Chicago, on Lake Michigan in Illinois, is among the largest cities in the U.S. Famed for its bold architecture, it has a skyline punctuated by skyscrapers such as the iconic John Hancock Center, 1,451-ft. Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower. The city is also renowned for its museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago with its noted Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works. Taking in all the sights in 3 days was going to be tough be this #NInja was up for the challenge!
Travelling direct from Dublin with Aer Lingus was a great choice; excellent flight times, clearing customs prior to arriving in the US and the incredible price made this a fantastic and hassle free option. With the lunchtime departure and 7 hour flight time this still had the Ninja arriving in Chicago mid afternoon. A short train ride later and we had arrived downtown with so much of the day still left to utilise. There are unfortunately no options direct from Belfast, but you can head via London of course with British Airways / American Airlines from Belfast City Airport.
Going mid-October we were prepared for it to be cold, wet and windy but were pleasantly surprised to find it mild and dry except for a bit of rain on the final day. This meant we were able to explore the city on foot and on the very handy ‘Divvy’ bikes which where conveniently located on every other street corner. Whilst the sun was strong, it did drop in temperature as the afternoon turned to night. Between November and February be warned as it can get SERIOUSLY cold. Whereas in the summer months it can reach over 30 degrees!
There were some great options all at competitive rates but we chose to go with The Congress Plaza primarily due to its fantastic location. Sitting directly opposite Millenium and Grant Park meant we where within walking distance of a number of the main attraction in the city. Being on the 13th floor also provided some amazing views of Lake Michigan.
The Magnificent Mile is the most popular (and therefore most expensive) area to stay, but anywhere around River North / Grant Park / The Loop is walkable anyway. Be like a #NInja and have a good look around for a bargain – there is a LOT of choice as you would expect from a major US city!
Things to do
We decided beforehand to get ourselves a multi-attraction ticket called “CityPass” from our local American Holidays store. This meant huge savings where made when comparing how much each attraction would have cost individually.
Being right beside Millenium Park meant it was super convenient to check out famous landmarks like Cloud Gate (more commonly known as “The Bean”) and the Pritzker Pavillion. The Natural History Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium were also just a short bike ride away.
The #NInja favourite on this trip however was definitely the epic shows that took place in the incredible planetarium.
Chicago is a HUGE sports city and if you’re a sports fan you’ll have the opportunity to check out Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears, again just a short bike ride from Millenium Park. There are also ice hockey, basketball and baseball professional teams in the area (including the iconic Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs play) so check the sports schedule for when you are visiting and take in a game.
I’d also highly recommend the Big Bus Tour. It’s hop on hop off (like most are) and it’s a great way to take in the city’s incredible architecture. Why not stay on for a full loop to get your bearings of the city – would certainly help.
We stopped off on the ‘Magnificent Mile’ to do some shopping before heading for the famous Hancock Tower and the 94th floor to check out the views as well as the terrifying ‘Tilt’ which is just about one of the scariest things you will ever experience! The Willis Tower (formerly Sears) is one of the tallest in the world and they have their own “glass floor / box” experience – certainly not one for the faint hearted!
The River Boat Tour is also a must do. Lasting roughly 2 hours it was great to get off your feet and sit back and relax while the tour guide talked us through the city’s architecture and history. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city so during those peak months you may need to book in advance if you want a specific time.
Navy Pier is one of the more obvious centre points for a lot of hustle and bustle, especially in those warmer summer months – full of food and drink outlets, speciality shops and a funfair with a fantastic ferris wheel which gives great views of the downtown area.
NInja Tips / Tricks
The “City Pass” is definitely great value and very simple to use at each attraction. To purchase this, visit http://www.americanholidays.com or call into store so you have it all sorted before you leave.
Also download the ‘Divvy’ bike app when you arrive. The bikes are all over the place, very cheap and make getting round the areas, attractions and hotspots super convenient.
Finally if you like your pizza be sure to check out Lou Malnatis and Giordanos where famous deep dish pizzas are to die for … just make sure you don’t plan anything too strenuous straight after eating!
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