After living in Chicago for 3 years, I could say that despite the severe cold in winter, it was a lovely city to live in. Now that I live in Boston, I can see the differences. Boston has the history, and its historical city structure gives it a home-like soul for me. Also most of the people are either students or entrepreneurs. In Chicago, with high rises and spread out city structure, it is more like bustling city with mostly white collars. There is certainly a lot more to do in Chicago and their restaurants are by far the best I have ever been to. Definitely, Chicago is a foody city.
In my 3 years of experience, of course I had some favorite places to go 🙂 And for the tourists who are about to visit Chicago, or students who are willing to study there or people who are getting ready to move there for work, can benefit from this list. I enjoyed every single one of these and most of the pictures here are from my camera. Sorry if you find Snapchat shots cheesy, but I prefer being more authentic and cheesy to being boring since I find internet photos really stereotyped.
As a science lover and geologist, I LOVE Field museum. Probably I have been there 6 times already. Allow yourselves 5-6 hours to visit 75% of the museum, if you want to read every description and enjoy each exhibition, of course. With “Evolving Planet” you can see step by step evolution of earth and living things. “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibits real mummies from Egypt and their artifacts are breathtaking. Giant fossils and bones of dinasours, real, taxidermied animals from polar bear to Buffalo and giraffes. Artifacts of ancient American civilizations such as Mayans, Incas and Native Americans. Rocks section is almost perfect, they have real meteorites in exhibit which you can actually touch (I don’t advise licking it though :D)
I can’t help but explain here what is happening in the pictures above: (From left to right) 1st one is Native American clothing and tools, Number 2 and 3 are the taxidermied animals (Real animals are stuffed after dying) 4th one is the minerals and where they are used in real life, number 5 and 6 are meteorites that hit the earth. Number 7 is our great great great….grandmother Lucy from Africa. Number 8 speaks for itself, Number 9 is a fossil of a fish who died while feeding on another fish! You can see the fish it ate right before dying at the bottom of its belly! Number 10 is a fossil of a turtle which shows and evolutionary fact: They used to have tails! The other pictures also belong the dinasours except the one at the bottom right which shows the mummies exhibit.
2. Adler Planetarium
If you are interested in astronomy, space and stars, this is your place. Their 3D shows on their dome is absolutely wonderful and very informative. Their lakeview cafe is a place that you won’t mind spending time at. My cover photo for this post is actually from the terrace of the Planetarium. My brother Ege, when he visited me in 2016 gave this pose with too much excitement:
3. The Art Institute of Chicago
Such a great art museum with one of a kind pieces. From famous “American Gothic” by Grant Wood to “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island” of La Grande Jatte painted in 1884. The latter painting is exceptionally important because even though the painting has many brush strokes of different color, when you look from far, they look unified in color! “Lincoln in Dalivision” is an original limited edition lithograph created by Salvador Dalí and it must definitely be seen. Also, Van Gogh’s exhibition is still on.
4. Shedd Aquarium
This aquarium has all the sea animals that you love, from penguins to seals and dolphins. Let’s not forget the scary sharks.
5. Millenium Park
This is the signature place when you think about Chicago. Located in the heart of Chicago, the Loop, it is a nice chilling place… Well… Not really, sorry, it is usually quite busy haha. The ‘Bean’ sculpture, which was originally named as ‘Cloud Gate’ by its creator Sir Anish Kapoor , is the landmark of Chicago. Also, my favorite is the water splitting, face fountains. Especially kids love them! You can see me posing in front of the Bean with my mom and my friend Waithira:
6. Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory
I know that some people are against zoos. I will not argue it here but I really learn a lot about animal kingdom whenever I visit a zoo. Especially our ancestors, apes fascinates me! Lincoln Park Zoo is free and open all year around. During Holiday season, they light the whole zoo up with Christmas lights. It is gorgeous.
Also, the zoo has one of the best skyline. Here you can see we are trying to get the skyline in the background at the Zoo, I should confess, we kinda failed it.
Lincoln Park Conservatory is also free and it exhibits all kinds of flowers and plants from all around the world. It is just by the zoo and definitely worths a visit!
7. Navy Pier
One of the most historic tourist attraction in Chicago. Navy Pier is beautiful despite the fact that the tourist crowds really get tiring very quickly. Many places to eat, drink and enjoy the scenery. Some of the cruises sail from here if you want to take a lake tour.
Navy Pier at Night
Navy Pier is famous for the oldest wheel in the US, The Ferris Wheel. It runs as long as there is no issues with the wind.
8. Willis Tower – Skydeck Chicago
If you are not afraid of height and a patient person in general, definitely you must experience the Skydeck. You can see beautiful Chicago from the 103rd floor of Willis tower, and step on the glass balcony to feel like you are flying. I told you you need to be patient because especially at the weekends, the line gets reallyyyy longggg. But it gives great pictures for instagram 🙂 Here you can see my friend Mehmet and I posing at Skydeck.
Chicago beaches are amazing. You can take a walk, ride your bicycle, run or in summer you can enjoy the sand and cold water 😀 They are clean and not terribly crowded. Bring your sunscreen though! Because with the wind, you don’t realize you get sun burned. Trust me on this, experience is speaking.
The most popular beaches are Montrose, North Avenue and Ohio Street ones. Pictured: My friend Ipek and I taking a walk by the lake, walking towards North Avenue beach and my friend Ximena and I at the Montrose beach.
10. River Walk
The only river in the world that its course was manually reversed: The Chicago River. The reason it was reversed is that the sewage was flowing into lake before and the drinking water is supplied from Michigan Lake. So, clearly that was a problem.
“The River Walk” is a very fun late afternoon activity, if you ask me. There are bars and nice restaurants aligned near the river and if you want you can rent a kayak, as well. There are tours taking off from here and showing you the beautiful architecture, the river walk and then the lake. I highly recommend the night tour of the river and lake combined. I have taken one and the skyline at night was magical.
11. Chicago Bulls Game
If you are 80s’ kid like me you know what number 23 means. Michael Jordan’s posters were all over my wall in Turkey, I was a huge fan of Chicago Bulls! It is not quite the same anymore and they are not as successful as they used to be, but this is even better because their NBA tickets are more affordable! If you are going to Chicago, definitely experience a Chicago Bulls game.
12. Broadway in Chicago
Broadway is a must see, if you are travelling to the US. Generally it is expensive, but, trust me on this, it is worth every penny. Broadway originally belongs to New York City. But as the shows tour, they always stop by in Chicago, as well. This one below was one of the shows that I went to. When I used to teach Reading class at Inanc High School in Turkey, I used to teach this book. It was amazing to see how it was turned into a Broadway show.
13. Stand Up Comedy
One of the things I miss the most in chicago is the stand up shows. Zanies and Laugh Factory are the two most famous places to go. I also persoally enjoyed Improv Chicago shows at IO theater a lot. Every Wednesday there was a free show!
14. Jazz and Blues
Greenmill is one of the oldest Jazz bars in the US and they are still running in Uptown area. I have been there many times, there is a cover charge and I recommend you to go there as early as possible to get a seat. You will see a video below from one of those nights. After music starts, they won’t let you speak, just saying. Literally they hush you. Also, House of Blues or Blue Chicago are among the best Blues bars. Definitely your soul needs some jazz and blues time!
A Jazz night at Greenmill
15. Latin Dancing
If you like or you want to practice Latin dancing, Chicago is the best place. Sunday Evenings there is Salsa night at Cubby Bear Chicago, and I used to go to Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant for salsa, bachata or merenge. They had free salsa lessons on wednesday evenings and their food is great! There is also Nacional 27 which was very popular among my students, but I have never been there. In Chicago, it is hard to find a seat if you go to the place after 7 pm, so plan accordingly!
Here is a short snap of one of the salsa nights that I went to at Lalo’s:
There are so many festivals in Chicago during the summer. Most of them are food festivals but there are music, cultural and movie festivals as well. Check www.timeout.com/chicago for current and upcoming events in Chicago. When the festivals start, you can see their schedules here.
FOOD AND DRINKS
- Burger at ‘Au Cheval’
This place has been rated as the best burger place in the US. I cannot say it is the best since I haven’t eaten burger everywhere in the States. However, the best I have ever eaten so far. The only annoying thing about it is the wait line. Don’t ever think that you can eat there at the weekends. The kitchen closes at 3 at the weekend and when I went there at noon, they put me in the wait list. My turn didn’t come in 3 hours!! So I had to eat somewhere else. But, once I went there at 4 pm on a Friday, and it was half empty. Again, timing is important. I would say usual wait time is 2-3 hours. That is why it is the best option to wait across the street, at the bar called ‘Haymarket’ because they have delicious beer flights and pretzels. Perfect place to wait for your burger. Once your table is ready, Au Cheval texts you and if you download their app, you can actually see how many tables are in line before you. Definitely worth the wait for me.
You can see here how much my friend Meltem and my brother Ege enjoyed their burger at Au Cheval. Below, you can see Mehmet and I enjoying the beer flight at Haymarket while waiting for AuCheval. Meltem and I were at Haymarket, too and tried their best IPA, Mathias. It was fantastic.
2. Deep Dish Pizza at ‘Pequod’s’
OK pizza is from Italy, we all know that. But deep dish is super American. Lightly burnt crust, fresh ingredients and the homemade taste. Oh and also cheese, lots of cheese. That’s Pequod’s deep dish. When in chicago, you will here ‘Lou Malnati’s’ and ‘Giordano’s’ fans fighting over who makes the best deep dish pizza. You can argue and try all of them but, I will save the time for you, go and eat at Pequod’s. Not only the taste but also the environment is much better.
3. Authentic Korean Restaurant ‘Cho Sun Ok’
One time when I went to Cho Sun Ok with my Korean friend, she had said this was the closest thing she ate to real Korean food that you find in Korea. The food is AMAZING. Especially their seafood pancake and their small plates. They are incredibly cheap as well. Like almost every restaurant in Chicago, it is BYOB, meaning you can bring your own booze to drink. One thing to keep in mind though: They have a very small restaurant and they are popular. So they are not the politest servers you will see. They are racing with time. They are abrupt and quick. Also, expect wait lines during rush hours.
4. Turkish Restaurants : ‘Turquoise Cafe’ and ‘Pera’
Well, of course I needed to fix my Turkish food cravings! Turkish food is not going to be the cheapest, but I swear it will make you feel like in heaven. These two restaurants were my favorite. They both serve Turkish breakfast with fresh bread and unlimited Turkish tea, so please please make sure you try Turkish breakfast if you can.
5. Venezuelan Food: “BienMeSabe”
My other favorite food, Venezuelan cuisine. Their tequenos and arepas are the BEST! If you never tried Venezuelan food, please pay a visit to this restaurant in Chicago, you will be addicted!
6. Geja’s Cafe
This European restaurant is too overpriced for students. But… If you are celebrating an anniversary or a birthday with a special one, definitely this fondue restaurant is the romantic choice. I have been there only once but definitely planning to go back. There are discount coupons available at Groupon. Also, do not forget to make a reservation 3 weeks in advance. I apologize that I can’t use original pictures here since it was dark inside and my photos didn’t turn out good. But I’m using the photos from their website here.
7. ‘D.S. Tequila Co.’ in Boystown
This place has the best margarita bowls and loaded fries. Also in summer, their outside patio is the best place to stay cool.
8. Billy Goat Tavern
There are many locations now but the best one is the original one located at 430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level. 3-5 dollar beers and cheap burger and snacks. Wonderful option to get have a quick happy hour with your colleagues or catch up with your friends.
9. Breakfast Places!! : IHOP or YOLK
At the weekend, if you want to have American breakfast: ommelettes, pancakes, waffles, breakfast potatoes, sausage and eggs, bacon, etc. These two places are my favorite. If you can find a local one, that is great. But till you find that, these are pretty good options.
10. Bulerias Tapas with Flamenco Show
If you like Spanish tapas and want to enjoy a live flamenco show while eating your delicious food, this restaurant is for you! I really liked the potato and fried calamari there. And the performance was impressive.
11. “Reza’s Restaurant” Middle Eastern/Iranian Cuisine
They have the tastiest, juciest kebabs. They are definitely one of a kind. Also, the portions are so big that you will have to take some home.
12. ‘Jake Melnick’s’ For the Best Chicken Wings
If you want to try different kinds of flavored wings, this is the place. They have a very good selection of beers and their garlic parmesan fries are absolutely delicious.
13. ‘Emporium’ Arcade Bars
If you want to play old video games and enjoy your drink, this is the perfect choice. There are many other arcade bars but Emporium locations are bigger and central.
14. “3 Arts Cafe”
Their menu is a little expensive but its atmosphere is so calming, elegant and chic. If you get a nice seat, you can enjoy your book by the fountain or chat with your friend in the middle of the courtyard. This is also a furniture store so you can walk around after and enjoy different selections of furniture. I tried their lobster panini and it was delicious.
15. Friar Tuck
This is a neighborhood dive bar with a fireplace and free popcorn. They have karaoke and trivia nights as well. It is a quiter environment if you want to chat with your friend in not-so-loud environment and still enjoy your drink.
All in all, Chicago is a great place to be. That is why despite the cold, a lot of people cannot give up on this beautiful city. I don’t think I will move back again, but I left my heart there and I’m definitely going back there to visit and EAT!