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Global Traveller: Chicago
FINANCIAL TIMES

October 16, 2007

America's Second City: From the Chicago Bulls to Charlie Trotter's

How to get there

Being right in the middle of the country, Chicago is easy to access. Most international flights fly into the sprawling O'Hare airport, but Midway is closer to the city and so often the best option for internal flights. A cab to downtown Chicago from Midway takes about half an hour in good traffic conditions and costs $30-$35. Count on double the time and fare to and from O'Hare. Unfortunately, Chicago highways are frequently congested, so public transportation can often be faster - not to mention cheaper.

The city's local train system (known as the "El" for its elevated tracks) operates a direct service to Chicago's downtown "Loop" area for just $2 from both airports. Orange line trains leave Midway every 10-12 minutes and the journey takes 30-40 minutes. Blue line trains leave O'Hare slightly more frequently (every 7-10 minutes) but the journey can take up to an hour. All trains circumnavigate the Loop before heading back to the suburbs. Many downtown sights and hotels are within easy walking distance of Loop stops.

Where to stay

Central Chicago offers a wide range of classic and modern hotels in close proximity to main attractions. The luxurious Park Hyatt boasts beautiful views of the water tower (a gothic survivor of Chicago's Great Fire of 1871) and Lake Michigan as well as butler services and courtesy cars. With its jutting, angular form (designed by French architect Jean Paul Viguier) the trendy Hotel Sofitel mixes cutting-edge design with understated elegance. The similarly contemporary W Lakeshore overlooks the Lake and features a rooftop lounge for sipping cocktails.Located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, Chicago's swankiest shopping district, the Peninsula Hotel features airy rooms and one of the best-regarded spas in the Midwest (rated Number One Urban Hotel Spa by Conde Nast Traveler in 2006). And from the Renaissance-style lobby to the grandiose ballrooms, nothing beats the Palmer House Hilton for late 19th century opulence.

Where to eat

Chicagoans eat well and in copious amounts. The city prides itself on its steakhouses. Morton's Steak House in the Gold Coast neighborhood serves delicious sizzling steaks and boasts an extensive wine list. The restaurant shares a kitchen with Hugo's Frog Bar next door - home of the tastiest lump crab cakes in the Midwest. Located on the waterfront by The House of Blues music venue, Bin 36 marries a menu of light, nouveau-American food with wines from all over the world. All vintages tasted can be purchased by the bottle at the in-house store. Chicago's German and Russian restaurants are among the best in the country. Visit 17/West at the Berghoff (reportedly the city's oldest existing restaurant) in the Loop for juicy bratwurst slathered in sauerkraut and mustard. Russian Tea Time, located just around the corner on Adams Street, dishes up plump piroshki and lashings of strong, black tea. The Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville (a 30-minute train ride from the Loop) specialises in Belgian beer but features brews from all over the world. Dishes of mussels accompany the bar's beers. Meanwhile, the Goose Island brewpub in Lincoln Park (15 minutes from the Loop) has award-winning house-made ales, hearty pub food and nonstop sports on TV. Also in Lincoln Park is the city's most upscale restaurant, Charlie Trotters.

What to do

Chicago might be the US's "second city", but it is frequently regarded as the first these days in terms of culture. As the home of such internationally recognised organisations as the Art Institute, the Joffrey Ballet, the Chicago Symphony and the Steppenwolf and Goodman theatre companies, as well as a multitude of storefront performance groups and galleries, Chicago rivals New York as a venue for the arts. The city is equally remarkable from an architectural standpoint. Departing throughout the day from the Navy Pier area near the Loop, architectural boat tours down the Chicago River provide unrivalled views of about 40 downtown Chicago landmarks including the John Hancock Center, Sears Tower and the Chicago Board of Trade. Meanwhile, Frank Lloyd Wright's sensitively-preserved home and studio in Chicago's leafy Oak Park suburb gives visitors insights into the famous architect's life and work. The city is also a sports fan's paradise. The former stomping ground of Michael Jordan and Walter Payton, Chicago boasts a triptych of teams such as the Cubs, the Bulls and the Bears.

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