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(2017 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Sarah Bernhardt, leading actress of the 19th century, coined the phrase “Pulse of America” and it still rings true today.

Chicago is vital. Chicago is in your face. Chicago is excessive. Its music transports you. Its food satisfies every palate. Its neighbourhoods are a mosaic of American life. Its arts, its sports, its architecture . . . they will all sweep you away in their exuberance. This is a city made for weekend breaks. So here are some recommendations for taking America’s pulse in Chicago.


Start at Millennium Park, the latest addition to Grant Park, Chicago’s sweeping expanse of lakefront parks and public space that edges Lake Michigan. The green spaces provide a transition to the skyscrapers of the Loop—Chicago’s downtown neighbourhood. The locals call this open space their front yard and it’s the perfect place to begin your Chicago experience. The Bean has become the centrepiece of Millennium Park. More properly named Cloud Gate, it is a 10 x 20 x 12.8-metre curved ovoid sculpture of mirror-like steel and it reflects back the visitor surrounded by images of Chicago.        

From The Bean, you can walk to the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion for free summertime orchestral concerts or to the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink for a skate during winter months. The Art Institute of Chicago is here too—one of America’s most renowned cultural institutions. Here you will find a quarter of a million works of art spanning five thousand years of artistic endeavour. It is particularly famous for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, from Monet to Van Gogh.

Stretch your legs a little further, heading south through the park past the much loved Buckingham Fountain and Gardens, to arrive at Museum Campus. An impressive trio of attractions includes the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. Each merits investigation, but the Field Museum is a treasure trove of fascinating objects from Ancient Egypt to First Nations to arguably the world’s most famous dinosaur—SUE the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then cast off from the aquarium on a relaxing lake cruise for an all-encompassing view of Chicago’s magnificent waterfront vista.


Cruising Chicago’s waterways is also the best way to appreciate the city’s architectural wonders. A Chicago Architecture Foundation tour sounds a little dry perhaps, but they offer a choice of 85 walking, bus and boat tours that joyfully bring Chicago’s groundbreaking buildings to life. It is best to book ahead for their popular River Cruise boat tours on Chicago’s First Lady. It departs from Michigan Avenue Bridge for a 90-minute cruise on the Chicago River to view some of the most iconic skyscrapers from the Wrigley Building to the Willis Tower.

Return to the Willis Tower, the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, for the best panoramic views in town from the Skydeck on the 103rd floor. If you are feeling adventurous, step out into the void—the glass box of the Ledge extends over a metre outside the building, a dizzying 412 metres above the Chicago River. Not only can you see into four states from this aerie, but you can also see most of the 77 diverse neighbourhoods whose patchwork quilt provide so much of the unique character of the city.

Each of these neighbourhoods has its own personality and reasons to spend time there—mixes of historical sites and attractions, arts and culture, dining, nightlife, shopping and ambiance. There is the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue—13 blocks of shoppers’ paradise, including more than 460 stores and upscale boutiques, not to mention 275 restaurants and 60 hotels. River North has the greatest concentration of art galleries in America outside of Manhattan with over a hundred clustered in the gallery district on Superior and Huron. And Little Italy, where the original legacy of Italian immigrants is now suffused with additions from other cultures into a robust meld of great restaurants and festivals, including the Spring Awakening Music Festival.


The best way of coming to grips with these neighbourhoods is to choose a theme that appeals to you and to follow this as a thread through the city. Chicago’s vibrant jazz and blues tradition can be traced on foot, by transit or on one of the popular tours that highlight some of the historic and current music venues. Acoustic guitar and harmonica-based blues made their way from the Mississippi Delta up to Chicago when Muddy Waters moved to the South Side in 1943. Today you can experience these soulful sounds at legendary Chicago venues like Buddy Guy’s Legends, Blue Chicago, Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S.

The 1950s and 1960s were a golden age for jazz music in Chicago. Iconic musicians such as Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong brought the sound of string bass and fast-paced riffs to the scene. Jazz in Chicago has never looked back. The Chicago Jazz Festival has become one of the largest free jazz concerts in the world and it is a Labour Day weekend tradition. Plus there are jazz clubs aplenty throughout the city. Try these legendary venues: The Green Mill Jazz Club, Jazz Showcase and Andy’s Jazz Club.


Another thread to experience through the neighbourhoods is Chicago’s cuisine. The most convenient and lip-smackin’ way of doing this is to take one of the many food tours that explore the delicious ethnic neighbourhood eateries. Travel to the north side neighbourhood of West Rogers Park for an immersive journey into Chicago’s Little India with Spice of Life Tours. Join Tastebud Tours in the city of deep dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef. The Taste Chicago Tour will take you to the oldest family-run establishment in the U.S. as well as the landmark hotel that was the birthplace of the brownie. And talking of desserts, the Sweet Chicago Tour includes samples from candy and chocolate to pastries in a sweet combination of history and dessert. With over 7,000 restaurants to eat through, you may want to pace yourself.

But then that’s the whole point of a city break to Chicago: to embrace its exuberance, to indulge in its wonderful foods, to celebrate its musical heritage and its culture. If Chicago is truly the Pulse of America, then the USA is fighting fit and ready to host you soon!


Porter (flyporter.com) flies seven times daily from Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport to Chicago Midway International Airport. Air Canada (aircanada.com) flies to Chicago O’Hare International from Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal and Québec City.

The brand-new Conrad Chicago (conradchicagohotel.com) combines inspired architecture with its superb location at 101 E Erie Street.

Chicago CityPASS (citypass.com/chicago) offers savings and fast passes to key sites including Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, 360 CHICAGO, Adler Planetarium and Art Institute of Chicago.

For more information on all there is to see and do in Chicago, visit ChooseChicago.com.

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