Each year tens of millions of people visit Chicagoand experience the vibrant culture and exciting attractions the city offers. The variety of neighborhoods, from Andersonville on the North Side to Little Italy on the South Side, provides tourists with an array of restaurants and hot spots to visit. But where should one start? Such a large city is difficult to cover in one vacation, especially if you only have a few days or a long weekend. Since the downtown center of Chicago is not only the locus of business but also of tourism, there are enough locations and attractions in this area to interest and delight most everyone. If you are traveling to the heart of Chicago, here are a few recommendations for places to stay, eat and have fun.
The first concern when traveling is, of course, lodging. If you are drawn to the city’s most popular tourist destinations, you will find an abundant selection of hotels in the downtown area. The majority in this part of the city are high-class and rather high-priced as well. Don’t expect to find a Super 8 on Michigan Avenue; accommodations in the opulent city center can often cost well over one hundred dollars a night. In return you will be surrounded by luxurious amenities and a plethora of the city’s best restaurants, shops and museums. Chains like Holiday Inn and Hilton have locations here but there are many individual hotels as well, which can enhance the experience of visiting Chicago.
For convenient location and sumptuous style, the exclusive hotels in the Loop and Gold Coast, the bustling, chic neighborhoods in downtown, cannot be topped. One of the most unique hotels in Chicago is the Hotel Allegro, located at the edge of the Loop at 171 W. Randolph Street. Renovated ten years ago, the Allegro melds modern with Art Deco into a distinctive style that is both trendy and timeless. Rich colors, bold patterns and classy features adorn the common areas including the ballroom, hallways and spacious lobby. Since it was built in the 1920s, its rooms are a little small but still very comfortable, and the amenities are top-notch. Its location in the theatre district is perfect for tourists looking to experience Chicago’s art scene, and it is tantalizingly close to the city’s train system, so exploration beyond the neighborhood is right at your fingertips.
Another historic hotel is the Congress Plaza Hotel at 520 S. Michigan Avenue. Originally built in 1893 for the Columbian Exposition, this hotel oozes Gilded Age luxury. Ornate carvings and moldings and plush fabrics decorate the lobby. Narrow hallways and older fixtures in the rooms are symptomatic of its age, but its ornate style and great location make up for the negative effects of time. The Congress is practically across the street from the Art Institute, the full Museum Campus is nearby, (for more information, see the Attractions section), and all the shopping and dining of the Magnificent Mile and State Street are close at hand. Lastly, the Drake Hotel, at 140 E. Walton Place, defines luxury. This grand hotel is very expensive but gorgeous and completely high-class. Royalty and celebrities have stayed at the Drake since it opened in 1920, and with good reason. Rooms with breathtaking views of Lake Michigan are available, and all the amenities are of the highest quality. Located in the heart of the Gold Coast, and in the middle of the Magnificent Mile, the Drake is surrounded by fabulous shopping and dining, and Oak Street Beach is across the street. If you want to visit Chicagoin the height of style and class, the Drake is unequivocally the best place to stay.
After lodging, the most important aspect of a vacation is dining. Taking advantage of great food in a new place is one of the most rewarding and fun parts of traveling. Chicago is famous for its food, mostly things like sausage and pizza. Of course, these foods can be found in abundance all over the city, but much more diverse fare is available too. For a well-rounded and delicious culinary experience, you only need to explore the streets of downtown. If you are looking for classy dining experience, take a brief cab ride to Rush Street and indulge at either Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse or Hugo’s Frog Bar.
The two restaurants are connected at 1028 and 1024 Rush St., respectively. This set-up is ideal because great steak and seafood can be had at both places, which will satisfy a range of tastes. Another place for a fine meal is theItalianVillage, which houses three restaurants in one building. Since 1927, this trio at 71 W. Monroe Street has served delectable dishes from the Bel Paese. Vivere, on the first floor, is the trendiest. On the second floor, The Village offers a mid-priced menu and is family friendly. La Cantina on the third floor specializes in seafood, and any of these restaurants will provide a wonderful meal.For a relaxed atmosphere, try Gino’s East at 633 Wells Street. Here you can experience the classic Chicago deep-dish pizza in a lively environment.
Good-natured graffiti on the walls is encouraged, and years’ worth of messages are enshrined all over the dining room. It is a fun place for kids to indulge in some great pizza, and the ample beer selection makes it enjoyable for parents too. Another laid-back restaurant is the Chicago Sports Bar & Grill at 223 W. Jackson Street. This place has a neighborhood tavern feel, and it serves classic American dishes like hamburgers and other sandwiches. Since sports dominate so much of Chicago’s culture, this type of restaurant always has an energetic vibe. These establishments are some of the most distinguished and the most fun, but great food is around every corner in Chicago. In a pinch, close your eyes and point in any direction, and you’re sure to find a fantastic place to eat whether it’s an elegant restaurant or greasy-spoon diner.
As the third-largest city in the country,Chicago is packed with exciting and interesting things to do. Whatever you enjoy, you can find it here. The Bears, White Sox, Cubs, Bulls and Blackhawks keep the city filled with sporting events year round. Navy Pier- with its children’s museum, lake tours and shops- Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park are unique, entertaining destinations. There are galleries, shops and parks in every neighborhood. With such an abundance of attractions, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to do and see everything. If you (wisely) decide to concentrate your attention in one area, you will find no shortage of famous destinations near your downtown hotel.
Although you may not think of Chicago as a fashion mecca, one look around downtown will show you that you can easily shop until you drop. Water Tower Place, at 835 N. Michigan Avenue, is in the heart of the Magnificent Mile and offers over one hundred stores on eight levels. This upscale mall is not your typical sprawling monstrosity: high-class stores and cafés abound in this shopper’s paradise. The entire north end of Michigan Avenue and much of State Streetis filled with stores, ranging from stylish boutiques to bargain outlets. Fashionistas and casual shoppers alike can find something to suit their tastes.
Museums are another thing for which Chicagois famous. Every year millions visit the Art Institute, at 111 S. Michigan Avenue, to admire one of the world’s finest art collections. A panoply of masterpieces- works by impressionists such as Monet and Seurat, rare pieces from medieval and Renaissance Europe (including a room full of centuries-old armor), modern art from Warhol and Hopper- fill every inch of the museum with exceptional beauty and important pieces of art history. Farther south, the Museum Campus consists of the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum of Natural History. Located at 1200, 1300 and 1400 S.
Lake Shore Drive respectively, these museums can each fill an entire day’s worth of sightseeing. The Shedd is particularly fun for kids because of its gigantic tanks filled with exotic fish and aquatic wildlife. Dolphin shows delight youngsters as well, and the amazing diversity of animals will fascinate adults too. The Adler Planetarium has a wonderful observatory overlooking the lake. The Field Museum is far more entertaining than the title “Natural History Museum” suggests. Dinosaurs and rare artifacts from across the globe fill this expansive, impressive museum, and special exhibits are frequently displayed. Currently in 2006, an extraordinary exhibit about King Tutankhamun from ancient has become so popular that the museum recently extended its hours to accommodate the vast amount of visitors. Neither stuffy nor boring, Chicago’s museums offer something for every interest.
Finally, performing arts and culture thrive in downtown Chicago, especially in the theatre district. Musicals, plays and dance performances abound in the city’s glittering, ornate theatres. The Oriental and Cadillac theatres frequently host Broadway shows. The Joffrey Ballet performs at the Auditorium Theatre, at 50 W. Congress Parkway, and the historic Chicago Theatre continually captivates visitors with its elegant interior and stellar performances. This 3500-seat landmark offers music, dances, plays and comedy acts, and its plush red upholstery and lavish decorating evoke a bygone era of stylish theatre sophistication. No matter what type of art of performance you’re looking for, you will find a wonderful, world-class show in Chicago.
In conclusion, for those traveling to the Windy City there is an abundance of places to stay, eat and entertain oneself. The downtown area, especially the Loop and Gold Coast, offers luxurious hotels, an array of restaurants and exciting attractions of all sorts. If you’re a first-time visitor to Chicago, the downtown may be the ideal place for your vacation since many of the most famous destinations are located there. But be sure to return and explore the many neighborhoods across the city that make Chicago one of the most unique and exciting places in the world.