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Chi-town, the Windy City, the 312, the City by the Lake—there’s an endless supply of nicknames for Chicago, and, for that matter, an endless supply of things to do in Chicago. From their rapidly expanding fine dining offerings, great speakeasy bars, and of course, a well-touted arts scene, Chicago radiates warmth and excitement, even in the depths of winter. Beyond the classic Chicago attractions, we love to walk the various neighborhoods in this city, each seemingly with its own palpable subculture. From Millennium Park to Wicker Park, these are the best things to do in Chicago if you only have 24 hours.
9 a.m.: Start your day at Logan Square—it’s a lively area, it’s inland, which makes it closer to the airport, and it’s got one of the best breakfast spots in the city: Lula Cafe. Lula is a farm-to-table favorite in Chicago, and locals flock here any time of day. But really, brunch is where Lula shines, and they serve it daily from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. You can’t go wrong with the breakfast burrito or their rotating breakfast sandwich offering here, but if you’d prefer something on the lighter side, they have a lovely sunflower yogurt parfait.
10:30 a.m.: Lula Cafe perfectly situates you for some mid-morning neighborhood exploration. Spend an hour or so poking around two fun (and close-by) neighborhoods: Wicker Park and Logan Square. Starting in Logan Square, you can walk south from Lula to Humboldt Park, then move east to land squarely in Wicker Park. Or you can walk straight from Lula’s along N Milwaukee Street, occasionally veering off to check out side street shops, and wind up in the heart of Wicker Park. For a pick-me-up and a chance to scope out the hip Wicker Park scene, stop in at Bru Chicago, right on N Milwaukee or venture further into this eclectic neighborhood to try Gaslight Coffee Roasters.
12 p.m.: If you don’t stop by Millennium Park, did you even go to Chicago? Take an Uber to Millennium Park, which should take about 20 minutes and will bring you much closer to Lake Michigan. Millennium Park is, of course, the home of the Chicago Bean, where you can snap that quintessential metallic reflection picture. Then, walk through the sprawling public space, flanked by the Loop’s skyscrapers and relax, watching the bustle of the city pass you by for a moment.
Related: The Best Weekend Trips Within a Few Hours of Chicago
1 p.m.: At this point, you’re almost overdue for lunch. From Millenium Park (in the Loop), take a short ride to Fulton Market Kitchen in West Loop. Fulton Market Kitchen is really half-restaurant, half-art gallery. FMK Art House displays work from a different contemporary artist each month. Food-wise, they’re open for lunch on Saturdays, and if you’re ready to start drinking, you’re in for a treat, as FMK has one of the best cocktail programs in the city. Pair your Mediterranean-inspired meal with a cocktail that blends fresh-pressed juice and hard-to-find spirits.
Alternatively, burger lovers must visit Au Cheval in the West Loop. The ever-accoladed burger restaurant has expanded to New York City in the last few years, but the Chi-town location is the original spot for serious carnivores. Not only is Au Cheval known for their single or double cheeseburgers, they’re also known for their fried bologna sandwich—don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
3:30 p.m.: Not far from the West Loop, you’ll board Chicago’s First Lady for the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. Ask anyone who’s been to Chicago and they’ll say their hands-down favorite excursion was this architecture cruise along the Chicago River. You’ll board at the corner of Michigan Ave and E Wacker Drive for the hour-and-a-half tour of Chicago’s magnificent architecture. Docents from the Chicago Architecture Center have been leading these cruises—sharing the history of more than 50 buildings—for 25 years.
5:30 p.m.: Continue the trend of marveling at Chicago’s architecture with one more cultural stop: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robbie House. Frank Lloyd Wright designed this building in 1907 and “the Robie House’s influence on American architecture was immediate and undeniable,” says the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Emulating the classic FLW principle of bringing the outside in, the building showcases Wright’s “new form of domestic design: the Prairie style.” Wright even came back to defend the building in 1957, two years before his death, to ensure it wasn’t demolished. While tours are only offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Monday, you can walk up to the building on the beautiful University of Chicago campus.
7:30 p.m.: Alinea is the reservation foodies in America scope out months in advance. New Yorkers have been known to fly to Chicago for the weekend just to make their long-awaited reservations here. The three-Michelin-star restaurant offers their Gallery Menu, a “multi-sensory, multi-course tasting menu that combines fine dining with experimental moments” for two or four diners, or the Salon Menu, also multi-course but more approachable and can be enjoyed for a party of one as well. Seating times vary (between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.), depending on which menu you choose and how many are in your party. If you have time (and any energy left) after your meal, sneak over to The Aviary, an upscale bar attached to Alinea, or to The Office, the invitation-only speakeasy bar in The Aviary’s basement.
For those who didn’t reserve at Alinea months ago, another great choice for dinner is the James Beard-nominated restaurant Girl & the Goat in the West Loop. Helmed by Global Dining Collection chef Stefanie Izard, who is known for appearing on Top Chef, Girl & the Goat serves family-style plates influenced by Mediterranean and pan-Asian cuisine.
Where to Stay
Stay in a stunning downtown Chicago skyscraper at The Langham, Chicago, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property. Reserve a Lake View Suite, with a view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Equipped with a rain shower, a standalone tub, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a gorgeous living room and dining area, this suite is the perfect respite from city life.