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Great American Cities – Chicago Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 in Travel

After covering a few east coast cities (New York, Boston, D.C., Philly) and a few west coast ones (San Francisco, L.A., and Las Vegas), we’re moving to the Midwest for the next stop on our tour of “Great American Cities” as we pay a visit to Chicago.

Hey there, Chicago!

Hey there, Chicago!

Name: It is believed that the name of the city comes from a Native American word, shikaakwa, which was a type of wild onion that grew in the area. A French explorer, Robert de la Salle, referred to the area as Checagou in 1679 and it eventually became known as Chicago.

Location: Chicago is located in the Midwestern USA, in the state of Illinois. The city is situated on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

Chicago on the map of Illinois.

Chicago on the map of Illinois.

Nicknames: As with many American cities, Chicago has lots of nicknames. Some people refer to the entire metropolitan area as “Chicagoland,” while others know the city simply as “Chitown.” It’s also known as the “Second City,” which was once used as an insult in The New Yorker to show that Chicago wasn’t as good as NYC. The most famous nickname is the “Windy City.” There are many ideas why this nickname exists, but we can’t say for sure.

Year Founded: Chicago became a town in 1833, when it had just 200 people. Four years later, in 1837, it became a city with a population of 4,000. The city would continue to grow, as it became an important transportation hub between the east and west.

A view of the city's skyline.

A view of the city’s skyline.

Population: It’s hard to believe that Chicago started out so small, as today it is the 3rd most populous city in the United States, with just over 2.7 million residents. It’s one of the most densely populated cities, and it’s the largest city in the Midwest. Chicago’s population is quite diverse – 32% non-Hispanic whites, 33% black, 29% Hispanic, and 5% Asian.

Transportation: Chicago is a huge transportation hub in the US. The city has two major airports – O’Hare and Midway – connecting the city to places all around the world. There are also train and bus stations linking Chicago with many other American cities. Chicago has some of the best public transportation in America, which is run by the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). Many people take the “L” to get around – a series of elevated trains and subway lines designated by colors. There’s also an extensive bus system and plenty of taxis for hire. These days, you’ll find more and more bicycles available for rent throughout the city as well.

Famous Places: Chicago is famous for its architecture, as the city was the birthplace of the skyscraper. The most famous building here is the Willis Tower, which was the tallest building in the world for many years and used to be called the Sears Tower. Many people like to take a cruise on the Chicago River to see the city’s architecture.

Willis Tower

Willis Tower

Another famous attraction is Navy Pier, located on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Home to a large ferris wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and the annual 4th of July fireworks show, this is a very popular place to visit.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

Chicago is also home to many incredible museums, such as the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Chicago Institute of Arts.

Field Museum

Field Museum

For shopping, the city has the Magnificent Mile. This wide boulevard has many high-end shops, as well as plenty of hotels and restaurants.

Culture: Chicago is very much a cultural hub – performing arts, food, music, visual arts, sports, and much more. When it comes to art, you can check out the big museums, or visit a wide variety of smaller galleries. You can even stroll around and see lots of amazing public art for free.

"The Bean" - some great Chicago public art!

“The Bean” – some great Chicago public art!

The Windy City is a foodie’s paradise, with all kinds of restaurants to choose from. Some of the city’s famous dishes include the Chicago hot dog, deep-dish pizza, and the Italian beef sandwich.

A delicious Chicago hot dog.

A delicious Chicago hot dog.

And a deep-dish pizza.

And a deep-dish pizza.

Chicago also has an incredible music scene and is the home of countless world-famous musicians and bands. Whether you like jazz, hip-hop, rock, R&B, electronic, or classical, you’ll find something here. The city hosts concerts and music festivals all throughout the year, including the huge Lollapalooza festival every summer.

Catch a show at the legendary Chicago Theater.

Catch a show at the legendary Chicago Theater.

Sports Teams: Chicagoans love their sports, and they have many teams to choose from, with 15 professional teams. It’s one of three cities to have two teams in the MLB, and one of very few cities whose teams actually play in the city limits. Here are the major Chicago pro sports teams:

  • MLB: Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox
  • NBA: Chicago Bulls
  • NFL: Chicago Bears
  • NHL: Chicago Blackhawks
  • MLS: Chicago Fire
Catch a game at Wrigley!

Catch a game at Wrigley!

Home to the Cubs, Wrigley Field is the 2nd oldest ballpark in America and is a great place to see a game. Even though the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1907, the team still has many diehard fans who come out to the games to support them. Recently, the city has had great success in ice hockey, with the Blackhawks winning 2 out of the last 3 Stanley Cup championships.

Travel Experience: I’ve been to Chicago more times than I can count. As it’s only a short drive (5-6 hours) from my hometown of Detroit, I often go there to see concerts, sporting events, or just to visit friends. It just might be my favorite American city, and I’ve been to a lot of them! There’s just so much to do in Chicago, the people are friendly, and there’s great food and music – two of my favorite things.

Grateful Dead show at Soldier Field.

Grateful Dead show at Soldier Field.

My most recent visit to Chicago came over the 4th of July weekend this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Grateful Dead. One of the most famous bands in American history, four of the founding members reunited for a few shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field. It was an amazing weekend full of music and friends, and I’ll always remember it as my best visit to Chicago.

Discussion: Use these questions in your class or just at home to practice!

  • What do you know about Chicago?

  • What did you learn from this post?

  • Have you been there? What did you do?

  • If not, would you like to visit? Why?

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About the Author:sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.