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.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers