Chicago often times gets a bad rap for crime, big city, etc. Well let me tell you, I just came back from four days in downtown Chicago and it was one of the best trips I have ever taken. Don’t get me wrong there are some imperfect things there, just like anywhere you will go. Chicago is rich in history and architecture. When you are walking downtown it is easy to be mesmerized by the sights, sounds, and smells.
Things to Know When Traveling to Chicago
There is so much to do there, if you are only going for a few days it will be difficult to take it all in. I would definitely have a plan for each day to maximize your time in Chicago. Research is key! I wasted considerable time, by visiting several attractions twice. I scheduled a food tour for my second day there, and did not know that in addition to the food tour, we would also go to Millennium Park, visit the bean really named Cloud Gate, and more. It is imperative to find out the time, location, and what exactly will be included in each tour. Most noteworthy opening and closing times for attractions must also be taken into account. Because many of the attractions close by 4:00 pm, making it difficult to see everything. Here are a few of the attractions that close early.
Attractions That Close By 4:00 pm
* ADLER PLANETARIUM closes at 4:00 pm.
* SHED AQUARIUM closes at 5:00 pm M-F closes at 6:00 pm SAT- SUN
* ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO closes at 5:00 pm every day except Thursday, they close at 8:00 pm
* FIELD MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY closes daily at 5:00 pm
* LINCOLN PARK ZOO closes daily at 4:30
There are several attractions and tours I wouldn’t miss!
* Famous Tastes of Chicago Food Tour – This can be booked on TripAdvisor. It is a walking tour. The tour begins at Pizano’s Pizza. It included the Berghoff (German restaurant), Fannie May (chocolate shop), and a few more. We also went to Millennial Park, the Palmer House Hotel, and other historical buildings including the Chicago Cultural Center. I absolutely loved this tour and had a wonderful tour guide!
* Chicago Architecture River Cruise – This was another of my favorite experiences while in Chicago. There are two possible departure points when booking this tour. We departed from Navy Pier, which saved me a trip, as I was able to see both. This river ride takes you on a trip though the history and architecture of the city. There is live narration by the tour guide. There is a bar on board. I was extremely fortunate, as my trip was during St. Patrick’s Day weekend, so the river was green for part of our cruise. Chicago dyes the river green every year for St. Patrick’s Day. On this tour you will be able to take some marvelous pictures!
* SHED AQUARIUM – If you love animals you do not want to miss this. Stop by my Facebook page to see the photos. You will be able to see live shows, 4-D shows, touch live star fish, see dolphins, beluga whales, and so much more!
* Millennium Park – You will be able to enjoy this attraction for FREE! This is home of Cloud Gate (better known as The Bean). There are also art exhibitions there that are free. I saw Chakaia Booker Exhibition when I was there. There is so much to see here.
* Chicago Helicopter Tour Nighttime Experience – This is a more expensive adventure. Flying over the city at night viewing the city illuminated by lights is unreal. The tour lasts about 20 minutes. I loved my tour!
* 360 Chicago – This building formally knows as The John Hancock Building offers a breathtaking 360 degree view of Lake Michigan, the skyline, and the city itself. You can also purchase a ticket to walk into a glass “box” and be tilted out over the city.
***FREE THINGS TO DO IN CHICAGO
* Lincoln Park Zoo
*Chicago Cultural Center
* Navy Pier
* Chicago Botanical Garden
* Grant Park
* Millennium Park
Obviously many of the attractions you are going to want to see are not free. I strongly suggest getting a City Pass. You can order the City Pass on TripAdvisor. You will exchange your voucher at your first attraction accepting the City Pass for a City Pass book. DO NOT RIP OUT ANY OF THE TICKETS BECAUSE THAT WILL VOID THEM. LET THE EMPLOYEES AT THE ATTRACTIONS DO THIS. Attractions included are as follows:
The Field Museum
Choice ticket: Admission to 360 Chicago (formerly John Hancock Observatory) OR Museum of Science and Industry
Choice ticket: Admission to Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago (includes audio tour)
The City Pass will also give you discounts for shopping at the attractions.
THINGS NOT TO DO:
*Tommy Gun’s Garage Dinner and Show – I found this to be boring and time-consuming. The food was not very good at all. You cannot leave until the end of the show. The servers are all in the show so you can only get service at certain times. The staff aggressively tries to sell you things for a good part of the night. This is also interactive and you have no choice whether or not to participate once they choose you. This is definitely a PASS!
*The Hop on Hop Off Tour/Bus – I purchased a ticket and never used it. Many of the places you can walk to and others you can Uber to or take the subway.
THINGS TO KNOW WHEN TRAVELING TO CHICAGO
* Wear comfortable shoes!! There is no way to avoid walking and you will be doing plenty of it.
* They call it the Windy City for a reason. Check the weather and dress accordingly.
* Utilize the option to share rides when using Uber there and you will save a decent amount of money and not waste much time at all. When using Uber be careful because they will not always pick you up on the side of the road you are waiting on. Also, the GPS can be finicky there so your auto location is not always accurate. If taking a Uber to the airport know that they don’t always send a vehicle with the ability to accommodate your luggage. If you have to cancel the ride for that they will try to charge you a $5 fee for the “driver’s inconvenience”.
* Maps Apps – These to can be finicky and will redirect you many times. I found it worth the time though. I walked the entire city.
* When shopping on Michigan Ave or the Magnificent Mile buyer beware. You will be charged 2%-3% more in taxes.
**MUST TRY FOODS –
* Pizza – Duh, but did you know that not only does Chicago make a mean deep dish pizza, but they also have a delicious thin crust? Try both!
* Chicago beef – often offered with sweet or hot peppers and either dipped, partially dipped, or not dipped. This means the sandwich will be dunked in the au jus.
* Chicago hot dog – common Chicago Style – yellow mustard, chopped onions, relish, pickle spear (dill), peppers, sliced tomato, and celery salt. Most places not only do not offer ketchup, but do not carry ketchup.
* This one might sound gross, I sure thought it did. Once I tasted it I was addicted. Caramel and Cheddar popcorn. You have to go to Garrett’s for this, it is the best!
** RESTAURANTS TO TRY
* Pizano’s Pizza & Pasta
* Volare Restaurant – Italian
* Rosebud – Italian and has more than one location
Do not be shocked by the prices, the food is very expensive. The prices go down if you are off of The Magnificent Mile.
Chicago is abundant in culture, history, architecture, wonderful food, and art. It is easy to fall in love with the city. Research and planning are the key to getting to see as much as you can in a short time. There are many things to know when traveling to Chicago check out the link below for more information.
Until next time…