Chicago: Six reasons to visit


By Maureen Mclafferty, British Airways’ Chicago airport manager.

Photography by Getty.

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Updated January 2019

Chicago is often overshadowed by its coastal counterparts, but with steely skyscrapers, culturally diverse neighbourhoods and the great outdoors nearby, it’s time to take another look at America’s second city. British Airways’ Chicago airport manager Maureen Mclafferty shares her local lowdown.

The Italian job

The Melrose Park neighbourhood is known for Italian restaurants. This area is found roughly 30 minutes west of downtown Chicago and it’s great for a slice. Chicago is famous for its pizzas – ‘Chicago style’ generally means you’ll get a ‘deep dish’ rather than a thin and crispy morsel. Among the Italian restaurants in the area you’ll find Tom’s Steak House, Abruzzo’s for Italian food and Shwings (a portmanteau of its two main ingredients: shrimp and chicken wings), for seafood, fast-food style.

  • Starved Rock State Park makes for a perfect day trip from Chicago © Getty.

    Wild times

    The Starved Rock State Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with 20km of hiking trails and the Illinois River offering fishing and boating – remember to always have your camera poised for the extraordinary views.

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  • The Chicago Theatre is seven storeys high and was built in the French Baroque style © Getty.

    Did you know…?

    The Chicago Theatre was the first lavish movie theatre in America. It first opened its doors in 1921 – a 50-piece orchestra performed in the pit, Jesse Crawford played the Wurlitzer pipe organ and a staff of 125 ushers welcomed guests.

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  • Learn about the Windy City on a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise.

    All aboard

    The ever-popular Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise is a must-do for any first-timers to the city – knowledgeable guides regale you with stories of the city's buildings as you pootle along. The tour is included in the Chicago Explorer Pass.

    Chicago Explorer Pass

Little India

Strolling down Devon Avenue, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in India. This bustling area of the city is well-known to fans of south Asian and Middle-Eastern cookery. Most come to the area to dine, as there are plenty of superb Indian restaurants – including Annapurna, a vegetarian kitchen that does an excellent value lunch special. However, you shouldn’t miss popping into the many sari shops – the colours are breathtaking.

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The backstage wall of the historic Chicago Theatre is filled with autographs from showbusiness stars, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Dolly Parton

Outdoor pursuits

Make your way out of the city and head for the hills of LaSalle County, a rural wonderland around 70 miles southeast of Chicago. There are plenty of hiking trails, many with campsites and cabins if you feel like staying. Wander past waterfalls and lakes in Starved Rock State Park and you’ll find yourself falling hook line and sinker for the beauty of your surroundings. This natural park is full of smooth sandstone canyons where waterfalls – and, in winter, wonderful ice falls – provide dramatic scenery for hikers, kayakers, and even cross-country skiers.

  • The South Branch of the mighty Chicago River has a rich industrial past © Getty.

    Go with the flow

     In 1900, in order to help sanitation issues in Lake Michigan, engineers achieved what was considered impossible: they reversed the direction of the Chicago River, using a series of canal locks, so the river flowed away from the lake.

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Tread the boards

Take a tour of the historic Chicago Theatre. Opened in 1921, it’s one of Chicago’s most iconic buildings, and the backstage wall is filled with autographs from showbusiness stars, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Dolly Parton. If you want to see a show, you’ll be spoiled for choice: the list of a-list performers who come to Chicago Theatre is as long and illustrious as it ever was. Look out for popstars, but also keep your eyes peeled for comics – Chicago is well known for its comedy scene and America’s wittiest and wryest often stop in the city on their tours.

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Retail therapy

Head downtown on the Metra Train to Geneva, Illinois. This city is about an hour from Chicago’s Union Station, on the attractive banks of the Fox River. Step off the train and right away you’ll find yourself in the heart of the shopping haven: the historic downtown district is home to many speciality shops, including a lavender emporium, and a place where you can find the perfect doormat for your house. A personal favourite is The Little Traveler, a boutique in an old mansion that sells curious items from all over the world.

Sail away

No trip to Chicago is complete without hopping on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. It’s amazing - you’ll learn why the city’s buildings are built the way they are and why the river flows backwards, plus you’ll get the lowdown on the newest skyscrapers. You can’t miss the Hancock Building. Chicago’s 100-storey skyscraper isn’t the city’s newest, but it’s still iconic. You can book 360 Chicago to make its acquaintance.

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