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Holiday Guides for North America - United States

Chicago Holiday

Home of the blues, skyscrapers and deep-pan pizza, Chicago offers a perfect alternative to New York.

If Chicago was a woman she'd be a sport-loving, beer-swigging, jazz-listening all-American good time gal.

Despite being one of America's great industrial powerhouses, Chicago is also one of its most welcoming cities.

A bustling downtown and soaring skyscrapers combined with the strong community spirits of its immigrant communities make the city a less stressful alternative to New York City, rewarding visitors who choose to take a break from the tourist norm with a unparalleled insight into the real United States, including some of the country's finest music.

Chicago sits on the shores of the impressive Lake Michigan on the tip of the Great Lakes and is well connected to the popular East Coast by trains and the legendary Greyhound bus as well as to Europe with daily flights.

History & Traditions

Founded by the Canadian explorer Louis Jolliet in 1673, the city's location at the mouth of the Chicago River in the state of Illinois made it a valuable trading post since it connected with the Mississippi River.

In the 1830s its population reached 4,170 and it was made a city. In 1871, however, the city was burned to ground in the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed almost 18,000 buildings.

Chicago's architecture today is a result of the rebuilding efforts after the fire. The new city contained wide boulevards and parks and was nicknamed Paris on the Prairie.

A building designed by William le Baron Jenney in 1885 is regarded as the world's first skyscraper and served as an architectural epiphany to all architects of the period. Chicago's skyline is dominated with enough of the glittering towers to rival New York.

As with New York, Chicago is in essence a city of immigrants, with the diversity created by its 19th century status as the country's major railroad hub still very much is essence today. Thus, the downtown area boasts strong German and Irish communities, with the latter responsible for one of the world's great St Patrick's Day festivities, while excellent and affordable pizza in family-run restaurants is also guaranteed in its bustling Italian quarter.

Sam H Harris' aptly named 1926 play Chicago put the city's name on everyone lips. Produced by George Abbot the play was written during the roaring twenties and tells the story of 'jazz babies' Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly as they jitterbugged their way through a tale of greed corruption, adultery and violence.

The twenties may be over but Chicago has managed to maintain some of the 'razzle dazzle' that makes it the good-time city it is today.

The evolution of jazz charts the city's history from the migration of southern blacks to Chicago before World War One to the smoky clubs and speakeasies of the latter years.

Places To See & Things To Do

While walking among all the skyscrapers is a good means of getting a feel for the dynamism of modern-day Chicago, easily the best way to see the city is to head out onto Lake Michigan for a guided boat cruise. Led by informative guides, these trips give an insight into the old history of the city, which would often be overlooked otherwise given that the physical evidence disappeared with the great fire.

Aside from the tall buildings, which include the mighty Sears Tower, other highlights include the Symphony Hall, home to the fine Chicago Symphony Orchestra, as well as the outdoor auditorium in Grant Park, where locals flock in the summer months to enjoy the free shows.

By day stroll along the riverfront from Oak Street Beach to the Gold Coast and Soldier Field. The Chicagoland suburbs will guarantee that you are never bored. Try your luck at the riverboat casinos or see a band at one of its many concert venue.

For world-class shopping take a wander down the modestly named Magnificent Mile, stopping off for a famous Chicago hotdog, beef sandwich or deep-dish pizza.

To truly experience the jazz scene, head to the bars and clubs along the State Street "stroll" which have hosted the likes of Bo Diddley, the Rolling Stones, and Miles Davis. They are still the best place to check out the finest acts and enthusiasts can still catch Buddy Guy at his own venue, Legends, most nights of the week.

A good city break should mean good food and lots to do and see. Chicago quite simply has it all and hasn't slowed down since the roaring twenties. Flappers, architectural wonders and world-famous universities make Chicago an all-round great city. Revered by its inhabitants and keen to please its guests, Chicago is one American city you don't want to miss.

Weather In Chicago

Just like the UK, Chicago experiences four distinct seasons, with temperatures falling as low as minus eight degrees Celsius and summer temperatures often nudging 30 degrees. Summer visitors can expect brief downpours of rain and thunderstorms while, as any fan of the TV show ER will know, snow is a relatively common occurrence in the wintertime.

Destination Checklist For Chicago

  • Chicago poses no language problems as English in the official language of the United States.
  • The dialling code for the city is +1 and it is either five or six hours behind GMT depending on the time of year.