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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

Population:
2700000
Latitude:
41.898829
Longitude:
-87.641132

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The Drake

In a landmark building on the Magnificent Mile and across from Oak Street Beach, this Chicago original opened in 1920 and has been the premier place to stay ever since. The spacious guestrooms combine elegance with all the expected modern touches, from flat-screen HDTVs to iPod adapters. Some have views of the city skyline or Lake Michigan.

Ritz-Carlton Chicago

The Ritz has always been a symbol of luxury and the Ritz-Carlton Chicago is no exception. An award-winning dining room, oversized rooms with a view, L'Occitane bath toiletries, state-of-the-art business facilities and 24-hour concierge service are some of the reasons its reputation is deserved.

Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

At the Four Seasons, personal service, attention to detail and elegant appointments are basics. The opulent seventh-floor lobby has a French art deco look, while spacious guest rooms include 1940s French décor and, for viewing stunning city and lake vistas, some have leather window seats. Marble bathrooms are spa-like.

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.