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Chicago tours and excursions

Chicago tours

Gangster tours

The Untouchables Gangster Tour takes a step back to the days of prohibition. It traces the paths of some of the city's most infamous 1920s and 1930s residents, like Al Capone and John Dillinger. Wisecracking guides relate gangster lore on the way to famous hoodlum haunts like Little Italy and the St Valentine's Massacre. All tours depart from 600 North Clark Street, and reservations are necessary.

Tel: +1 773 881 1195.
Website: http://www.gangstertour.com

Boat tours

One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of the city as well as learn about its iconic architecture is from the water. Tours generally operate from May to early November, but it is best to check with the company for schedules and costs. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers an informative boat trip, as well as excellent walking tours. Chicago Line Cruises runs both history and architectural boat trips. Alternatively, boats departing from Navy Pier run the gamut from schooners to yachts; some include meals and cocktails. The tall ship Windy sails around Lake Michigan.

Tel: +1 312 922 8687; +1 312 527 1977; +1 312 451 2700.
Website: http://www.architecture.org

Chicago excursions

North Shore

Rent a car and discover Chicagoland's North Shore. Take the Outer Drive north and continue down Sheridan road to Evanston past the scenic lakeside campus of Northwestern University, the Grosse Pointe Lighthouse to the delicately sculptured Baha'i Temple in Wilmette. Continue on Sheridan Road toward the winding roads, ravines and stately homes of Kenilworth, Glencoe and Winnetka. Turn left on Lake Cook Road to the Chicago Botanic Garden and stroll along the numerous lush green paths and through the lovely English and Japanese gardens. Admission is free, but there is a charge for parking.

Milwaukee

No longer merely the land of beer and brats, Milwaukee is taking great pains to reinvent itself. It is worth the trip up there just to have a look at the stunning winged (or as some think of it, whale-fluked shaped) white Quadracci Pavilion of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, it has a moveable roof that opens and closes twice a day. When open, it spans over 66m (217ft). Milwaukee has many other interesting attractions to explore: museums, a respected zoo, Potawatomi Bingo Casino, brewery tours and funky neighbourhoods. For motorcycle buffs, there is the House of Harley. You can learn all about the illustrious bike, plan a trip and talk with other bike enthusiasts.

Tel: +1 800 554 1448.
Website: http://www.visitmilwaukee.org

Oak Park Neighbourhood

Two famous residents, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and writer Ernest Hemingway, made their home 16km (10 miles) west of the Loop in the suburb of Oak Park. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation (www.flwright.org), 951 Chicago Avenue, was where, between 1898 and 1908, Wright developed his new approach to architecture. Foundation offerings include Prairie School of Architecture educational programmes, daily tours of Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the area, and maps for exploring on your own. Discover aspects of the author's life and history at the Ernest Hemingway Museum (www.ehfop.org), set in his childhood home.

Tel: +1 888 625 7275.
Website: http://www.visitoakpark.com

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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.