Chicago’s skyline is unmistakable–a striking silhouette fanning out above miles and miles of public parks and lakefront.
Architect and urban planner, Daniel Burnham, one of the people responsible for the Windy City’s backdrop, began his work with the apt dictum: “make no little plans.”
That vision led to the 1909 Plan of Chicago and has continued to guide the city’s development. Nicknamed “the Second City” for its speedy population growth in the late 1800s and christened “the City of the Big Shoulders” by poet, Carl Sandburg, Chicago has a reputation for grit, hard work, and ingenuity.
As the third largest U.S. city, Chicago is a collection of neighborhoods, each with its own unique character. Europeans were the largest immigrant group in the early days of the city’s founding, followed shortly thereafter by Black, Latino, and Asian groups. The result is a broadly diverse metropolis with world-class museums, dining, entertainment, and industry.
Chicago has to offer
One of the easiest ways to think about the city is by looking at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) map.
The “L,” the nickname of the city’s elevated public train system, has eight lines serving 140 stations, with a central loop around the city’s business district. Restaurants, shopping, and walkable blocks tend to concentrate around L stops, so using a search engine’s street view for a main train stop can provide a helpful preview of different areas.
Neighborhoods closer to the Loop (often referred to as the Near North Side, Loop, and Near South Side) have more of an urban feel, characterized mostly by mixed-use, high-rise condos and apartments with fine dining, bars, and boutique shops lining the street level.
South of the central neighborhoods is the city’s South Side, home to the White Sox baseball stadium and historic neighborhoods like Hyde Park, where the University of Chicago has its campus.
North of the Loop, along the L’s Red Line, is the North Side. Lincoln Park, North Center, and Avondale are a mix of families and young professionals, while Logan Square (closer to the Blue Line trains) and Lakeview skew slightly younger.
Further north still is the Far North Side, extending from the lakefront in the east all the way to O’Hare airport in the west. Rogers Park is a popular neighborhood for families and students at Loyola University and Northwestern University, located just outside the city limits in the town of Evanston.
Uptown and Edgewater are older, more affordable neighborhoods along the lake with some of the city’s most storied music venues, including The Green Mill and Aragon Ballroom.
Andersonville, Lincoln Square, Edgewater, Albany Park, and Irving Park are all popular options on the Northwest side for families who enjoy their ample green spaces and blend of residential blocks with local shops and amenities.
Heading back south, neighborhoods west of the Loop include West Town, Humboldt Park, and Garfield Park, all of which are gaining popularity. Several neighborhoods with strong ties to their early immigrant populations are in the west and southwest zones of the city too, including Little Italy near the University of Illinois at Chicago, Greektown, Pilsen, and Chinatown.
Chicago’s neighborhoods are often informally defined and fluid, so it’s not uncommon to ask two next door neighbors what neighborhood they live in and get two different answers!Collapse
Food & CultureExpand
Chicago is proud of its culinary scene, and with good reason.
Twenty-five Chicago restaurants received Michelin stars for 2020, including a three-star honor for Alinea in Lincoln Park. While chain restaurants exist—and the city is home to McDonald’s new corporate headquarters—independent options abound.
Deep-dish pizza is a regional specialty (although you can still get an amazing Neapolitan-style pie, especially at Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood), but every area of the city does at least one, if not five things, exceptionally well. Locals go to West Devon Avenue in Rogers Park for great Indian food, Pilsen for authentic Mexican fare, Ukrainian Village for varenyky, and West Argyle Avenue for pho; if you can’t find it on a menu somewhere in Chicago, it may not have been invented yet.
If you’re considering making a trip to the city before relocating, May through October is the best time of year to experience all Chicago has to offer. Music, arts, and cultural street fests happen practically every weekend of the summer and the architecture boat tour is one of the best ways to see the city unfold before you. The city is famous for its architectural masterpieces, including several buildings on the Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus on Chicago’s South Side.Collapse
For families with school-age children moving to Chicago, it’s important to get familiar with the public and private school options, which are somewhat complex.
In the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system, every street address in the city is assigned one attendance area (neighborhood school). Families have the choice of attending the neighborhood school or applying instead to magnet, selective enrollment, or charter schools.
Neighborhood schools accept all students in their designated areas. Selective schools admit applicants from all over the city based on a combination of grades, test scores, and the family’s socio-economic tier, which is determined by CPS. Magnet schools admit students within their neighborhood boundary by lottery, then open remaining spots to outside applicants. Charter schools have more individualized enrollment policies. In the suburbs, where student populations are less dense, public school assignment is based on location.
At the collegiate level, there are more than 30 public and private institutions awarding bachelor’s degrees or higher in the greater Chicagoland area. Some of the area’s best-known schools include Northwestern University in Evanston, the University of Chicago, Loyola University, DePaul University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.Collapse
Chicago is home to some of the country’s best hospitals, including the university research hospitals at Loyola and the University of Chicago. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern University’s teaching hospital, is among the country’s best hospitals overall, and Rush University Medical Center, just to the west of downtown, is nationally renowned for its work in neurology and neurosurgery, as well as orthopedics.Collapse
Aside from the city’s famed L, Chicago has a dense public bus network and a commuter rail system.
There are also 321 kilometers of protected and shared bike lanes throughout the city, and Chicago has become an increasingly popular place to cycle.
Chicago is serviced by two major airports: O’Hare, on the city’s Northwest Side, and Midway, on the South Side. Though both airports service international flights, O’Hare is significantly larger.Collapse
Weather & ClimateExpand
Chicago’s winters can be downright brutal, with temperatures regularly plunging to minus 10 degrees Celsius and nearly a meter of snow falling every year.
Chicagoans pride themselves on embracing the harsh winters, though, and adhere to the saying, “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
Chicago’s rough winters are only equaled by the city’s stunning summers. The city comes alive in the warmer months, with locals taking advantage of public parks and plenty of boaters cruising around Lake Michigan. There are also several state and national parks within driving distance of Chicago, including Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, where you can see American bison, which were recently reintroduced to the region after nearly going extinct.Collapse
Jobs & IndustriesExpand
In 2019, Chicago was home to the headquarters of 29 of the U.S.’s Fortune 500 companies. No single industry dominates the area, but financial services, technology, agriculture, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, and healthcare businesses all have a strong presence. The city is known for its architecture and some of the world’s top architecture and design firms are still located here, as are major names in publishing and advertising.Collapse
Discover other guides
Scroll through to discover more city guides