Exploring The Windy City: The Best Of Chicago, Part One

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The great city of Chicago, or the "Windy City" as it is dubbed, straddles the shores of Lake Michigan and is famous as a world class destination. It has a vibrant arts scene, plenty of cultural attractions, top quality shopping, and a fascinating lineup of contemporary and historic architecture. And for first timers visiting the city there are plenty more surprises in store, whatever time of year you visit, from sunbathing on the Lake Michigan beaches in summer, to ice skating in winter. Getting to Chicago from Australia has recently been made even easier, with Qantas announcing direct flights from Brisbane starting later this year in September 2020. The airline will be using Dreamliner aircraft on the route, which will be the world’s fourth longest passenger flight, covering 14,326 kilometres in just over 16 hours, and operating four times a week. So if you’re planning to take advantage of this new route and head to Chicago, what can you expect? Here’s part one of a special two-part feature, focussing on  the top things to see and do.

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Visit A Museum

Lovers of art and history should definitely put a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, located on South Michigan Avenue, on their lists. It’s a world class museum with a diverse collection of over 300,000 artworks spanning thousands of years. It’s also arguably most famous for a collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings by artists including Georges Seurat, Renoir and Claude Monet. Also on any art lover’s list should be a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is home to one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the United States, and a venue for cutting edge exhibitions and touring shows. At the north end of Jackson Park on South Lake Shore Drive is the Museum of Science and Industry, which is believed to be the first museum in the United States to incorporate the idea of "hands-on" exhibits. It has a mix of permanent and changing exhibits, as well as a theatre, with its permanent collection featuring around 20 million artefacts from the worlds of geology, botany, zoology and anthropology. It’s also home to “Sue”, the world's largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. 

Hang Out At Navy Pier

Originally opening in 1916 as an amusement area and shipping facility, today Navy Pier is an imposing site located on East Grand Avenue. One of Chicago's most popular tourist destinations, it is home to 50 acres of gardens, attractions, shops, restaurants, concert venues, and parks. Highlights include a huge Ferris wheel and historic carousel in Navy Pier Park, catching a movie the 3D Imax Theater or a performance at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and walking through the stunning Crystal Gardens, a six level indoor botanical garden. Navy Pier is also the home of many annual festivals and events, including the Chicago Festival in August. And if you happen to be in the city to celebrate July 4, the fireworks are spectacular. Navy Pier is also departure point for a number of sightseeing tours on the water.

Unique Selfie Spots

Millennium Park is part of Grant Park, located in downtown Chicago, and a major attraction, and photo op, is taking a selfie in front of the huge Cloud Gate sculpture. It has a highly polished stainless steel surface which reflects the buildings, the sky, and visitors who walk through its central arch. There are also other things to do in Millennium Park, which include catching a free performance at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the summer, taking a stroll through the serene Lurie Garden, or ice skating in winter on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink. Another great selfie opportunity is in front of the gorgeous Art Deco Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park. Built in 1927, the fountain is one of the largest in the world and surrounded by four seahorses representing Lake Michigan's four bordering states. During the day on the hour, the fountain shoots 15,000 gallons of water through nearly 200 nozzles each minute to create an impressive display; after dusk, the water show is accompanied by amazing lights.

Tall Buildings With A View

The 110-level Sears Tower on South Wacker Drive, now called the Willis Tower, was the world's tallest office block until 1996 when the Petronas Towers were completed in Kuala Lumpur. To this day the view from the atop the Willis Tower is jaw dropping; on a clear day you can see for kilometres across four states, as well as enjoy a bird's eye view of Chicago's impressive architecture. The tower is nearly 443 metres tall with an observation area called the SkyDeck located on the 103rd level. If the normal view isn’t enough, there’s a glass box with a glass floor, called the Ledge, which juts out from the SkyDeck allowing visitors to stand and look directly down at the city below. Another building with a view to put on your list is the John Hancock Center on North Michigan Avenue. On the 94th level, 360 Chicago is a glass-walled observation deck offering views over Chicago's skyline and beyond. It also has an unusual feature, "Tilt," where a glass enclosure leans outwards from the building at an angle to give visitors a unique view of the Magnificent Mile from more than 300 metres above. 

Go For A Long Walk

Michigan Avenue is one of the most attractive boulevards in North America, and the Magnificent Mile is a slice of it stretching north of the Chicago River ideal for strolling, sightseeing and people watching. Dubbed “the Rodeo Drive” of Chicago, it’s home to an impressive lineup of galleries, boutiques, and luxury shops, including every major flagship store, along with attractions including the John Hancock Center, the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower. Another great place to walk is Lincoln Park, Chicago’s largest park and a nine-kilometre-long stretch of green straddling Lake Michigan. It is also home to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Chicago History Museum, along with playing fields, bike trails, jogging paths and beaches. The Chicago River runs through the heart of the city, parallel to the lakeshore, and is famous for a large number of movable bridges; 18 in a stretch of just over three kilometres. The Riverwalk, which is great for a long stroll, has plenty of places to eat, and hosts special events throughout the year, as well as being a departure point for river tours and cruises. Meanwhile the paved Lakefront Trail, which begins at 71st Street, stretches for nearly 30 kilometres and offers wonderful views of the city skyline, and Lake Michigan and its beaches. Many of the city’s top attractions are also located along the trail, including Navy Pier, Lincoln Park, and Soldier Field. And finally Humboldt Park is a four kilometre stretch of abandoned elevated rail line which has been converted into a pedestrian path connecting Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park. It’s a great place walk, jog, or explore by bike.

Other Attractions

The Shedd Aquarium is located on Museum Campus, and home to thousands of aquatic creatures from around the world including otters and a giant Pacific octopus. Here, you can also watch tropical fish swim through a huge aquarium in the gigantic Caribbean Reef exhibition, or pay to have the unique experience of a face-to-face encounter with a beluga whale. Also on Museum Campus is the Adler Planetarium, a place to explore astronomy and astrophysics, as well as enjoy yet more amazing views of the Chicago skyline. It’s also the place to learn the history of U.S. space exploration. You can view a tiny Gemini 12 capsule, which took two astronauts to space and back, in the “Mission Moon” exhibition, and catch at movie at the museum’s Grainger Sky Theater. The Garfield Park conservatory and Lincoln Park conservatory are very romantic places; in particular, the latter allows access on foot directly to the Lincoln park zoo which is exquisite and small.

To Book Your Next Holiday To Chicago Visit Our Valued Travel Partners:

Jacqui Roth


  • 5
    Best city in the US of A

    Posted by Henni Sayers on 2nd Mar 2020

    Best city in the country. Great food, nice people, so much to do....we stayed at The Peninsula Our hotel at Water Tower Park right near Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile. It was late summer and the beaches were busy, music everywhere. Can't wait to go back but only when the exchange rate is less crazy :)

  • 4
    Summer Only

    Posted by Ange232 on 2nd Mar 2020

    My friend went there for a wedding in February and she said never again! It was so cold and snowed. But it looks pretty I don't mind the weather so much so maybe...is there anywhere nearby to ski?

  • 4
    Cold As!

    Posted by Stephen 99 on 2nd Mar 2020

    Got diverted here once on a work trip in winter. It was so cold it was unbelieveable. But the little I got around I could see it was a city of great style and with lots to do. Always said I would go back, never have.

  • 5
    Love It

    Posted by Cass Michaels on 2nd Mar 2020

    Always been on my bucket list to visit, especially the jazz clubs, and now that Qantas has kindly set up direct services, that bucket list dream may well become a reality!