Chicago is the third largest US city after New York and Los Angeles. The name of Chicago city derived from a Native American word that means “stinky onion”. It is also known as the “Windy City” which is famous for its fascinating attractions and unique, modern architecture with many high-rise buildings. However, no one knows the exact origin of this name. Just know that most people believe it comes from winds blowing from Lake Michigan into the city. This city is also famous for many spectacular churches and cathedrals with the world’s tallest bell towers and many museums. This is considered an expensive tourist destination in America when it comes to admission fees to attractions, traveling and accommodation, but that doesn’t mean you need a lot of money to travel to this beautiful city of Chicago. So, what to do and how to plan a budget perfect trip to Chicago for the first-time? Let’s check out our Chicago travel blog (Chicago blog) with the fullest Chicago travel guide blog (Chicago travel guide, Chicago tourist guide, Chicago visitor guide, Chicago IL travel guide, Chicago IL visitor guide) from how to get, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and top things to do to find out the answer!
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Today, Chicago is an cosmopolitan city with a wide variety of different ethnicities, beliefs, cultures, cuisine, parks and shopping malls. If you love shopping, the brand stores on the Magnificent Mile street are the shopping places for you. And if you love special, stunning architecture? Chicago has a lot of skyscrapers to admire with modern architectural styles mixed with the traditional styles of buildings such as Willis Tower, Aqua Tower, Tribune Tower, 875 North Michigan Avenue (formerly known as John Hancock Center) and Chicago Water Tower.
Chicago travel blog: An overview of the city of Chicago
Chicago is a large and bustling city located in the state of Illinois, USA, right next to the large lake of Michigan. With an area of 606.1 square kilometers (Chicago Metropolitan Area is 28.120 km²) and a population of more than 2.6 million people (the current metropolitan area population in 2021 more than 9.5 million people). Chicago is currently the third largest city in the United States and also the largest city in the State of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. After the civil war in 1812, the residential areas were relocated to the outskirts of the city until the 1830s people gradually returned to resettle in Chicago. Since that time, the city of Chicago has played an important role in American history.
Chicago is a modern, thrive and developed city located in the southwestern part of Lake Michigan was founded in 1837. In 1871, the city was burned mostly by the Great Chicago Fire. More than 300 people were killed, 18.000 buildings were destroyed and more than a third of the city’s residents became homeless. One of the main reasons causing this great fire is that the architecture of the city is mostly by wood and the streets are very small and narrow. From this massive disaster, the city government had to set a series of extremely strict fire safety rules including the construction of buildings, thereby it has been changing the traditional architecture of the city.
Chicago is also known for its main rail line connecting the Western and the Eastern of the US, Chicago is home to the largest meat packaging industry in the United States. Beef is shipped from Texas and surrounding areas here and is processed, packaged and shipped around the world.
Chicago travel blog: When to visit?
The best time to visit Chicago is in April and May, when summer is yet to come and less tourists. If you want to participate in prominent festivals of the city such as the Chicago Pride Parade and the Chicago Blues Festival, you should plan your trip in June to August.
The fall begins from September to October is a suitable time for nature exploration trips, hiking. From November to March is the time to take part in the exciting winter activities.
Chicago blog: How to get to Chicago?
Chicago is located in the Midwestern of the US and it owns 2 international airports, O’Hare Airport (ORD) and Midway Airport (MDW). From Vietnam, if you want to flying to this city, you can easily buy air tickets from airlines such as Korean Air, China Airlines, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, … Fares usually ranging from $525 to $1.200 depending on the time of travel and airline.
Getting to the city center
From O’Hare Airport to the city: The airport is about 18.1 mi from city center. You can take the Blue Line ‘L’ train is the easiest way to get from O’Hare Airport to city center which takes about 21 minutes and costs $5/way. You can take the Blue Line at Terminals 1, 2, and 3 by just following the signs at the airport that say “CTA Trains” or “Trains to the City.” See more here.
From Midway Airport to the city: The airport is about 11.6 mi from city center. You should take the Orange Line train from Midway (on the southwest side of Chicago) to city center via elevated tracks. All routes from the Midway Airport station will go to the downtown Loop. The traveling time to city center from Midway is 20-25 minutes and costs $2.50/trip or less. See more here.
You also take taxi or rent a car or using Uber or Lyft service to get to downtown Chicago. Details fares you can see the table below.
Chicago travel guide blog: Transportation in Chicago
For trips to explore the city of Chicago, you should choose the means of the Elevated train “L” (Chicago “L”) operated by Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) which serving the city of Chicago 24/24 service with 102.8 mi (165.4 km) with 8 lines, is the 4th largest rapid transit system in the US and some of its surrounding suburbs; taxi; water taxi or Uber, Lyft. For a unique and cost-effective experience, walking or using a bicycle is also a good choice. Even so, the city of Chicago is very crowded so it will be difficult to find a parking space, so be aware of this matter.
Buses have always been one of the most used types of public transport in Chicago. It is not only convenient and also very cheap. Even Chicago also has a bus system that specializes in serving people with disabilities.
This is a very unique type of transportation in Chicago. The perfect combination of sightseeing and transportation, these water taxis will help you get to the many popular tourist attractions of the city at a low cost of traveling.
Alternatively, if you want to leisurely getting around, breathing in the fresh air of Chicago with short distances, you can use the Divvy bike sharing system or walking.
In addition, you can also use technology ride-hailing service such as Uber and Lyft, which is very convenient and affordable, a bit more expensive than buses, but much cheaper than taxis.
Chicago travel blog: Where to go and what to do?
This is a famous park built on an area of 24.5 acres (99.000 m2). This park currently owns a large music stage and is equipped with modern sound and light systems with a capacity of up to 11.000 people. In addition, visiting the Millennium Park, you also have the opportunity to admire many unique and impressive sculptures.
Located in the heart of the city, this large park offers a lot of green space and is where a lot of talented chess players who can defeat any chess player from elsewhere. Millenium Park also has a beautiful outdoor restaurant, a large and modern musical stage with two towering glass structures that make up the famous Crown Fountain. The park opens all-year round and this is one of my favorite spots in Chicago.
Address: 201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60602, United States
Opened: July 16, 2004
Access: Millennium Station (Washington/Wabash and South Shore Line)
Cloud Gate (The “Bean”)
Cloud Gate is considered the most signature symbol of the city of Chicago and is a highlight in the architecture of Millennium Park. The Cloud Gate was designed by British Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor, inspired by liquid mercury crystal drops. The construction is made of stainless steel weighing 110 tons, 11 meters high, 20 meters long and 13 meters wide. From the outside, the Cloud Gate is like a giant bean that reflects the sky and the skyline of the city of Chicago, so it is also known as “The Bean”.
Navy Pier, formerly a US navy base, has now become a tourist dock with many restaurants, bars, theaters, parks and souvenir shops. It also holds the record for being the world’s longest pier. Navy Pier can be said to be the most bustling entertainment hub of the city. When coming here, visitors can strolling on the busy streets, watching interesting circus performances at Pepsi Skyline stage, enjoy lunch and experience the city of Chicago by taking a sightseeing boat tour along Chicago river or sit on the giant ferris wheel while watching the tranquil of Lake Michigan.
Opening hours from 10am to midnight depending on the season and especially without entrance tickets, only admissions to access a few special spots.
Address: 600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States
Area: 14 ha
Year built: 1916
Located in Chicago’s Grant Park, was founded in 1879 and it owns one of the most impressive art collections in the United States, the Art Institute of Chicago is a must-visit place of the city. There are more than 300,000 works from all over the world and many art exhibitions are held every year which giving you a meaningful tour.
Address: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603, United States
Hours:11AM–6PM/Tuesday; Wednesday: Closed
One of the Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions is its museums. Some of the interesting museums include: Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago History Museum… These are large-scale museums with lots of valuable workarts and entrance tickets are quite expensive. However, these museums often offer free days of visit and coupons, so as long as you plan in detail, free admission is not impossible at all.
Although it was built in 1930, the indoor public aquarium Shedd Aquarium is still considered one of the largest aquariums in the world. The aquarium will give you a very detailed view of marine life. The aquariums here are extremely huge and the explanations and descriptions are also very detailed. There are more than 32,000 marine species living here including about 1500 species of fish, large and rare species such as whales, white dolphins, sea lions, …
Address: 1200 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, United States
Total volume of tanks: 5 million US gallons (19,000 m3)
Admission fee is 39.95 USD / adult and 29.95 / child under 11 years old.
Chicago Water Tower
This is a beautiful water tower designed by William Boyington with a height of up to 115m and was built in 1869. The water tower of Chicago is not only beautiful but also considered one of the two oldest water towers in the United States. In addition to playing an important role in providing water source for the entire city, the Chicago Water Tower is also a popular tourist spot.
In 1872, a great fire broke out and destroyed all the structures surrounding this water tower, only it remained. Currently, this place is also a museum as a name City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower which displaying many unique works of famous photographers and artists around the world.
Address: 806 Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States
Architectural style: Gothic Revival architecture
Having came Chicago without visiting the Willis Tower is a biggest regret. With a height of up to 442, 527 m to tip, Willis Tower held the record for the tallest tower in the world for 25 years. And to this day, it is still considered the tallest steel structure in America.
Willis Tower (Former name: Sears Tower (1973–2009)) has 110 storey and possesses a very unique architecture covered in a prominent black appearance, dominating the sky of Chicago. Standing at its skydeck, you can panoramic view of the beautiful city of Chicago from above. The best time to visit this tower is at night when the whole city starts to light up creating a very sparkling, fanciful scene.
Located on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower, Skydeck Chicago offers guests a great view of the city. Therefore, this is a prominent tourist attraction, attracting more than 2 million visitors each year.
Address: 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606, United States
Construction started: 1970
Skydeck ticket price: Adult – Ages 12 and up: $26.00-$30.00/Youth – Ages 3 to 11: $14.00-$18.00/Children under 3 are FREE!
To save your money when visit Chicago attractions, you should buy Chicago CityPASS is an all-inclusive pass. With this pass you can freely access and skip-the-line of many attractions such as the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and Skydeck Chicago. Moreover, it will grant you a choice to be able to access the Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago. You’ll also be able to select an admission to freely visit the Museum of Science and Industry or the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
Frederick C. Robie House
This masterpiece was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1909 and is a prime example of the Prairie School design school. Wright contributed to the shaping of Chicago’s architectural style and this place became one of the most famous works in Chicago.
Address: 5757 S Woodlawn Ave, Chicago, IL 60637, United States
Hours: 10AM–3PM/Tuesday, Wednesday: Closed
Admission: 18 USD / adult, discounts for students, the elderly, soldiers and children.
The famous Chicago tourist attraction not to be missed is the beautiful Lake Michigan that is considered the air conditioner of the city. It helps to keep lakeside neighborhoods warmer in winter and cool in summer. Michigan is one of the North America’s Five Great Lakes ( Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario) is a precious freshwater resource from melting ice and no algae. Especially if you come to the Wind City in August, visitors will be witnessed the spectacular performances of jets above the blue lake.
It is also one of the many features and will make visitors delightful when coming to Chicago. There were 56 movable bridges in the past, but due to the city’s development they were gradually being replaced, so up to now, there are only about 38 remains.
Chicago is famous for its many stunning churches with unique architectural styles. Chicago can be considered as home to the churches with the tallest bell towers in the world. Even there is a bell tower up to 180m high and it is the tallest bell tower in the world. Chicago’s cathedrals are very beautiful, notably St. Josaphat Parish, St Adalbert’s Catholic Church, and especially St. Mary of the Angels. If there are churches built in the style of Byzantin, it is not difficult to find Ukrainian or Icelandic churches such as St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.
Grant Park and the Buckingham Fountain
Also known as Chicago’s front yard, Grant Park is a huge park covering an area of up to 129 ha, loved by locals and tourists. At the center of the park is the Buckingham fountain – one of the largest fountains in the world.
Buckingham Fountain which opened in 1927 in Beaux-Arts architecture, Historicism architectural styles was built in 1927 and inspired by the Latona fountain at the Palace of Versailles in France. This fountain has a total of 193 jets, every 20 minutes, these jets begin to push water gradually higher, the highest water column can be up to 46m. Buckingham fountain only operates from April to October, in winter months, it will be decorated with colorful lights.
Address: 301 S Columbus Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, United States
Magnificent Mile Avenue
Chicago has a special street called the “Magnificent Mile” that connects the north part of the city to near Lake Michigan which is very wide and beautiful. On this avenue there are more than 450 stores, supermarkets, high-rise buildings… selling everything from household appliances to fashion.
This shopping street has long been considered one of the symbols of Chicago. This is the most shopping and entertainment place in Chicago with hundreds of luxury stores such as Nike, Apple, Disney, Tommy, Gucci, Hermes, … Not only that, you can also enjoy many delicious dishes in luxury restaurants along the Magnificent Mile Avenue.
In addition, the avenue is also home to the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago, world-class 5-star hotels, first-class bars and pubs along with many famous media and press centers for visitors to explore.
Admiring the architecture along the Chicago River is the fun thing to do in Chicago. However, the boat tour price is not cheap, the fare per person for a cruise trip is about $20, but you can completely apply the tip to save money by taking a water taxi which running from Michigan Avenue to Chinatown. Traveling by water taxi not only saves you money but it also free offer the opportunity to see famous buildings along the banks of Chicago river and visit best restaurants in Chicago.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Nestled in lagoons and mature (old-growth) forests, the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of America’s most exciting stops. It offers a close-up view of the world-class wildlife. Moreover, the zoo is also an interesting weekend stop with a quiet space, bring you temporarily away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
Established in 1868 the Lincoln Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. The place is sought-after for recreational, educational and conservation activities. Here, you will find the slogan “Lincoln Zoo is everyone’s zoo” and is open daily with a free admission.
Address: 2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614, United States
Chicago blog: What and where to eat?
The city of Chicago is famous for many famous restaurants, of course the cost of eating is also not cheap at all, the price of a meal at these restaurants is about $85 to more than $150 / meal. You can absolutely enjoy the delicious and famous dishes from the top chefs prepared right at the restaurants with prices ranging from $10 – $20 per dish.
Here are some signature dishes you should try.
Chicago-style Stuffed Pizza
Chicago stuffed pizza is one of Chicago’s famous dishes and you can easily find it anywhere in the city whether it’s a sidewalk eaterie or at restaurants. It is prepared following several different styles that developed in Chicago. The most famous version is the deep-dish pizza. The pan in which it is baked gives the pizza its characteristically high edge which provides ample space for large amounts of cheese and a chunky tomato sauce.
Some famous places where you can taste it such as:
- Burt’s Place (8541 Ferris Ave, Morton Grove, IL 60053)
- Bartoli’s (1955 W Addison St, Chicago, IL 60613)
- The Art of Pizza (3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657)
- Pequod’s (2207 N Clybourn Ave, Chicago, IL 60614)
- Milly’s Pizza in the Pan (1801 N Spaulding Ave, Chicago, IL 60647)
The jibarito is a Puerto Rican staple of Chicago cuisine, is a sandwich made with flattened, fried green plantains instead of bread, garlic-flavored mayonnaise, and a filling that typically includes meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato and may have a few copycats out there.
Some best places to eat jibarito:
- El Picosito Jibaro (3216 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL 60625)
- La Cocina Boricua De La Familia Galarza (2420 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647)
- Casa Yari (3268 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647)
- Jibaritos y Mas (3400 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60647)
- The Jibarito Stop (1646 W. 18th St, Chicago, IL 60608)
Chicago-style hot dog
This dish is known as the “tycoon of street food” in Chicago because of its popularity. The hot dog is placed in the steamed bun, topping with yellow mustard, chopped onions, sweet green pickle relish, onion, tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, pickle spear, sport peppers, … and a dash of celery salt.
Chicago also has a bustling nightlife with countless of bars, pubs opening through the night, the perfect places to sip a cocktail, beer or wine and witnessing a vibrant nightlife of the city. If you want to try the signature Chicago drink, call Chicago Fizz Cocktail is a classic and stylish cocktail which is made from rum, ruby port, egg white and soda to create a delicious drink. Or try The Chicago Cocktail is a brandy-based mixed drink probably named for the city of Chicago and is made from spirits and champagne (Lemon wedge, superfine sugar; Brandy; Fresh lemon juice; Orange curacao; Maraschino liqueur).
Chicago travel blog: Where to stay?
If you have a tight budget when traveling to this expensive city, you should not rent hotels in central areas or on Magnificent Mile avenue because the room rates is very high. To rent cheap hotels, you should stay in Lakeview, Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighbourhoods or hotels near Michigan Avenue or rent hotels far from the city center, the price is cheaper. However, it is advisable to rent hotels near main roads to conveniently travel to tourist attractions which located around city center.
Below we recommend more best cheap, budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- The Langham, Chicago, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $449/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $188/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Hilton Chicago/Magnificent Mile Suites, a top rated 5-star hotel with room rates from $143/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, a top rated 4-star hotel with room rates from $161/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
- The Talbott Hotel, a top rated 4-star hotel with room rates from $161/night (Check rates on Agoda.com or Booking.com).
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Chicago you can refer to
- Chicago CityPASS
- Go Chicago – All Inclusive Pass
- Go Chicago – Explorer Pass
- 360 Chicago Observation Deck Ticket
- Chicago Broadway Show Ticket in New York
- Chicago Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off Tours (Open-Top)
- Chicago Segway Tours
- The North Of Chicago Tour
- Best of Chicago Grand Tour with River Cruise/Chicago Style Pizza Combo
- Shared Chicago Airports (ORD/MDW) Transfers for Chicago
Are you looking for more top things to do in Chicago: Tours, activities, attractions and other things? Let’s check it out here. And My Chicago trip blog — The fullest Chicago travel guide blog on my trip to Chicago.