The windy city is mighty pretty

February 25, 2011

My heart was in my mouth, I was sweating and I could hardly move with fear. ‘Look  Mum,’ No 1 Son said, nose pressed against the glass. ‘You can see the tops of the skyscrapers from up here.’

Yes, you read that right. The tops of the skyscrapers. Because we were on the 103rd floor of the tallest building in the US, the Willis Tower. And the big attraction up there is a glass viewing platform known as The Ledge. As the name suggests, it sticks out of the side of the Tower… 1,353 feet in the air.

On a clear day, you can see forever (and on a foggy day, you can’t see anything at all.) All that’s between the soles of your feet and the streets below is glass, and of course it’s totally irresistible to kids, particularly those who enjoy scaring their height-shy mums silly.

Personally I prefer the sights to be a little closer to the ground.

And Chicago certainly has plenty of those.

If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to New York for a long weekend, the Windy City is ideal, because it’s easy to get around, pristine, with great shopping, restaurants, museums and clubs, and really family friendly. In fact, it was definitely our kinda town.

It’s also like a giant movie set, with well known landmarks from your favourite films all over town.

One of the best ways to see a lot of them in one go is by taking a Chicago Film Tour. You’ll see locations from films including Dark Knight, The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, plus historical sights such as the Biograph Theatre, where bank robber John Dillinger was shot by the FBI, and Wrigley Field, home to the baseball team the Chicago Cubs. You’ll also get a real feel for the city.

Another impressive sight is Lake Michigan, which is so vast it looks like the sea. It’s simply stunning. Take a walk along the boardwalk at Navy Pier and you’ll find lots of boat trips on offer, plus old-fashioned fairground style amusements – and you’ll also discover one of the reasons Chicago is known as the Windy City. It’s windy down there. Very windy. Blow your hair all over your face windy.

Chicago has lots of museums, including the Art Institute, where you can re-enact that famous scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the impressive Shedd Aquarium and Museum of Science and Industry . And of course there’s always the beautiful shopping malls on North Michigan Avenue, known as the Magnificent Mile. You’ll find all the big names here, including Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales.

All that sightseeing and shopping was exhausting, but fortunately our hotel, the beautiful historical Intercontinental, was located in the middle of Michigan Avenue, close to the world famous Wrigley building, and it was the perfect retreat. The Intercontinental was built in 1929 but has recently been refurbished to very luxurious standards, making it ideal for chilling out – it’s grand but incredibly comfortable. There’s even a junior Olympic-sized Art Deco swimming pool.

Chicago is the home of the blues, so if you’re in the mood for seeing some live music you won’t be disappointed. As far as eating out goes – well, there are restaurants to suit every possible taste, including Greektown, Chinatown and Little Italy. But Chicago is famous for its pizza – specifically, the deep dish pizza. Chicagoans will tell you the best place to eat is Giordano’s, and if you can bear the queues then it’s well worth it for the atmosphere, but the stuffed crust pizza is more like a large quiche, IMHO. Another restaurant with a great atmosphere is R.J. Grunts , close to Lincoln Park, where you can get excellent burgers and malt shakes. Yes sirree, even Calamity Jane would have been impressed with those.

*We travelled with Virgin Holidays. You can find out more about what’s on offer in Chicago here .

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