Travel Guide | Illinois

College Tourist Student Guide to Chicago

Have no hurry making your way through the Windy City.

Chicago, Illinois, otherwise known as “The Windy City,” famous for its hot dogs and deep-dish pizza, distinguished successful—and unsuccessful sports teams, and erratic weather, is a prime destination for a traveling tourist. Bordering Lake Michigan, Chicago is the third most populated city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles.

Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837, and businesses and populations grew rapidly soon after, only to be devastated in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Most structures in the central business district were destroyed in the fire, with the exception of a few, one being the Chicago Water Tower located along Michigan Avenue, the “Magnificent Mile” shopping district. The Magnificent Mile and State Street feature many upscale stores and restaurants for tourists to shop and dine.

Throughout the year, the city of Chicago or “Chicagoland” area experiences all four seasons—from hot and humid summers to below-freezing and icy winters. As a city next to a lake, when it’s warm enough the beaches are flocked with sunbathers and swimmers. The summer season is a popular time for tourists to come visit, especially for the yearly music festivals Lollapalooza in Grant Park and Pitchfork in Union Park, as well as the Taste of Chicago food festival in Grant Park.

Chicagoans often refer to the main section of downtown as “The Loop.” This is the multi-block area of city streets, covered in skyscrapers and surrounded by elevated railroad tracks. Many ethnic districts are housed downtown. They include: Pilsen, a Mexican American neighborhood, Greektown, Little Italy, and Chinatown to name a few. These areas offer authentic cuisine restaurants of their cultures.

Looking for some entertainment? Chicago’s Broadwayfeatures Broadway-style performances at five theaters, bringing a little bit of the Big Apple to the Windy City. Navy Pier also houses the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre for those with a taste for the Elizabethan classics.

Top 5 Places to See in Chicago:

Millennium Park (the Bean): The Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park, also known as “The Bean” is a major tourist attraction in the city. Created by British artist Anish Kapoor, the sculpture reflects the Chicago skyline and forms an arch for park visitors to walk under and view their reflections.

Wrigley Field: Home of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field is the “Disney World” destination of Chicago. From the ivy-covered walls to the iconic hand operated score board, the one word that best describes this stadium is “classic.” Regardless of the team you’re rooting for, it’s hard to resist the charm of Wrigley Field.

Willis Tower Skydeck: Take an elevator ride up to the 103rd floor of Chicago’s Willis Tower, formerly known as the “Sears Tower,” and you will find the Chicago Skydeck, featuring “The Ledge.” The Ledge is essentially four glass boxes that protrude from the building, allowing you to “float” above the city from a breathtaking view.

Navy Pier: Built in 1916, the 3,300 foot-long pier into Lake Michigan was originally built as a cargo facility and was used to house military personnel during WWI. Throughout the 20s it became more commercialized, and was officially named “Navy Pier” in 1927 in honor of the Navy members that served and lived there during WWI. Today, the pier is home to many dinner cruise ships, an amusement park equipped with a Ferris Wheel, a variety of restaurants, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Art Institute of Chicago: Located in Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago is the 2nd largest art museum in the US and displays famous works by Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Hopper, and Cassatt.

Alternative activities: 

Judy Istock Butterfly Haven: An attraction at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum down Cannon Drive in Chicago, the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven is a windowed butterfly environment home to about 1,000 fluttering creatures.

Chicago Architectural Boat Tour: During this boat ride, tour guides tell stories and provide information about 50+ buildings along the Chicago River. Aboard Chicago’s First Lady, cruisers will go back in time and learn the history about the city’s great structures.

Stray Boots Scavenger Hunts and Walking Tours: Stray boots is an app that you can download onto your mobile phone that guides you through individually crafted tours of the Chicago city. While participating in scavenger hunts, you’re guided around the city to uncover it’s hidden treasures on your own. The best part about the app? It works in a variety of cities!

Divy Bikes: The bike sharing system of Chicago, Divy Bikes is a bike-rental membership service where riders can register online to borrow neon-blue bikes stationed around the city. For thirty minutes, members have the chance to ride through Chicago in an alternative and echo-friendly form of transportation.

Fun for free:

Lincoln Park Zoo: Founded in 1868, it is one of the oldest zoos in the US and one of the last zoos that offers guests free admission. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of four zoos in the Chicagoland area.

What to Eat:

Eataly: One of Chicago’s newer dining experiences, Eataly features a variety of Italian restaurants for customers to choose from. It’s most popular attraction is the Nutella Bar where people can order crepes and other creations made with the delicious hazelnut spread.

Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria: Chicago’s most well known chain of pizza restaurants is famous for it’s deep-dish pizza doused in marinara tomato sauce. You’ll feel full after just one slice!

The Peninsula Chicago Chocolate Bar: A bit pricey, but a buffet like no other. “Chocolate at the Pen” features chocolate covered food, food made of chocolate, and decadent chocolate-flavored drinks. Menu selections vary by week, but the 8-10 PM tables are always booked—so be sure to make a reservation!

The Weiner’s Circle: A late night hot spot for char-grilled food junkies, this hot dog stand is notoriously known for the crude humor of its playful potty-mouthed staff. It has been featured in magazines and TV shows, and on weekends stays open as late as 5 AM.

After Dark:

Chicago House of Blues: An intimate concert location that showcases a variety of artists and music genres. Big names have performed at this Opera House-style venue, providing concert patrons with unique box seat views of the performance area.

Second City Comedy Club: A sketch comedy and improv club and former training ground of many comedic TV and movie stars such as Steve Carell and Tina Fey. The Club originated in Chicago in 1959, and has expanded to multiple locations across the globe.

Local Knowledge:

•   The city of Chicago is home to many beloved sports teams such as the Chicago Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks

•   Chicago is the former home of President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios

•   Chicago is called the “Windy City” for a number of reasons: the weather, the politics, the 1860 Cincinnati rivalry over meat packing and baseball, and the decision for Chicago to host the 400th annual World Fair that celebrates Columbus’ arrival to America

•   Twinkies, Ferris wheels, zippers, skyscrapers, vacuum cleaners, and the term “jazz” for jazz music were invented in Chicago

•   Ingredients of a Chicago-style hot dog: A Vienna Beef hot dog in a steamed poppy-seed bun, covered in yellow mustard, green relish, chopped onions, tomato wedges, a pickle spear, peppers and celery salt


•   CTA ‘L’ system: Locally known as “The ‘L’,” Chicago’s rail system has eight routes for travel across the city. The train service got the nickname “The ‘L’” because it is “elevated” over the city streets. For those traveling at odd hours, the Red and Blue lines operate 24/7.

•   CTA bus system: Like any major city, there is a major bus system that helps travelers make their way from one end to another. The CTA bus system has 140 routes to city and outside communities, making a combined 25,000+ trips daily.

•   O’Hare International Airport: Flying in? Located in northwest Chicago, O’Hare is one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. Domestic and international flights fly to and from the airport daily, making travel easy for any college tourist.

Hanna Handler

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | 9 stories

Hanna is a junior student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying communications, public relations, media sales, and art and design. She is a member of The Illinettes Dance Team, the official dance team of the school, the Vice President of Public Relations for Panhellenic Council, and the Vice President of PRSSA. She is also a sister of Delta Gamma. She will begin her first internship experience at Edelman this summer in Chicago and in the past year, has traveled to Mexico, Ireland, and Israel.

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