Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media
Entry Requirements: International travelers from 27 countries may enter the U.S. without a visa through the Visa Waiver Program; however, you must have a machine-readable passport. Visitors from other countries must obtain a visa from an American embassy or consulate abroad. For more information, visit www.travel.state.gov.
Security: As in any big city, keep your wits about you and your wallet and other valuables safely stowed. Tourist-friendly districts of Chicago are largely peaceful; the South Side requires more caution, especially at night. Tip: Ask your cabbie to watch you until you’ve entered your destination.
Time: Chicago is one hour behind U.S. eastern standard time.
Money: The currency of Chicago is the U.S. dollar. For current conversion rates go to www.oanda.com/convert/classic.
Phone Calls: The main area codes for Chicago are 312 (downtown) and 773. For phone calls to Chicago from within the U.S., dial 1 and 312 (or 773) and the seven-digit phone number. For phone calls to Chicago from outside the U.S., dial your country’s international access code 1 and 312 (or 773) and the seven-digit phone number. In Chicago, local calls from a pay phone cost 50 cents.
When to Go: Spring and fall are the best seasons for moderate temperatures in Chicago. Summers are often hot and humid, though Lake Michigan lends an air-conditioning effect. Winters are notoriously cold, snowy, and icy, with frequent chilly blasts of wind off the lake, which may deter visitors, but not locals.
Getting There: Chicago has two major airports within the city limits. Most international traffic and a total of 42 carriers fly into the larger O’Hare International Airport (ORD), 14 miles (23 kilometers) northwest of downtown. Midway International Airport (MDW), 10 miles (16 kilometers) southwest of downtown, serves 11 airlines. Public transit trains serve both airports.
Getting Around: Driving in Chicago where parking is scarce and traffic heavy is not advised. Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates a network of buses and trains—some elevated, some underground—that are convenient and economical (children 6 years old and under ride free with a fare-paying customer). Taxis are plentiful downtown and at the airports.
Tips: Dress in layers as the afternoon high temperature inevitably rises. Birders should bring portable binoculars; migratory seasons busy along Lake Michigan.
Winter Gear: Weather in Chicago in winter can be severe, cold, icy, and snowy. Temperatures below freezing are common December through February; January is the coldest month, ranging 18 to 32°F (-8 to 0°C). Good, no-slip boots are important, as are hats and gloves or mittens. “Pack a serious down coat.”—Valerie Moloney, Chicago editor, Citysearch.com. Wear a scarf to wind around your face should the bitter wind blow.
Summer Attire: The weather in summer can be hot and humid, often reaching over 90°F (32°C) in July and August. July is the hottest month, averaging 84°F (29°C). Dress comfortably. “Flats and tank tops and shorts will do.”—Valerie Moloney.
Footwear: Since most sightseeing is on foot, wear comfortable shoes. The good news for your feet is that the terrain is flat.
Sun Essentials: The sun reflecting off Lake Michigan can be quite strong and blinding. Bring a sun hat in fair weather months. Wear sunglasses in winter too to diminish snow glare. Sunscreen is essential.
Defensive Packing: Because anything can happen here, including a 65°F (18°C) high in August cooled by Lake Michigan, pack to dress in layers. A sweater or light jacket is important even in warm weather months.
Rain Protection: The city gets an average of 38 inches (97 centimeters) of precipitation per year. June is the rainiest with four inches (ten centimeters) on average. Bring a portable umbrella.
Dress Clothes: As casual as Chicago can be, you’ll stand out without appropriately polished attire at any of the nicer restaurants—either downtown or in the neighborhoods.
Broadway in Chicago
Listings and ticket sales for major downtown theater shows. www.broadwayinchicago.com
Chicago & Illinois Tourist Office
Neighborhood guides; listings of shops, restaurants, sights, and events; also covers the suburbs and greater Illinois. www.gochicago.com
Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau
Maps, accommodations booking, theater listings, special events, and more. www.choosechicago.com
Online guide to Chicago’s many festivals, both major and fringe, with blog updates. http://www.chicagofestivals.net/
Encyclopedia of Chicago
Catalog entries on Chicago history from the ACLU to Zoroastrians. encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org
Wide-ranging guide to Chicago businesses with editorial reviews, reader comments, and insider tips; emphasis on dining and nightlife. chicago.citysearch.com
Chicago Tribune-owned entertainment and nightlife website; a good place for events, dining, and nightlife. chicago.metromix.com
Video footage and links to reviews of some of the city’s best restaurants. www.savorychicago.com
Locals’ reviews of all aspects of Chicago living, including dining, shopping, nightlife, spas, and entertainment. www.yelp.com/chicago
The leading daily newspaper of the city, founded in 1847. News sections cover local, national, and international news; other sections devoted to business, sports, and lifestyle topics. Sunday paper expanded with sections on travel, arts and entertainment, home, and more. www.chicagotribune.com
The city’s second daily newspaper; tabloid size. Renowned for coverage of sports, local politics, gossip, and movie and theater reviews. www.suntimes.com
Monthly glossy magazine covering newsmakers, entertainment, fashion, shopping, and restaurants. www.chicagomag.com
Free alternative weekly newspaper; sections cover urban issues and politics; extensive entertainment and dining reviews; a good source for music, dance, and theater listings. www.chicagoreader.com
Time Out Chicago
Weekly newsstand magazine devoted to leisure pursuits. Good nightlife and theater listings; dining reviews; offbeat round-up features explore the city in depth. www.timeout.com/chicago
Chicago Public Radio tunes in at FM 91.5 with National Public Radio news programming plus homegrown features, entertainment, and news shows. http://www.wbez.org/
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.