I just went to Chicago for the first time, which means I’m getting closer to my goal of visiting every major city in the United States. The great thing about a new place is that you don’t need to spend a lot of time there to get the general feel for it. For instance, I was only there for the weekend and left with a great appreciation for both the city and people. At first I felt kind of panicked; how am I supposed to do everything there is in only one weekend?
The task is pretty daunting considering they have the Sears Tower, Hancock Observatory, Lincoln Park Zoo, Art Institute of Chicago, Shedd Aquarium and so much more. I could turn blue in the face listing everything you could do in this great city. So here is my advice: If you only have a couple of days in a new place skip the attractions. I know it sounds like crazy talk, but hear me out.
In my opinion, there is no better way to learn about a city than to just explore and talk to the residents. The only touristy thing I did was ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier which gave me a great view of the city and only cost nine dollars. The rest of the time I just walked around and took in my surroundings. I admired the massive American Gothic Statue on Michigan Avenue located in front of the Chicago-Tribune. Afterwards, I window-shopped down the Magnificent Mile, deemed the Rodeo Drive of Chicago, and enjoyed a decadent hot chocolate at the Ghirardelli chocolate shop. You can also see the famous John Hancock building here.
Along the way I found that Chicagoans were not only willing to give you directions, but loved to talk. From a grandmother telling me about her grandchildren’s antics to women enjoying shopping sprees with friends, everyone was warm and friendly.
Perhaps the most enjoyable experience I had was Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Nicknamed “the bean” because of its legume-like shape, it’s a huge stainless steel structure that perfectly reflects the city off of its contoured shape. It’s a great place to people-watch as tourists and locals alike come to gaze at the cityscape that bounces back at them. If I had to squeeze this experience in with a dozen other things that day I doubt I would have appreciated it as much as I did.
The lesson here is to stop and smell the roses. I know it’s tempting to fill your itinerary with tours and exhibits, it’s what every travel guide and visitors center encourages, but when your visit is only a couple of days, perhaps the best thing to do is explore at a leisurely pace and skip the ticket lines. I approach every place I visit with the optimistic belief that I’ll be back and when I do I’ll have plenty of time to do it all, but for my first whirlwind trip I simply savor the atmosphere around me.