Chicago: Like No Place Else
Travel magazines consistently rate Chicago as a top destination. Forty-five million tourists visited the city in 2007 to experience attractions like the John G. Shedd Aquarium that houses 26,000 aquatic animals; the Chicago Field Museum, which has the most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen ever found and the Museum of Science and Industry, the world’s largest science museum in the Western hemisphere. Chicago is a city that is a center of architectural, educational, artistic and culinary distinction.
Architecture. Known for its architecture, the infrastructure of the city itself is a living attraction with most of the downtown area having been rebuilt after the great Chicago fire of 1871. William Le Baron Jenney built the world’s first skyscraper in Chicago at the northeast corner of LaSalle and Adams Streets. The Home Insurance Building, completed in 1885, was the first building constructed with an iron-and-steel-frame. Although it was demolished in 1931, the idea of using metal for a building’s frame gave architects the ability to construct taller buildings than was previously thought possible and paved the way for today’s modern skyscrapers. Three of the world’s tallest buildings are in Chicago, the Sears Tower (1,450 feet); the Aon Center (1,136 feet) and the John Hancock Center (1,127 feet).
Art. The Art Institute of Chicago holds the largest and most extensive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings outside the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Although the city has 200 art galleries, Chicago’s art is not limited to its galleries or museums. Chicago has 100 pieces of public art displayed downtown, including its unnamed Picasso Sculpture in the Daley Plaza, the world’s largest sculpture by environmentalist David Nash and Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor. Since 1978, 1 percent of all city construction projects have gone toward the purchase of public art for the city.
More than 400 murals from the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration’s “Works in Progress” program exist in the Chicago public schools. Part of the artwork commissioned by the government during the Depression era, this collection is the largest that exists from that time period in the early 20th century.
Culture and cuisine. People from more than 26 different ethnicities call Chicago home, and there are at least that many cuisines available. The phrase “regional specialties” takes on a whole new meaning in a city where each neighborhood has its own vibe, and a taste of a different culture can be less than a 20-minute drive away. The American Automobile Club has recognized Chicago as having more five-diamond (world-class) restaurants than any other city in the country.
Education. Chicago has made a name for itself in the educational opportunities it offers. The University of Chicago on the city’s South Side has more Nobel Prize recipients associated with it than any other educational institution; Northwestern University, with the top journalism school in the country, is located in Evanston and Chicago; and Columbia College, the largest media and arts college in the country, is located in Chicago’s South Loop.
Film backdrops. In addition to the Chicago tourist attractions listed in most major city guides, hundreds of Chicagoans walk past several lesser known attractions that have been seen by millions of people around the world. Since 1980, more than 750 television shows and movies have been filmed in Chicago.
In the summer of 2007, some who worked in the Loop caught a glimpse of the batmobile from The Dark Knight, parked on Lower Wacker Drive. Buses crossing the Chicago River have a view of the building at 77 W. Wacker used to portray the site of the main hostage scene in the 1998 movie The Negotiator. And although there aren’t many federal office buildings that are a point of interest for tourists, Chicago’s Kluczynski Federal Building draws art lovers as well as movie buffs who want to get a peek at Alexander Calder’s Flamingo sculpture that appeared in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Free entertainment. Chicago is not only a travel destination tourists spend hundreds of dollars to visit, but also a place where they can experience many of its hot spots for free. There is no admission charge to Chicago’s top three tourist destinations: Navy Pier, the Lincoln Park Zoo and Millennium Park. The Chicago Cultural Center, which offers free music and performances, is the first free municipal center of its kind in the United States.
Although many people come to the city to check out its well-known attractions, it’s the lesser known attractions that make Chicago what it is for the people who live there. Chicago’s Office of Tourism offers to show newcomers an insider’s perspective of the city with its free greeter service. The many cultural and historical experiences available for free combined with its unique attractions are what make Chicago a city like no other.