48 Hours In: Chicago

This glittering city on the shores of Lake Michigan is already getting into the festive spirit, says Nick Boulos

Why go now?

As the snow starts to fall like icing sugar on the USA’s third-largest city (after New York and Los Angeles) this Thanksgiving weekend, festive cheer is palpable. With temperatures hovering around freezing, there’s plenty to take your mind off the cold, including a vibrant cultural and culinary scene. As Mark Twain said, “It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago. She is always a novelty.”

Touch down

American Airlines (0844 499 7300; americanairlines.co.uk) flies from Heathrow and Manchester; its partner, BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), flies from Heathrow, as does United Airlines (0845 607 6760; united.com).

Chicago O’Hare airport is 17 miles north-west of the city centre. The cheapest and most reliable way to reach downtown is on the Blue Line of the “L”, as Chicago’s rail system is known (derived from “elevated” – originally all the lines were above ground). It takes 45 minutes to reach downtown, stopping at Washington Station (1). Buy a three-day ($14/£9) or seven-day ($23/£14) pass, or a stored-value card, in advance from the ticket machines ( transitchicago.com). Standard one-way fare: $2.25 (£1.40). A taxi costs about $50 (£31).

Get your bearings

Chicago stretches along the south-west shoreline of Lake Michigan. Its downtown district is bordered to the west by the Chicago River. The tourist centre (2) (001 312 742 0808; choosechicago.com; 9.30-6pm daily, 10am-5pm Sundays) is inside the Water Works pumping station on East Pearson Street.

The skyscraper was born in Chicago. The city’s two most iconic buildings – the Willis Tower (3) (formerly Sears) and the John Hancock Center (4) – stand like giant slate bookends, framing the dramatic skyline.

Check in  Inspired by 17th-century France, the Sax Hotel (5) (001 877 569 3742; hotelsaxchicago.com) at 333 North Dearborn Street is bold and decadent. Doubles start at $208 (£130), room only.

The James Hotel (6) (001 312 337 1000; jameshotels.com) at 55 East Ontario Street offers comfort in a contemporary setting. The neutral tones give the rooms a calming quality while the modern furnishings, such as the Saarinen replica tables, add a dash of style. Doubles from $197 (£123), room only.

Overlooking Grant Park and Lake Michigan, the Essex Inn (7) (001 312 939 2800; essexinn.com) at 800 South Michigan Avenue is a good option for those on a budget.

Take a view

At 1,450ft tall, the Willis Tower (3) (001 312 875 9447; theskydeck.com) at 233 South Wacker Drive is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The observatory on the 103rd floor offers a dramatic panorama; 10am-8pm daily; admission $17.50 (£11).

Take a hike

… along State Street, which runs straight through the heart of the Loop, the historic and rugged downtown district. Start at the corner of West Jackson Boulevard and walk north – you’ll pass  Macy’s (8) and  the landmark 1921 Chicago Theatre (9). Cross the Chicago River on the DuSable Bridge (10), noting  the diverse architecture of the riverside buildings, and finish outside the neo-Gothic  Tribune Tower (11). A look at the exterior walls reveals fragments from far and wide: the Berlin Wall, Taj Mahal, Pyramids and Great Wall brought back by globetrotting reporters.

Lunch on the run

Home to the original deep-dish pizza, Uno (12) at 29 East Ohio Street (001 312 321 1000; unos.com) has become an institution since serving its first slice in 1943. Order the signature Numero Uno, oozing with melted cheese and chunks of sausage and pepperoni. From $10 (£6).

Window shopping

The Magnificent Mile ( themagnificentmile.com) is a tree-lined stretch of North Michigan Avenue, running north from the Tribune Tower (11). Luxury retailers – Burberry, Gucci, Louis Vuitton – compete. The shopping elsewhere is no less magnificent.  Armitage Avenue (13) ( armitageshopping.com) in the Lincoln Park suburb is lined with independent stores and charming Victorian houses. Opening hours are typically 11am-6pm daily.

An aperitif

Over 105 years, the Green Mill Jazz Club (14) (001 773 878 5552; greenmilljazz.com) at 4802 North Broadway has attracted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Al Capone. Expect strong drinks, world-class music and a packed dance floor. Order a shot of Malort ($5/£3), Chicago’s own gold-coloured spirit made from an old Swedish recipe using wormwood plants.

Dining with the locals

Under chef Carrie Nahabedian, Naha (15) (001 312 321 6242; naha-chicago.com), at 500 North Clark Street, won a Michelin star. Try the Icelandic Arctic char in an apple and celery broth ($34/£21).

Southern-inspired dishes await at the Carriage House (16) (001 773 384 9700;  carriagehousechicago.com) at 1700 West Division. Cider-steamed clams are $16 (£10).

Sunday morning: go to church

Old St Patrick’s Church (17) (001 312 648 1021; oldstpats.org) at 700 West Adams Street may  be Chicago’s most  celebrated place  of worship, but St Hedwig’s (18) (001 773 486 1660; sthed wigbucktown.org) at 2226 North Hoyne Street is an undiscovered gem. Built at the turn of the 20th century to serve the city’s growing Polish community, it’s the oldest church in Bucktown, a bohemian neighbourhood to the north that warrants exploration. (A cab will cost $15/£9.) Within its limestone walls are Bavarian stained windows. Sunday mass is at 8am and 11am.

Out to brunch

At the redbrick  Bite Café (19) (001 773 395 2483; bitecafechicago.com) at 1039 North Western Avenue, choose from home-made granola with yoghurt, tacos with scrambled eggs or a “poached egg and bacon hangover salad”. From $9 (£5).

Walk in the park

Millennium Park (001 312 742 5222; millenniumpark.org; 6am-11pm daily) was once forgotten wasteland. Today, explore the colourful Lurie Garden (20), check out Anish Kapoor’s metallic and bean-shaped installation Cloud Gate (21), inspired by liquid mercury, and skate on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink (22) ($10/£6; open until March). In warmer months, concerts are staged under the lattice arches of Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion (23).

Cultural afternoon

Discover the secrets of the city at the Chicago History Museum (24) at 1601 North Clark Street (001 312 642 4600; chicagohs.org; open noon-5pm Sunday, 9.30am-4.40pm other days; $14/£9). Alternatively, marvel at Monets and Renoirs at the Art Institute of Chicago (25) at 111 South Michigan Avenue (001 312 443 3600; artic.edu; 10.30am-5pm daily, to 8pm Thursdays; $18/£11).

The icing on cake

Discover a wealth of outdoor art, from Picasso’s sculpture (26) outside 50 West Washington Street to Chagall’s vibrant mosaic at Exelon Plaza (27) on Monroe Street.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg
music

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

News
The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
books

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London