What Is Chicago Known For?

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If you haven’t been to Chicago and are planning a visit, you’re in for a treat. Most people know Chicago by its nickname, the Windy City, which is due to the strong weather but shouldn’t put you off travelling there. Chicago is as beautiful as any big US city, like New York or LA, with equally amazing things to see, do and eat (in fact, some are even better). The city is well-known for its striking architecture, which includes iconic buildings like Willis Tower, Tribune Tower, and the Wrigley Building, among many others.

Chicago is also a leading sports city, home to the championship team, the Chicago Bulls, and the iconic Wrigley Field, the home ground of the renowned team, the Chicago Cubs. Don’t assume Chicago skimps on its food scene either; Chicago’s epic deep-dish pizzas, which are more like pies, are famous worldwide, and you can’t walk down the street without grabbing a traditional Chicago-style hot dog. Other fun things to explore around the city include Navy Pier, which has loads of rides and entertainment and Lake Michigan, on which the pier sits, which is heaven for anyone who loves sailing, watersports or a sightseeing cruise.

What Is Chicago Known For?

Top Tours

1- Being The Windy City

Chicago Skyline
The Windy City is what Chicago is known as.

You might think that Chicago’s world-famous nickname is pretty self-explanatory and that it must be one of the windiest cities around to have such a name.

However, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Chicago is extremely windy, but it’s certainly not the windiest in the world or even in the United States.

The name supposedly comes from the coldness of the wind that blasts through Chicago, which blows straight off Lake Michigan, but there isn’t concrete proof of where the name originates from, and this is just one of a few theories.


Other suggestions include a historic rivalry with the city of Cincinnati in the 1870s when they gave Chicago the nickname, although others believe the nickname was given to Chicago by journalists who gave it a condescending nickname in reference to its politicians whose campaigns were only focused on profits.

2- Skyscrapers And Architecture

Skyscrapers Line Chicago Ship Canals At Bend
Skyscrapers and architecture is what Chicago is known for.

Chicago’s skyline is beautiful and iconic in its own way, even if it’s a little less well-known than that of London or NYC.

Whether you’re an architecture buff or not, Chicago is home to some of the world’s most architecturally famous buildings and a number of important skyscrapers, including the Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower, 875 N.Michigan (formerly The John Hancock Center), Tribune Tower and Trump International Tower.

The original skyscraper was first developed in Chicago, and the city’s Home Insurance Building was the first-ever skyscraper in the city.

Some of these buildings, including Willis Tower and 875 N.Michigan, have observatories, meaning you can go up and see the most incredible views over the city from the top floor.

Other famous architectural sites in Chicago include the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, and the Rookery Building.

The best way to take them in is on the dedicated Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise on the Chicago River, which lasts 90 minutes and is led by local experts.

3- Cloud Gate / The Bean

Cloud Gate In Chicago, Illinois
Cloud Gate / The Bean is what Chicago is most known for.

Even if by some small chance you haven’t heard of all of those iconic skyscrapers and architectural gems in Chicago, the one attraction in the city that everyone has seen a photo of is the Cloud Gate, also known as The Bean.

Cloud Gate is a piece of artwork located in Millenium Park, which was created by world-renowned artist Anish Kapoor in 2006.

Its nickname, unsurprisingly, comes from the fact that the sculpture looks like a ginormous bean, which is made out of a mirror-like, reflective material.

This makes it super fun and interactive, and you’ll normally see hundreds of people walking through and around it, taking photos of their warped reflections in The Bean.

Although it appears like the exterior is just one seamless, smooth mirror, The Bean is made from 168 stainless steel plates that were polished to blend together.

The artwork is one of Kapoor’s most famous pieces and has become one of the most iconic things to visit in Chicago and a major city landmark. Join a walking tour or hire a bike.

4- Gangsters

There is a darker side to Chicago, although luckily you’re unlikely to come across it today, which involves gangsters, prohibition and violence.

Famous gangsters like Al Capone lived in Chicago, along with major members of the Mafia, which Capone led in the city in the 1920s.

The mob in Chicago were known as the Chicago Outfit and ran an underground ring providing everything from drugs to alcohol, known as bootlegging, which was illegal during the times of prohibition.

If you’re interested in some gangster history while visiting Chicago, there are lots of fascinating things you can see and do.

Head to former Mob hangout bar, The Green Mill, where Al Capone liked to drink, visit Harry Caray’s Steakhouse, which used to be the apartment of former Mafia boss Frank Nitti or head out on the fun Mobsters and Mysteries of Chicago Walking Tour, where you can learn all about the city’s history.

5- The Chicago Bulls

Outside of America, American football, baseball and basketball might not be a big deal, but with the US, Chicago has some of the greatest sports teams in the country.

These include teams such as the Chicago White Sox, the Cubs, the Bears, Blackhawks and the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls are one of the most famous and successful basketball teams in the world, with six Championship wins during the 1990s.

The team has been home to iconic players, including Dennis Rodman and Michael Jordan, and they are loved by fans across America and the world.

The team competes in the NBA (the National Basketball Association) and hasn’t seen as many wins as their famous streak in the 90s, but they remain just one of the most popular sports teams that Chicago is home to. Grab tickets to a Bulls game here.

6- Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field is what Chicago is known for among sporting fans.

On the subject of sports teams, Wrigley Field is the most famous stadium in Chicago, if not the whole of America.

It’s home to the legendary baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, one of the city’s two major baseball teams.

The field opened in 1914 and is one of the oldest in America.

It has gorgeous ivy-covered walls and a scoreboard that is still turned by hand.

If you want to truly experience the magic of Chicago, there’s no better place to go in-season than catching a game at Wrigley Field when the whole city comes out to cheer on their team.

The field also plays host to concerts and other events, so make sure to check out what’s on if you plan to visit.

7- The Chicago River

Chicago Buildings, Across Chigago River
The Chicago river is what Chicago is famous for.

The Chicago River is the beating heart of the city, winding through the centre lined with famous buildings and restaurants.

There are dozens of different cruises you can do along the river to explore, from sightseeing cruises to architecture cruises or a sunset cruise, and it’s also central to famous events like Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day when the entire river is dyed bright green each year.

If you want to explore on foot, follow the Chicago Riverwalk, which is a walkable area downtown with loads of bars and restaurants, and you can even rent kayaks and head onto the water.

The path is around 1.25 miles long and takes in a few different local neighbourhoods, so it’s a great way to get to grips with the city and the whole walk is lined with cool public art installations and plenty of places to rest, so it’s perfect for a sunny day.

8- Navy Pier

Beautify Windy Ship On Navy Pier In Chicago
Navy Pier is another place Chicago is famous for.

On the shores of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is one of Chicago’s most recognisable landmarks.

It was originally built in 1916, and it’s a popular outing for locals and visitors alike, as it’s home to loads of entertainment and activities.

There are dozens of fun rides, including a merry-go-round, a maze and a big wheel.

There’s also a theatre and an IMAX cinema, an array of shops and restaurants, and a museum, the Chicago Children’s Museum, making it a great day out for families.

There’s every type of food, from street stalls selling hot dogs and popcorn to sit-down restaurants for enjoying the view, along with Polk Bros Park, which is perfect for enjoying a picnic or a free event in the sunshine.

If you’re visiting on a Wednesday or Sunday evening between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can also catch fireworks on the pier, although they’re also on in winter and for NYE.

9- Deep Dish Pizza

Deep Dish Pizza In Metal Serving Dish
What food is Chicago known for?

Chicago’s food easily rivals that of New York, especially when it comes to deep-dish pizza.

Chicago pizza is iconic and well-known across the world thanks to its thick crust and deep dish, which is filled with tomatoes, meat and cheese.

It’s hotly contested where deep-dish pizza originated in Chicago, although most agree it came about during the 1940s.

Some of the most famous pizza spots in the city include Pizzeria Uno, Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s, but you can also go on a special deep-dish pizza tour of Chicago to try a few different places.

The pizzas are sometimes called pizza pies by locals due to their resemblance to a deep, meat-filled pie, and unlike traditional pizzas, this Chicago classic is made using cheese first, on the bottom, with meat, vegetables and finally tomato on top – messy, but delicious!

10- Chicago Hot Dogs

Barbecue Grilled Hot Dogs With Yellow American Mustard
Chicago Hot Dogs are another type of food Chicago is known for.

Just like you can pick up a classic, simple hot dog on any New York street corner, Chicago has its own twist on the classic which you have to try when visiting.

This version is made with an all-beef frankfurter in a poppy-seed bun, topped with delicious ingredients like onions, mustard, pickles, mustard and peppers.

These all give it a unique, tasty flavour that’s different to any you’ll find elsewhere, and to try the best, another food tour is the way to go, many of which stop at both street food stands and more permanent hot dog restaurants.

Aside from street stalls, these hot dogs are a favourite snack at festivals and baseball games and there are many places that serve slightly different versions of the Chicago hot dog, adding cheese sauce, jalapenos or fries.

If you’re keen on trying more of Chicago’s fantastic food, don’t miss trying other things like Italian beef sandwiches, corn dogs and the Maxwell Street Polish, which is a Polish sausage topped with mustard and grilled onions. Check out these food tours:

11- Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan And Navy Pier By Chicago Skyline
Lake Michigan is what Chicago is known for.

Sitting on the edge of Lake Michigan means you don’t have to sacrifice outdoor adventures just because you’re in a big city.

In fact, Chicago has miles of shoreline and some great water-based and waterfront experiences not to be missed.

One of the best ways to explore on land is via the Chicago Lakefront Trail, which is perfect for walking, jogging and cycling and stretches for 18 miles along Lake Michigan.

You’ll pass parks and beaches and can stop to have a bite to eat, rent gear like kayaks or paddleboards, and soak up the sunshine.

There are also lots of excellent waterfront restaurants and bars right on the beachfront, or you can head further out onto the waves on a dedicated cruise or enjoy watersports like jet skiing and wake surfing if you’re after a more active experience.

You may also like to try a Lake Michigan Buffet Brunch, Lunch or Dinner Cruise.

12- Pitchfork Music Festival

Pitchfork Music Festival is one of the biggest and best music festivals Chicago has to offer, which takes place every year in July.

The festival features dozens of amazing independent and lesser-known artists, covering various music genres, from hip-hop to rock and dance.

If you want to visit, it’s held in Union Park and lasts for three days, so look ahead of time to see what the best place to go might be.

There are usually multiple stages, plus lots of extra entertainment, stalls and some great local food and drink on offer.

The festival first began in 2006 and has become bigger and bigger, now entering its 18th year.

Back in 2011, it also announced a separate yearly event held in Paris.

Attending the festival is a great way to experience the fun community of Chicago and listen to some up-and-coming artists at the same time.

13- Michelle Obama

There are quite a few famous faces to have come out of Chicago, including Harrison Ford, Hillary Clinton and Kanye West.

However, probably the most famous person of recent note is former first lady Michelle Obama, who was born in Chicago in 1964 and grew up in the city, going to school there before heading to Princeton University after graduating high school.

She also came back to the city after attending Princeton and Harvard to work at a law firm and as an Associate Dean at the University of Chicago.

Of course, most people know she then met her future husband, President Barack Obama and went on to become one of the most famous people in the world and to this day, she has close ties to the city and remains one of the most iconic figures from Chicago.

14- Magnificent Mile

Chicago Downtown With The Wrigley Building
The Magnificent Mile is what Chicago is known for.

If you’re after a little retail therapy and are wondering if Chicago will answer your prayers, don’t worry, as the city has one of the most well-known shopping streets in America.

Magnificent Mile is a section of Michigan Avenue, which is home to some of Chicago’s best restaurants, shops and hotels.

Although it’s concentrated on lots of high-end luxury brands, you can find pretty much all well-known stores in this area, and it’s a great place to spend half a day window-shopping or treating yourself to a few presents.

There are also lots of other fun things to see, such as the Chicago Sports Museum, the 360-degree viewing platform at 875 N.Michigan and the famous luxury hotel The Drake.

There’s so much to do here, and many of the city’s most famous sights are just a stone’s throw away, making this a great place to start your exploration of the Windy City.

15- Famous Movies

Chicago is one of those beautiful cities that’s pretty in summer, winter, and any other weather.

Its iconic buildings, architecture and range of attractions, from pretty parks to the Riverwalk and windswept Lake Michigan, have naturally made it a favourite spot for filming major motion pictures.

Even if you don’t realise it, dozens of famous movies have used Chicago as their filming location.

One of the biggest is Home Alone, which is filmed in Chicago and its suburbs, and you can actually take a trip just out of the city to see the Home Alone house.

Other famous films set here include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Dark Knight, The Fugitive and the classic romance movie While You Were Sleeping.

So many movies have been filmed here that you can take a Chicago Movie Tour of different filming locations, or alternatively, head to one of Chicago’s lovely open-air cinema screenings to watch a famous film under the stars.

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India-Jayne Trainor
India-Jayne Trainor is a British/Australian freelance writer, photographer and contributor to various online blogs and travel websites. She has travelled to almost 30 countries, most recently Cuba and Sri Lanka. Her work focuses on solo female travel, having spent two months backpacking alone through South East Asia as well as living in Germany for a year. Her favourite country to date has been Hong Kong, but she is happy in any country by the ocean. Her next destinations are Uzbekistan and a road trip through the American Mid-West. India is currently based in London, UK.