and August. Stay off the road during a snowstorm. Chicago's streets and sanitation department generally does a good job clearing the major roads in the center of the city, but the neighborhoods can take longer, and the construction-littered expressways are anyone's guess.
There are places of worship all over the city; the front desk of your hotel will almost certainly be able to direct you to one nearby. If not, though, the following are centrally located in either the Loop or the Near North, unless otherwise noted.
For churches of specific Orthodoxies, check in neighborhoods that feature communities with ties to that region. There's a majestic Orthodox church in Ukrainian Village, for example. Evangelical Christian ministries are mostly on the South Side, with some historic churches in Bronzeville. For the Baha'i faith, visit the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette, easily accessible by the CTA Purple Line.
Here's a quick list of all foreign consulates in Chicago: