Deirdre Flannery showcases the best of America’s second city, Chicago
The Windy City’s famous moniker comes not only from the gusty tendencies caused by its soaring skyline but was actually inspired by the tendency of Illinois’s politicians to shoot the breeze – one Mr Obama among them. Fresh from its Olympic bid effort and the inauguration of America’s current first family, Chicago has never been a more positive and vibrant city to visit.
Although Chicago gets a thick covering of snow for four months of the year, you’ll be happy to learn than the natives keep every road and footpath gritted, so there is no fear of a lockdown during the long winters. Although the city is beautiful dressed in white over the winter, prospective visitors would be better advised to visit when the weather gets a little warmer, when full advantage can be taken of the city’s charms.
The best way to admire the art deco architecture and the gothic towers that provide the backdrop for Gotham City is by boat along the Chicago River. Tours set out from Navy Pier, which is only a short stroll from Michigan Avenue – a fabulous stretch of high-end boutiques interspersed with more reasonably priced chain stores, and culminating in the beautiful Millennium Park. On the other end of the avenue stands the John Hancock tower, Chicago’s second-tallest building, offering a thrifty view over the city from its top-floor restaurant. However, if you are willing to pay for your vistas, it’s well worth checking out the Willis Tower, more commonly known as the “Sears Tower”, America’s tallest building, where the new Skydeck allows visitors to stand on a piece of glass jutting out off the side of the tower.
One of Chicago’s key assets is that its glorious coastline is only a ten-minute walk from the city centre. Down at Navy Pier, one might like to take a spin on the ferris wheel or rent a bike and take a trip down to the beach, which is thronged with volleyball players and sun worshippers during the summer months.
Those willing to stroll a little further outside the city might like to stop by Lincoln Park, a student hub, full of Irish bars and extremely popular with J1 students. Wrigleyville is also a crowded night spot, and home to local baseball heroes the Chicago Cubs.
Wicker Park attracts more of a hipster crowd and is littered with thrift stores and indie bars. Those with an interest in the arts are also advised to visit the city’s Art Institute, acknowledged as one of the finest galleries in the world. Chicago’s other cultural draw is obviously its blues scene, Buddy Guy’s Legends being one of the best bars to check out local and international talent. Blues Brothers fans might also like to check out House of Blues, chock-full of kooky memorabilia and regularly hosting rock, metal and blues stars. Second City is also worth a look, as the comedy club that kick started the careers of much of the Saturday Night Live crew.
Chicago has something for everyone, and I am yet to meet a visitor that did not fall in love with the city – some of the Irish people I met during my time there liked it so much that they never left! A week in this ever-changing city should be on everyone’s agenda.