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17 January, 20234 minute read

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Chicago

There are so many things to do in Chicago. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Midwest region of the United States, it’s the third-most populated city in the country and is known for its awe-inspiring architecture, vibrant arts and culture scene, and rich history.

If you’ve ever considered a holiday to Chicago, you’ve probably thought about finding a decent spot to see the stunning skyline, which includes iconic buildings like the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center. And you’re probably keen on scoffing a big slice of the city’s famous delicious deep-dish pizza – it really is worth it. But here are 10 things you maybe didn’t know about Chicago.

The view from the Willis Tower

The Willis Tower was formerly known as the Sears Tower. Standing at 1,451 ft (442 meters) tall, the skyscraper is the tallest building in the city. It actually used to be the tallest building in the world until 1998, when it was surpassed by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Skydeck on the 103rd is a popular tourist attraction, with over 1.3 million visitors each year, and for good reason. On a clear day, visitors can see four states from the Skydeck; Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Talk about breath-taking views.

Chicago was hydraulically raised several feet

One unique aspect of Chicago's history is that parts of the city were hydraulically raised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to address the problem of flooding and to create more space for development. This process involved lifting entire buildings and blocks of land using a system of hydraulic jacks and pneumatic pumps.

The first major project to raise Chicago's streets was completed in the 1880s, when over 400 acres of land in the downtown area were raised by as much as nine feet. Other areas of the city were also raised over the years, including the neighbourhoods of Woodlawn, Hyde Park, and Bridgeport. In total, more than 4,000 buildings were raised in Chicago using the hydraulic lift method.

While the hydraulic raising of Chicago was a major engineering feat, it also had some unintended consequences. Some of the buildings that were raised had foundations that were not strong enough to support the added weight, and there were instances of buildings collapsing as a result. In addition, the process was expensive and time-consuming, and it disrupted the lives of many residents and businesses. Despite these challenges, the hydraulic raising of Chicago played a significant role in the city's development and helped to shape its skyline and layout.

Women reaching new heights

Another testament to the creativity and innovation of Chicago’s architectural scene is the 82-storey Aqua, which is the tallest structure in the world to be designed by a woman. Architect Jeanne Gang designed the residential building, which contains a mix of over 200 condominium units as well as retail and commercial space on the lower levels. But the most striking features of Aqua is its exterior, which is clad in a combination of blue-tinted glass and white aluminium panels. The building's curved and rippled facade is designed to reflect the movement of the nearby lake and sky, and the blue-tinted glass helps to create a sense of transparency and continuity with the surrounding water.

In addition to its unique design, Aqua is also known for its green features. It is a LEED-certified building, which means that it meets rigorous standards for sustainability and energy efficiency. Some of the green features of Aqua include a green roof, rainwater harvesting systems, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting, making it not only one of the most striking buildings in Chicago, but also one of the most innovative.

Just go with the flow

The Chicago River has a long and fascinating history. It was originally a small stream that flowed into Lake Michigan, but it was significantly altered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to become a part of the city's sewage and drainage system. The river was also used for transportation, with many boats and ships using it to navigate through the city.

In recent years, the Chicago River has undergone a huge transformation and is now a popular recreational destination. The river has been cleaned up and there are now a number of public parks, walking and biking trails, and boating opportunities along its banks. There are also many restaurants and other attractions located along the river, making it a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.

Perhaps one of the most interesting little known facts about the Chicago River is that it’s the only river in the world to flow backwards.

You don't take the subway in Chicago

You take the “L” – that is the nickname for the Chicago Transit Authority's rapid transit system. The system, which consists of elevated trains and subway trains, is one of the oldest and most extensive public transit systems in the United States.

The "L" was first opened in 1892 and has undergone a number of expansions and renovations over the years. It’s a popular mode of transportation for Chicago residents and tourists alike, known for its convenience and reliability, but it’s also a popular tourist attraction in its own right. Many visitors take rides on the elevated trains to see the city from a unique perspective.

The Iconic Route 66

You may not automatically connect visiting Chicago with the iconic Route 66, but it’s actually where it starts. Though it was technically removed from the US Highway System in 1985, ‘Historic Route 66’ markers now line the entire 2,400 mile length of road, stretching all the way from Chicago to Santa Monica. We take this epic road trip and journey of discovery in our Historic Route 66 Tour.

Route 66 was a major transportation corridor for much of the 20th century and played a significant role in the development of the American West. It was a popular route for travellers, particularly during the post-World-War Two era when the U.S. experienced a boom in car ownership and travel. It was also popularised in the 1960s TV show Route 66, which followed two young men as they travelled the country in a Corvette.

Despite it being largely replaced by the faster and more efficient interstate highway system, it remains an iconic symbol of American culture and history and many parts of the original road are still in use today. There are also a number of Route 66-themed attractions and events held along the route, including museums, vintage gas stations, and antique shops.

Life's a beach

Though you may initially think of the architecture when considering a holiday to Chicago, there are actually 26 miles of public beaches, too. Some of the most popular beaches in Chicago include:

  • North Avenue Beach: Located in the Lincoln Park neighbourhood, North Avenue Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Chicago. It features a large beachfront, a snack bar, a beach house with restrooms, and a number of beach volleyball courts.

  • Oak Street Beach: Located in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Oak Street Beach is known for its fine sand and clear water. It is popular with swimmers and sunbathers, and it also has a number of restaurants and bars within walking distance.

  • Montrose Beach: Located in the Uptown neighborhood, Montrose Beach is a large beach with a number of amenities, including a beach house, a playground, and a dog beach. It is a popular spot for picnics and outdoor concerts.

  • Rainbow Beach and Park: Located in the South Shore neighborhood, Rainbow Beach and Park is a popular spot for families. It features a large beachfront, a playground, and a number of sports fields.

Millennium Park

Love a bit of live music? In the centre of Chicago you’ll find Millennium Park, which happens to be one of the best live music venues around. It covers an impressive area of approximately 24.5 acres and is a testament to the city’s commitment to public space and art. Some of the park's most popular features include the Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as "The Bean," which is a large, reflective metallic structure that is shaped like a bean; the Crown Fountain, which is a interactive fountain that features video projections of people's faces; and the Lurie Garden, which is a 5-acre garden featuring a variety of plant species and landscaped areas.

In addition to its art and gardens, Millennium Park also has a number of recreational facilities, including a state-of-the-art outdoor theatre, an ice skating rink, and a number of playgrounds and sports fields. The park also hosts a number of events and concerts throughout the year, making it a popular destination for both tourists and locals.

That's a lot of bones

A hugely popular attraction in Chicago is the Field Museum, a natural history museum that is home to a number of permanent exhibits such as the "Evolving Planet" exhibit, which traces the history of life on Earth from the earliest organisms to the present day, and the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit, which showcases the art, culture, and history of ancient Egypt. Perhaps its most impressive exhibit, however, is the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, which is the most complete in the world.

The river turns green for St Patrick's Day

Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, the residents of Chicago take to their boats to watch the river turn green for the celebrations as part of a tradition that dates back to the 1960s. The process of temporarily dyeing the river green involves adding a large amount of non-toxic and biodegradable dye to the water, a process typically that begins around 9:00am and takes about four hours to complete.

The Chicago River turning green on St. Patrick's Day has become a popular tradition in the city and attracts thousands of spectators each year. It is a fun and unique way to celebrate the holiday and has become a symbol of Chicago's Irish heritage. In addition to the river dyeing, there are also a number of other St. Patrick's Day celebrations and events held in the city, including parades, concerts, and parties.

If these facts have left you eager to explore what else North America has to offer, see all our escorted tours here and contact us for more information.


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