I will be the first to admit that I had no burning desire to visit Chicago. In fact, my motivation for going this year was mainly that it seemed silly for me to have been to the US numerous times and have still not visited this major city. So, I finally did. And I will now also be the first to admit that my preconceptions of it being ‘just another city’ were incredibly wrong.
If I had to pinpoint some of the happiest moments of my five months in the US earlier this year, one would be spending an afternoon strolling around Museum Campus, gazing over the exquisite aqua hues of Lake Michigan to the sprawling Chicago skyline. The weather was perfect – which is unusual for the city, admittedly. It may not sound exciting, but it was so hard to pull myself away from the view. And, looking at the photo below, hopefully you can see why. Chicago is simply beautiful.
Here is my review of the short, but thoroughly enjoyable time I spent in the Windy City/Chi-town/Chicago.
Chicago was the last place I visited before flying home after a semester abroad, so the budget was extremely tight by this point and the booking was made last-minute. Just as I wrote for Nashville, this resulted in my sister and me staying in a hostel. We chose the Chicago Getaway Hostel. The shared areas were quite nice and spacious, but the bedrooms and bathrooms were very basic. They were sufficient and clean. Similarly to our time in Nashville, we stayed in a private room without an ensuite. My only issue with our room was that there was no air-conditioning and only a ceiling fan, which made it uncomfortable in the warm weather. The Chicago Getaway Hostel is located in a gorgeous, historical neighbourhood and is within a short walk of Lincoln Park. The ‘L’ Train is only a few blocks away (‘Fullerton’ stop), which made it very easy to get around.
Given that we only had a couple of days in Chicago, I did not get a chance to explore the city as much as I would have liked. However, we got to tick off a lot of the main tourist attractions. My introduction to the city started at Lincoln Park. I spent several hours wandering through it, exploring the different gardens and, of course, the famous Lincoln Park Zoo. It was all fantastic. I was so surprised that a free zoo could be so impressive. Other cities should take note!
I spent a whole day exploring Museum Campus and the surrounding city area. Well, a fair portion of this time was spent enjoying the spectacular view, as I mentioned above. Aside from the view, I enjoyed many hours at the Field Museum of Natural History. I am a sucker for great museums, particularly natural history ones, so I was totally in my element. The Field Museum is simply world-class. I bought a ‘Discovery’ ticket that included a 3D movie about the Galapagos Islands. It was worth the extra money, in terms of being entertaining and educational… and providing a legitimate excuse to sit down for a while! The Museum Campus is home to several other museums, which I have no doubt would also be incredible, but I only had the time to check out this one.
Just a short walk from the Museum Campus along Lake Michigan are a few iconic Chicago attractions. One is the Buckingham Fountain, which is impressive in size (one of the biggest fountains in the world!) and makes for some nice holiday snaps. The second is perhaps the most recognisable feature of Chicago – Cloud Gate, commonly referred to as ‘the Bean’. I did not expect much from Cloud Gate, given that it appears to be just an oversized metal object dropped in the city. However, its reflective nature makes for some very fun and unique photo opportunities, particularly from standing underneath it. Seeing it in person gave me a much greater appreciation for its artistic merit. The surrounding parts of Millennium Park are also beautiful. There is plenty to explore. My favourites included Lurie Garden and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
The iconic Chicago theatre is also nearby, just a short stroll further into the city. We did not get a chance to go inside, but took a few cliché snaps of the glittering sign. While we were in this area, we decided to try Chicago’s infamous deep-dish pizza. Neither of us could finish ours, as they were big (true to American form!). I enjoyed the concept of deep-dish and the taste. And we also walked along part of the world-renown Route 66 without even knowing it!
We also indulged ourselves in a day of shopping along the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s well-known shopping strip. It has all of the typical shops you would expect for a popular shopping destination in the US. We were there in spring and it was gorgeous to see tulips lining the street. The Navy Pier is also within walking distance. It was undergoing renovations at the time and was underwhelming. It seemed to mainly appeal to children. We were, however, impressed and surprised by the beach area along the city’s shoreline. I can imagine that it would be quite popular in summer.
Then, the following morning, we boarded a plane back to Australia – after spending 187 days abroad!
I am a big fan of using public transport when travelling. It gives you a greater appreciation for living as a local. We found the ‘L’ Train to be very easy to use and reliable, as you would expect for a city of Chicago’s size. I felt safe on it too, even when travelling alone, but we did make a conscious effort not to travel at night.
Would I go back to Chicago? Absolutely! It is a city with so much to offer and I would love to explore it more. I could not have asked for a better place to have spent the final days of our five month trip.