Name another city that shares its name with a rock n roll band with 20 certified Platinum albums, and the longest-running musical in Broadway history? We’ll wait.
Chicago (aka the Windy City, Chi-town or Chicagoland) may be approximately 14,340 kilometres from Brisbane but as of 2020, you can swap one river city for another in a matter of 16 hours, direct!
Voted the number one ‘big’ city to visit for the past two years by Conde Nast Traveller, it seems travellers have taken note.
Chicago set a new tourism record with over 58 million visitors crossing the Illinois State borders in 2018 alone.
Get in a Chicago state of mind with these 11 spots you can’t miss.
1. Find the green behind the skylines
With 570 parks covering over 3,000 hectares of land within the Chicago District, there’s no shortage of green space to escape the hustle of Chicago city.
Put Millennium Park on the top of your list, a 24.5-acre park on the city’s doorstep, and visit one of the city’s most famous icons – Cloud Gate (aka The Bean) – an outdoor sculpture made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together that reflects the city skyline on its surface.
Add to the other 61,000 #thebeanchicago photos online and get your Instagrammable moment while exploring Chicago’s ‘front yard’.
2. See the city with a different brushstroke
Looking for an attraction that houses over 300,000 artworks?
Make like Ferris Bueller and head to The Art Institute of Chicago, one of America’s oldest and largest art museums, which has been showcasing classics like A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat for nearly 100 years.
If you prefer art through a modern lens, the Museum of Contemporary Art also houses the largest collection of art from the second half of the 20th century found in America, with exhibits the likes of Tetsuya Ishida and Federico Herrero.
3. Have an animal encounter
Looking for an attraction that guarantees a furry-good time?
See animals large and small with a visit to Lincoln Park Zoo or Shedd Aquarium.
If you don’t mind parting with a few Benjamins, waddle into the African Penguin enclosure at the Zoo or meet face-to-face with a Beluga whale at the Aquarium.
4. Catch a baseball match at Wrigley Field
Did you even go to Chicago if you didn’t see the Cubs batter up at Wrigley Field? Unless you’re there outside the baseball season (November to March) then get your tickets to a game at one of the oldest ballparks in America.
Make like a local and grab a popular Chicago dog (think tomato, onion, relish, peppers, pickle and celery salt), pull up a pew in the stadium, which dates back to 1914 and marvel at the last manually operated scoreboard in existence, one that’s controlled by three staff.
5. Have a laugh at Second City Theatre
What do Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Joan Rivers have in common?
They’re four names in comedy history, known to have gotten their ‘big break’ in Chicago on the stage of this historical theatre devoted to sketch and improvised comedy.
Watch budding comedians with dreams of stardom take centre stage each night. It’s worth taking note of their name – you never know when you might see them on your television screen.
6. Take a step back to the 1930s at the Green Mill
Prohibition may be long gone, but this popular speakeasy from the teetotalling years remains in the streets of Uptown.
For a cocktail shaken not stirred in history, grab a table in the cocktail lounge where the likes of Al Capone once frequented.
Go early or stay late (read: until four or five in the morning) and be entertained each night as the sounds of swing and blues fill the room.
7. Elevate over the city’s skyline
For a fresh perspective on the city, get amongst the skyscrapers and ascend to the tower tops.
Take the elevator to the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formally Sears Tower) for views spanning four states and the chance to step four foot outside the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere on ‘The Ledge’.
For the daredevil traveller, head to 360 Chicago’s Tilt attraction for a downward facing view of the city from 313 meters above pavement level.
8. Take a sip at a local taphouse
Every sightseeing day is a good one, when you finish it with a refreshing stout or lager. This is the brewing capital after all.
Did you know Chicago currently holds the golden title, with over 160 craft breweries and taprooms within the district? Oh yes, there’s no shortages of places to wet your whistle after exploring the city streets.
For a hop’s history tour (Wednesday to Sunday), make your way to Goose Island Fulton Street Brewery, one of Chicago’s oldest craft breweries dating back to 1988.
9. Release your inner-child at Navy Pier
It might have been the scene where prisoners and citizens escaped Gotham City in The Dark Night, but in reality, Navy Pier is a one kilometre stretch of family-friendly fun along the Lake Michigan foreshore.
Enjoy 360-degree views of the city skyline aboard the 60-metre high Centennial Wheel, ride the hand-painted, 36-animal carousel or walk through the one-acre botanical gardens at Crystal Gardens.
10. Learn about the city’s history
Can you really understand a city unless you’ve turned the pages of its history book?
Like a phoenix rising through the ashes, the Chicago History Museum has weathered three fires, four renovations and a name change.
Although the original building and vast collection was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1871, the now architecturally acclaimed building continues to share stories about the people and places that’s shaped the city through artefacts, interactive features and multimedia presentations.
11. Catch a show at the Chicago Theatre
Is there anything more iconic in this Illinois city than the six-story high vertical letters of the Chicago Theatre?
Built in the 1920s, the 3,600-seat theatre was one of the original grand theatres developed by movie moguls Balaban & Katz.
Now owned by the Madison Square Garden Theatre Company, you can catch the likes of Jason Mraz, Julie Andrews and Cirque du Soleil on stage.
If your itinerary doesn’t allow time for a show, make sure you still visit 175 N State Street, to make your Instagram followers double tap with envy when you post a photo in front of the illuminated letters C-H-I-C-A-G-O.