Peak performance: The art of getting under the skin of Chicago

Peak performance: The art of getting under the skin of Chicago

America’s third city may rank behind New York and Los Angeles in terms of size and limelight, but this midwestern delight, in the state of Illinois and on the shores of vast Lake Michigan, is one that ticks every box – and loads more you didn’t even know existed.

There are famous sights and surprising discoveries, world class museums and shopping, hedonistic hotels and a food scene that will turn you into a glutton. Plus, there are some fabulous shows played out on stages across the city, explaining why 2019 is a focus for arts.

Want to see what’s on offer? Here’s how…

WHERE TO STAY

Book into a hotel fit for a president

One of the city’s newest hotels is also one of its trendiest. The Sophy Hotel opened recently in the upmarket Hyde Park neighbourhood, where the Obamas lived prior to moving into the White House. Previously, there weren’t any decent accommodation options in this area. That’s all changed now. With only 98 rooms and redbrick façade, the Sophy offers style, comfort and quirky history. Be sure to find the plaque that marks the spot where Barack fist kissed Michelle. Doubles from $296/£233.50 per night, room only. Visit sophyhotel.com.

Or sleep like a city slicker in the thick of the action

Those who prefer to stay in the thick of the action should check into the newly-renovated Sheraton Grand Chicago for views over the Chicago River and easy walking access to the Magnificent Mile, the city’s main commercial district. The let the slick exterior put you off; it’s really rather cosy inside. Doubles from $136/£107 per night, room only. Visit marriot.com.

WHAT TO SEE

Find out why life really is a stage

Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel has declared this year to be the Year of Theatre, in a bid to highlight and celebrate the city’s strong arts scene. As a result, productions of all shapes, sizes and styles are opening in more than 200 venues sprinkled far and wide. Perhaps the most obvious shows to see would be worldwide smash Hamilton at the CIBC Theatre. The hit musical is a rags to riches story of an immigrant who ends up being George Washington’s right-hand man, celebrating all the greatness of America’s revolutionary past. The show runs until January 5, 2020. Tickets cost from $62/£49. Visit broadwayinchicago.com/theatre/cibc-theatre.

Or flirt with the fringe and discover an underground scene

But the real joy of theatre in Chicago can be found in the smaller community theatres found in areas beyond Downtown. Check out what’s on at the Belmont Theatre District, in the Lakeview neighbourhood, famed for its cutting-edge performances in intimate settings. There are more than 20 theatres to chose from – along with multiple bars, restaurants and cafes.

WHAT TO DO

Take an elevator right up into the sky

The SkyDeck platform on the Willis Tower (iStock/PA)
The SkyDeck platform on the Willis Tower (iStock/PA)

First timers to the Windy City must take in the view from the top of the Willis Tower, which, at 442m high, was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1973. The claim to fame has long gone but it remains an impressive feat of engineering with equally impressive views over Lake Michigan. Although used as an office block, it can still be accessed by members of the public. Head up to the Skydeck, where the Ledge’s glass boxes teeter over the busy streets below. Look out for one-off yoga and dining events held occasionally up high. Tickets cost from $25/£20. Visit theskydeck.com.

Or watch the world unfold at your feet

Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate in Millennium Park (iStock/PA)
Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate in Millennium Park (iStock/PA)

Back down on ground level, explore Millennium Park – home to Cloudgate, Anish Kapoor’s famous metallic bean-shaped installation, and Crown Fountain, which depicts the faces of more than 1,000 Chicagoans spouting water. Both are free to admire, and you can find entertainment simply by sitting down and people watching.

It’s also worth taking time to experience the eclectic mix of architecture found in Chicago. From skyscrapers to art deco masterpieces, the diversity of buildings is impressive. You can wander freely through the streets, or for the best views, take a river cruise with the Chicago Architecture Centre. Tickets for the 1.5 hour journey cost from $44.50. Visit www.architecture.org.

WHERE TO EXPLORE

Aim to play ball in one of the world’s oldest stadiums

Entrance to Wrigley Field (iStock/PA)
Entrance to Wrigley Field (iStock/PA)

Chicago’s 77 neighbourhoods each contribute towards the diversity that makes the city so special. Wrigleyville is home to the Chicago Cubs and the second oldest baseball stadium in the country, Wrigley Hill, which opened in 1914. If you can’t get your hands on tickets for the games – which are often hard to come by – opt for a stadium tour instead. A 90-minute tour costs from $35/£28. Visit mlb.com.

Or work those biceps by raising a glass

Albany Park, meanwhile, took shape in the 1970s and is known one of the city’s most multicultural corners, with strong Asian and Latin American communities. Or head to Lincoln Park for lakefront trails and historic buildings and handsome houses along quite tree-lined streets. Stop by at Beermiscuous on Lincoln Avenue (beermiscuous.com) to sample some of its 350 craft ales.

WHAT TO EAT

Dine out on doughy classics

View this post on Instagram

Only weirdoughs don't like pizza. 🍕 📸: @_themodelgastronomer_

A post shared by Gino's East | Deep Dish Pizza (@ginoseast) on

As the proud home of the deep dish pizza, you won’t go hungry in Chicago. Several restaurants claim to serve the original hearty, high-edge doughy take on the Italian classic which is essentially half quiche and half pizza. But the best is a matter of personal preference. Gino’s East on South Dearborn (ginoseast.com) is a good bet. Try the Gino’s Supreme with Italian sausage, green peppers, mushrooms and onions and oddles of gooey cheese. A 9” costs $25/£19.

Or step it up with a sophisticated dish

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Sip, sip hurray🍸 @Lexandthecity____

A post shared by The Dearborn Tavern (@thedearbornchi) on

Alternatively, the Dearborn on North Dearborn Street (thedearborntavern.com) is a handsome tavern serving high-end American fare. Try the pan-roasted wild Alaskan halibut with a blue crab, fennel and potato salad for $36/£28.

How to get there

Norwegian (norwegian.com) flies direct from London to Chicago four times a week from £159.90 one way in Economy and £509.90 one way in Premium, including all taxes. 

For more information on the destination, visit choosechicago.com.

- Press Association

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