Chicago’s been crowned the world’s best city ‘for having fun and enjoying life’ in the Time Out City Life Index.
The Illinois city was followed by Porto, New York, Melbourne and London after 32 cities were scored across food, drink, culture, friendliness, affordability, happiness and liveability. A whopping 15,000 people were surveyed and Chicago was found to have the highest scores for food and drink, and above average for city pride and how residents feel about their neighbourhood.
Here’s why the windy city is worth a visit this year.
The food scene
It may surprise you, but Chicago even beat New York in the food stakes. It has a total of 25 Michelin-starred restaurants, including one with three stars, Alinea. The midwest city is best known for its heart-warming comfort food though. Chicago does hot dogs like no other, and both the deep-dish pizza and Italian beef sandwich originated here. Au Cheval is often cited as the home of the city’s best burger, and people have been known to queue for three hours for a table. Chicago is also strangely famous for its doughnut shops – try the buttermilk glazed at Doughnut Vault in West Loop or River North.
Al Capone used to drink at Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, for a special seven course cocktail tasting menu head to The Aviary, while Three Dots and a Dash is famous for its oversized tiki-style cocktails. The craft beer scene is huge here and is growing all the time. Revolution Brewing is the largest craft brewer with a cult following, while Goose Island Beer Co. and Half Acre Beer Company also come highly recommended.
The distinctive neighbourhoods
There are no less than 77 well-defined community areas in Chicago, which are often grouped into nine districts. Some of the coolest for visitors are the Ukrainian Village on the West Side, where, you guessed it, was the centre of a big Ukrainian community – many Ukrainian delis, cheap bars and restaurants have been there for over 100 years.
The area of Pilsen has a vibrant art scene; expect street art everywhere you look and a growing number of artists basing themselves in this largely Hispanic area. Avondale is the latest neighbourhood to go through gentrification, but is still relatively good value, and Boystown was the first officially recognised gay neighbourhood in the USA.
The awe-inspiring architecture
Chicago has a unique skyline thanks to its mixture of old and new architecture. The best way to experience it is on the Chicago Architectural Foundation boat tour, (£32.50) headed up by volunteers and you’ll float past notable skyscrapers like the Aon Centre, Willis Tower and the John Hancock Building, as well as the art deco old Post Office and world famous Wrigley Building. If you don’t mind heights, there’s a viewing platform at the top of the John Hancock Building (360 Chicago) where a moving platform literally tilts you out over Michigan Avenue from the 94th floor.
It’s easy to forget that Chicago is blessed with beaches, but they’re right on the doorstep of the city centre. The eastern border of Lake Michigan is dotted with lakeside hangouts in the summer months. Oak Street Beach is about a mile and a half long, Illinois Beach State Park is good for active travellers, with nature trails along the shoreline, and for some peace and quiet, head to 31st Street Beach or 57th Street Beach in South Chicago.