Budget Travel

Let Chicago wow you this winter: here are the best things you can do

With steely skyscrapers, top restaurants and calendar of festivals, Chicago will blow you away using its low-key cultured awesomeness every day of the year.

It's difficult to understand what to gawk initially. High-flying architecture is everywhere, and whimsical public art studs the streets. You might be walking along and wham, there's an abstract Picasso statue that's not just cool to look at but you're permitted to go right up and climb on it. When you need a rest from exploring the city, loosen your belt – you've had a large amount of eating to do here.

Here would be the top things you can do in your trip to Chicago this winter.

Art Institute of Chicago

The second-largest art museum in the country, the Art Institute of Chicago houses a treasure chest from around the world. The gathering of impressionist and postimpressionist paintings is second simply to those in France, and the number of surrealist works is tremendous. Wander the endless marble and glass corridors, and rooms stuffed with Japanese prints, Grecian urns, suits of armor, Grant Wood's American Gothic, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and something very big, dotted Seurat. The current Wing dazzles with Picassos and Mirós.

Architecture cruises

Who cares if all of the backward neck-bending leads to a little ache? There's no better method to feel Chicago's steely power than from have less the water searching for while cloud-poking towers glide by and iron bridges arch open to lead the way. The skyline assumes a surreal majesty as you float through its shadows on a river tour, and landmark after eye-popping landmark flash by. Guides' architecture lessons carry on the breeze, so you'll know your beaux art from International style by day's end.

Blues and rock

In Chicago no genre is as iconic because the blues – the electric blues, to become exact. When Muddy Waters and friends plugged in their amps within the 1950s, guitar grooves reached new decibel levels. Hear it in clubs around town, for example Buddy Guy's Legends, in which the icon himself still takes the stage, or Rosa's Lounge, where it's a bit more serious. The blues paved the way for rock 'n roll, so no surprise cool little clubs hosting edgy indie bands slouch on many a street corner.

Comedy and theater

A group of jokesters began performing intentionally unstructured skits in a Chicago bar a half century ago, and voilà – improv comedy was born. Second City still nurtures the best in the biz, though other improv theaters also work from booze-fueled suggestions that the audience hollers up. One of the city's 200 theaters are powerhouse drama troupes such as Hollywood-star-laden Steppenwolf, and heaps of fringey, provocative "off-Loop" companies, like the Neo-Futurists (which base admission cost on a dice roll).

Sky-high views

For superlative seekers, Willis Tower could it be: the city's tallest building (and one of the world's loftiest). Relax during the ear-popping, 70-second elevator ride towards the 103rd-floor Skydeck after which stride to 1 from the glass-enclosed ledges that jut out in midair. Look down some 1400ft. Crikey. The lakeside 875 N Michigan Ave building (formerly referred to as Hancock Center) also rises full of heaven. Ascend to the 96th-floor Signature Lounge, order a cocktail and watch the town sparkle around you. It's especially lovely at night.

Global eats

In the past few years chefs for example Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, Stephanie Izard and many more put Chicago on the culinary map. They won a heap of James Beard awards, and suddenly international critics were dubbing Chicago one of the globe's top eating destinations. The beauty here is that the buzziest restaurants are accessible: they're visionary yet traditional, pubby at the core and decently priced. You may also chow recorded on a terrific range of global eats in Chicago's neighborhoods, from Puerto Rican jibaritos (steak covered in garlicky mayo and served between thick, crispy-fried plantain slices, which make up the "bread") to Indian samosas to Polish pierogi.

Millennium Park

The playful heart of Chicago, Millennium Park shines with whimsical public art. Proceed, walk under Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate – aka "the Bean" – and touch its silvery smoothness. Let the human gargoyles of Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain gush water you to cool down in summer. Unfurl a blanket by Frank Gehry's swooping silver band shell because the sun dips, wine corks pop and gorgeous music fills the twilight air. Or try to look for the key garden abloom with prairie flowers along with a small gurgling river.

Wrigley Field

A tangible sense of history comes alive at Wrigley Field, a 100-plus-year-old baseball park, because of the hand-turned scoreboard, iconic neon entrance sign, legendary curses and time-honored traditions that infuse games played here. Shoveling down hotdogs and drinking beer in the raucous bleachers makes for an unforgettable afternoon. The region around the stadium is like a big street festival on game days: young people party in alfresco bars, kids lick ice-cream cones and die-hard fans occupy stools in age-old, sticky-floored taverns.

Public art

You can't walk two blocks downtown without bumping into an exceptional sculpture. The granddaddy is Picasso's untitled sculpture (what the heck could it be – an Afghan hound?), set smack in Daley Plaza. Jean Dubuffet's abstract creation is officially titled Monument with Standing Beast, but everyone calls it "Snoopy inside a Blender." Marc Chagall's grand mosaic Four Seasons is more recognizable, depicting Chicago scenes. Alexander Calder's hulking, red-pink Flamingo could indeed pass for its namesake, only after you've were built with a few beers.

Navy Pier

Stretching from the skyline and in to the blue of Lake Michigan, half-mile-long Navy Pier is one of Chicago's favorite attractions. Its charms center around the cool breezes and sweet views, especially from the stomach-turning, 196ft-tall Ferris wheel. High-tech rides, splash fountains, big boats and greasy snacks blow the minds of children. Live music, Shakespearean theater and whopping fireworks displays entertain everybody else. A smart renovation has added public plazas, performance spaces, art installations and free cultural programming.

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