You’re planning for a trip to Chicago, but for one reason or another, you have just 48 hours to visit. Still, there’s no reason to worry, there should be plenty of time to enjoy some of the top attractions in the magnificent city located along the shores of Lake Michigan. Yet in order to see as much as possible, it’s important to consider where you should stay, what you should see and, perhaps most importantly, how you plan to get around. This 48-hour guide to Chicago will help solve some of the guesswork involved in your trip planning and will help you save time during a short stay to America’s third largest city.
Chicago is served by two international airports — O’Hare and Midway. Of the two, O’Hare is by far the busiest, offering direct service to more than 200 destinations worldwide, and is currently the busiest airport in the world. Leading carriers with frequent flights into O’Hare include American Airlines and United Airlines, while Midway is a major hub for Southwest Airlines. Both international airports offer excellent ground transportation services, including public transportation, hotel shuttles, taxis and rental cars. The Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” trains provide the fastest and most affordable service from either airport into downtown Chicago.
Amtrak offers 11 train routes into Chicago’s Union Station, located across the Chicago River from Willis Towers. Among the notable train routes are the California Zephyr, City of New Orleans, Southwest Chief and the Lake Shore Limited. Taxi service is available near the entrance of Union Station. The Clinton Blue Line station is the closest CTA subway station, two blocks away.
Chicago can be accessed by car from multiple destinations across the country. The three principal interstate highways leading into the city are 55, 90, 94 and 290. The legendary Route 66 begins in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
How To Get Around
Like New York City, the fastest and easiest way to get around Chicago is with public transportation. The “L” train system consists of eight color-coded routes and provides transportation to practically every major attraction in the city. For instance, the Red Line offers service to Wrigley Field, shopping along the Magnificent Mile, Field Museum, Soldier Field and U.S. Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox). The Pink Line serves the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, Symphony Center, Willis Tower and the United Center (Chicago Black Hawks/Chicago Bulls).
Taxis can be found throughout the city, particularly at the most popular destinations, such as within the Chicago Loop. The Shoreline Water Taxi provides service between the Navy Pier and Museum Campus. The water taxi begins in May and may operate throughout the fall.
Visitors traveling by car are advised that driving in the downtown area can be challenging, particularly during the morning and evening commutes. Parking at public lots range from $8 an hour to $37 an hour and many leading hotels charge over $60 per night. A useful app in navigating around Chicago for smartphone users is Waze, and a recommended app to find parking is Chicago Parking Map.
Because Chicago is among the world’s top 10 most expensive cities for hotels, some national chains charge higher rates than in other American cities. Nevertheless, there are some affordable choices within the downtown area. However, visitors who wish to stay in the most desired sections of the city, such as the Loop, should expect to pay close to or above the city’s average of $240 per night. Travelers can also consider staying closer to Chicago O’Hare, where some 4-star hotels can be booked for under the city average.
Where To Eat
Chicago is one of the world’s greatest destinations for food. From Chicago-styled pizza from legendary places like Gino’s East and Giordano’s to some of the finest and most diverse restaurants on the planet, Chicago quite simply has it all. In fact, one of its most celebrated restaurants, the Michelin three-starred Alinea, led by executive chef Grant Achatz, has been named the world’s best restaurant for four consecutive years by Elite Traveler. But in America’s third largest city, there are more than 7,300 restaurants ranging in price to fit anyone’s budget.
Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60603
Named the world’s greatest museum in 2014 by Trip Advisor, the Chicago Art Institute features nearly 300,000 works of art in its permanent collection, including the world’s second largest collection of Impressionist paintings. The prestigious museum was founded in 1879 and has been at its present location since 1893, after it was built for the Chicago World’s Fair. Several of the world’s most famous paintings are part of the institute’s permanent collection, including Van Gogh’s “The Bedroom,” Monet’s “Water Lilies,”; Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,”; Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and, arguably the museum’s most famous, Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest museum in the country, behind New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is consistently one of the world’s most visited museums.
201 E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60602
Just a short walk from the Art Institute, Millennium Park is a crown jewel amongst scenic open spaces in downtown Chicago. Encompassing 24.5 acres on what was a historic railroad yard, the extraordinary park is open year-round and features a number of free events including free concerts, art exhibits and other family-friendly activities. Among the top attractions at this certified green park are the Crown Fountain, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture of the Cloud Gate and the centerpiece of the park Jay Pritzker Pavillion, a state-of-the-art facility designed by the world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Millennium Park is currently hosting its Summer Celebration with upcoming free events like the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Concert for Chicago by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Museum Campus Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
No trip to Chicago would be complete without vising the Art Institute of Chicago. But there are several other important museums that also should be part of a 48-hour tour, and none more important than what’s found on Museum Campus. Located on 57 acres near the shores of Lake Michigan, the park features the Field Museum, one of the world’s largest natural history museums, Shedd Aquarium, the world’s largest indoor aquarium, and Adler Planetarium, America’s first planetarium. Located on the southeast section of Grant Park, Museum Campus is also the location for Soldier Field, the world-famous home football field of the Chicago Bears.
600 E. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
For families with children, Navy Pier may be one of the first attractions to visit on a two day trip. Located on Lake Michigan just north of Grant Park, the historic 3,300-foot-long pier is widely considered the top attraction in Chicago and the leading entertainment destination in the entire Midwest. Among the top highlights at Navy Pier are amusement park rides including the iconic Ferris Wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Chicago Shakespeare. Also on the pier are numerous places for dining and shopping, as well as sightseeing cruises and private charters.
1060 W. Addison St.
Chicago, IL 60613
One of the best things to do in Chicago is to attend a ballgame at Wrigley Field. Located in the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago’s northside, Wrigley Field is the home stadium of the Chicago Cubs, the second oldest ballpark still in use in Major League Baseball (MLB) and the oldest in the National League. Due to its distance from most other top attractions in the city, a visit to this historic ballpark is recommended on the second day of a 48-hour trip. If there’s not enough time to watch a ballgame, visitors can also take a tour of Wrigley Field throughout the baseball season.
Related: A History Lover’s Guide To Chicago