Chicago: Second to none when it comes to arts and culture
“The Chi,” “The Windy City,” “The Second City,” “Chi-Town”, this midwest city has more nicknames than you can count. They emanate from a sense of affection for the city from people all over the world – and I totally understand. Chicago is truly special, a cultural melting pot and a hub for everything from natural science to top-notch theatre. Here are some of the most exciting aspects of the city you have to check out.
Stay in the downtown core of the city to be within minutes of the city’s hottest sights and attractions. The lovely Cambria Chicago Loop is a chic, boutique-style hotel located next door to, but in the same building as, the historic early twentieth-century Oriental Theatre (recently re-named the James M. Nederlander Theatre) which is in the city’s downtown theatre district. The hotel is the perfect mix of classic and modern. The exterior preserves the building’s original design, but the minimalist interior is sleek and urban. The rooms are both spacious and cozy, with unique touches like a map of Chicago on the wall behind the beds and super cool Bluetooth-enabled bathroom mirrors with built-in speakers.
If you’re looking to grab a meal on-site, the hotel’s restaurant Intermission Bar & Kitchen does not disappoint. It offers a reasonably priced menu with a lot of options and a great selection of $6 happy hour drinks from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays.
Theatre & Comedy Scene
If you thought New York City was the only American city with big theatre cred, think again. Chicago has a booming theatre, comedy and music scene that is exciting just as it is influential. Whether you’re in the mood to see a major Broadway production or an intimate, improv comedy show, Chicago offers it all. With 2019 coined the #YearOfTheatre in Chicago by the city’s mayor, this has never rang more true.
If you’ve been dying to see Broadway smash Hamilton but have been unlucky in snagging the very hot, and price-y, tickets to see it in New York or in London’s West End, I highly recommend catching it in Chicago. For around $200 CAD, you can snag orchestra section tickets to see the production at the gorgeous CIBC Theatre. The musical absolutely lives up to the hype with its catchy songs and phenomenal performances by all the actors. Standouts in the Chicago production include the brilliant Ta-Tynisa Wilson as Eliza Hamilton and the hilarious Andrew Call as King George. The production runs until January 2020.
Non-broadway theatres such as Goodman Theatre are also very important to Chicago’s scene and are a great place to catch locally-produced, innovative plays that really push the envelope in terms of content and creativity. Plays by award-winning writers such as Christina Anderson’s How to Catch Creation and Meredith Willson’s The Music Man have had very successful runs at Goodman and it is one of the city’s best spots to catch high-production theatre at an accessible price.
Also, don’t leave the city without taking in a comedy show or two at famous The Second City. Chicago is coined the “birthplace of improv” and it’s for good reason. Some of the world’s top names in comedy like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and even Canadian legends like John Candy, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short, got their start through The Second City. Catch one of their weekly student shows — they’re hilarious and you may be watching a future star.
Museums and Sight-Seeing
Provided with a CityPASS, I was able to hit up a bunch of Chicago’s top attractions with absolute ease. If you plan on visiting multiple attractions, this is your best bet to save money and avoid the hassle of lining up for tickets for each separate attraction. For $150 CAD, you receive a booklet of tickets, valid for 9 days, for various attractions like Skydeck Chicago, Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Adler Planetarium and more.
As a museum nerd, this was right up my alley. I started off by visiting the stunning and historic Field Museum. Located on Museum Campus Chicago, this establishment dates back to 1921 and is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. You simply cannot visit Chicago without putting a day aside to spend there. The majestic, early twentieth century building houses exciting exhibits ranging from those about ancient Egyptians to those about insects. What the museum is best known for though is housing the most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world! Unearthed in 1990, this incredible specimen, nicknamed “Sue” in honour of the researcher who discovered it, is a sight to be seen! She’s located in her own special suite on the very top floor of the museum, so explore the rest of the museum first and leave her as the big finale.
Next door is the Shedd Aquarium, which also dates back to early 20th century, making it one of the oldest indoor aquariums in the world. This is a great family spot with over 32,000 live animals such as every type of fish imaginable, crustaceans, amphibians, belugas, dolphins and much, much more. There are even some adorable monkeys in the Amazon Rising exhibit that are a must-see. Don’t forget to check the times for the Aquatic Presentations while you’re there — you don’t want to miss the chance to see some exciting live dolphin training!
If architecture and cityscapes are more your thing, Skydeck Chicago is a must. Located on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower on South Wacker Drive, the second-tallest building in the Western hemisphere, this observation deck gives you the most magnificent views of the city and beyond. Step out onto “The Ledge” — a glass box that extends four feet from the building –— to get a 360 experience and take in the view. On a clear day, you can see four of Chicago’s neighbouring states!
With the ease to get around the city and its endless theatres, museums, artistic landmarks, architecture and more, Chicago is truly special. When looking for your next vacation spot, don’t make Chicago your second choice . . . make it your first!