5 things I learned about Chicago

I’m still struggling to digest all the amazing sights I saw during my two weeks in the US. Honestly, it was a lot.

So I’m fighting The Overwhelm and easing in gently by letting you know 5 things I learned about Chicago, where we spent four all-too short days.

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

I’m leading you in with a picture of the river backing onto that gorgeous skyscape, because just look. What a place.

Anyway, on with the things I learned about Chicago.

Chicago loves a revolving door

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

Classic Chicago entryway; two revolving doors, no real doors. For someone who has a fear of people getting into the same revolving compartment as me, this made entering and exiting buildings a nerve wracking process.

What you think is the street level is not actually the street level 

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

So you’d think that on exiting the ground floor (sorry, first floor in American speak) of this office building you’d actually be on the ground.

Not so.

There’s not one, but two levels of roads beneath you still. This was true of quite a lot of the city near the river, and on our architecture cruise we learned that this is because the ground that Chicago is built on is quite marshy, so it’s much easier to build above ground than to dig basements.

I’m all for hiding roads but it’s strange to think of so much going on beneath your feet.

The street music is above and beyond

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

We found this band playing on the corner of the street and they were absolutely phenomenal. The drummer didn’t even have real drums! And you’d never know from the amazing sounds he was making. Altogether they absolutely killed it, there was a dance party happening on the street and everything. Definitely not your average street performance.

I’m still not used to a bunch of skyscrapers

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

This was the incredible view from our hotel room. The whole place felt like a real life Gotham to me. In a good way. I also loved the above-ground subway trains, which were definitely like out of the movies, although made conversation unfortunately difficult whenever they passed nearby.

It’s a surprisingly green city

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

Yeah so the place is stuffed with skyscrapers, but they still manage to cram in bits of greenery where they can. We stumbled across a number of small parks in the centre that we just weren’t expecting.

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois

Whether that’s true in the non-shiny, non-touristy areas I don’t know but I certainly enjoyed the care with which they’d been set up.

And finally…..

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois


And thus ends your whistlestop tour of Chicago.

So, do you feel like you’ve bean? (See what I did there??!)


I’m back! Linking up with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel  again for Wanderlust Wednesday. Thanks for hosting, ladies!

Find out what 5 things I learned about the city of Chicago, Illinois



  1. 21st September 2016 / 08:34

    Oh this is awesome! I’m heading to Chicage for the first time for work next month and I can’t wait! It looks lovely!

    • 21st September 2016 / 12:46

      Lucky you! I wish I could go to Chicago for work!! It’s a great place to explore, will you have much free time to get out and about?

  2. 21st September 2016 / 09:12

    Great article! I haven’t yet been to Chicago but this has definitely made it a must visit for me! love the hidden roads!!looks like a really interesting city

    • 21st September 2016 / 12:46

      I’m glad you liked it! It’s a pretty cool city, and of course it has its rough edges like any big city but overall I found it a great place for a city break. It helped the weather was great while we were there!

  3. 21st September 2016 / 12:43

    Boy your pictures are amazing! I haven’t made it yet to Chicago but I hope to one of these times I go home again! #WanderfulWednesdays

    • 21st September 2016 / 12:45

      Ahh thanks! If it’s an achievable trip from where you live I’d definitely suggest a visit. I’d love to go back!

  4. 21st September 2016 / 14:31

    haha to your last line. too cute. but really chicago is a great city – minus the endless winter which i cannot handle ha. but summers are the best! and the green! it really is lovely 🙂

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:24

      I am SO glad we went in the summer! The weather was lovely and warm for most of the time we were there. The green surprised me so much! We just kept finding tiny parks and nice flowerbeds wherever we went. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

  5. 21st September 2016 / 15:44

    I’m a lifelong Chicago resident, so it is super interesting to read your observations! I never thought much about the revolving doors – but since you brought it up, they are more of a function of the wintertime. When it’s bitterly cold out with bone-chilling winds, opening a regular door lets an enormous of that cold into the building. The revolving door is a way for people to get in and out while minimizing the cold seepage. You are lucky to have visited during a period of pleasant weather, where the necessity for those doors didn’t come into play. =)

    YES on the lower-level streets, the skyscrapers, and the street performers – and the city is actually even MORE green outside of the tourist areas. =)

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:26

      Ah cool! I’m interested to hear from the perspective of a true native 🙂 Now you mention it, the revolving door thing makes perfect sense in the wintertime. It was so nice and sunny when we were there that I didn’t notice the absence of icy blasts whenever someone opened a door! I’m glad to hear the city gets even more green, I’d have liked to visit Lincoln Park but sadly ran out of time. I was also surprised by the lovely beaches you have so close to the city, as well. I wasn’t expecting that!

  6. Jen
    21st September 2016 / 17:16

    I’ve only been in the airport in Chicago, but I would love to explore the city someday. It seems like a wonderful place!

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:26

      How frustrating is it to be in the airport of somewhere exciting and new and not be able to go and experience it?! I had a really great time there, it’s a fabulous place for a city break.

  7. 21st September 2016 / 17:51

    The skyscrapers would be weird to me at first but I love to hear that it’s a surprisingly green city! I’d love to visit Chicago one day!

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:28

      Yeah it’s really weird to get used to so many huge buildings all around. Definitely a concrete jungle. I just kept wondering what on earth was filling all of the skyscrapers. Everything was just on such a different scale than in the UK, it definitely took some adjusting to. The greenery helped though 🙂 I hope you get to visit one day!

  8. 21st September 2016 / 18:10

    for the 5 minutes when i thought i could meet you there, i was SUPER excited! haha. it would have been fun 😉
    revolving doors scare the ever living daylights out of me. bye felicia NO.

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:29

      I was super excited too! Never mind, one day it will happen. I’m so glad I’m not the only one with an irrational fear of revolving doors. I will go to extreme lengths to avoid them!

  9. 21st September 2016 / 18:32

    This looks amazing! I’d love to visit Chicago – it’s not that far from my parents place (….a few hours by plane) I should try to make the trip soon! 🙂

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:30

      Haha I guess in the US that counts as not far! It’s a really cool place to explore, and it just feels like the city is really buzzy, if you know what I mean? Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool. I hope you do manage to visit!

  10. 21st September 2016 / 20:03

    I’ve lived in the Chicago area for five years now- three in the city and the last two in the suburbs. I love reading visitors’ perspectives of the place I call home. I have to agree about the revolving door. It was something I had to get used to when I moved. I have a little anxiety about them as well- I’m always afraid someone is going to trip me up in them by entering and going faster than I was already going. And yes to the street performers. There was one group in one of the underground stops that was amazing. I’m not sure if they are still there as this was a few years ago but I loved listening to them while waiting for the train.

    • 21st September 2016 / 21:34

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I enjoy reading residents perspectives, too. I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one who is overly nervous about revolving doors – I can’t quite put my finger on what freaks me out but I think the too fast thing might be it. I don’t know why it’s such a huge issue to me!

      Genuinely good street performers are such a treat, music has an amazing capacity to lift the spirits like nothing else.

  11. 21st September 2016 / 20:26

    I want to run their marathon there. It would be so fun to see on foot 🙂

    • 22nd September 2016 / 20:57

      This actually makes me wish I were a runner because I completely agree with you. That would be a great way to see the city! We found it pretty walker friendly, downtown at least, but the metro confused the heck out of us. So yes, by foot is good.

  12. 22nd September 2016 / 05:45

    This is awesome! I have never been to Chicago but I know it is a city full of worthwhile sights. I really like your pictures and observations of the city. Where else you went?

    • 22nd September 2016 / 20:58

      It’s a great city. I’m glad you liked the post! On this trip we took the train from Chicago to Seattle, stayed in Seattle for a bit, then did an Alaskan cruise. It was a pretty special trip!

  13. 22nd September 2016 / 05:59

    Loved this article, Rachel. Shows a bit different perspective of the city unlike other typical guides. I have never been yet, but hope to visit Chicago one time, the city looks so beautiful! xoxo, nano | http://www.travelwithnanob.com

    • 22nd September 2016 / 20:59

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! I figure I’m in no position to write a definitive article on the place, given I spent just a few days there, but I could happily share a few observations from the mind of a simpleton. It’s a great city, it’s got a real buzz about it that I loved.

  14. 22nd September 2016 / 08:45

    I’m in love with that drummer.
    I’m surprised how clean the river water looks.

    • 22nd September 2016 / 21:01

      The drummer was a complete legend. I’ve got a video of him doing his solo, I think, and it just blew my mind. I’ll try and post it on here if I can.

    • 22nd September 2016 / 21:03

      Oh and the river water is a whole big thing. They reversed the direction of the river because they got their drinking water from Lake Michigan and the river (aka open sewer) was polluting the supply. So now the lake flows into the river and then down into some canal somewhere. The things you learn on architecture cruises! I think the water quality is gradually improving and some fish are even returning to the water. I’m still not sure I’d go for a dip in it though…

  15. 22nd September 2016 / 22:49

    Great observations! Thinking of all the things you noticed is a great way to start re-capping a fun jam-packed trip 🙂 I’m always happy to see that big cities can be green too, it’s the best combination!

    • 25th September 2016 / 18:51

      I love green cities, too. Sometimes I find new places a bit overwhelming and it’s always a relief to go and sit in a nice park for a bit! Also I felt like Chicago was quite innovative with how it incorporated its greenery into the city, so I found that interesting.

  16. 23rd September 2016 / 01:08

    Chicago is such a cool city! The street level thing still confuses me when I visit 🙂

    • 25th September 2016 / 18:51

      I thought it was brilliant! And the street level thing is fine until you really think about it. And then you’re like whheeeeere am I???

  17. 23rd September 2016 / 23:50

    We used to live a couple hours from Chicago and liked making daytrips or weekend trips there. It’s an interesting city! A lot to see and do, that’s for sure! And yes, LOTS of skyscrapers.

    • 26th September 2016 / 15:35

      Chicago would be a great city for a weekend trip, there seems like there’d always be something on. We only managed to look around the main centre unfortunately, I’d have loved to look a little further afield, too. The skyscrapers were really cool but a bit mind boggling. What’s in them all??

    • 26th September 2016 / 15:37

      It’s definitely an intriguing place. I’m not used to huge cities with loads going on (and so many skyscrapers!) that aren’t capital cities. It was a great place to wander around, felt like anything could happen at any time!

  18. 25th September 2016 / 21:07

    I totally know what you mean about still needing to process your trip! I’m still trying to process Europe and trying to figure out my first post! I’m so glad that you loved your time in the States and that you liked Chicago too! I loved the fact that Chicago had a lot of skyscrapers and had a big city feel, but that it also had a lot of green space too. It helped it to feel like a place that you’d actually want to stay and visit. I can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

    • 26th September 2016 / 15:41

      Definitely! I just don’t even know where to begin, we saw so much. I really did like Chicago, it had a great atmosphere and plenty of gluten free food which is always a bonus. I liked that you kept stumbling across pockets of green space, not just one or two big parks. I think it’s a great city, I hope I can go back again one day!

  19. 26th September 2016 / 07:05

    I’m a little behind over here, but I had to laugh at the revolving door one. When I was in uni we went on a trip for a club I was in and I actually titled my Facebook album (back when people made those) “The city of revolving doors” because that clearly caught my eye too!

    • 26th September 2016 / 15:41

      That’s hilarious! I’m glad I’m not the only one who was struck by that. I’m not normally obsessed with doors, I swear!

  20. 26th September 2016 / 15:56

    I grew up in a small town about 4 hours north of chicago so chicago was the “big city” for us. we’d go a couple of times a year for the shopping (amazing) and just for a fun family get a way. i think it’s an incredible city. big like NYC, but 100% less overwhelming than NYC. did you have some pizza while you were there?!? you’re G free right? I think they now make chicago deep-dish in a G free option!

    • 27th September 2016 / 19:46

      Yeah I agree about it being less overwhelming than NYC, and yes the shopping is fabulous! You’re lucky to have had it as your big city 🙂 I am indeed g free, we had pizza from Giordano’s that was gluten free but it wasn’t deep dish unfortunately. We did look up a place but it was kind of far out of town for us and didn’t fit with our plans… I wish we’d have been able to try it though!

  21. 26th September 2016 / 18:37

    Ahh you’re making me homesick!! I love me some good Chi town time 🙂 I hope you also discovered the glory of Chicago pizza (there’s even gluten free deep dish!!!!!!!)

    • 27th September 2016 / 19:53

      Sorry!! We did manage to try a thin crust gluten free pizza but no deep dish sadly… I did google and the only place I found was a little way out of town and we didn’t have time to make it there. What’s your favourite place to experience a good gf deep dish? Just in case we go back 🙂

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