Travel Chicago: Go Car-Free to Enjoy Public Art and Architecture

Millennium Park Photograph by Adam Alexander

This bustling city on the shores of Lake Michigan rose—to unprecedented skyscraper heights—from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The city rebuilt in spectacular fashion, developing a legacy of elegant architecture, inspired arts, and a zest for life that radiates through its restaurants, bars, stages, and hotels. Grand buildings coexist with daring public art (2017 is the city’s Year of Public Art), making the Loop’s central business district a magnet for locals and visitors. In the summer, it’s easy to tour by foot or on bikes to enjoy the festivals, expansive lakefront, and vast culinary offerings. July brings out the best in outdoor events.

Celebrate the Fourth of July in bucket-list fashion with impressive fireworks at Navy Pier. Visit the Art Institute of Chicago, where seeing iconic works such as “American Gothic,” “Nighthawks,” or Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” is like encountering a celebrity, up close and personal. The Modern Wing, added in 2009, expanded the space for the permanent collection and elevated the experience (free to $25). Rent one of the 5,800 shared Divvy bicycles ($10 a day) to ride the bike path from Millennium Park, home to the steel sculpture “Cloud Gate,” to the Museum of Science and Industry—home to The Great Train story, a 3,500-square-foot model train. The museum began as the Palace of Fine Arts at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Taste of Chicago Photograph by Patrick L. Pyszka

The sun-washed Reliance Building, a National Historic Landmark, this year became The Alise Chicago, a boutique hotel from Seattle’s Staypineapple chain ($219 and up). Enjoy the hotel’s signature “naked experience”—ultra-fluffy duvets, slippers, and robes. The Alise also offers a daily pineapple cupcake reception, fine wines, and dining at the Atwood restaurant. Architecture and history buffs can immerse in living history at the Palmer House, gloriously rebuilt after the great fire into a grand hotel by Potter Palmer, with decor by Louis Comfort Tiffany and an elaborately frescoed lobby ceiling ($169 and up). Get retail therapy along State Street, which Palmer and Marshall Field helped develop, or tour the area with the Chicago Architecture Foundation ($20).   

Held every summer since 1980, Taste of Chicago is the granddaddy of free-admission outdoor food festivals and the world’s largest. From July 5 to 9, Grant Park fills with nearly 1.4 million visitors noshing on deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, and pierogi, amid concerts, chef demos, and beer and wine bars. For fine dining near Michigan Avenue, the modern Italian menus at Tony Mantuano’s Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia offer delicate homemade pastas, such as tortellini with duck and pistachio ($29), and charcuterie. Chef Devon Quinn built a greenhouse behind his restaurant Eden, where he picks herbs and flowers for his garden-to-table global cuisine, such as umami doughnuts ($8) and Catalpa Grove Farm Lamb ($36).


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