How to spend a day in Chicago

The 'Windy City' is all about big-name art and architecture… and BBQs.

By Sarah Barrell
Published 27 May 2011, 13:22 BST, Updated 28 Jun 2021, 16:35 BST

01 Take the train
Buy a $2 ticket and hop on one of the elevated 'L'-line trains that circle the Loop: Chicago's historical centre. Ride up front to spy landmarks such asBertrand Goldberg's Marina City, Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building, the Willis Tower — one of the US' tallest buildings — and sculptures by everyone from Moore to Miro.

02 Art Institute of Chicago
Designed by Renzo Piano, the Institute's new Modern Wing is a temple-like, limestone-and-glass annex stacked with works by big-name 20th-century European artists (Picasso, Giacometti and Klee), plus a cavernous space housing an impressive design collection. Nip up to Terzo Piano, a rooftop restaurant with big city views.

03 Beach roller
Stroll across the footbridge, designed by the ubiquitous Renzo Piano, and pick up a rental bike in Millennium Park. Pass Frank Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion and meditate under Anish Kapoor's dreamy Cloud Gate. Pedal past Navy Pier along Lake Michigan waterfront to see iconic skyscrapers by Mies van der Rohe before hitting the beach, dubbed the 'Malibu of the Midwest' for its miles of beach volleyball-friendly sands.

04 Oak Park
Not so much a park as an open-air architectural museum. Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked in a studio here and many of his works still cover this 1950s-style town, 10 miles west of the Loop.

05 Blues bars
Chicago has groomed some of America's best jazz and blues stars, and you shouldn't miss a visit to Buddy Guy's Legends for live electric blues. For cocktails, head to Curio, underneath the celebrated Gilt Bar, a basement with a Prohibition theme.

06 Clubland
Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi all cut their comedy teeth in Chicago. Today, Second City is the place to head for the biggest laughs. Back in the day-glo 1980s, the Windy City gave birth to house music. Shun the city's mainland club artery and head to Smart Bar on Red Bull Row (Ontario Street) for more credible beats.

£££  MK: Often ranked among America's top nosh spots, this sleek, understated restaurant serves classic meat and seafood (signature dish: white fish and lobster bisque), animated by Italian-Asian flavours. N. Franklin St. T: 001 312 482 9179.

££  Girl & The Goat: Wood furnishings, exposed brick walls and the smell of wood smoke are the perfect accompaniment to grill-focused dishes such as pork belly, halibut and seared tuna.
West Randolph Street. T: 001 312 492 6262.

£  Hot Doug's: The kitsch decor is upstaged by a hot dog menu that includes duck fat fries, Chicago-style dogs, gourmet varieties and some named after movies stars: a 'mighty hot' Keira Knightley, anyone? North California Avenue.

Power dressing: High-end boutique Ikram counts America's Chicago-raised First Lady, Michelle Obama, among its customers, attracted by its collection of chic labels such as Jason Wu and Margiela.

Carnivore carnival: Chicago was once America's meat-packing metropolis and the city is still top when it comes to grills, ribs, pulled pork and barbeque. This gut-busting gastronomy even has its own summer festival scene, where you can watch the pit masters wield their skewers in a smoky cook-off. Try Naperville's Ribfest (1-4 July) where rock'n'roll is served on the side.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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