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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > United States of America > Illinois > Chicago

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Travel to Chicago

Flying to Chicago

American Airlines, British Airways, United and Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights from the UK to Chicago. The cheapest time to travel is usually between January and March, while fares tend to be at their highest in July and August.

Flight times

From London - 8 hours 45 minutes; New York - 2 hours 15 minutes; Los Angeles - 4 hours; Toronto - 1 hour 45 minutes; Sydney - 20 hours (including stopover).

Travel by road

Chicago is as much the centre of the US road network as it is that for rail and air routes. The general rule for numbering on freeways and interstates is that odd numbers go north-south and even numbers go east-west over their whole length, although at any single, localised point it may seem different. Driving is on the right. Speed limits on different motorways can vary. The general maximum is 90kph (55mph), with some spots being 110kph (70mph). Town residential areas can be as slow as 30kph (20mph), with specifically posted limits near schools. It is also illegal to pass a yellow school bus when its red lights are flashing. Unless specified, it is permissible to turn right at a red light after making a complete stop.

The minimum driving age is 16 years, or 18 years for unsupervised driving. Visitors require a valid driving licence from their home country. Third party insurance is mandatory, although it is also highly recommended for drivers to have adequate travel medical insurance, as the cost of medical treatment in the USA is huge.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) (tel: +1 866 968 7222; www.aaa.com) can provide information and may offer reciprocal benefits to members of automobile clubs in other countries.

Emergency breakdown services

AAA (tel: +1 800 222 4357).

Routes

Interstate 90 (I-90) runs due west to Seattle on the Pacific seaboard, while I-80 runs a parallel westward route, further south, to San Francisco. Its eastward stretch goes to New York. I-55 goes south to St Louis, then follows the Mississippi to New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. Making an arc on the west side of the city, about 16km (10 miles) from the Loop at its nearest point to Downtown, the I-294 is a toll road. Also, south of the city centre, the I-90 becomes the 'Chicago Skyway Toll' road, on its route to Indianapolis. The I-94 connects with Milwaukee and Minneapolis in the north, while the I-80 takes drivers west toward Omaha.

Coaches

The main bus station is located at 630 West Harrison Street, only two blocks from the CTA Blue Line's Clinton Station. Greyhound (tel: +1 800 231 2222; www.greyhound.com) operates nationwide coach services from here. Indian Trails (tel: +1 800 292 3831; www.indiantrails.com) operates regional services between Chicago and Michigan destinations like Bay City, Saginaw and Flint.

Time to city

From New York - 13 hours; Detroit - 4 hours 30 minutes; Des Moines - 5 hours 30 minutes; Minneapolis - 7 hours.

Travel by Rail

Services

Union Station, 225 South Canal Street, is the hub of the national Amtrak network. Amtrak trains travel throughout the USA, but are notoriously slow and often subject to delays. If you have plenty of time on your hands, it can be a great way to travel though. The commuter service, Metra, also operates from here. 

Operators

Amtrak (tel: +1 800 872 7245; www.amtrak.com) and the commuter service Metra (tel: +1 312 322 6777; www.metrarail.com) operate from Chicago.

Chicago is a major stop on several Amtrak routes. The Californian Zephyr travels from Chicago to Emeryville (San Francisco) via Denver. The Capitol Limited connects Chicago with Washington, DC, while the Cardinal joins Chicago with New York. The Empire Builder stops at Milwaukee and St Paul/Minneapolis on its way to Seattle, and the Southwest Chief travels from Chicago to Los Angeles via Albuquerque. Other destinations with direct services from Chicago include New Orleans, San Antonio, Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

Journey times

From Milwaukee - 1 hour 30 minutes; Detroit - 5 hours 30 minutes; New York - 19 hours; Emeryville (San Francisco) - 51 hours 40 minutes.

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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.

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.