Located in the south-western shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago, with 237 square miles of land, is the third largest city in the US. Nicknamed as the ‘Windy City’, Chicago is a melting pot of diverse culture. Nearly 52 million visitors leave their footprints in Chicago annually. The city offers spectacular art and architecture, mind-blowing food, bustling cafes, rocking music and an array of sports and adventure to its visitors. Our readers often ask what to do, where to go, where to eat and have fun while visiting Chicago. Here is a primer.
Exciting Things to do in Chicago, USA
Get ready with passport and visa
The first thing you need to enter Chicago is a tourist visa. If you are a citizen with a valid passport from a country enjoying Visa Waiver Program, then apply for an ESTA online. Here is a list of ESTA VWP countries. Technically, ESTA – the Electronic System for Travel Authorization – is not a visa; it is a screening process where the eligible applicants apply online for a travel authorization. It costs $14 and the response time is really fast. Once granted, an ESTA is valid for 2 years (with a valid passport) and allows you to stay and travel within the country for 90 days. So if you are granted an ESTA for a trip to Chicago, you can stay in Chicago for 90 days or you can visit other states of the USA within that period. However, it should be noted that obtaining an ESTA does not assure your entry to the country. Also, travellers travelling through the US need ESTA. Citizens from non-VWP require B1 / B2 visa with valid passports. Citizens from PRC with valid passports need to enrol for a valid EVUS before boarding a flight to Chicago or to any US state.
When in Chicago…
Millennium Park is a good place to start. This 24.5 acre open green space flaunts avant-garde art, architecture and landscaping. Speaking of art, one of the main attractions at the Millennium Park is its most photographed and iconic modern sculpture – The Cloud Gate – or as it is fondly called – ‘The Bean’. A dazzling piece of steel sculpture, ‘The Bean’ is a creation of British sculptor Anish Kapoor. 80% of its surface mirrors the sky and captures Chicago’s magnificent skyline wonderfully. While exploring the Millennium Park, Don’t miss the Jay Pritzker Pavilion – that proscenium standing 120-ft above the ground at the North end of Millennium Park where free concerts and popular music festivals are hosted during the summer months. It is designed by renowned Canadian architect Frank Gehry. Another must-see piece of public art work is Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s stunning creation – the Crown Fountain. Made of two towering glass blocks of 50 ft with brightly lit LED displays, the fountain is truly mind-blowing.
Exciting boat tours on Lake Michigan
To explore the exemplary architecture of the city book a guided boat tour. A number of boat tour operators offer different types of Chicago architecture tour. You would be shown the iconic architectural gems of the city as you wind through the water. Narrated tours are your best bets as you get to learn about the city’s rich architectural legacy and past. Also, you can also opt for a luxury river cruise to enjoy the unforgettable scenic beauty during the sunset and spectacular fireworks from an exclusive vantage point. Depending on your itinerary and budget choose your trip.
Kayaking along the Chicago Riverwalk
Have fun and outdoor sport thrill as you kayak down the Chicago Riverwalk. For a thrilling experience of exploring the Chicago waterway on your own, rent a kayak and paddle through the amazing city views. If you are a beginner and have never paddled before, you can also take a guide. There are renowned organizations that rent kayaks, arrange great kayak tours. Kayaking is absolutely wonderful, go experience!
How about a Guided Fishing Trip?
If you enjoy fishing, the Chicago River and downtown Chicago waterfront have good news for you. But you need a license for fishing and more information can be accessed from Department of Natural Resources website, https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/LPR/Pages/FishingLicensesFees.aspx. You can also sign up for a guided fishing trip conducted by a licensed fishing guide.
Fly high in Chicago – Chicago daytime helicopter tour
Though bit steeply priced, a helicopter tour gives you the ultimate thrill as you soar above the sky-kissing skyscrapers and enjoy the spectacular view of the city beneath. Fly over Willis Tower, Lake Michigan; take in the ethereal beauty of the coastline, Navy Pier and its Ferris wheel from bird’s-eye view, click some mind blowing aerial images – the helicopter trip would be etched in your memory forever.
More Thrill, Fun and Activity in Chicago
Climb High at Maggie Daley Park: Thrill-seeking souls can also enjoy outdoor climbing at Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park. Check this page https://maggiedaleypark.com/things-to-do-see/climbing-wall/ for more details.
Enjoy some exciting adventure games at The Escape Games, Chicago. More details here: https://theescapegame.com/chicago/#about-the-escape-game
If you love the rush of adrenaline and love water sports, jet skiing on Lake Michigan is for you. You can rent jet skis and gears from a reputable sports rental company.
Walk on air and discover Chicago from an elevation of 1353 ft as you ride to the 103th floor of the Willis Tower. The Skydeck ledge – The Ledge – 103 floors above the ground gives stunning bird’s eye-view of the city. You can also opt to experience a starry night from the Ledge or a poetically spectacular sunset. Shedd Aquarium is another crowd-puller in Chicago. Here you can witness an impressive variety of aquatic life. If you happen to be a space lover, Adler Planetarium is the ‘star’-attraction you should not miss. Get a glimpse of what to expect here.
Chicago food tours – Trips for treating your taste buds
If you are a foodie, a food excursion would be perfect to explore the culinary scenes of the city. Thrillist has some suggestions for you here.
We have already shared the main attractions of Chicago here. However, this is just a primer. We will be back with more information soon! Stay tuned!