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Chicago Travel Guide

About Chicago

Often overlooked in favour of New York or San Francisco, the ‘Windy City’ of Chicago doesn’t fall short as a centre of culture, art and architecture. Soaring towers befitting the birthplace of the skyscraper are stacked high along the stunning Chicago River and throughout the sprawling metropolis. This is also the home of blues and jazz, where early masters such as Louis Armstrong honed their skills.

Situated on beautiful Lake Michigan, Chicago’s countless bars and restaurants are lively and usually full – especially if a game is on. The friendly locals are sports mad, with American football, basketball and baseball all popular.

The live-music scene is vibrant (with plenty of blues bars), while there are also renowned festivals, a world-class symphony and some terrific museums – such as the Art Institute with its extensive French Impressionist collection. Then there’s the stunning Millennium Park, which opened in 2004 and features work by Frank Gehry, Jaume Plensa and Anish Kapoor.

The Downtown area is known as the ‘Loop’ after the raised metropolitan railway that circles the central business and shopping district, and many visitors take to the iconic waterways to tour this area’s colossal architecture by boat.

The 10-floor Home Insurance Building constructed here in 1884 was the first skyscraper, ahead of Hotel Burnham (formerly the Reliance Building), which was the first steel-framed skyscraper. It also houses one of the world's tallest buildings, Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower). Famous architects such as Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright and his Prairie School of Architecture have all left their mark here.

But the city isn’t only interesting for its architecture. Chicago is a cosmopolitan hub with varied districts known for their Irish, Vietnamese, Latin-American and other connections, and it’s constantly changing. “It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago,” said Mark Twain in the 19th century. “She outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them.” Over a century later, his words still ring true.

Key facts

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Featured Hotels


The James

Modern, sleek, compact and comfortable, The James is a nice departure from the big, glitzy chains. The narrow lobby has a clean and clubby look about it as does the adjacent, complimentary business centre and the J Bar. Rooms have minimalist decor, with platform beds and marble bathrooms, as well as a dining niche, plasma TVs and free Wi-Fi.

The Hard Rock Hotel

The staid 1929 Carbon and Carbide Building has been reinvented and is now a sleek hotel. The 383-room, 13-suite, contemporary venue pulsates with musically-themed excitement. Piped-in music and rock & roll memorabilia are everywhere. Cushy leather couches and open space give the lobby a feeling of warmth and comfort. Rooms with zebra wood furnishings are accented in greys, blues, chrome, wood, mirrors and rock'n'roll artwork. Matchless Downtown vistas, flat screen television, and state-of-the-art amenities are standard, as is the business centre and fitness facility.

Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown-Lakefront

Conveniently located between Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue, the modern Embassy Suites meets the needs of the business traveller. Its airy, 17-floor atrium lobby, with fountains and reflecting pool, is just the place to unwind after a busy day. Enclosed glass elevators reveal city and lake views, as do the comfortably furnished, two-room suites, which are standard.

Hotel Felix

One of the best deals in the central area of Chicago, the Felix is a modern hotel with an environmentally friendly rating and lashings of style. Plush rooms are kitted out in shades of cocoa and offer flat-screen TVs, contemporary bathrooms, and handy desk space. Unwind at the hotel's spa, or work out in their state-of-the-art gym. Service is brisk and efficient.

Wheeler Mansion

This 130-year-old mansion is an elegant, 11-room boutique hotel that offers a nice alternative to the big bustling hotels. Its lovely garden area, polished woodwork and special mattresses with goose feather duvets radiate warmth and comfort. Attention to detail is revealed in the property's original artwork and furnishings.

The Fairmont Chicago

This 37-floor, Rosetta-pink granite structure, which overlooks both Grant Park and Lake Michigan, has a spacious lobby that mixes contemporary furnishings with antiques and original art. Guests can relax after a busy day with a choice of candles, scents and bubbles in their drawn bath. The large and comfortably furnished rooms include premium mattresses, dressing areas, marble baths and built-in bars. Its chic Aria restaurant features a wide selection of wines and an interesting selection of regional American cuisines and its lounge has become a unique sushi bar.