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.

Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate