Chicago: home to Michael Jordan, Ferris Bueller, and the infamous Broadway musical. Located at the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, the “Windy City” is celebrated for its architectural style, performing arts, and Deep-Dish Pizza. Since 1837, the largest city of the American Midwest has been one of the nation’s most diverse and sophisticated cities, playing a major part in shaping modern America.
Since the beginning, a huge mix of ethnicities have lived in Chicago. Tanzanians, Latin Americans, European-Americans, Middle Easterners and Asians are prominent cultural groups found there today. Due to a high population of immigrants, the languages Spanish, Polish, Arabic, Tagalog, and Chinese are the top five spoken at home, other than English. Because of the diversity in this major city, many international businesses use language and cultural training programs like CORE Languages to help their clients make the most out of their experience there.
Whether you are planning a visit to Chicago or moving there, this article will guide you through “The Loop”, so that you can immerse yourself in the Chicago heritage to get a glimpse of America’s Midwestern metropolis.
A Brief History
Chicago’s demographic has always been an American melting pot. A huge flood of immigrants settled in Chicago after The Great Fire in 1871, which burned the city down due to a deadly combination of wooden infrastructure and a summer drought. It was a huge tragedy, as most of the city burned to the ground and the business district was destroyed. Destruction called for a time of renovation, drawing people from Western Europe to rebuild the city. Later, these restorers became Chicago's powerful work force in factories and meat packing industries. Immigrants helped contribute to the “Great Rebuilding” of Chicago and to laying the foundation for the population, which today stands at over 2.75 million.
Things to do in Chicago
Known as “Chicago’s Front Yard”, Grant Park is where you will find most of Chicago’s main attractions. Here you can stroll through The Loop, the central business district of downtown Chicago named after the cable car turnarounds and elevated railroad. Additionally, a trip to Chicago is not complete without a stop at Millennium Park. Here you will find the famous Crown Fountain, which features two 50-foot towers facing each other at opposite ends of a reflecting pool. The buildings have LED screens aligned with spouts, to convey an image of people spitting water on people passing. Another famous attraction in The Loop is Cloud Gate or “The Bean”, which reflects the Chicago skyline. This spot is one of the most photographed destinations in Chicago. The Art Institute of Chicago sits here, holding modern and contemporary art and impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. The most eminent is “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.
Wrigley Field is where you can see “da Cubs” play and get a good glimpse of American sports life. As the second-oldest MLB ballpark in the country, the fans’ enthusiasm and the top-notch hotdogs make a ballgame here an unforgettable experience. Chicago is also home to the Chicago Bears (NFL) and the Chicago Bulls (NBA), so if a football or basketball game is more your cup of tea, head over to Soldier Field for the former or the United Center for the latter.
The Chicago Theatre
This Chicago landmark first opened its doors in 1921 as a movie theater and performance hotspot. Chicago is the birthplace of improvisational comedy, so stopping by for a comedy show, theater or musical performance is an absolute must. If you can’t catch a performance during your time in Chicago, you can get a one-hour theater tour, offered daily, so no excuses!
360 Observation Deck
The 94th floor of the John Hancock Center will give you a breathtaking view of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. From the Skydeck, you can see 4 states: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. There room is equipped with interactive screens to help you find major landmarks. For the true adrenaline junkies, the 360 Observation Deck has a moving platform that tilts those who dare over Michigan Avenue. If not, then relax at the café while you take in the view.
Architecture River Cruise
Sit back and cruise the Chicago River to see Chicago’s famous unique architecture. The 90-minute tour will give you a view of the historic Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), the Tribune Tower, and the Historic Water Tower, one of the few buildings to survive The Great Fire. Depending on your tour time and which tour you decide on, you can leave from Navy Pier, where you will find the 196-foot-tall Ferris Wheel. After all, Chicago is home to the world's first Ferris Wheel. For a great tour, visit Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Money burning a hole in your pocket? For a chance to max out your credit card, stroll down the Magnificent Mile, a mile-long row of shopping centers in downtown Chicago. The Magnificent Mile is the eighth most expensive shopping district in the country, competing with places such as Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive. This street has an eclectic collection of buildings, including the Wrigley and London Guarantee buildings, and has stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and more.
Things to Eat in Chicago
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Chicago is home to the famous Deep-Dish Pizza, which contradicts the New York Style Pizza for thin-crust lovers. This thick-layered, cheesy deliciousness resembles a cake or a pie, with toppings often placed inside the pizza dough. Due to the large influx of immigrants into the Chicago area during the 19th and 20th centuries, the city became home to many European-Americans. Then, on a fateful day in 1943, two entrepreneurs created an Italian-American style pizza. Thus, the Deep-Dish styled pizza was born at Pizzeria Uno. Another popular purveyor of Deep-Dish is found in River North a little to the west: Gino's East.
Chicago-Style Hot Dog
Chicago is the sausage capital of America, so it's no wonder the city has its own style of hot dog. The Chicago-Style hot dog is made with beef and topped with yellow mustard, white onions, sweet pick relish, tomato slices, and celery salt -- some call it "dragged through the garden!" The bite of decadence is all wrapped in a poppy-seed bun. The hot dog was first served at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and was known as the “Depression Sandwich” in the 1920’s. The Chicago Eater has a list of the best restaurants to get an authentic Chicago-Style hot dog. Some of the best they list are Gene & Jude’s and Flub a Dub Chub's.
Italian Beef Sandwich
This sandwich screams “Chicago”. Its invention began at a traditional Italian-American “peanut wedding” after World War I. “Peanut Weddings” were popular among early Italian immigrants in the 1900s. It was intended to cut the meat into thinner slices to feed more people at wedding events. The first location of the famous Italian Beef Sandwich traces back to Al’s Italian Beef on Taylor Street in Little Italy. The sandwich has been popular for generations and has been a big part of Italian-American culture. Since Italian-American Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays, they waited outside the beef stand until midnight to indulge in its deliciousness.
The city’s restaurant industry reflects the diversity within it. Much like New York, you can find Chinatown, South Side, Greek town, and Little Italy. The South Asian community, on Devon Avenue, has Pakistani and Indian eateries, while Mexican restaurants are plentiful in Little Village. Meanwhile, Middle Eastern cuisines are scattered along Lawrence Avenue and Polish cuisines along Milwaukee Avenue.
“It is hopeless for the occasional visitor to try to keep up with Chicago. She outgrows his prophecies faster than he can make them,” -Mark Twain, 1883
Whether you walk, bike, or take a Segway tour, Chicago is full of sights to see and an abundance of cultural history to take in. Chicago is truly a city which embodies American values. It is renowned as a center for traditional arts, stemming from worldwide cultures such as that of African and African-Americans, Asian-Americans, European-Americans, Hispanic and Native Americans. Chicago is also known for its House-style music, Chicago Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Indie rock, and Hip-hop, reflecting its diversity of people.
The Art Déco scene is a force to be reckoned with in the city, since it has made huge contributions to the modern-style architecture from the old, blocky Victorian Style. Originating from a French word in 1923, Art Déco expressed that for which the 1920s are known and loved: money, glamour, and sex-appeal. It’s called “The City of Big Shoulders” for a reason, and its contributions to the nation are impeccable.