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Getting Around

Chicago has the largest public transportation system in the country and getting around the city is fast and easy with an extensive network of train and bus routes. The train system is known as the El; most visitors only use the El, but buses also cover every part of the city including the suburbs, albeit less regularly. Most trains run 24 hours a day, with Overnight or Night Owl services taking over between midnight and 5am on some lines. The Metra commuter trains link the city to the outer suburbs, including Lake Michigan, Hyde Park and McCormick Place. During the summer months, a free trolley system operates in the downtown area, connecting Chicago's top cultural attractions, shopping areas and visitor destinations. Taxis are easy to find, and the metered rates are reasonable for short journeys. Although traffic is not as bad as in other major cities (outside rush hour), parking is expensive and difficult to find.

Chicago

Chicago is the major metropolis of America's heartland, with three million people hustling and bustling in the city of skyscrapers that appears to rise straight out of the waters of Lake Michigan, in northern Illinois. Once a gangster's hang-out synonymous with infamous names such as Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde, the 'windy city' today has a squeaky-clean reputation as an international business and commercial capital boasting an eclectic mix of architecture, world-class theatre, art exhibitions, fantastic music and super-enthusiastic sportsmanship.

Chicago emerged as a rough and tough survivor after being destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871, and a huge influx of immigrants from all over the world in the early 20th century brought with them a determined spirit, infusing the city with ethnic diversity and the unmistakable sound of Chicago-style blues music. Chicagoans have built a city that is to be reckoned with, boasting soaring skyscrapers like the Sears Tower (one of the tallest in the world); thriving ethnic neighbourhoods; a lakefront business district; the re-energised downtown; unbeatable shopping along the famed Michigan Avenue; and top-class sports teams.

One thing that does not attract visitors to Chicago is the weather, which, because of its geographical location is breezy at best, and freezing and gale-ridden at worst. It is possible to ignore the weather though, especially in summer, while getting caught up in the myriad of things to do, see and experience in this Midwestern metropolis.

Getting Around

Chicago has the largest public transportation system in the country and getting around the city is fast and easy with an extensive network of train and bus routes. The train system is known as the El; most visitors only use the El, but buses also cover every part of the city including the suburbs, albeit less regularly. Most trains run 24 hours a day, with Overnight or Night Owl services taking over between midnight and 5am on some lines. The Metra commuter trains link the city to the outer suburbs, including Lake Michigan, Hyde Park and McCormick Place. During the summer months, a free trolley system operates in the downtown area, connecting Chicago's top cultural attractions, shopping areas and visitor destinations. Taxis are easy to find, and the metered rates are reasonable for short journeys. Although traffic is not as bad as in other major cities (outside rush hour), parking is expensive and difficult to find.

Nightlife

Chicago's unassuming nightlife scene comes as a refreshing change to other US cities and although most locals prefer to stay close to what they know and hang out at their local watering hole, Chicago still has its fair share of hip and happening places to see and be seen in.

Most nightclubs and music bars are dotted throughout the windy city with the most popular haunts located in Lincoln Park, Wicker Park and Lakeview, where revellers can find music clubs devoted to just about every genre from rhythm and blues and jazz to alternative rock and Indie. The city's waterfront nightlife is popular with residents and tourists alike, while the piano bars at The Drake Hotel and the Ambassador East Hotel's Pump Room are favourites with locals.

Wells Street in the Old Town offers some great restaurants and bars as well as the popular Zanies Comedy Club. Chicago's gay scene is grouped together on a stretch of North Halsted Street in Lakeview and men's bars dominate the strip.

The birthplace of house music in the 1980s, Chicago has plenty of loud and pumping clubs full of 20-somethings dancing the night away to the latest offerings of the resident DJ. Many of these types of clubs pop up and disappear at a dizzying rate while others have been around for decades.

The culture scene in Chicago is bustling with shows and plays running throughout the year at renowned Chicago theatre companies, such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company, the Goodman Theatre, and the Victory Gardens Theater. Broadway-style entertainment can be found at the LaSalle Bank Theater and the Cadillac Palace Theater. And when in town, a visit to Symphony Center to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform is an absolute must.

Shopping

The fact that Chicago has a city-appointed Director of Fashion tells you that this is a great place to shop for haute couture. If you want to dress for success there is one destination: The Magnificent Mile along Michigan Avenue. Along an eight-block stretch, over 460 stores offer luxury items and fashion bargains to suit most budgets, and there are lovely restaurants and cafes aplenty to offer exhausted shoppers refreshment. Another area worth exploring is Oak Street, which provides a renowned concentration of designers and salons.

Chicago is equally famous for its art and antiques dealers, which are congregated around the River North Gallery District. There are also some good markets, some of which sell antiques: on Sunday mornings don't miss the Maxwell Street Market, which boasts more than 500 stalls selling everything under the sun. Get there early and don't be afraid to bargain.

Malls and department stores in Chicago are generally open from 10am to 9pm Monday to Saturday; and 12pm to 6pm on Sundays. A GST of 8.75% is levied on most products and is added at point of purchase, not on the price tag.

Kids Attractions

The windy city may not at first glance seem like a city that caters to the little ones, perhaps because of the city's legendary reputation for gangsterism, but children on holiday in Chicago will find there are more than enough attractions and activities to keep them busy, and these days it is very safe.

On clear days, enjoy the panoramic views over the city from atop the iconic Sears Tower, which was renamed the 'Willis Tower' in 2009, or the Hancock Observatory, or enjoy a stroll through Lincoln Park or the Chicago Botanic Gardens on a sunny day. When it's really hot, head off to one of the many indoor playgrounds or even the CoCo Key Water Resort where children can splash around for hours in the massive water park. The Navy Pier is a great place to walk along the docks and enjoy the spectacular views from the Ferris wheel or even a ride on the carousel or the funhouse.

When the wind is blowing and the rain bucketing down, take the kids to the any one of the fascinating and exciting museums Chicago has to offer, many of which are geared specifically towards children. With so many attractions on offer and plenty more lurking round every corner, children on holiday in Chicago will be just as enchanted with this city as their parents.

Restaurants

By some estimation there are more than 6,000 restaurants in Chicago, representing just about every cuisine across every price range imaginable. It can certainly be a thrilling experience to eat an authentic Ethiopian meal or a true south Goan curry under the shadow of the Sears Tower, but of course Chicago also has a reputation for some simple but delicious local specialities. While the city offers everything from haute cuisine to hotdogs with all the trimmings, its true specialty is the world-famous deep-dish pizza, invented at Pizzeria Uno in 1943, and now available throughout the city (though still served at its birthplace!).

Chicago has been earning a growing reputation as the cuisine capital of America, with its concentration of award-winning chefs and world-beating fine dining establishments. A whopping 25 restaurants in Chicago have earned Michelin stars, proving just how much fodder is available for discerning foodies.

Top areas for dining include trendy Lincoln Park, China Town, Little Italy, and Pilsen, a Mexican neighbourhood.

Sightseeing

Of all America's large cities, Chicago just might rank as the friendliest. And what it lacks in New York bravado and LA style, Chicago makes up for in the astonishing variety of its architecture, vibrant culture and thriving art scene, highlighted by the Art Institute of Chicago. It is also a truly family-friendly destination, with world-class attractions such as the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium to delight the whole family.

With so much to see, its worth getting a sense of perspective from the start. Visit the John Hancock Observatory or the Sears Tower Skydeck for views of the city from breathtakingly high up in the air. Then check out Navy Pier for a 3-D motion simulation of Chicago's fascinating history and exciting future. Afterwards, hop on a boat tour departing from the adjoining pier to explore the waterfront area.

A good option for visitors is the Go Chicago Card which gives you discounted admission to all the city's key attractions, shopping and dining discounts, various free tours, and a guide book. A Go Chicago Card also allows you to skip some long queues, which can be useful in peak season. The card is available from the Segway Experience (224 South Michigan Ave) or online, and costs upwards of $74.99 for adults.

Climate

Chicago has an extreme climate with very hot summers and bitterly cold winters, its lakeside setting only slightly moderating the temperatures and adding some humidity to the atmosphere. Chicago has distinct seasons, with a short spring, when temperatures are moderate and nights frosty. Summers are hot, sunny and humid, from June to the end of September, and are prone to thunderstorms. The daily average in July is around 75°F (24°C). August is usually the wettest month of the year. Autumn is a lovely time of year when the air is crisp and cool, with blue skies and sunshine. Winters in Chicago are icy and prone to cold, harsh winds, with temperatures averaging between 29°F (-2°C) in the afternoons and around 14°F (-10°C) at night. Snow is common.

Average High Temperatures in ℃

  • Jan-1
  • Feb1
  • Mar8
  • Apr15
  • May21
  • Jun27
  • Jul29
  • Aug28
  • Sep24
  • Oct18
  • Nov9
  • Dec2

Average Low Temperatures in ℃

  • Jan-9
  • Feb-7
  • Mar-1
  • Apr4
  • May10
  • Jun16
  • Jul19
  • Aug18
  • Sep14
  • Oct7
  • Nov1
  • Dec-6

Average Rainfall in Cm

  • Jan48
  • Feb42
  • Mar72
  • Apr97
  • May85
  • Jun92
  • Jul89
  • Aug117
  • Sep83
  • Oct68
  • Nov76
  • Dec61

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