Hostelworld Guide for Chicago

By Colm Hanratty


With its lake shore location, countless skyscrapers and abundance of iconic traits and characteristics, Chicago is one of the great American cities. Along with skyscrapers, the windy city (a nickname which has nothing to do with the weather incidentally) is famous for hot dogs, pizza, sports teams and more. It possesses a big city feel similar to that you'd find in New York, but boasts a landscape that's far more open than its east coast counterpart. One minute you're in the middle of a thriving city when walking down Michigan Avenue, while the next you're enjoying some peace and quiet overlooking Lake Michigan. Even though it's not as accessible as other North American cities, it's ultimately worth the effort to get to as Chicago is unlike any other city in the country.



In this Guide...      

Useful Information
After Dark
Places to Eat
Top Attractions
Budget Tips
Where to Shop

 The Essentials


Getting There

By plane: Chicago is served by two airports - O'Hare and Midwest. The former is the city's flagship airport and where most international flights arrive. It's connected to the city via the train. The latter is mainly used by budget airlines to domestic destinations. It is also connected to the city via train.

By train: If your chosen mode of transport when getting to Chicago is the train then you will arrive in the city's Union Station at 500 W. Jackson Blvd in the West Loop area of the city. It has excellent connections with all other major US cities.

By bus: The USA's main bus company is Greyhound - their station in Chicago can be found at 630 West Harrison St in the West Loop. Other bus companies operate from Union Station. All have good connections with other US cities.

Getting Around

On foot: Downtown Chicago is easily traversable on foot. From there you can get to other city centre neighbourhoods and attractions easily.

By train: Chicago's train network, which is run by the CTA, is known as either the subway or the 'L' (some of it is elevated). It's by far the easiest way to get to Chicago's neighbourhoods along with attractions also.

By bus: The CTA also runs Chicago's bus network. They'll take you to all those places that the train won't.

 Chicago facts

Location: Chicago is located in Illinois, a state in mid-north USA
Population: The population of Chicago is just over two and three quarter million people.
Area: Chicago covers an area of 228 square miles.
Founded: The first settler in the city was Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable in 1779, although it wasn't until 1837 that it was incorporated as a city.

Weather in Chicago is extreme - winters are bitterly cold and summers extremely hot. Aside from those are mild enough springs and autumns. Temperatures in winter drop well below zero - the lowest on record is -29C. In summers the average temperatures is in and around 30C and it can get extremely humid. Like in many cities with climates like Chicago, the most pleasant times to visit are spring and autumn. The wettest month is August.

 Good to know...

Language: English
Currency: US Dollar
Electricity: 110 volts, 60 cycles
Telephone Code: +1 (USA), 0312 (Chicago)
Emergency Code: 911 (Police / Fire / Ambulance)
Time Zone: Central Standard Time
Central Post Office: 433 West Harrison St, West Loop
Main Tourist Office: Chicago Cultural Center Visitors Center, 77 East Randolph St, Loop

Embassies *

UK: +1 202 588 6500
Canada: +1 202 682 1740
Australia: +1 202 797 3000
South Africa: +1 202 232 4400
Ireland: +1 202 462 3939
Germany: +1 202 298 4000
Spain: +1 202 728 2371
Italy: +1 202 612 4400
New Zealand: +1 202 328 4800
France: +1 202 232 6854

* Embassies in Washington DC

Hostelworld Guide for Chicago

 Cheap Eats

 After Dark

Portillo's, 100 West Ontario Street, Near North Originating as a hot dog stand back in 1963, Portillo's is something of an institution when it comes to hot dogs. This is one of the best places to sample a 'Chicago-style' hot dog. What makes it different are a host of ingredients, such as chillis, a sliced pickle, diced onions and chopped tomato. You have to try one. Open daily 10am-11pm (midnight Fri & Sat).

 Get ready for the food sweats...

Giordano's, 730 N Rush St, Near North Giordano's is home to the self-titled 'world-famous stuffed pizza'. What this entails is choosing a selection of ingredients which are then stuffed into the crust and base of the pizza rather than placed on top of it. Granted, it may be a heart attack on a plate, but it's a tasty one. Open daily 11am-midnight.

Branko's Sandwich, 1118 West Fullerton Avenue, Lincoln Park Branko's has been serving the students of nearby De Paul University since the 1960's, this sandwhich shop is packed to the rafters every day at lunchtime. Those who flock there enjoy enormous sandwiches and affordable prices. Open Mon-Sat 9am-9pm, closed Sun.

Big Star, 1531 North Damen Avenue, Wicker Park One of Chicago's newest restaurants is also now one of its most popular. Conveniently located just seconds from a L train station, here you can enjoy reasonably prices portions of tacos, and lots of variations to choose from. Open till late, it's worth staying for a couple of beers when you're done. Open daily 11.30am-2am (3am Sat)

Lou Malnati's, 805 S. State Street, South Loop Where Giordano's specialises in stuffed pizza, this popular chain is where to go for Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Similar to the traditional Italian type where toppings are spread on top, here the base is a far thicker affair, making pizzas here extremely hearty. Open Mon-Sat 11am-11pm (midnight Fri & Sat), Sun noon-10pm.

Debonair Social Club, 1575 North Milwaukee Avenue, Bucktown Something of a 'concept bar', Debonair's mission is to showcase art, music and food in the one space. They achieve this, with something different happening every other night. It's house music one night, metal the next, and fashion the other. Open Mon-Fri 10pm-2am (3am Sat).

Red Ivy, 3525 N. Clark St., Wrigleyville Dating back to 1937, Red Ivy is one of the liveliest bars in Wrigleyville. A sports bar true and true, there's still room for getting down to the chart tunes the DJ plays. Despite of its location, even when the Cubs aren't playing, it gets packed. The crowd is a good spirited one, and staff are too. Open Tues-Fri 5pm-late, Sat & Sun 11am-late, closed Sun.

 Gay / Lesbian Chicago

While there are many gay bars throughout Chicago, most of them can be found in the aptly named 'Boytown' area in the Lakeview neighbourhood. Roscoe's (3356 N. Halsted St., Lakeview) is a popular spot that hosts 'drag races' and 'wet boxer shorts' nights, while Sidetrack (3349 N. Halsted, Lakeview) is said to be the 'heart of Gay Chicago'. Other popular spots include Bobby's Love (3729 N. Halsted St., Lakeview) and Kit Kat Lounge (3700 N Halsted, Lakeview).

Shenanigan's, 16 W. Division Street, Near North If you want your Saturday night to entail dancing on tables, free flowing booze and singing along to old and new tracks, then Shenanigan's is for you. Not your average Irish bar (only the name is particularly Celtic-themed), it's still extremely lively and a good Saturday night option. Open Mon-Sat 3pm-4am, Sun 11pm-4am.

Kingston Mines, 2548 North Halsted Street, Lincoln Park No visit to Chicago is complete without visiting a blues club, and while there are many to choose from, this one in the city's Lincoln Park neighbourhood is less touristy than most. Open since 1968 where it began as a coffee house, over the years it has staged some of the biggest names in blues. Open Sun-Thurs 8pm-4am, Fri & Sat 8pm-4am (5am Sat).

Signature Lounge, 875 North Michigan Avenue, Near North There are many bars in the world that boast breathtaking views, and this bar on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Centre is certainly one of them. Popular for cocktails and as a place to start the night, the views from the floor to ceiling windows are spellbinding. Open daily 11am-12.30am (Fri & Sat 1.30am).

 Don't Miss

 Budget Tips

Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower, 233 South Wacker Drive, The Loop Not only the tallest building in the United States, the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) is the tallest skyscraper in North America. Soaring 1,451 feet into the Illinois sky, visitors can visit 'Skydeck', an observatory deck offering breathtaking views. Open 9am-10pm (Apr-Sept), 10am-8pm (Oct-March); admission $15.95.

John Hancock Observatory, 875 North Michigan Ave, Near North Once the tallest building in Chicago, the John Hancock Center is now the third tallest building in the city. Still, it boasts views of Lake Michigan you can't get from its main competitor, along with views of the competitor itself. That's why we recommend you visit both. Open daily 9am-11pm; admission $21.

Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr, South Loop Chicago's flagship museum is said to have over 21 million specimens, although obviously only a small section are on display. The best known of all is 'Sue', the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex on the planet. Other collections focus on Ancient Egypt and Native Americans. Open daily 9am-5pm; admission $29.

 On the waterfront

Navy Pier, 600 East Grand Avenue, Near North Every city has one tourist hub and Chicago's is Navy Pier. Covering over 50 acres, here you'll encounter bars, restaurants and attractions too. These include the citys IMAX as well as the much-photographed ferris wheel. It's touristy as hell, but touristy is good sometimes - make sure to check it out.

Sports game Chicago is home to some of America's most famous sports teams - the Chicago Bulls (basketball; season Oct-Apr), the Chicago Cubs (baseball; Apr-Sept) and the Chicago Bears (American football; Sept-Jan). If there's a game on when you're in town make sure to catch one.

Visit the free museums There are many museums in Chicago worth checking out, and thankfully many offer free days or times. The Adler Planetarium is free on Tuesdays, while the Art Institute of Chicago is free on Thursday evenings between 5pm and 8pm. The Chicago History Museum is free every Monday from 9.30am-4.30am and the Field Museum is free the second Monday of every month.

Relax on the beach Cold as it gets in the winter, Chicago sizzles in the summer, and if you're looking to while away an afternoon without spending a cent then go to the beach. The two you should set your sights on are the Ohio Street Beach and North Ave Beach. As the former of the two is on the doorstep of the Near North area, it gets shaded quickly, so we advise checking out the latter.

 Different from every angle

Chill out in Millennium Park Arguably one of the most enjoyable parks to visit in the United States, Millennium Park isn't particularly large, but there is lots to see. Most notable is Cloud Gate, better known as 'the Bean' (pictured), while other points of interest include the breathtaking auditorium and the intriguing 'human-gargoyle' fountains.

Stroll along the shores of Lake Michigan Look east from most places in downtown Chicago and you'll see what looks like the open sea. But it isn't. It is one of the 'Great Lakes', Lake Michigan. Nothing beats chilling out for a few hours along its shores, passing yacht clubs and beaches, while taking in unforgettable views of the city's celebrated skyline.

Eat in 'BYOB' restaurants All over Chicago are 'BYOB' restaurants, which stands for 'bring your own beer', meaning exactly that - rather than buy alcohol on the premises, you can bring your own. It applies to wine too. There are too many to single out, so do a bit of Googling for them before hitting the town and you'll discover lots.

Hostelworld Guide for Chicago