Things to Do in Chicago: Tours Covering Chicago History and Chicago Architecture

Chicago, the Windy City, is one of America’s great travel destinations. Almost 46 million domestic and international travelers visited the city in 2008, and as the Midwest’s most important business and financial center, it is also a popular convention destination. Chicago’s economic prowess should not be underestimated: it has the 4th largest metropolitan gross domestic product in the world!

Chicago history has many twists and turns: from its original inhabitants, the Potawatomi Indians, to the first non-indigenous settler Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, Chicago (which means “wild onions”), became an official town in 1833. From 1848 onwards, the railroad and the Illinois and Michigan Canal turned Chicago into a transportation hub. Manufacturing and the stockyards followed. In 1871 the Great Fire destroyed a huge portion of the city and it was rebuilt as “The Second City”. The first skyscraper in the world was built in Chicago in 1885. And two world fairs, in 1893 and in 1933, established Chicago’s role as a global city.

As a result of the Great Migration from the cotton-picking south in the early 20th century, African-American culture blossomed in the 1920s and the city became a center for jazz and blues. Bronzeville became one of the nation’s most significant centers of African-American culture. Even Louis Armstrong performed at many of the area’s night clubs. The many Chicago blues and jazz bars continue to delight music lovers to this day.

The 1920s were also the most infamous era in Chicago’s history due to its Prohibition-era gangster connections. Most famous of all was of course Al Capone who gained infamy because of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre that resulted in the death of seven of his rival gangsters. Frank Nitti, Bugs Moran, and John Dillinger are other famous mobster connected to Chicago.

During the second half of the 20th century Chicago was governed by a succession of several important mayors. From the long-reigning Richard J. Daley (from the mid 1950s to the mid 1970s), to Chicago’s first female mayor Jane Margaret Byrne in the early 1980s, to Harold Washington – the city’s first African-American mayor, and Richard M. Daley who has been the mayor since 1989, Chicago has seen its share of colourful political personalities. Other famous current and former Chicago residents include President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Donald Rumsfeld and many more.

Chicago architecture is a huge draw for the city. Chicago has one of the largest collections of historic and modern skyscrapers in the world. The Chicago School explored steel-frame construction and large plate glass windows way back in the 1890s. The Chicago Loop, the historic downtown of Chicago, has a huge concentration of historic skyscrapers, sure to delight any architecture buff.

The Chicago Board of Trade Building is a famous Art Deco masterpiece from the 1930s. Numerous other buildings, particularly on La Salle Street, hail back to the famous Art Deco area as does the Carbide and Carbon Building on North Michigan Avenue. Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, was home to renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Sears Tower (now renamed the Willis Tower), is the highest building in the United States, and the Trump International Hotel and Tower the second highest. Oberservation platforms on the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center provide awesome views over the city. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers many organized bus and walking tours.

Chicago tours are a popular way to get to know the city. There are a variety of guided sightseeing tours by bus, boat, horse-drawn carriage or even by air. Bike tours, walking tours and Segway tours are available as well. These tours of Chicago will introduce you to the city’s architecture, history, landmarks and even its movie locations. After all, many best-selling movies have been shot in Chicago; to mention just a few,  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Blues Brothers, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Untouchables, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were shot in the Windy City.

Chicago transit is a great way to get around when you want to explore Chicago’s history and architecture: as of early 2011, day passes go for  $5.75; 3-day passes can be had for  $14, and 7-day passes are sold for $23 while a single ride costs $2.25. The Chicago public transit system is a very efficient, affordable and safe way to explore the city.

Please check out my personal Chicago travel experiences.
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