Chicago offers a slice of the US you won’t experience elsewhere…and I’m not just talking about their famous deep-dish pizza.
This amazing Midwest city draws you in from the moment you land at O’Hare International Airport with the stunning shore views of Lake Michigan guiding your gaze towards a blockbuster-movie skyline.
I kicked off my journey in Chicago’s Gold Coast, staying at the design-chic Claridge House.
This beautiful hotel provided the perfect haven for my exploring which began with an amazing lunch at the Blue Door Kitchen and Garden.
Owned by Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef, Art Smith, the restaurant has a homely feel, serving up some spectacular southern-style food which simply warms the soul.
Dining is a must in the city of Chicago which is famous for its own style of pizza.
Gino’s East is one of many diners famed for its pizza. They even bake the base from scratch – so expect to wait.
Dining can also be done on the water, so I hopped on board the Odyssey Chicago River dinner cruise.
The cruise gives you a reason to dress up for dinner with a classy dining experience that offers 360-degree panoramic views of the city at night to a soundtrack of pop classics.
And if you want to stay on the shore, family-owned Tortoise Supper Club has its own cool vibe, delivering American classics with steaks and seafood among the popular choices on the menu. The décor is sophisticated and if you can save room, order one of their amazing desserts.
If you want to capture some of Chicago’s best photo spots, head down to Adler Planetarium which offers not only an educational experience but an amazing view of the city’s skyline.
You must also visit the starting sign for the historic Route 66 on East Adams Street.
Soak in the atmosphere of the world-famous journey by having a hearty breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s diner.
Also nearby is the Instagram-worthy Cloud Gate, or The Bean, as locals call it, which is situated in Millennium Park. You might recognise the city’s beloved silver sculpture as, it has featured in movies and music videos.
Chicago offers the best views the higher up you are. I loved Skydeck Chicago which allows you to walk out into a perplex glass box for views of the city from 1,353 feet in the air, so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Daredevils might also want to try 360 Chicago which allows you to look straight down – from 94 floors up!
Meanwhile back on the ground, the city is the perfect starting point to tour the rest of Illinois state.
Take the train to the picturesque town of Geneva, about an hour away. It is packed with eateries, boutiques and a lot of tributes to the residents’ Swedish heritage. The food at The Patten House is to die for while the Herrington Inn and Spa resort offers a getaway straight out of a romantic novel.
The community is tight-knit and proud, and they will take any opportunity to tell you about how wonderful Geneva is – and it’s all true.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, travelling by car to Galena is also a must.
The town, three hours away, is a go-to weekend break for Chicago residents looking to experience a slower pace.
It’s rich with history, with President Ulysses S. Grant claiming the honour of being Galena’s most famous resident, and it has a bustling nightlife at weekends.
It is also home to one of the country’s best B&B’s – the Jail House Inn, once packed with criminals, now offers tourists a stay they will never forget.
Chicago is the perfect US city-break offering great eateries, shopping and tourist attractions galore.
But a visit to the city should only be a starting point to explore the rest of Illinois, as you never know what you might find.
Did you know Chicago has beaches? There are 24 along the shores of Lake Michigan. As soon as the temperatures soar, the beaches become part of the social scene. Montrose Avenue Beach is the largest, located uptown while Oak Street Beach is home to the Oak Street Beachstro which is assembled every summer.
I travelled with United from London Heathrow. Prices start from £440.92. Visit united.com
For more information on Chicago, Geneva and Galena, visit enjoyillinois.com