Chicago, USA travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit

1. LAUGH OUT LOUD

The Second City is a legendary improvisation school and comedy theatre club that has been around since 1959, launching the careers of countless funny people, including Tina Fey, Steve Carrell, Bill Murray and John Candy. Hilarious live performances every night are improvised, so you'll never see the same show twice. Definitely book in advance to avoid disappointment as this is one of the most popular live theatre spots in Chicago. Seasoned performers appear in prime time, while up-and-comers take the late shift. See secondcity.com

2. JUMP THE LONG QUEUE

Catch the touring production of Hamilton in Chicago instead of lining up to see it on Broadway. Tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda's masterpiece production in New York go for several hundred dollars apiece (if you can get them), while in Chicago it's much easier, and cheaper, to get in. Feeling lucky? Enter the online lottery for $10 tickets. While you're in town, indulge in more theatre and musicals. Chicago's acclaimed Steppenwolf Theatre tackles thought-provoking plays, while the touring production of Beautiful will have you singing along to Carole King's hits. See hamiltonmusical.com steppenwolf.org ticketmaster.com

3. SPEND THE KIDS' INHERITANCE

Alinea has been honoured with three Michelin stars and three times named the best restaurant in the US, but a booking for its 18-course tasting menu does not come cheap. The four-hour "dining experience" (their words, not ours) starts at $US290 a person, with wine pairings available at additional cost. Reservations are typically made available two months in advance, on the 15th of the month, and sell out in a flash. Expect molecular gastronomy smoke, mirrors and edible balloons from chef Grant Achatz at this much-hyped restaurant. See alinearestaurant.com

4. INDULGE IN COMFORT FOOD 

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23 : Garrett Popcorn Shop in downtown Chicago on June 23, 2016. It's very popular snack in Chicago.
 SunNov11Chicago - 20 REASONS Chicago - Kristie Kellahan
Credit: Shutterstock

Garrett's Popcorn in downtown Chicago. Photo: Shutterstock

If your tastes run more to pizza and popcorn than "cherry distillation in a vanilla balloon" at Alinea, you're in luck. Chicago is effortlessly egalitarian when it comes to food, satisfying appetites at all price points. Gino's East has been making delicious deep-dish pizza since 1966, serving up slices so thick and cheesy they'd make a cardiologist wince. The thicker pies take a bit longer than your average pizza to cook, so diners are encouraged to cover the walls in graffiti while they wait. Later, take home a bag of Garrett's Popcorn, one of Chicago's most famous snacks. The Garrett Mix (half cheese, half caramel) is hard to put down. See ginoseast.com and garrettpopcorn.com.

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5. TAKE THE MIDDLE ROAD

CD9YBD Jul 28, 2010 - Chicago, Illinois, U.S. - The Girl & The Goat restaurant and bar was opened in the summer of 2010. The menu consists of 30 items: 10 vegetarian, 10 meat, and 10 fish.
(Credit Image: © St Petersburg Times/ZUMApress.com) SunNov11Chicago - 20 REASONS Chicago - Kristie Kellahan
Credit: Alamy

Girl & The Goat restaurant and bar in Chicago. Photo: Alamy

Stephanie Izard's Chicago restaurants hit the sweet spot between haute cuisine and cheap eats. Izard, known as the first female chef to win Bravo's Top Chef title, is the proprietor of wildly popular Girl & the Goat. There you'll find well-priced and scrumptious plates such as wood-fired branzino with green papaya salad. Also in the Izard empire: Little Goat, serving upscale diner food and all-day breakfast, and Duck Duck Goat, showcasing Asian-inspired dishes perfect for sharing. See girlandthegoat.com

6. CHEER ON THE HOME TEAM  

Chicago, IL, USA May 29, 2012 Fans celebrate a Cubs win at Murphy's, a tavern outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago
 SunNov11Chicago - 20 REASONS Chicago - Kristie Kellahan
Credit: Shutterstock

Clubs fans at Murphy's, a tavern outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Photo: Shutterstock

Chicago is a sports town and here the devoted worship of baseball culture borders on the religious. To fit in with the crowd, don a Cubs team cap and shirt, and learn the words to Go Cubs Go. Cold beer and Vienna beef hot dogs are a must at Wrigley Field, plus you'll find Giordano's deep-dish pizza, peanuts, pretzels and more. Diehard fans start the celebrations early with buckets of beer, Buffalo wings and deep-fried pickles at one of the stadium's surrounding bars. See MLB.com

7. STAY AT THE PENINSULA CHICAGO

SunNov11Chicago - 20 REASONS Chicago - Kristie Kellahan
Z Bar - The Peninsula Chicago
PR image via hotel press site

The Peninsula Chicago. Photo: Neil Burger

Located on the Magnificent Mile, within the city's premier shopping district, the 339-room hotel offers an unsurpassed level of service and attention to detail. The latest addition to the Pen's collection of restaurants and bars is the rooftop Z Bar, an elegant and inviting space where servers are dressed in Studio 54-inspired outfits and the views over Michigan Avenue are unmatched. Expect elevated bar food such as daikon frites and tater tots stuffed with bone marrow and Bordelaise. See peninsula.com/chicago and zbarchicago.com.

8. WALK THIS WAY

Architecture tours are popular in Chicago, and none more highly recommended than those offered by Chicago Architecture Centre (CAC). Join the 90-minute Historic Gems walking tour to explore downtown and admire soaring skyscrapers and ornate art deco masterpieces, while learning the stories behind them. With more time, venture further to explore Frank Lloyd Wright's creations and understand his impact on the city, where he lived for the formative first 20 years of his stellar career. See architecture.org

9. FLY DIRECT FROM AUCKLAND

Air New Zealand will launch a new non-stop service between Auckland and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport from November 30. For Australian travellers, that means a new, convenient one-stop way to access this exciting destination. Business Premier passengers and other eligible travellers will be able to enjoy Air New Zealand's signature lounge at Auckland International Airport. The 15-hour flight is a great opportunity to test out Air New Zealand's Economy Skycouch or Premium Economy cabins and award-winning service. See airnewzealand.com.au

10. GROOVE TO THE BEAT 

There's something for every kind of music lover in Chicago, though jazz and blues fans are extra spoilt for choice. Andy's is the place to go for late-night jazz seven nights a week. The cocktails are good and strong, while the menu features American classics. Over at Buddy Guy's Legends, don't be surprised to see Buddy himself jamming on stage. The blues guru was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as one of its 100 greatest guitarists of all time. See andysjazzclub.com and buddyguy.com

11. RISE 94 FLOORS

feb10sixofthebest?Six of the Best Chicago?architecture ; text by?Kristie Kellahan credit: Shutterstock re-use permitted *Editorial Use Only* MARCH, 2016: the TILT platform at John Hancock Center's observatory. The John Hancock Center is a supertall skyscraper at 875 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

The TILT platform at John Hancock Centre's observatory. Photo: Shutterstock

For the best views of Chicago and beyond, get high. The 360-degree Observation Deck on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building affords fabulous views by day and night. Thrillseekers will get a kick out of the TILT Experience, dubbed Chicago's highest thrill ride. An enclosed moving platform tilts riders out from the 94th floor (more than 300 metres above the ground), testing the mettle of participants as it tilts lower, then lower again. See 360chicago.com

12. GET YOUR KICKS

A sign in downtown Chicago proudly marks the beginning of Historic Route 66, America's most famous highway. Pose for a happy snap and don't be surprised to see a few Harley Davidsons or classic cars getting revved up for the 4000-kilometre cross-country ride that ends in sunny California. Fun fact: Route 66 is also known as the Main Street of America, or Will Rogers Highway. See enjoyillinois.com

13. EXPLORE BEYOND DOWNTOWN

EDW3FP Chicago Illinois Lower West Side Pilsen National Museum of Mexican Art Hispanic Chicano gallery man looking SunNov11Chicago - 20 REASONS Chicago - Kristie Kellahan
Credit: Alamy

The National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago. Photo: Alamy

Similar to cities like Los Angeles and New York, Chicago is made up of diverse neighbourhoods. Head south of downtown to Pilsen, a cool area of vibrant street art, vintage shops and authentic Mexican food.  Arrive early or expect to queue for legendary breakfast tacos and delectable rice-and-beans at  Taqueria Casa Del Pueblo. Nearby, the National Museum of Mexican Art is a treasure, with free admission and a top-notch gift store. See nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org

14. CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE

Chicago, Illinois, USA sightseeing cruise and skyline on the river.
 SunNov11Chicago - 20 REASONS Chicago - Kristie Kellahan
Credit: Shutterstock

Cruise along the Chicago River. Photo: Shutterstock

Chicago River flows through the middle of downtown and along its banks are located many of the city's most impressive buildings. Hop on one of the many architecture cruises available, sit back and take in the cityscape at a relaxed pace. For a more exclusive experience, the Peninsula Chicago's Keys to the City program has partnered with First Lady Cruises to offer guests access to luxury small-vessel cruises, narrated by docents from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. See cruisechicago.com, peninsula.com/chicago

15. SMILE FOR THE CAMERA 

Search #chicago on Instagram and a stream of images appears featuring a reflective stainless-steel structure. Known to all as the Bean, the enormous shiny landmark's official name is Cloud Gate. Designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, the public artwork has become a favourite backdrop for selfies and holiday happy snaps. In nearby Millennium Park, Crown Fountain is an interactive video sculpture that playfully spurts water at onlookers. See cityofchicago.org

16. BROWSE 300,000 ARTWORKS

The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest art museum in the US, second only to the Met in NYC, and boasts a collection of more than 300,000 works of art. Entry to the permanent collection is free. A new glass-and-steel wing designed by starchitect Renzo Piano is a striking contrast to the grand beaux arts facade, which has welcomed visitors since the institution opened 140 years ago. See artic.edu

17. ROCK OUT AT LOLLAPALOOZA

The annual summer music festival is known for its impressive lineup of metal, punk rock and alternative rock artists – The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and Eminem have all performed – though it also attracts more mainstream performers such as Beyonce and Coldplay. Summers in Chicago can be scorching, so best advice is to book a hotel within walking distance of the Grant Park festival grounds and take frequent nap-and-swim breaks to cool off and revive. See lollapalooza.com

18. ADMIRE THE GRANDEUR 

The breathtaking Tiffany vaulted ceiling is the crowning jewel of Chicago's historic Macy's on State Street. It was built in 1893, at a time when shopping was an elegant social outing and not something undertaken online while wearing pyjamas. Composed of 1.6 million pieces of glittering glass, it is the largest Tiffany mosaic in existence. The store's Walnut Room restaurant, dating back to 1905, serves satisfying American fare in an upscale environment featuring a grand marble fountain. Ask at the information desk about special discounts and tax-free shopping for international tourists. See visitmacysusa.com

19. WALK THE MAGNIFICENT MILE

Chicagoans are proud of the upscale stretch of North Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street, dubbing it the city's answer to the Champs-Elysees. French accent or not, it's home to many impressive historic buildings, luxury stores, fine hotels and elegant street art. It gained its magnificent moniker in the 1940s from a real estate developer, and it stuck. The mile ends at Oak Street Beach. Wait, what? Is Chicago a coastal city? No, while it is decidedly inland, there are more than 20 beaches along the shores of freshwater Lake Michigan. See themagnificentmile.com

20. DRINK TO SUE THE T-REX

The Field Museum of Natural History's most famous resident inspired the creation of a dry hop lager, Tooth & Claw, which is available in the museum's cafe. Also on the menu, Cabinet of Curiosities, a White India Pale Ale. The Field Museum is located at Museum Campus, an expansive park alongside Lake Michigan. A visit can be paired with nearby Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium. Don't miss the Maori Meeting House, Ruatepupuke II, a 19th-century tribute to the Maori ancestor who brought the art of woodcarving to the world. See fieldmuseum.org

Kristie Kellahan travelled to Chicago as a guest of Air New Zealand. The airline will launch a new non-stop service between Auckland and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport from  November 30 this year. See airnewzealand.com.au

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