City Guide: Chicago


7 minutes

chicago
chicago

Image courtesy of David B. Gleason

Chicago, Illinois is the third largest city in the U.S., so naturally there is a lot to do and see. Read on for tips on getting around, places to visit, and things to eat. The Windy City will blow you away!

Transportation

Getting There

Air: Chicago has 2 airports that you can fly into:

  • O’Hare International Airport (ORD) is one of the busiest airports, so there will be many flight options here. It’s about 17 miles (about 27 km) Northwest of downtown Chicago, with several easy options for getting into the city.
  • Midway International Airport (MDW) is a little bit closer to the city (About 10 miles or 16 km), and it’s also significantly smaller and less busy.

Bus: If you’re only a few hours driving from Chicago, a bus is a less expensive option. See the companies below:

Train: Amtrak provides all train service to and from Chicago’s Union Station downtown.

Once You’re There

Getting around Chicago is easy with the “L” but if you need to venture outside the city or will be spending time exploring the suburbs, you will probably need a car.

Walking: Chicago is a very pedestrian-friendly city. Once you’re downtown, it’s easy to walk most places. Here is a walking tour you can do to see some Chicago’s most popular sites.

If you want to get somewhere fast or somewhere that’s too far to walk, you can always hop on the “L”!

The “L” Subway/Metro: The “L” (short for “elevated”) is the name given to Chicago’s rapid transit system that takes passengers around the city on elevated railways, in subways, or on the ground. This is the easiest and most convenient way to get around the city. The fare is $2.25 per ride, but you can buy a 1-day, 3-day, 7-day, or 30-day pass at a reduced rate.

CTA Buses: Chicago also has an extensive bus system to get around the city.

Metra: Metra is the commuter rail system serving the Chicago metro area. Hundreds of thousands of people commute in and out of Chicago everyday using Metra trains.

Taxis: In most downtown areas you should be able to hail a cab fairly easily, especially in well-populated areas. If you are a little off the beaten path or it is very earlyin the morning or late at night, you may need to call ahead. The minimum fare for any taxi journey is $2.25, then for every 1/9 of a mile travelled it is $0.20. For the first additional adult passenger there is a $1.00 charge and any additional adult is $0.50. Also, for every 30 seconds of time not spent moving, the meter adds $0.20. Most cabs will have credit card machines, however it’s always best to have cash on hand, especially for a short ride. You can also calculate a fare estimate beforehand to avoid getting scammed.

Taxi Companies:

Weather and Climate

Whether you like it warm or cold, at some point in the year, Chicago is guaranteed to have your preferred weather. All four seasons are well represented in Chicago. Rainy spring seasons, humid and hot summers (reaching anywhere between 78 and 92°F or 26 and 33°C), pretty cool falls, and extremely cold and snowy winters (it’s not unusual for temperatures to drop below 0°F or −2 to -10°C). Like snow? Good! The average Chicago winter produces 38 inches (970 mm) of snow but generally only around 2 inches (50.8 mm) at a time.

What about wind? Although Chicago’s nickname is the “Windy City,” it is in fact less windy than many other major American cities. What’s the weather like in Chicago right now?

Things to Do and See Around “Chi-Town”

the bean Chicago
the bean Chicago

Image courtesy of Pixabay

  • Millennium Park: This public park has a stunning landscape design and is a great place to walk around. There are often outdoor concerts and other performances and activities.
  • Cloud Gate: Commonly referred to by locals as “The Bean,” this giant, reflective bean-shaped sculpture is a must-see in Chicago’s Loop area. This neat structure is found in Millennium Park and makes a great photo-op!
  • Buckingham Fountain: Located in Grant Park is the world’s largest illuminated fountain. A 20-minute water show occurs every hour on the hour (from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.) from mid-April through mid-October, and the winter months feature festive lighting decorations!
  • Navy Pier: The first Ferris wheel made its debut in Chicago at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Today, Navy Pier is home to a 15-story Ferris wheel, modeled after the original one. The Ferris wheel is just one of tons of activities at the pier—indoor and out.
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Perhaps the most popular attraction at the Navy Pier, this theater always puts on a good show, Shakespeare or not.
  • Art Institute of Chicago: The AIC is the second largest museum in the U.S. and world famous for its collections. It’s located in Grant Park.
  • The Field Museum: The Field Museum of Natural History includes a variety of fascinating exhibits. Just some examples: dinosaur skeletons and three working laboratories that visitors can observe.
  • Magnificent Mile: The Mag Mile is Chicago’s premier destination for high end shopping. It runs along a portion of Michigan Avenue and has 460 stores and 275 restaurants.
  • Baseball Game/Wrigley: Since 1916, Wrigley Field has been home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. It is one of the oldest and most beloved baseball parks in the U.S. If you’re in the Windy City, you should definitely catch a game. Don’t forget to get a Chicago dog while you watch.
  • Take a Boat Tour: Wendella Boats or Chicago Line are great options.
  • Chicago Greeter Program: A great way to learn about Chicago from a Chicago resident. Local volunteers provide free, guided walking tours of the city. Just make sure to sign up at least 10 business days in advance. (P.S. – It’s free.)
  • The Willis Tower Skydeck: The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 110 stories high. Its elevators are among the fastest in the world operating as fast as 1,600 feet per minute. Take a ride up for a spectacular view.
  • Lincoln Park/Lincoln Park Zoo: Over 230 different species can be found at the Lincoln Park Zoo and admission is free 7 days a week. You can download the Visitor’s Guide on the zoo’s website. A tip: during the Holiday season, the zoo is one of the best places to see Holiday decorations, with over 1 million lights!
  • Chicago Food Planet Food Tour
  • Absolutely Chicago Segway Tour: What a cool way to see the city!
  • Recreational Activities

Must Eats

Cheap

  • Portillo’s Hot Dogs: While their Chicago-style dogs are amazing, Portillo’s is particularly known for their Italian beef sandwich. Make sure you also try the chocolate cake shake! Did you know that the Chicago area has more hot dog restaurants than McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King combined?
  • Hot Doug’s: A little ways from the city center, Hot Doug’s is worth the trip. (And the wait in line!) It’s also featured on our list of 10 Things to Do Under $10 in Chicago
  • Pizzeria Uno: Eat at the original Chicago deep-dish pizza restaurant, but be prepared for a wait.
  • Lou Malnati’s: Consistently voted the best Chicago-style deep dish pizza
  • Sultan’s Market: A great cheap eat with locations in Wicker Park and Lincoln Park.
  • Garrett Popcorn: A yummy Chicago tradition since 1949

Not So Cheap

More Resources

If you know of great areas or attractions that we’ve missed, please leave comments and suggestions along with your tips on navigating the city!

Allison Allison

Allison joined the InterExchange team in 2011 and holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Higher Education. She oversees the daily operations of the Career Training USA program where she has the privilege of working with students and professionals from around the world pursuing U.S. internships and training programs. Allison is originally from Massachusetts and studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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