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Chicago - nickname: The Windy City - was almost completely destroyed in a big fire in 1871. After that the city literally has risen from the ashes. The center of the town is surrounded by a metro which runs over a viaduct and is called The Loop, but referred to simple as the 'L' by the residents. A great starting point for a visit to the city is the Chicago Cultural Center. The historical building from 1897 houses The Office of Tourism and you can find a lot of information about the city, the history and sights here.
One of Chicago's highlights is simply admiring the skyline of the city. You can best view it whilst driving a rental car towards the south, over the North Lake Shore Drive. You can enjoy a good view of the city's silhouette from North Avenue Beach. The highest building of the city is the Sears Tower and the Sky deck on the 103th floor gives a fabulous view of the city. Many people know it, and so there are often long queues for the lifts that bring you to the top in just 70 seconds. Less high, but also less crowded is the John Hancock Center. This Observation Deck gives you a pretty view too, with the Skywalk as a little bonus. You can make a virtual tour around eighty of the sights of the city in the John Hancock Center as well.
The Art Institute of Chicago - with the famous bronze lion in front of the entrance - houses an enormous collection of art that spans over 5000 years. From Indian art to modern American art, and from African art to works by French impressionists. One of the modern top features is Edward Hopper's Nighthawks.
Chicago has always been famous for its melting pot of cultures and it is therefore not surprising that this is the home of the Field Museum, dedicated to the different cultures and landscapes of the world. In the African part, you get acquainted with both the African street life and the beauty of the Sahara. A replica of a slave ship's hold has been built too. One of the museums biggest attractions is the Dinosaur Hall, with replicas and real skeletons (including a near complete skeleton of a 65 million year old Tyrannosaurus Rex). And this isn't the only museum dedicated to other cultures in Chicago; the city also has the Oriental Institute Museum and the Museum of African American History.
The Adler Planetarium not only has a traditional planetarium, but a completely new part too - Sky Rider where you can chose how to travel through space using the control buttons on the armrest.
Various maritime systems have been rebuilt in the John G Shedd Aquarium, from the coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean to the rivers in the Amazon region. Sharks and dolphins swim in the Oceanarium.
North of the aforementioned museums lies the Grant Park, which used to be a swamp. The central point is Buckingham Fountain, where a spectacular light and water show is held in the summer months in the evenings.
The Navy Pier which extends far into Lake Michigan is one of the most popular attractions of Chicago. It is much more than a pier: there are restaurants, parks, shops, museums and theaters, including a large amphitheater. You can enjoy a nice view of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan from the (Ferris Wheel). There is an IMAX theater too, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows and the Chicago Children's Museum.
It is fairly easy to explore Chicago's North Shore with a rental car. If you drive north over Sheridan Road you discover a remarkable temple with a dome roof in Wilmette. It is a temple of followers of the Bahá'í faith. Further to the north lies the Chicago Botanic Garden. If you decide to drive much further north, you will eventually end up in Milwaukee. Visit the Quadracci Pavilion in the Milwaukee Art Museum here, which was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It has an enormous movable roof which somewhat resembles a whale tail.
Located an hour's drive from Chicago (via Route 64 to the west) is the small town of St Charles, which has a beautiful historical center and nice shops. A big flea market is held every first Sunday of the month. St Charles is located at the Fox River where boat trips are organized with a Paddlewheel Riverboat.
Before we forget: Chicago is of course the starting point of the famous Route 66. The historic highway to the end point at Santa Monica in California is almost 4000 kilometers.
Chicago is notorious for the traffic jams, even on the freeways and highways that cross the city. Finding a place to park your car on the street is not only difficult, the rates are (for american terms) on the high side. Fortunately, there are several parking garages in the city and the routes towards those garages are well signposted. At Navy Pier, Grant Park and Millennium Park are parking garages that charge a fixed daily rate.
Chicago's International Airport is O'Hare Airport. The airport is located along the I-90 (Kennedy Expressway), which runs to downtown Chicago. From the north and south of the city you can reach the airport by rental car by following the I-294. From the west of Chicago, drive over the I-88 and then the I-294 to get to the I-190. The exit to the airport is clearly indicated.