Having grown up around two-hundred kilometers away from Chicago, I cannot claim Chicago as my home. Even so, I have found myself somewhat a tour guide to the city. My family has a history of traveling near and far, and end up hosting new friends met along the way. My hometown is great to exhibit Midwestern life, but we almost always take our guests up to the city for a weekend. So, although I have never lived there, I find myself an unofficial resident, and now have valuable insight for first time visitors. Let’s take a look at Chicago and the best ways to spend your first time in the Windy City.
Sports, Sports, Sports!
If you didn’t already know, Chicago is a serious contender in the sporting world. The city is home to so many teams, it even has rivalries within it! White Sox and Cubs fans may not be best friends, but there’s a mutual understanding when the two meet in the street. Both represent Chicago, and that’s what counts, right? Anyway, catching an event in one of the many famous arenas and stadiums is certainly a thrilling way to experience Chicago culture and pride. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the infamous Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup, the Chicago Cubs or White Sox, and ‘Daaa Bears’ (yes, they are actually called this in Chicago). Whether you end up winning or losing, a sporting event is great way to spend your time in the city.
Music and Live Performances
The city is also home to some of the best musicians in the country. The incredible Chicago Symphony Orchestra holds their residency at Orchestra Hall (Symphony Center) in the middle of downtown Chicago. They are known as one of the “Big Five”, a small list of the top orchestras in the United States established in the nineteenth century. Having held the crown for long, it is no wonder that arts and music have become abundant here. You can catch a Broadway Musical on tour from New York in one of the many theatres in the Loop, a performance at Orchestra Hall or Ravinia Park, or free concerts every Monday in the Summer at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park! Known as the Millenium Park Summer Music Series, you can catch free performances from artists like Wilco, Hozier, Andrew Bird, Chance the Rapper and more, with a 360º view of Chicago’s skyline.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Pic: WikiCommons
Willis Tower and The Bean
Of all the things to do in Chicago, these are probably the most touristy activities. However, for a first-time venture to the city, they do hold their own magic. Willis Tower, previously known as The Sears Tower, is a famous 110ft skyscraper in the heart of downtown Chicago – it even held the title of tallest building in the world for nearly 25 years! The best part of touring the top of this building is not the view down, but the view out. If you look straight from the lookout points at the top, you can see fifty miles in any direction, plus four different states if you squint hard enough! So, unless you’re planning on going to Dubai anytime soon, this is definitely a view you want to check out. In addition, the ‘bean’ is another great view for those maybe not so great with heights. Well-known under its alias ‘The Bean’, Cloud Gate is a sculpture in Millennium Park that allows you to see your surroundings and an unbroken skyline from its reflective and curved surface. A very cool and free photo op!
The Bean. Pic: Pixabay
Long Walks and Tall Buildings
Luckily, Willis Tower is not the only tall building in Chicago. The mixture of industrial, historical and modern architecture gives this city a number of great views and scenic spots. One of the best ways to see the city is long walks and short trips on the overground train. Michigan Avenue and State Street, parallel along Chicago’s downtown stretch make a great path for walking through all the skyscrapers. Don’t forget to look down as well – shopping and dining are abundant on these streets. If you’re looking for a more relaxed route to admire the skyscrapers, treat yourself to a water taxi down the river and let someone else do the navigating.
When is the best time to visit Chicago? This really depends on your interests, as this city is buzzing all year round! Autumn, due to its more temperate weather, is a great time to visit and explore many of the music festivals and season starters for sports and other entertainment. In the winter you can enjoy the excitement of snow and a natural winter wonderland spirit that takes over the city. Beautiful light displays, ice skating, and the storyboard windows of Macy’s make for some local favourite ways to celebrate the season. In the spring, the weather can vary as we transition out of the cold, so this may be a good time to explore the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute of Chicago. Meanwhile, summer is the perfect time to explore local neighbourhoods like Logan Square or Wicker Park for their markets and festivals – best of all, you can find free music and culture festivals almost all season long! Speaking of which…
Chicago is home to many annual festivals for art, music, food and much more. Having held the World’s Fair in 1893, it’s no surprise they kept up the tradition. There are some major festivals worth mentioning amongst hundreds that occur each year. Lollapalooza is a music festival hosted in Millennium Park that brings hundreds of thousands of people each Summer to national and international majors acts with some up-and-coming locals mixed in. The Ravinia Festival is another arts and music festival that runs in Highland Park all Summer season. One of the oldest festivals in the country, it brings over one-hundred and fifty acts of all kinds each season, varying from music performances to theatre and more. Another great way to see as much culture in one day is at the Taste of Chicago, an annual festival showing off the best in local cuisine, music and activities.
The famous deep dish pizza at Giordanos. Pic: Wiki
Yes, pizza! It’s the most important food group, and Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza. Baked in a pan with as many toppings as humanly possible, deep dish pizza is the quintessential Chicago dining experience. Some of the biggest names in Chicago pizza are Pizzeria Uno, Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, and Gino’s East. Although, adhere to the advice that this an experience probably best experienced with friends… It would be very impressive to eat one on your own.
Words, Alleya Weibel