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10 Reasons to Visit Chicago Right Now

Allow yourself to be whisked away to the Windy City, where art, culture and history combine to offer one of North America’s most unique and beautiful big-city attractions. Get ready for a trip to Chicago you’ll never forget.

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1. Willis Tower

It might have lost the world’s tallest building slot to Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan, thanks to its enormous spire, but Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, is still the tallest in the United States, at 1,450 ft. Designed by Chicago firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the tower uses nine exterior frame tubes, avoiding the need for interior supports. For awesome 360-degree views of the city, head to the 103rd-floor Skydeck. From here you will also be able to access The Ledge, a series of enclosed glass boxes jutting from the Skydeck and providing a fascinating view straight down to the ground.

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2. Field Museum

Founded in 1893 to display items from the World’s Columbian Exposition, and renamed in 1905 to honour its first major benefactor, Marshall Field, this vast museum offers fascinating insights into global cultures and environments past and present. Home to all sorts of cultural treasures, fossils, and artifacts, as well as to myriad interactive exhibits, make no bones about it: this natural history museum is one of the best in the country.

(Photo courtesy of Newpowajpg/Flickr)

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3. Navy Pier

As recently as 1995 Chicago’s Navy Pier was a drab slab of concrete projecting into Lake Michigan, formerly used as a military and freight terminal. But a huge effort to funnel locals and tourists onto the Pier has seen the installation of a variety of attractions on the waterfront – for kids as well as adults – that drive over eight million people annually, making this Chicago’s most visited attraction. An added bonus of spending time at the Pier; the breathtaking city views.

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4. Museum of Science & Industry

The cultural star of the city’s Far South, this museum was the first in North America to introduce interactive exhibits, with a record of innovative, hands-on displays dating back to the 1930s. More than one million visitors flock annually to this vast neoclassical building, which houses more than 800 exhibits and is a Chicago must-see, especially for families. Make sure you arrive rested, since it takes a whole day just to hit the top attractions.

(Photo coutesy of Kwong Yee Cheng/Flickr)

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5. Lincoln Park Zoo

Chicago’s second most popular attraction after Navy Pier, this menagerie is not only one of the oldest zoos in the country but also one of the last not to charge admission. Established in 1868 with just a pair of swans, its age helps to account for how well integrated it is with the surrounding North Side community. While small compared to lots of top US Zoos, it is a leading light for ape research, and its park setting, duck ponds, historic café and land mark red barn endear it to all who visit.

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6. Magnificent Mile

This glitzy strip of stores and striking buildings runs for, you guessed it, about a mile along North Michigan Avenue. A sharp developer came up with the “magnificent” moniker in 1947, and it has stuck ever since. Often known as the Mag Mile, it is home to big-guns department stores like Neiman Marcus, as well as high-end boutiques such as Tiffany & Co, and popular chain stores. The strip is at its best around Christmas when twinkling trimmings provide welcome relief from the often grey days.

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7. The Art Institute of Chicago

Guarded by lions, and up a flight of grand stone steps (a favourite local meeting place) is the Midwest’s largest, and one of the USA’s best art museums. Housed in a massive Beaux Arts edifice with an impressive Modern Wing by Renzo Piano, the Institute has some 260,000 works from around the globe, and is famous for its Impressionistic and Post-Impressionist works and touring shows.

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8. The University of Chicago

With Chicago’s expansion in the late 19th century, a major university was the perfect addition to an array of new cultural institutions. Funded by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, (who deemed it his best ever investment) the forward-thinking institution opened in 1892. Today, the university is one of the USA’s most respected, boasting 82 Nobel Prize winners as students, faculty or researchers, as well as several on-campus attractions that are destinations in their own right.

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9. John G. Shedd Aquarium

The eponymous John G. Shedd, president of Marshall Field’s department store, donated this Beaux Arts aquarium to Chicago in 1929. One of the city’s top attractions ever since, it houses some 25,500 marine animals representing 2,100 different species that include amphibians, fish, and aquatic mammals. The latter romp in the saltwater of the glass-walled Oceanarium, which places an infinity pool in front of Lake Michigan to transporting effect.

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10. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park

This quiet suburb, seven miles west of downtown Chicago, contains the world’s largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings. It was here that Wright developed his Prairie style, (inspired by the flat lines of the Midwestern plains), influencing other architects such as George Maher. His work was first considered radical, even ugly, compared to the typical styles of the day. Walking through Oak Park’s quaint, tree-lined streets, it’s evident that Wright’s unique architecture does stand out from the norm – but in all the right ways.

(Photo courtesy of clarkmaxwell/Flickr)

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