About Chicago




Skylines and views   Views from Sears (Willis) Tower   Views from John Hancock Center

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)

Magnificent Mile

  South Michigan Avenue

South Loop
Union Station
Jackson Boulevard
Chase Tower

  North Michigan Avenue
John Hancock Center, Chicago Water Tower, Water Tower Place, Wrigley Bldg, Chicago Tribune Bldg
  Aon Center, Architecture Foundation, Grant Park, Millennium Park, Art Institute, Hilton
State Street

  Riverwalk   Michigan Avenue

Chicago Theatre
Marina City, House of Blues


Wacker Drive
Wabash Avenue

Merchandise Mart, Marina City


North Michigan Avenue
South Michigan Avenue

Daley Plaza Jewellers Row   Gold Coast

James R. Thompson Center
City Hall, Chicago Temple, Daley Plaza, Dubuffet sculpture


N Wabash Ave

  Lake Shore Drive, Lake Michicagn, North Dearborn Street, Washington Square Park

Grant Park
Buckingham Fountain
  Millennium Park   Navy Pier
    Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain, Jay Pritzker Pavilion,
Lurie Garden
  Riverfront, Ferris wheel



Lincoln Park   Hyde Park   Robie House

Lincoln Park, Fullerton Pkwy
Chicago Getaway Hostel
North Avenue Beach

  Chicago University   Frank Lloyd Wright, Hyde Park



The Art Institute of Chicago   Architecture Foundation, Architecture River Cruise   L trains and their views
American Gothic, Frank Lloyd Wright, Monet, van Gogh etc   Chicago River, Sears Tower, Lake Michigan   Loop trains, Loop, downtown, skylines
Downtown, Loop, Lincoln Park, Grant Park   Buckingham Fountain, Magnificent Mile, Chicago Theater, Marina City, Chicago River, Navy Pier, Lake Michigan    
Chicago O'Hare Airport        


ABOUT Chicago:

Population: 2 700 000 (metro 9 551 000)
Tallest building: Willis Tower / Sears Tower (442m, 108 floors, built 1974)
English (Spanish)
Cook County
606 km² (metro 28 160 km²)
Nicknames: "Windy City"
Year visited: June 2016


Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the USA, with 2.7 million inhabitants, and almost 10 millions in the metro area. This big city is famous for its architecture, it's tall and historic skyscrapers, the blues music scene, the railway hub, the airport, the industries, the labor unions and the gangster era from the past. Chicago is situated just next to Lake Michigan, one of the largest lakes in North America. Chicago River flows right to the North and West of downtown. The most central part of downtown is called the Loop, because of the elevated metro trains that goes around it in a loop. The name Chicago derives from shikaakwa, that means "wild garlic" or "onion" in the Miami-Illinois language. Chicago is nicknamed "Windy City", not only because of it's constantly changing weather and cold winters, but intitally because the famous 1893 World Fair "winds of changes" that led to much of today's modernism. During this huge world fair, many new interventions were presented, like AC/DC electricity and the ferris wheel.

After the great Chicago fire in 1871, much of the city was destroyed. 300 people were killed and 100 000 residents homeless. The city had to be rebuilt. Thus it became a playground for famous architects as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe. The skyscraper was born in Chicago, and so was the modernism. The direction is called Chicago School and the Bauhaus style was moved from Dessau in Germany to Chicago during the Nazi period. Chicago is home to not only some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, but also some of the first skyscrapers in the world, many well preserved today. The mix of the historic gothic, art deco skyscrapers, beautiful churches, townhouses, elevated trains, large parks, a long beachfront and modern supertalls create a very tasteful mix.

Sears Tower, a famous black office skyscraper recently renamed to Willis Tower, was the world's tallest building for more then 25 years (before Petronas Towers was built in 1998, late Taipei 101 and Burj Khalifa was built). It has 108 floors, a roof height of 442m and 527m to the top of the antenna. The tower has a variety of businesses as tenants, from lawyers to accountants as well as insurance companies. Aon Center (formerly Amoco Bldg and Standard Oil Bldg), a 83-storey white marble (that has been replaced) office building from 1973 was thus only Chicago's tallest building for one year, but second tallest until 2009 when Trump Tower, 423m tall elegant mixed use glass skyscraper with a tall spire, was built right next to the Chicago River and Magnifiecent Mile.

Magnificent Mile is the part of Michigan Avenue to the North of the Loop. Here you find some of the most exclusive department stores, malls, restaurants, highrise residential buildings, skyscrapers and tall hotels. Magnificent Mile is considered the foremost shopping street of Chicago. Department stores of Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus can all be found on Magnificent Mile (N Michigan Ave).

The Chicago Water Tower
and the Pumping Station opposite it were the only structures that survived the great fire, since they were built in stone. It is beautiful and considered a main tourist attraction. Inside the water tower there is a small art gallery. Opposite the Water Tower is Water Tower Place, one of several mixed use complexes at Magnificent Mile, a 10-story shopping mall with apartments and a luxury hotel, Ritz-Carlton, on the top. We tried a good restaurant on the top floor, and visited the sports museum. 900 North Michigan Shops is even more exclusive, anchored by Bloomingdale's and also has a luxury Four Seasons hotel on the top. John Hancock Center, today Chicago's 4th tallest skyscraper (344m, 2nd tallest if you count the mast, 457m), was built in 1969 as a city within the city, and is the most prominent landmark of Magnificent Mile, with 100 floors. It was Chicago's tallest building upon completion, and the world's second tallest, for 5 years. It is black just like Sears Tower that beated the building in height in 1974, but has black X:es and, unlike Sears, narrows a bit to the top. On top there is a nice observation deck with shorter queues than Sears Tower. If you approach Magnificent Mile from the North, the first thing you will see is probably the Drake Hotel, a classic Chicago hotel from 1920, where many royalties and celebrities have stayed, and many famous movies have been shot here.

Lake Point Tower, built in 1968, was for a long time the world's tallest residential building, but has been beaten many times lately. Many notable early 1900s skyscrapers in beautiful gothic style are still shining in all it's glory. Wrigley Building (1922, tallest building in Chicago for 2 years), Chicago Tribune Tower (1925, inspired by French gothic cathedrals and features stones from famous places all over the world, and the moon!), Hotel Intercontinental (1929) and Mather Tower (1928) are very beautiful classic skyscrapers that can be found at Magnificent Mile, near the river. Chicago Board of Trade from 1930, Carbid & Carbon Bldg from 1929(now Hard Rock Hotel), Civic Opera Bldg from 1929 and 35 East Wacker Drive from 1927 are examples that are situated in the Loop. Most of them are situated in the Loop, many along Michigan Avenue or Chicago River. In 1962, Marina City was built just at the river, with it's circular, corncob shaped twin towers. It is a 61-storey residential complex with a marina at the base, a significant parking garage above and apartments on the upper floors.

Significant modernist skyscrapers are Two Prudential Plaza, Chase Tower (with a nice plaza and fountain at the base), the 71-storey Legacy at Millennium Park from 2010 and Aqua, a 86-storey mixed use wave shaped glass skyscraper that is one of the latest additions to the skyline (2009). 200 North Riverside Plaza, an impressive glass tower just next to the river, was recently completed during our visit (2016). Since 2009, the 62-storey One Museum Park really stands out on the southern end of the skyline. There have been 4 proposals to build a new world's tallest building or USA:s tallest building in Chicago since the early 90s, but due to financial problems all of them was cancelled. The latest proposal was the twisted 150-storey, 610m tall Chicago Spire, designed by Santiago Caltrava. Ground was broken in 2007, but today there is still only an empty hole at the spot.

Underneath the skyscrapers of Chicago you will also find a lot of old churches, many in gothic style. You will also find old townhouses, parks, restaurants etc. What makes Chicago really special in its character, is that much of the 1930s building, trains and signs is still visible despite all the modern buildings. Let us hope they keep it that way.

Chicago Riverwalk is a beautiful promenade along large portions of Chicago River, filled with cafés, restaurants and bars. You can walk along it underneath the bridges. It was constructed 2001-2005. During our visit construction was going on on some parts, the plan is to connect the whole riverwalk without interruptions. It was planned to be finished the same year we visited (2016). Notable landmarks like Trump Tower, Tribune Tower, 333 Wacker DRive and Wrigley Building can be seen from the Riverwalk, as well as all different kinds of boats that trafficates the river, and the charming bridges, that can be opened when large ships pass and ads even more character to Chicago.

The South part of Michigan Avenue is the most central place to be in Chicago. It borders the large Grant Park to the East and is filled with beautiful historic skyscrapers and other buildings. Here you also find the Art Institutue, a huge arts museum that was voted the world's best museum recently, and a lot of sculptures. Grant Park is the largest park in central Chicago, and was filled with railway tracks in the past, before large expansions. It was initially called Lake Park, but was renamed after Ulyssses S. Grant in 1901. At the lakefront of Grant Park, you find the huge and beautiful Buckingham Fountain, that changes colours after dark. The fountain is a popular tourist attraction and had an important role at the opening to the 80s comedy show "Married with Children". Millennium Park is a landscaped park that is part of Grant Park, just next to South Michigan Avenue. Here you find the famous modernist sculptures Cloud Gate, Jay Pritzker Pavilion (a futuristic shae arena for concerts), a mirroring aluminium shape, and the Crown Fountain, with it's faces appearing behind waterfalls. They are very popular tourist attractions and among locals. South Loop is the district just south of the Loop, the southermost part of S Michigan Ave and State St. Here you find the Chicago Hilton hotel, one of the first Hiltons in the world and the world's largest hotel when it opened in 1927, that was featured in the 1993 "The Fugitive". You will also find the historic red brick Renaissance Blackstone Hotel from 1910 in South Loop. CNA Center, a skyscraper from 1972 stands out on the skyline with its significant red colour.

Daley Plaza is a large square in the Loop, named after the popular mayor Richard J. Daley. Here you find a large Picasso sculpture, and several interesting buildings; James R. Thompson Center (formerly State of Illinois Center) with its large futuristic atrium, impressive Blade Runner like architecture and large Picasso sculpture in the front, the neo-classistic City Hall, Daley Center that was one of the first modernist glass skyscrapers ever built, and Chicago Temple, a gothic "skyscraper church" built in 1924, that is the world's largest church building.

Chicago Theatre with its famous neon "Chicago" sign, reminds you of the past times, the 30s movies and Al Capone. It can be found find on State Street, one of Chicago's main roads and sometimes called "America's finest street". It was opened in 1921. It features a grand pipe organ. Cadillac Palace at Randolph St is another classic theatre, as well as Oriental Theatre. This district is called the Theatre District, and is Chicago's Broadway. State Street is Chicago's 2nd most important street, after Michigan Ave, and passes by Marshalle Field's, the famous department store (that now is a Macy's), ABC TV channel, Marina City and House of Blues.

A part of N Wabash Ave in the Loop is called "Jewellers Row" because of the many jewellers here. The classic hotel Palmer House Hilton can also be found here. This is the second largest hotel in Chicago, after the more modern Hyatt Regency from 1980, situated on East Wacker Drive, that features more then 2000 rooms.
Fisher Building is the only surviving highrise building from 19 th century (built 1898, 18 floors). Next to it stands Harold Washington Library, an impressive library building that looks like an old station building, but actually is a postmodern building from 1991.

Navy Pier is a pier to the Northeast of the city center, surrounded by Lake Michigan. Here you find a modern ferris wheel, some childrens carousels, restaurants and a stage. The pier is not that impressive itself, especially considering it is Chicago's number one tourist attraction! The most impressive fearture is the view of the skyline and the harbour, and the view from the ferris wheel. There are also rock concerts with good bands, and some sculptures. Many ferries, including sightseeing tours, and water taxis, depart from Navy Pier.

Museum of Industry of Science, the Adler Planetarium and Chicago History Museum are also large tourist attractions. The neo-classical Museum of Industry of Science is the only building left from the 1847 World Fair.

Despite having no reputation of being a beach resort, probably because of the often severe weather, Chicago has a number of beaches. But sometimes the weather is hot and sunny. Almost the whole west part of Chicago has access to beaches along the coast of Lake Michigan, and you can drive, take the bus or walk at the promenade along the nice road Lake Shore Drive, where you have views of the lake, the beaches and the skyline. Lake Shore Drive goes along large part of Chicago's coast line, creating a very continental atmosphere.
Oak Street Beach is the most centrally located beach in Chicago, situated just next to Magnificent Mile. But there are many other, like North Avenue Beach and Montrose Beach for example. And in the northern suburbs, like Evanston (a popular daytrip destination), there are even more beaches.

To the North of Magnificent Mile is a neighbourhood called Gold Coast, where you find small scale old townhouses, churches, lost of trees and luxury highrise apartment buildings. Here you also find the small but nice Washington Square Park. Gold Coast is the second most affluent neighbourhood in the United States.

O'Hare Airport is the second busiest airport in the world and the 7th largest in size. It is situated far away from the city, to the Northwest, and takes more then one hour to reach from downtown. It was built in 1943 and has 5 terminals. Chicago also has two smaller airports; Midway and Rockford.

Chicago is a major railway hub and Union Station is USA:s largest railway station outside New York. Union Station is an impressive neo-classicism building, situated right next to Sears Tower. There is a famous scene from the popular 1987 movie "the Untouchables", that were shot at the station's grand marble stairway in the Great Hall. The station was built in 1925 to connect the West coast with the East coast.

Lincoln Park is a quiet neighbourhood north of downtown, with some busy roads as well. It is famous for its large park - Lincoln Park is actually Chicago's largest park, and is famous for its zoo, that is free to visit but was closed during our visit. Lincoln Park is mainly a residential area, where you find many beautiful townhouses, all in beautiful style. Lots of restaurants, bars and cafés can be found in Lincoln Park, as well as Oz Park, that features a lot of sculptures with a theme from the "Wizard from Oz". This is were we stayed during our visit.

On the South side, you find the wealthy Hyde Park neighboorhoud. Here you find many of the impressive buildings and the campus of Chicago University as well as Robie House, a large private house from 1909 designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Chicago architect that became a legend. This is also where Barrack Obama lived before he was president. In the Western suburb Oak Park, you will find Wright's architecture studio and many other private residences he designed.

There are also many ethnic neighboorhouds in Chicago, such as Chinatown and Little Italy. Pilsen (Mexican, former Czech), Andersonville (formerly Swedish), Little India and Greektown are other examples.
Chicago has large populations of immigrant groups; it once had the second largest population of Swedes outside Stockholm, the second largest Polish population outside Warsaw, lots of Asians and Mexicans. You can hear Spanish spoken everywhere in Chicago, and many signs, for example on the buses, are in both English and Spanish.

The music scene in Chicago is big; it is mainly known for blues and rock. The House of Blues is situated at Marina City, and houses much other music then blues nowadays. Just like in New York, there is wide range of entertainment in Chicago; musicals, theatres, night clubs, movies etc.

Chicago is also a media city, with stations of all big TV stations (NBC, ABC etc) and a sports city, with famous sports teams; baseball (Cubs and White Sox), American football (Bears), soccer (Fire), hockey (Blackhawks) and basket (Bulls). Wrigley Field is a very famous arena for baseball, with parts in neo-classistic style. It is situated just south of downtown, next to Lake Michigan.

You might think about Russia or China, but few people know that the worker's holiday May 1st was born in Chicago, after the Haymarket massacre in 1886.

Chicago still has a reputation of being a dangerous city, much because of the past with gangsters like Al Capone. But today, you can easily walk in downtown, or in neighbourhoods like Lincoln Park for example, without having to fear violet gangs, even after dark. Many people are out on the streets everywhere, including tourists. In contrary, when reading the news we learned about 6-15 shootings a day and a brutal murder on the subway, but many of them were in the same neighbourhoods in the outskirts, that should be avoided at any cost. These are mainly situated in the South or North, especially Humboldt Park and the Howard red line stop should be avoided.

Chicago has an extensive subway system with many lines. What differs from many cities though, is that in downtown, the part called the Loop, the trains from most lines go high above ground instead of underneath it, adding a special character to the city. That makes it also possible to actually see things from the trains. These kind of trains are called "L trains" (Loop trains). The trains are, just like in New York, extremely old fashioned, especially compared to China or many European cities. There are also buses in Chicago, with pretty good connections for an American city, much better then for example New York and LA.


In the hot summer of June 2016, we flew to Chicago from Toronto, after visiting Toronto and Niagara Falls, by United to O'Hare, one of the world's largest airports. From there we took the subway to Lincoln Park. We stayed in Chicago for 4 full days, and one evening, not enough time to see everything we wanted to, but enough to spot the main sights, a guided boat tour and one of the large museums.

We stayed at the Chicago Getaway Hostel in Lincoln Park, one of Chicago's best neighbourhoods. It is a quiet neighbourhood north of downtown, filled with beautiful townhouses and about 15 minutes walk to the beach. Getaway is a very fresh hostel, with bright, modern interiors inside a historic red brick town house building at Arlington Place. Breakfast was included, it was simple but good, the breakfast room is large, and even has an outdoor terrace. There are also computers with internet, free to lend, the wi-fi was not so good though. The room was very simple without private bathroom and just a small window that couldn't be opened, but after all it is one of the cheapest places to stay in Chicago and the staff is very friendly and helpful, and has overall a great atmosphere. If you can stand to take the subway from Lincoln Park and walk a couple of blocks to get there every evening and morning, it is definately worth it. Every day we walked to the Fullerton subway station and caught the brown line train to the Loop.

Most of the second day, that was very grey, we visited the Art Institute, a huge art museum with many famous paintings. We also had small plans to visit the Museum of Industry of Science, the Adler Planetarium and Chicago History Museum but there was no time for that.

When the skies became clear, we took the opportunity to get up to Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) and it's Skydeck. We also walked on the glass floors that hang outside the building 103 floors above Chicago! The last evening we went up to the 100th floor of John Hancock Center, watching the lights of Chicago by night.

Last day we headed to the south side and the Hyde Park district to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House and the University area. After that we took a bus back to Lincoln Park and bathed at the Northern Avenue Beach near Lincoln Park, since it was extremely hot and sunny this day. The beach was nice but was very stony at the shoreline. There are great views of the skyline from this beach, and most of the other beaches.

The first day we had diner at a Harry Caray's, a nice restaurant on the top floor of Water Tower Place, a large shopping galleria at Magnificent Mile. (The day we arrived we only had a late evening lunch at Mc Donald's in Lincoln Park). We made a brief visit to the sports musuem, just next to the restaurant (entrance was free if you had diner there). The last evening we had diner and cheesecake at the exceptional Cheesecake Factory, just below John Hancock Center, also on Magnificent Mile.

There are special tours held by the Architecture foundation by bus or boat. We took the boat trip, that took place on Chicago River while the guide told interesting facts about the surrounding buildings.

Most of the time in Chicago it was very hot (30-35 degrees C in the shadow), and the last 3 days very sunny.
But the first full day there was a thunderstorm in the evening, the outskirts of a tornado in Pontiac only 10km away! The tornado tore a gas station apart and lifted a gas truck! We sat and watched the Buckingham Fountain, it turned grey and started to rain a bit but not very much. All of a sudden we had this thunderstorm right over us, accompanied by the march songs of Buckingham Fountain! We took shelter under a small restroom building, but finally we had to flee towards the road to escape the open space in Grant Park right next to Lake Michigan. I think I even heard the warning signal that was alarming, the lightening struck righ at Lake Michigan, near some small ferries that were out on the lake. Finally we managed to escape the whirling rain and thunderstorm into a taxi that took us back to the hotel! After less then an hour it was over, but our clothes were soaking wet.

The subway is very old fashioned, with screaming and shaky wagons, and it is often hard to get a seat, especially during rush hour. It has its charm though, especially the old stations like Quincy, and the fact that many lines goes above ground instead of underneath. It is less charming though, that it changes line colours in the middle of a line; when we went to the airport the last day, the brown line was suddenly red without warning so we missed our station! And on the first day, we also missed our station, because the train was suddenly transformed into an express train, someone told there was a red light that indicated that, but that could hardly be found. Many stations were also closed due to reconstruction, forcing us to walk a long way to the next station while being in a hurry.

Due to being there summertime (June), it didn't turn dark until 9.30Pm, making less experience by "Chicago by night". But that made us experience more of "Chicago in daylight".

Overall we liked Chicago very much, it is one of the most beautiful cities in America, and the world too! The mix of old townhouses, modern skyscrapers, parks and the long shoreline along the river, filled with beaches, make Chicago an outstanding city and a Mecca for architecture lovers.

Before we went to Chicago, we visited the Canadian cities Toronto, and Niagara Falls.

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