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The Windy City

Chicago, Illinois

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Chicago has always had an inferiority complex: it's not New York, it's not Los Angeles, it's not San Francisco and don't forget that the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908.... But it's a city that's good at reinventing itself: gangster capital to twentieth century architectural Mecca.

Chicagoans know how to enjoy their city. They hibernate in the bars, galleries and museums in winter then make a dash for the beaches and parks when the summer sun warms things up. You could do a lot worse than follow their example.

The Chicago skyline's pretty famous. The Sears Tower may have lost its title as world's tallest building to the Petronas, but don't worry, the best views have always been from the John Hancock Centre and the canny tourist won't bother with the observation gallery, heading instead for the Signature Lounge a couple of floors further up, where the views are free with a drink!

If you're visiting in winter put the Chicago Art Institute, the Field Museum and shopping on the Magnificent Mile first on your itinerary. The Art Institute is most famous for its collection of French Impressionist and Post Impressionist art, but there's plenty of other good stuff, in particular Renaissance Italian art and a collection of works from Ancient China. The Field Museum of Natural History has the relics of just about every animal and vegetable (and quite a few minerals) you can imagine. A diverse series of exhibitions about the world we live in includes a walk-through African experience which reaches a dramatic climax in the hold of a slave ship. Don't forget to say 'hi' to Sue - the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton yet found - who lives here. If you like your wildlife watery then head for the Shedd Aquarium where you'll be able to marvel at the antics of beluga whales and white-sided dolphins in their state of the art oceanarium, or see piranhas in a miniature Amazon basin. The most recent addition is a wild reef shark tank - only 5cm of plexiglas between you and the killers!

Want to get a real perspective on life? The Adler Planetarium will give you a tour through the history of the entire cosmos from the Big Bang to the present day. Even jaded games addicts will be enthralled by the Star Rider Theatre - float through space on a virtual reality tour of the Milky Way which you control from your armchair. Be glad the thousand pound meteorite in their collection didn't land in your yard!

Shopping is an all year round activity and there's some serious action in Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Oak Street is basically a Who's Who of upscale designers and classy one-off boutiques. Shop until you drop if your credit card can take the pace - then slip into Crate and Barrel, a homeware furnishings store where you'll always find a few weary shoppers road testing the comfy looking couches and overstuffed sofas!

Come evening it's time to get the Chicago blues. Choose your flavor: rough and raw, sleekly sophisticated, or edgy and modern. The Hothouse is a stylish venue serving up jazz and world music to the Beautiful People. Buddy Guy's Legends more than earns its name: the barbeque in this legendary club could smoke the glitter off the walls of some of the young pretenders.

Summer visitors have 18.5 miles of lakefront and the urban oasis of Lincoln's Park to enjoy. Hire a bike, strap on your skates and join in a game of Frisbee or volley ball on North Avenue or Oak Street beach. Get your fix of culture outside too with a do-it-yourself Sculpture Tour of the Loop and Grant Park - there's a famous Untitled Picasso amongst other things. Grant Park itself is modeled on Versailles - but bigger, bolder and better! Check out the pink marble Buckingham Fountain. Taking a picnic to the Ravinia Festival in the Highland Park to hear the world famous Chicago Symphony Orchestra is popular. For the locals style is the name of the picnicking game, they bring out candelabras, fine bone china plates for the smoked salmon sandwiches and crystal for champagne. For a more down home atmosphere try Little Italy, where the action's fueled by meatballs in spicy red sauce, huge pizzas or the city's best ice cream.

You could search out all the top gangsterland sites, but apart from the atmospheric Green Mill bar, which used to be Capone's favorite speakeasy they're not really worth the effort. Much better to make an excursion to Oak Park to soak up the vision of a true American. Frank Lloyd Wright is, of course, the American architect. His buildings draw on the natural beauty of the Mid West and blend gracefully with their surroundings.

Chicago is a city that's worked hard to reinvent itself and it deserves to walk tall. Chicago's a tough with a heart of gold, the people are about the friendliest you'll meet anywhere in America!

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