The vast mid-Western American state of Illinois offers both the giant, bustling city of Chicago, and the experience of small-town America. Illinois is one of America's major breadbaskets, with most of the state being covered in rich farmlands, dotted with agricultural communities and half a million acres of state parks mixed in. Tucked away in the rolling hills are some Amish communities carrying on their traditional way of life without modern conveniences.
The metropolis of Chicago, on the shore of Lake Michigan in the north of Illinois, is the focus for most visitors, with its amazing collection of museums and high class shopping areas. Travellers who venture downstate can find plenty of other diversions, particularly those interested in history or outdoor activities.
The state capital, Springfield, 200 miles (322km) south of Chicago, is a city with a small-town atmosphere, renowned for once being the home of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th US President, who practised law here and was laid to rest in the local Oak Ridge Cemetery after his assassination.
Visitors seeking life in the open air are drawn to the expanse of natural beauty in south Illinois where the Shawnee National Forest offers hiking, biking, camping, and fishing opportunities in serene woodlands.
An impressive pair of bronze lions guards the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago, a museum which houses one of the greatest art collections in the world. Works date from 3,000 BC through to the present, including a renowned collection of Impressionist art featuring numerous Monet paintings. The Institute has it all, from Japanese ukiyo-e prints and ancient Egyptian bronzes to masterpieces of 20th-century sculpture. Exhibits include paintings, drawings, photographs, textiles, sculptures, and architectural works. As if the permanent collection isn't enough to occupy visitors, an impressive programme of temporary and travelling exhibitions grace the museum. The Institute has three restaurants as well as a gift shop.
Chicago's wildly popular Field Museum of Natural History in Lake Shore Drive is home to 'Sue', the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever found. The dinosaur came to rest here after being unearthed in South Dakota when the museum bought her remains for more than $8 million. Sue is just one of the draws to the museum. It offers other marvels like getting a bug's eye view in an underground adventure; descending into an Egyptian tomb; watching a glowing lava flow; and getting up close and personal with the man-eating lions of Tsavo. The museum specialises in interactive and diorama-type exhibits across its nine acres of exhibition space, and is a must-visit for families on holiday in Chicago.
America's most renowned architect lived and worked in this complex, which served as private studio and architectural laboratory for the first twenty years of his career. Wright's haven started out as a simple cottage and was continually added on to by the architect, resulting in unusual features such as a balcony suspended on chains. The complex is administered by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which offers guided tours. The neighbourhood of Oak Park contains the world's largest concentration of Wright-designed buildings. Self-guided exterior audio tours of the 26 structures in the area are available.
Lincoln Park, beginning at North Avenue and following the shore of Lake Michigan northwards, is Chicago's largest park. It contains many things to see and do, such as beaches, a botanical conservatory, a golf course, grassy meadows, formal gardens, and sports fields. Pride of place is held by the standing statue of Abraham Lincoln, sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. His sitting Lincoln is in Chicago's other famous green lung, Grant Park. The most popular attraction within the park is the Lincoln Park Zoo, which not only houses hundreds of exotic animals, but offers experiences like paddle boat rides, a virtual safari trip, and the Endangered Species Carousel with 48 artisan-crafted wooden animals that accommodates 50 riders at a time.
Top of the list of attractions for families on holiday in Chicago is the Six Flags Great America. Featuring some of the country's most exciting theme park rides, such as the Dark Knight Coaster, the American Eagle, and the Condor, the Six Flags Great America Park is a great way to spend the day. The kids will love meeting their favourite comic book superheroes and cartoon characters. You can also cool off on a hot day with the rides at Hurricane Harbor, the attached water park. The amusement park can easily occupy the whole family for a day, with numerous restaurants and snack bars for refreshments and some live entertainment on offer.
One of Chicago's best known attractions, the Shedd remains one of the world's largest indoor aquariums since its opening in 1930. The octagonal marble building houses more than 8,000 river, lake, and sea creatures. The main attraction is the Caribbean Coral Reef exhibit and other marine habitat recreations of the Amazon basin, the rugged Pacific Northwest coast, and the Great Lakes. Animals in the Shedd include otters, penguins, whales, sharks, sea turtles, and much more. The aquarium also features an indoor saltwater Oceanarium housing marine mammals where dolphin shows are scheduled daily.
Illinois' second city, Rockford, set in rolling hills, is just northwest of Chicago. It is worth a visit for culture vultures and golfers in particular. The city is known for its 'cultural corridor' of which the highlight is the Rockford Art Museum's stunning permanent collection focusing on 19th and 20th century works. There is also a wealth of private galleries and historical museums in the city centre. Rockford is known for its antique shops and markets, and many golf courses.
The pretty two-storey home of Abraham and Mary Lincoln in Springfield was the only home the lawyer/president ever owned. He and his wife lived in the house between 1844 and 1861 when he was elected President. The home has been restored and stands as it was in 1860 in the midst of a four-block historic neighbourhood, which the National Park Service is restoring. The neighbourhood, like the house, will also soon appear much as Lincoln would have remembered it. The house can only be explored on a guided tour and a time slot is assigned with each ticket - there is no admission cost. You can explore the neighbourhood with the help of an audio cell phone tour: just dial 217-213-3003 and follow the prompts.
Abraham Lincoln was buried in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery after his assassination in 1865. Today it is the second most visited cemetery in the United States, being the resting place not only of Lincoln but several other notable historic figures, including famous poet Vachel Lindsay. Lincoln's tomb monument was designed by Larkin Mead and is one of the highlights of the Historic Monument Tour by guided audio cassette, obtainable from the Oak Ridge Cemetery office. A Civil War Retreat Ceremony is held at Lincoln's tomb each Tuesday evening during the summer. The cemetery is surrounded by rolling prairie landscapes and thousands of old trees.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library opened in October 2004, with the Museum opening the following year. They are part of a $115 million complex dedicated to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and form the largest presidential library complex in the nation. The library houses the world's largest collection of Lincoln material, with more than 46,000 items. Included in this collection are nearly 1,500 documents written or signed by Lincoln, including handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. The collection also contains important family documents and artefacts, such as the Lincoln's marriage license, a tablecloth from their wedding reception, the nameplate from their front door, and Mr Lincoln's shaving mirror. The museum has been designed to be an immersive experience, using creative exhibits which take visitors through phases of the president's life from his boyhood cabin in Indiana to his funeral in Springfield.
'You haven't seen Chicago until you've seen it from the Skydeck' is what many visitors will hear from locals and other tourists in the city. The iconic Sears Tower was renamed on 16 July 2009 to the 'Willis Tower', but the old name is still commonly used. Located on its 103rd floor, the Skydeck is 1,353 feet (412m) above street level and one of Chicago's most famous tourist attractions. Elevators whisk visitors up to the observation deck where the views stretch out across the city and Lake Michigan, and as far as neighbouring states on a clear day. The Skydeck is completely transparent, so that visitors look straight down through the floor. Inside, there are some interactive exhibits and computer information terminals for a tour of the city's landmarks. The Willis Tower, standing at 110 storeys high, is the tallest building in North America and one of the tallest in the world.
Millennium Park is one of Chicago's most popular destinations and is seen by Chicagoans as the crowning glory of their city. The award-winning park is famous for its innovative architecture and landscape design, featuring the work of several prominent artists, architects, and designers. The park's most outstanding feature is the state-of-the-art outdoor concert venue, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which seats more than 4,000 people and hosts regular concerts. Another fascinating piece of architecture is the polished stainless steel Cloud Gate, shaped like a 66-foot (20m) long bean with a 12-foot (4m) high archway. Other interesting features include the Crown Fountain, the Lurie Garden, BP Bridge, and the Millennium Monument. Visitors can also enjoy changing exhibitions, local art works, and ice skating in winter.
Located on Lake Michigan, the Adler Planetarium is America's oldest planetarium and boasts a number of theatres. Inside its doors, visitors and locals alike have marvelled at the heavens since 1930. There are also numerous exhibits at the Adler, from design labs to ancient astronomy, the interactive Mission Moon experience to an engaging walk through the history of the cosmos. The Adler hosts many special lectures and events and a visit is an absolute must for stargazers. It is a good family attraction in Chicago as the shows enchant all age groups and much of the programme is carefully designed for children.
Formerly known as the John Hancock Building, 875 North Michigan Avenue is Chicago's third highest skyscraper. Located on the 94th floor, 1,000 feet (305m) above street level, the 360 Chicago Observatory is the city's only open-air skywalk, with 360-degree views, a talking telescope, audio Skytours that provide an overview of the city with 16 stops, and the History Wall, with hundreds of photos illustrating Chicago's history. An annual 'Hustle up the Hancock' stair climb race up the 94 floors is held every February. With a distinctive x-bracing exterior skin, its observatory competes with the facilities of the Willis Tower across town in the Financial District.
The Chicago Children's Museum is a must for kids of all ages. Located on Navy Pier, the museum offers three storeys of interactive exhibits with plenty of hands-on fun. The main attraction at the museum is the three-storey tall replica of an 1850s Schooner, which is a huge climbing course. The 'Inventing Lab', 'Waterways', and Dinosaur attractions are also highly popular with the little ones. Kids can play in anything from tree houses to model skyscrapers and furniture forts, and there are endless toys to tinker with. Older kids will enjoy the organised craft activities and building workstations. Exhibitions and activities are frequently changed to keep everything new and exciting for regular visitors.
With plenty of wide-open space for kids to run around, the Botanic Gardens is one of Chicago's most beautiful attractions. During the summertime, be sure to explore the Rose Garden, where over 7,750 plants are in full bloom. A number of greenhouses, including a gorgeous orchid collection, can be explored in the gardens. There are also children's programmes available during the summer, as well as numerous fun events and exhibitions. Check the official website listed below for more information.
Stunning public art adorns downtown Chicago, created by world-renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Henry Moore, and David Smith. Numerous walking tours of the Loop are available, with the Chicago Loop Alliance offering some free tours. Exploring the Loop includes some of the city's best-known works of art, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, the Aon Center Plaza, Thompson Center, Daley Center, Chase Plaza, Federal Plaza, the Chicago Board of Trade Building, and the Willis Tower (Sears Tower). Joining a tour is a great way to see the most scenic parts of the downtown Chicago Loop, although it is also fun to find your own way to the main artistic landmarks.
Often referred to as the city's front yard, Buckingham Fountain is one of the Chicago's most popular attractions. Located alongside Millennium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago in Grant Park, the fountain used to be the official starting point of the celebrated US Route 66. Donated to the city by Kate Buckingham on 26 August 1927 in memory of her brother Clarence, the fountain represents Lake Michigan and each sea horse symbolises a state bordering the lake. Water shows run every hour on the hour and last for 20 minutes. The last show of the night is at 10pm.
The stretch of Michigan Avenue in Chicago that runs from Chicago River to Oak Street is known as the Magnificent Mile. Famed for its nightlife, it also serves as the main thoroughfare between Chicago's Loop business district and the Gold Coast. Visitors will love discovering what the Magnificent Mile has to offer, from more than 460 exclusive stores and boutiques, to more than 200 restaurants. There is also historic architecture to be admired on a boat or trolley tour, including the Wrigley Building and the John Hancock Center. Indulge in a deep dish pizza, stroll past media houses like the Chicago Tribune newspaper, enjoy the local street performers, firework displays, or watch the Magnificent Mile change with the seasons.
The world-famous Route 66 is colloquially known as the 'Main Street of America' or the 'Mother Road'. This is because it originally ran from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending in Los Angeles. The stretch of highway has been immortalised by famous singers such as Nat King Cole and even the Rolling Stones. The starting point in Chicago has moved a few times over the years and in 1933, the start (and end) was moved to Jackson and Lake Shore Drive. The starting point remained here, so even while Adams Street at Michigan Avenue is marked as the starting point, Route 66 has never departed from there. The recognised end of Route 66 is located at the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue (which is marked as the terminus). This landmark is a pilgrimage site for those interested in the pop culture of America.
Chicago has a colourful and fascinating history, ranging from devastating fires to gangster assassinations. The Chicago History Museum represents this history through an intriguing collections of artefacts from the city's past. This includes the first passenger car to operate on the Chicago L system, Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls jersey, and seemingly every postcard ever made of Chicago. The admission cost includes an audio guide to help visitors make sense of all the exhibitions. The permanent collection is more than sufficient to capture the imagination, but the museum does also host regular temporary exhibitions and special events.
While Chicago is not well-known as a beach holiday destination, its position on the shore of Lake Michigan gives the city access to an extensive network of waterfront recreational areas. There are over 26 miles (42km) of open and free lakefront to enjoy. These include popular spots like Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach, the most fashionable places to see and be seen while enjoying the sun of a Chicago summer. The Rogers Park Beaches are also excellent: Howard Beach has a playground for children, while Pratt Beach offers tennis courts and jogging paths. Kathy Osterman Beach (formerly Hollywood Beach) is a great place for beach volleyball and has child-friendly shallow waters at the north end.
Knights Action Park is a family entertainment centre outside of Springfield. Featuring an arcade, driving range, batting cages, go-karts, mini golf, kiddie rides, and a Ferris wheel, the park is a great place to let children run around after touring historic Springfield. The water park is where the whole family can enjoy bumper boats, water slides, a wave pool, pedal boats, and a lazy river. Added attractions at Knights Action Park are the Route 66 Twin Drive-In Theater, offering nightly double features, and Trade Winds Pub & Eatery. All these can be visited in one day and the variety of activities and amusements ensures people of all ages will find something to enjoy. Visitors should note, however, that opening times and days vary for different attractions: check the official website below for details.
Most of Illinois has a humid continental climate, with hot, humid summers and cold winters. The southernmost part of the state borders on a humid subtropical climate, with milder winters. The weather in Illinois can be fairly extreme: in summer (June to August) temperatures rise to between 80°F (27°C) and 90°F (32°C) and there is high humidity; while in winter (January to March) it can be wet and cold, with temperatures as low as 12°F (-11°C) and icy winds whipping off Lake Michigan. Snow is likely in winter. May and September are the most pleasant months, with reliably warm, sunny days.
Located in the Wicker Park area, this authentic and retro Italian eatery reminds one of wholesome Italian fare being cooked up in the kitchen by real Italian mammas. With homemade ravioli, Veal Parmigiana, and their flagship dish, Chicken Vesuvio with roasted potatoes, peas, white wine and garlic, this cosy Chicago favourite is one of the best when it comes to Italian cuisine. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday and Sunday dinner only. Reservations accepted.
Established by Thai native Penny Chiamopoulous, this simple and spacious Chicago eatery serves delicious authentic Thai cuisine and other Asian fusion dishes to perfection. Sample everything from Crab Rangoon - a crispy dumpling stuffed with cream cheese and seafood - and Tom Yum soup, to Hot Pepper Noodles and Thai ravioli dumplings stuffed with shrimp and pork and served with BBQ pork, lettuce, green onions, cilantro, and peanuts. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations not accepted.
Arun's has been called the finest Thai restaurant in the city. Dinner is an ever-changing fixed-price menu comprising of a gourmet banquet of 12 exquisitely presented courses that puts other Thai kitchens to shame. A special menu can be designed to suit individual tastes on calling ahead. The culinary experience is complemented by traditional Thai décor and displayed artwork. Reservations are required with a credit card. Closed Monday. Dinner only.
Towering above the city with commanding views from the 40th floor, Everest is one of the city's premiere French dining rooms offering the world-renowned cuisine created by Alsatian chef Jean Joho. His distinctive style is a blend of noble and simple ingredients for unusual flavour combinations, such as caviar or foie gras with potatoes or cabbage, drawing inspiration from the cookery of his native Alsace. Everest includes classics like lobster and lamb, as well as a vegetarian menu and some creative desserts. Closed Sunday and Monday. Dinner only. Reservations required.
King of the Chicago-style steakhouses, Morton's on North State upholds its reputation as the best steakhouse in the region with huge succulent steaks cooked to perfection. It is famous for its signature tableside menu presentation, where a trolley is rolled out containing main course selections that are described in detail by the server. The menu features a variety of cuts, including the house speciality, the 24-ounce (680g) porterhouse steak, as well as fresh fish, lobster, veal, and chicken. Open daily for dinner. Reservations recommended.
High ceilings, crisp white tablecloths, and black and white photos on the walls create a sophisticated dining experience, where the Indian-Latin food is as contemporary as the restaurant. Indian tapas such as cilantro tamarind shrimp, coconut chilli mussels, and duck vindaloo arepa tantalise the tastebuds. Signature dishes include chilli-glazed blackened tamarind ribs served with amchur tortilla crisps and a sweet corn salsa, or fiery culinary delights such as the Desi goat curry in a rich Indian gravy served with naan. This restaurant lives up to its reputation as one of Chicago's finest eateries and does not disappoint. Reservations recommended on weekends. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday and Sunday dinner only.
Chicago's chicest diners and celebrity clientele flock to this sought-after addition to 'Restaurant Row'. Here, the smart minimalist interior is the perfect backing to the ornate food presentation and creative renditions of French-influenced contemporary American food. The exterior of the restaurant is as stylish as the food. The seasonal menu is creative yet simple and features dishes such as wood-grilled California sturgeon with English peas, braised peanuts, crispy bacon, and bourbon caramel. Closed Sunday. No lunch Saturday. Reservations recommended.
Top-quality sushi and sashimi dishes are found in this eatery which exudes a youthful ambience. Fresh fish is flown in daily for the sushi bar where several inventive chefs whip up a list of delicious offerings to order. Upstairs, the futuristic sake lounge is the city's most stylish place to enjoys its namesake and other cocktails. Dinner daily. Reservations recommended.
One of the prettiest settings in the city, North Pond is situated within the famous Lincoln Park, in a building that was originally an ice skaters warming house overlooking Chicago's skyline. In keeping with the natural setting, chef Bruce Sherman emphasises organic produce and simple but delicious seasonal cuisine. The wine list focuses on boutique vintners. Dinner Tuesday to Sunday, lunch Tuesday to Friday (June to September), brunch on Sundays. Reservations recommended. Jacket and tie recommended for dinner.
Pizzeria Uno is famous for its original Deep Dish Pizza, a pie-like crust stuffed with meat and fresh vegetables and cheese. This Chicago-style pizza originated at Pizzeria Uno in 1943 and both locals and out-of-towners pack into the panelled rooms for a filling meal. Other delicious dishes on the menu include Angus Beef steaks, ribs, and inventive new creations such as Chicken Milanese or Spicy Chicken Flatbread. There is often a wait, but regulars maintain it is more than worth it. Open from 11am daily.
Voted the best barbecue in Chicago, Smoque serves traditional Midwest barbecue. Dishes like the applewood-smoked baby back and St Louis-style ribs, brisket (smoked for 15 hours), pulled pork (smoked for 12 hours), and sides like cornbread and mac and cheese. The restaurant is casual and diners stand in line to order at the counter. Smoque's location outside of downtown Chicago makes it inconvenient for some tourists, but it is located near an L station and most diners say it's worth the trip. Open Tuesday to Sunday 11am-9pm, closes 10pm on Friday and Saturday.
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