Explore Chicago, Usa
Explore Chicago, also called the windy city which is located in the Midwest along the Great Lakes shoreline. It is the third largest city and metropolitan area in the United States with a city population approaching 3 million and a metro population approaching 10 million. It’s well known for house music and electronic dance music, blues, jazz, comedy, shopping, dining, sports, architecture, highly-regarded colleges and universities, and premier cultural attractions.
As the hub of the Midwest, Chicago is easy to find with its picturesque skyline calling across the waters of the huge freshwater Lake Michigan, an impressive sight that soon reveals world-class museums, miles of sandy beaches, huge parks, public art, and perhaps the finest looking downtown in the world.
With a wealth of iconic sights and neighborhoods to explore, there’s enough to fill a visit of months without ever seeing the end. Prepare to cover a lot of ground; the meaning of Chicago is only found in movement, through its subways and historic elevated rail, and eyes raised to the sky.
Districts of Chicago
The most visited part of Chicago is its large central area, which contains neighborhoods such as Downtown, River North, Streeterville, Old Town, the Gold Coast, Central Station, the South Loop, Printer’s Row, Greek Town, and the Near West Side among others. Collectively, these neighborhoods contain many skyscrapers, attractions, and highly ranked institutions. But there are also many attractions to be found in the city’s’ other districts. Chicago consists of Downtown, the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side – each Side named according to its direction from Downtown. The Loop is the financial, cultural, retail, and transportation area located within Downtown. Another region in the Central Area is North Michigan Avenue. This portion of Michigan Avenue, and its adjacent streets, is called the Magnificent Mile and contains high-end shops, retail, and restaurants.
The North, South, and West Sides of Chicago are not neighborhoods themselves, they are large Sides of the city that each contain numerous and varied neighborhoods. Residents tend to identify strongly with their neighborhood, reflecting a real place of home and culture. Below are various regions of Chicago and some of the neighborhoods that they contain:
Downtown (The Loop, Near North, Near South, Near West)
- The center of the entire Midwest for work and play, and global importance with major corporate headquarters, skyscrapers, shopping, river walks, big theaters, parks, beaches, museums, a pier, a sports stadium; the area contains some of the country’s most famous sights
North Side (Lakeview, Boystown, Lincoln Park, Old Town)
- Upscale neighborhoods with entertainment aplenty in storefront theaters and the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, along with a ton of bars and clubs.
South Side (Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Bridgeport-Chinatown, Chatham-South Shore)
- The historic Black Metropolis, Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, Chinatown, the White Sox, great soul food, the excellent Museum of Science And Industry, and the Barack Obama Presidential Center
West Side (Wicker Park, Logan Square, Near West Side, Pilsen)
- Ethnic enclaves, dive bars, a very impressive conservatory, and hipsters abound on the fashionably rough side of town
Far North Side (Uptown, Lincoln Square, Rogers Park)
- Ultra-hip and laid-back, with miles of beaches and some of the most vibrant immigrant communities in the country
Far West Side (Little Village, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, Austin)
- So far off the beaten tourist track you might not find your way back, but that’s OK given all the great food, a couple of top blues clubs and enormous parks
Southwest Side (Back of the Yards, Marquette Park, Midway)
- Former home to the massive meatpacking district of the Union Stockyards, huge Polish and Mexican neighborhoods, and Midway Airport
Far Northwest Side (Avondale, Irving Park, Portage Park, Jefferson Park)
Polish Village, historic homes and theaters, and some undiscovered gems in the neighborhoods near O’Hare International Airport
Far Southeast Side (Historic Pullman, East Side, South Chicago, Hegewisch)
- The giant, industrial underbelly of Chicago, home to one large tourist draw: the historic Pullman District
Far Southwest Side (Beverly, Mount Greenwood), rarely does a neighborhood have such beauty as this in an urban setting
As far as Chicago’s weather goes, well let’s just say that Chicago is an enormous city so things tend to get blown out of proportion more than they would in other cities that include the same weather. The winters in Chicago are indeed cold and the summers are not very hot but they offer an array of parades, festivals, and events.
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.
Chicago 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 can be expensive, especially during rush hour due to traffic.
Chicago is quite unique in that it has established subway/elevated rapid transit rail service to its commercial airports; something many cities have not done at all, or perhaps have completed to one airport in their region. CTA trains provide direct service to both O’Hare and Midway airports.
While the city has many great attractions in its huge central/downtown area, lots of Chicagoans live and play outside of the central district as well. Travelers also go to the city’s vibrant neighborhoods to soak up the local nightlife, sample the wide range of fantastic dining, and see other sites that are a part of Chicago. Thanks to the city’s massive public transit system, which includes over 140 Chicago Transit Authority subway/elevated train stations, a separate city/suburban Metra rail network, and bus routes criss-crossing the city every few blocks apart, all parts of Chicago are indeed accessible.
Downtown Chicago is very walk able, with wide sidewalks, beautiful architecture, and an abundance of hotels, shopping, restaurants, and cultural attractions. The Chicago Pedway System is helpful for walkers looking to avoid cold or snow. It is a system of underground, ground-level, and above-ground passages that connect downtown buildings.
Chicago has a large and comprehensive bus system, and buses typically run frequently. This allows Chicagoans to go to bus stops and wait for the bus without even looking at bus schedules, as buses usually run every few minutes apart.
Rental cars are available at both airports (O’Hare and Midway) as well as from numerous rental offices in the Loop as well as other locations scattered throughout various neighborhoods and in the suburbs. O’Hare has the most and largest rental car offices, with many agencies operating 24 hours.
Cycling in Chicago can be safe and rewarding if undertaken carefully. New divided bike lanes in the Loop area are especially attractive when other modes of transportation are at full capacity.
What to see. Best top attractions in Chicago
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. And the city has several in the winter. There are a few can’t-miss city-wide events, though. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts Taste of Chicago in July, the largest outdoor food festival in the world; and there are four major music festivals: Blues Fest and Gospel Fest in June, Lollapalooza in August, and Jazz Fest in September. 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 at Union Park on the Near West Side.
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. 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.
The Chicago Bulls play basketball at the United Center on the Near West Side. They are an exciting team to watch. The Chicago Blackhawks share quarters with the Bulls. As one of the “Original Six” teams in professional hockey, the Blackhawks have a long history in their sport, and the team is experiencing a renaissance after capturing the Stanley Cup in 2010 for the first time in 49 years and winning two more championships in 2013 and 2015. Home games for both teams tend to sell out, but tickets can usually be found if you check around. 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 (the oldest National League ballpark and the second oldest active major league ballpark) 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 franchises have more than a century’s worth of history, and both teams play 81 home games from April to the beginning of October. Everything else is a matter of fiercely held opinion. 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 (National Women’s Soccer League) 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 Chicago’s strong points, Northwestern football (in Evanston) and DePaul basketball (off-campus in Rosemont) show occasional signs of life. If you find yourself in Hyde Park, ask someone how the University of Chicago football team is doing — it’s a surefire conversation starter.
What to buy
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 now a Target store, and invading forces from New York holding the former Marshall Field’s building hostage under the name Macy’s (Most locals still insist that it is “Marshall Field’s”). Even Filene’s Basement, the famous discount location, is now closed, though a few other discount shops persist.
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 walk able and makes for fun window-shopping.
Goods from around the world are available at the import stores in Chicago’s many ethnic neighborhoods so when you explore Chicago make sure to pass by there.
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.
Explore nearby places to Chicago
Official tourism websites of Chicago
For more information please visit the official government website: