City Guide: Chicago

We’ve been to some really great cities in the USA. So great in fact, that we thought some of them deserved their own posts. We’re kicking it off with Chicago, one of the very best.

Chicago from on high, sure is pretty!
Chicago from on high, sure is pretty!

Actually Chicago isn’t just one of America’s great cities, its one of the world’s great cities. Before we went there in 2013 we knew relatively little of it. We knew about the Willis (Sears) Tower, we knew about Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, but we didn’t really “know” Chicago. Believe us, once you get to know Chicago, you won’t easily forget it.

Like so many American cities it has a storied past that belies its young age (Chicago is generally considered to be less than 200 years old). From its origins as a tiny settlement on the banks of Lake Michigan to the third largest city in America as it is today, it has produced some of the finest music, food, art and architecture in the country. We had three nights there in October 2013 and boy did we love it. Below are the things we considered to be must-dos in the Windy City:

Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza.
Chicago-style Deep Dish pizza.

1. Eat a deep dish pizza. We weren’t all that fussed about deep dish before we went to Chicago. How different can it be to a regular pizza? Well, it turns out its very different, and very, very tasty. We tried out two of Chi-town’s most famous pizza joints, Lou Malnati’s in downtown and Pequod’s between Lincoln Park and Logan Square. Both were epic. Malnati’s was probably cheesier, Pequod’s slightly more tomato-y. It really isn’t a pizza as we know it, its a pie, with a shortcrust base and literally inches of filling. When you’re in town, you HAVE to eat one, simple.

The Bears vs the Giants at Soldier Field
The Bears vs the Giants at Soldier Field

2. Catch a game. We were in Chicago outside of baseball season so we missed the chance to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but we did manage to get to Soldier Field to watch the Chicago Bears play the New York Giants. We knew nothing about the NFL beforehand, and almost as little afterwards, but it was a great experience. The crowd is big and noisy, the food is dirty but good, and the vendors who serve you beer at your seat are hilarious (or at least the one serving our row was). It’s not cheap (our tickets were about £100 each!), but its worth it for the experience.

Taps at the Goose Island brewery
Taps at the Goose Island brewery

3. Drink some beer. The craft beer movement might have been born elsewhere in the US, and Chicago might well be closer to the origins of the American mega-brewers like Miller, but trust us, the beer in Chicago is seriously good. Despite being bought by Budweiser, Goose Island still brew a huge variety of beers at their Chicago brewery (which does an excellent tour and tasting session). There are also any number of brewpubs like the Rock Bottom Brewery and awesome regular pubs like the Billy Goat Tavern where you can sample incredible beers.

American Gothic by Grant Wood is at the Art Institute of Chicago
American Gothic by Grant Wood is at the Art Institute of Chicago

4. See some art. A lot of Chicago’s best art, its architecture, is available for free. Whether its the blocky Willis Tower, the art deco Carbide and Carbon building or the pavilion in Millennium Park, there’s plenty to feast your eyes on just walking around. There’s much more besides, though. The Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful way to spend a few hours and is home to one of our favourite paintings; American Gothic, as well as other works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and hundreds more.

The streets of Chicago from the top of the John Hancock Center at night is a sight to behold
The streets of Chicago from the top of the John Hancock Center at night is a sight to behold

5. Go up. There are conflicting accounts of why Chicago is called the Windy City. Most people seem to agree its something to do with wind-bag politicians in the early 20th century, but it could just as easily be because everyone’s always up in some tall building somewhere. There are only four cities in the world with more skyscrapers than Chicago, and you can go to the top of a lot of them. We ascended to the top of the Willis Tower (at the time still America’s tallest building) during the day to look out over the city and Lake Michigan, and we whizzed up the John Hancock Center for a cocktail in the evening to take advantage of a spectacular night time view. Definitely not an experience to miss.

Whether you're a fan of the art and architecture in Chicago or not, there's a lot to look at!
Whether you’re a fan of the art and architecture in Chicago or not, there’s a lot to look at!

6. Go for a walk. Like we said above, Chicago is a mighty impressive sight, and the best way to see it is by walking…a lot. Chicago is big, we wouldn’t suggest walking from one end to the other, but taking a walk from the (free) Lincoln Park Zoo over to the Goose Island brewery is a peaceful way to see one of Chicago’s many neighbourhoods. Or just walking around downtown you’ll see any number of impressive buildings, works of art, shops, restaurants, bars…you name it! There’s also the Navy Pier which while coming with all the crap things a tourist hot spot has, is still worth a quick look (and there’s a nice view of the city from the pier too!).

As you can tell, Chicago comes highly recommended by us, if you ever get the chance to go, you should grab it with both hands – we’re sure there are many more awesome things to do there!

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