Planning a Weekend Getaway to Chicago

Chicago is an excellent destination if you’re looking for a weekend getaway. It is the third largest city in the United States and packed with so many exciting activities and adventures that there is something for everyone.

The city of Chicago was originally settled by a Native American tribe called the Potawatomis. The tribe found the region to be very useful due to its proximity to the water. Trading posts were established in the area and eventually a military post was setup. The Native American tribes were eventually forced off of their land and in 1833 the town of Chicago was established with a population of about 200.

The site quickly grew in population and acreage and was noted as an important hub for transportation of a number of varieties. Chicago become so popular that it was chosen to host the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 and with more than 27 million visitors it is still considered the most influential world’s fair in history. Most of the buildings from the expo have since disappeared but a few of them remain and are an interesting highlight for anyone planning a visit to Chicago.

Sightseeing by Boat in Chicago

Which brings us to event that any weekend getaway to Chicago should include, sightseeing. There are a couple of unique and interesting ways to explore the city of Chicago and the Shoreline Architecture Cruise is one of the favorites. This cruise takes you around the city by boat with well educated tour guides providing insight on all of the architectural highlights of the city. Another waterside tour is the Tall Ship Windy, this a48 foot four masted gaff topsail schooner takes off from navy pier and offers a variety of themed ship experiences that can teach you more about the city, the environment, or even yourself if you’re willing to give it a shot.

Cultural Aspects of Chicago

Chicago has a thriving arts and education environment and there are a number of noted stops that anyone looking for some cultural stimulation should visit. The Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930 and was the largest indoor aquarium in the world at the time. Although Shedd has lost that title it still offers a very impressive display to visitors including more than 1500 species of fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, amphibians and insects. Within walking distance of the Shedd Aquarium is the Adler Planetarium the oldest planetarium in existence today. The attractions in the planetarium are interesting to all but real astronomy buffs will love their incredibly important collection of antique instruments. If you have room for one more museum the Field Museum of Natural History is a must. The Field got its start during that 1893 world’s fair when it was called the Columbian Museum of Chicago. In 1905 the museum’s name was changed and over the years the museum has amassed one of the finest natural history collections in the world which includes Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus in existence. If you’re leaning toward the arts then there are a huge variety of options to choose from but one that must not be missed is the Museum of Contemporary Art. With its impressive permanent collection of known masters and its ever changing list of traveling exhibits, there is always something to inspire and excite. On the other end of the spectrum the Chicago Theatre features some of the top names in music, entertainment, comedy and theatre productions. But music buffs know the best culture in Chicago are the Chicago blues. This particular form of the blues developed in this city as blues musicians took basic music and added electric guitars, drums, pianos and sometimes a saxophone, even boosting the sound of the harmonica with a microphone and an amplifier. Throughout the city you’ll find incredible jazz clubs offering a variety of performers from world known masters to undiscovered musical geniuses.

Chicago Parks

A weekend getaway in Chicago can be quite overwhelming as there is just so much to see and do, so take a moment or two to explore some of the city’s exciting parks. They can be the perfect respite for a quiet picnic or you can find yourself swept up in the excitement and spending a whole day at the park.  Probably Chicago’s most famous park area is Navy Pier, an old municipal pier that has grown up and is now packed with things to do for everyone. You can catch a variety of programs at Navy Pier, see movies at the IMAX, ride the Ferris wheel, visit the Chicago Children’s Museum or the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, shop, eat out, or just people watch until the fireworks begin. Striving to become the number one park destination in the city, Millennium Park grew up out of the railroad property in downtown Chicago. Initially a 1998 idea for a park with a venue for outdoor music performances and large scale sculptures, Millennium Park has turned into a cultural icon with its magnificent Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the interactive Crown Fountain, and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture. The Lurie Garden is also a magnificent site that draws visitors to the beauty of the Midwest. Although the idea began in 1998, the park wasn’t not open to the public until July 2004 and has since been visited by millions. But one park that has seared itself into American history recently is Grant Park, known as the front yard of Chicago, this park was host to President Barack Obama’s Election Night Party and was seen the world over as people flocked to the park to celebrate this Illinois Senator’s rise to the highest office in the country.

Shopping in Chicago

Chicago is known for its world class shopping and although there are many places to shop in and around the city, the Magnificent Mile is simply a shopper’s paradise. This shopping stretch is about a mile long and reaches from Oak Street to the Chicago River on North Michigan Avenue and is literally filled with shopping options. Wear your most comfortable dress shoes because you’ll want to look amazing yet you’ll be putting in quite a few miles. The stores range from high end boutiques to The Gap filling in every imaginable space in between. Don’t limit your shopping to what is visible from the street as there are a ton of malls and stores tucked inside of the store fronts and hotels along the way.

Believe it or not, we’ve just scratched the surface of all that Chicago has to offer for the weekend getaway visitor. Chicago is a city that can be visited again and again and you still will never experience everything this fabulous city has to offer.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Flickr/Jamie McCaffrey