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Must-see Chicago - artist edition

Must-see Chicago - artist edition

Here’s an artist’s perspective of five things to see and do in the Windy City.

1. The Chicago Architecture Foundation Center’s River Tour

Architecture reflections on the Chicago river tour

My favourite experience was the riverboat tour by the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center and seeing the mix of architectural styles and colours along the Chicago River.

We couldn’t have been luckier with the weather - a beautiful, warm and sunny May afternoon. A city of skyscrapers, every building along the river felt special, and having a guide to tell us stories behind the designs made us notice things we would never have known. For example, as buildings went up, some referenced older, nearby ones in their design in subtle ways, so that although different in style, there was a link. I could have spent days photographing each building - for me, even with the mix of styles and eras, there was a harmony in the skyline. Highlights included the old bridge houses, the historic Tribune Tower and Wrigley skyscrapers, the curves of Marina City and of course, the Willis Tower.

Architectural contrasts including modern Apple building in Chicago

The colours you'll see along the river are a contrasting mix of building materials: contemporary blue-green and greys from steel, glass and water; stone-coloured neutrals from older buildings; the terracotta red of bridges with the odd splash of bright yellow thrown in by passing boats.

Chicago-Tribune-building

Bridge-house-along-Chicago-River

Curving-architecture-on-Chicago-River

Looking up at Chicago skyscrapers

Top tip: Although we only tried the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center’s river cruise, we loved every single minute of it. Run by volunteers, our guide was so passionate about her subject, you couldn’t help but be carried away with her enthusiasm and knowledge and her stories about the buildings were fascinating. Pre-book your tickets before you go - there will be a queue when you get there

Other Chicago highlights not to be missed:

2. Watch the Cubs play at historic Wrigley Field

Panoramic view of Wrigley field with baseball game

We went on a Wednesday afternoon and we were surprised at the crowds - Wrigley Field reached a capacity of 34,000!! One of the oldest surviving ballparks, the atmosphere is unbelievable, you feel like you're right in the game.

3. Millennium Park

Millennium Park Chicago with skyscraper backdrop

Anish Kapoors Bean sculpture

Set aside an afternoon to explore Millennium Park at leisure. Anish Kapoor's incredible sculpture Cloud Gate (also called The Bean) is a huge draw and especially cool to see on a cloudless day.

Blue flowers in the Lurie garden

Make sure you pop into the Lurie Gardens. We stumbled across it through an entrance in a hedge, it's like a little oasis in the city with mindful planting that has something to show all year round.

4. The Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier

Looking up at palm trees in Crystal-Gardens-Navy-Pier-Chicago

A delightful indoor garden that could easily be missed amongst the hustle and bustle of Navy Pier. Full of palm trees and gorgeous views, it has a peaceful, tropical feel.

5. Chicago Art Institute

The Chicago Art Institute has such a breathtaking collection. It’s impossible to see it all in one day. Every big name in 20th Century Art seems to be there. My favourite was the Impressionist section with crowd-pleaser after crowd-pleaser. Modern American Art has Edward Hopper’s haunting and melancholic Nighthawks amongst others.

Eating in Chicago:

  • Classic Chicago hot dogs at Portillos
  • Giordano’s for deep dish pizza - be prepared, the pizzas will take about 45 minutes.
  • Al’s for Italian beef sandwiches
  • Meli Cafe for breakfast - a warm and friendly diner with gluten-free and vegan options, including vegan pancakes! Being lactose-intolerant, I was delighted.
  • Beatrix for breakfast - a great ambience and delicious food
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