Glass flies into Chicago for a few days and gets caught up in all its artistic charm
WHEN Frank Sinatra sang the famous song, Chicago, with the line “they have the time of their life in Chicago”, he was telling the truth. In fact, Chicago is everyone’s kind of town and it’s hard not to find an excuse to visit the Windy City.
Known for its skyscrapers that fill the soft clouds with towers of glass, Chicago was once home to the world’s tallest building back in 1973, with the previously named Sears Tower beating the World Trade Centre in New York to the title. Renamed as the Willis Tower in 2009 and standing proud at 442 metres high, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city.
What makes Chicago so appealing is its compactness, with many of the tourist attractions located in or close to North Michigan Avenue, which is fondly known as the Magnificent Mile. It’s a stretch of 13 blocks of shops, restaurants and bars, starting south at the windy banks of the Chicago River, and continuing up to the uber-smart, designer-laden stores on Oak Street in the north. We teamed up with Expedia.com to share some of the reasons why you should visit Chicago
Where to stay
From up high in the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park hotel, you can view the stunning vista across Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park and Lake Michigan. Being just a five minutes’ walk away from the bustle and traffic on North Michigan Avenue, it is a great choice for those wanting a slightly more edge-of-town spot to stay that is still very much in the heart of the city. If you book a room on the Executive Floor, you gain access to the Executive Lounge, where you enjoy quiet breakfasts and can pop in any time in the day for a quick relax to enjoy a drink and snacks. It’s also the perfect meeting space for the business traveller with its impressive views over the city.
The hotel’s restaurant, Columbus Tap, is surprisingly buzzy for a hotel eatery thanks to the popularity of the its talented chef, Canadian born Atticus Garant. He specialises in plates comprising seasonal fare, with most produce purchased from rooftop farmers located right in Chicago’s city centre. The barbeque cauliflower starter is perfectly cooked with preserved lemon, olive, pecorino cheese and golden raisins. And the Greek salad includes the most magical recipe of whipped feta cheese, crunchy cucumber, tomato olives and freshly cut oregano.
What to see and do
Purchasing a Go City Card gives access to many of Chicago’s most popular attractions, tours and destinations, and guarantees immediate entry without queuing into the Art Institute of Chicago, which has been rated as one of the best museums in the world. Famed for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, it is home to world-famous pieces including Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Marc Chagall’s ‘America Windows’ and Andy Warhol’s Liz #3. Depending on your level of interest, art lovers could spend a whole day in the museum thinking that they have gone to heaven, or you could take the fast track option and get in and out in about an hour and a half.
Jump onto the Big Bus hop-on-hop-off Bus Tour to help get your bearings of the city and its landmarks, then head for the top of 360 Chicago, formerly the John Hancock Observatory. From its viewing deck on the 94th floor 1,000 feet above the city, you marvel at the far-reaching panoramic views across Chicago and towards Lake Michigan and beyond. For those that are particularly bold, you can climb onto the tilting ledge at a 30-degree angle hanging over Michigan Avenue. Or just stand back and listen to others’ screams and shrieks of fear or delight.
Meander through the huge Millennium Park and head to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion outdoor theatre and concert area. It is home to the gigantic art installation Cloud Gate, designed by Anish Kapoor and fondly referred to as The Bean, having been inspired by the shape of liquid mercury. With its mirror-like surface distorting and reflecting the magnificent Chicago skyline, it makes for a perfect photo opportunity.
One of the not-to-be missed activities in the city is to board the Architecture Foundation River Cruise on Chicago’s First Lady. Its gives an insightful tour around all three branches of the Chicago River, which allows you to float along and to appreciate the impressive skilful blend of modern and historic architecture lining the banks and beyond. Listen to the experienced guide taking you through Chicago’s intriguing history and learn about the city’s redevelopment after the great fire in 1871.
Where to shop
Spend the afternoon window-shopping along the Magnificent Mile, with the main retail area filled with a huge array of designer boutiques and department stores, many of which lead out into smaller indoor shopping centres. For a break from the city, why not visit Chicago Premium outlets in Aurora, which is an hour’s drive outside of the centre? It’s the largest outlet the Midwest offers, with many designer boutiques including DKNY, Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor and Versace. You can pick up some outstanding bargains, like a St. John designer evening dress at a whacking 80 per cent off its original price.
Chicago Premium Outlets
Where to eat
Chicago is home to the deep-dish pizza. And where better to indulge than to make a visit to the legendary Pizza Uno, one of the first pizzerias to serve its fare deep-dish style. For those carnivores keen to sample a serious meat treat, check out the recently opened Chicago Cut Steakhouse in the upmarket River North neighbourhood, which is crammed most lunchtimes and evenings. Or for a lighter bite, the Fig & Olive in the Gold Coast neighbourhood makes for the perfect place to people-watch while indulging in a few Mediterranean plates.
In the West Loop neighbourhood, famed for its restaurant scene, is an edgy restaurant getting a big name for itself – the recently opened Monteverde. With its partner-owner and chef Sarah Gruenenberg at the helm, it draws inspiration from Italian influences, family heritage, and from her own significant international travels. Monteverde offers diners a new way to experience Italian cuisine by fusing adventurous different flavours. Choose one of their signature dishes, the Ragu Alla Napoletana, and finish off the meal with their moorish Black Forest ice-cream cake.
Chicago offers the discerning traveller a city break guaranteed to overflow with outstanding culture, fine cuisine and sublime retail therapy. You will find the Chicagoans friendly and hospitable, with the beat of the city being much more relaxed than its counterparts on both the East and West Coasts of the US. Maybe it is because Chicago is located in the middle of the US, towards the very heart of the country.
by Amanda Bernstein