When Life Gives you a Layover: Chicago

When life gives you a long layover, go to town…literally: First stop to Rome, Chi-town

Since we love Chicago so much, we thought a long-layover in Chicago was in order! We flew from SFO to Chicago on United and the service was great. We zipped through security and relaxed in the lounge before our flight. After our arrival, we grabbed a taxi and headed to the famous Navy Pier. Right away you will notice the area is full of pedestrians, cyclists, runners and people on segways taking advantage of Chicago’s summer weather.

navy pier chicago

Walk further down the main strip and to the right of the pier you will see a long line of restaurants, bars, an Imax theater and of course, the hard to miss Ferris wheel and rides. Walk up the steps (near the Ferris wheel) for a panoramic view of the buildings and city skyline that makes up this great city.

navy pier in chicago

making our way up to navy pier in chicago

in navy pier

chicago river architectural crusies

the chicago river

Take a boat cruise on the lake or opt for the architectural boat tour and delve into what makes Chicago so unique. You will get a true understanding on why this windy city (a sentiment which described the “full of hot-air politicians” in the early 19th century) was named “birth to the skyscrapers”.

chicago river architecture cruise

The architectural boat tour is about two hours long and goes by very quickly. Tours are scheduled through out the day, but if you decide to go, get the tickets while you can because they do sell out.

One Tip:

As soon as you get your ticket, try standing in line about 20 minutes before your tour starts, so you can grab the best seat first. We recommend sitting on the right or left sides of the boat for the best photos; you will also avoid a sea of heads in your photos! And speaking of photo, a tour personnel takes a photo of you before you enter the boat, so at the end of the tour you may purchase your photo so be picture perfect ready!

While on the tour you will find out:

On Oct 8, 1871 there was the great Chicago Fire that damaged 17,450 buildings in a day-and-a-half. Architects and engineers flocked to Chicago to rebuild differently and NOT with wood. Then came along Civil war bridge engineer William Lebaron Jenney who seized the opportunity and introduced the iron and steel grid frame, which paved the way for the modern skyscrapers and the rest is history.

You will see the different styles of architecture from the Clock Tower to the Wrigley Building (Chewing gum king William Wrigley Jr.) that was modeled on the Spanish Renaissance, 11th century Spanish Seville. You’ll see the Great Lakes Building, which is an example of Chicago’s warehouse design. This building was built in five weeks for the Republican National Convention and more importantly where Abe Lincoln received his presidential nomination.

chicago clock tower

A new wave of other buildings came later on with architects like Jeanne Gang who designed the Aqua building with its wavy roofs and shimmering glass. Each balcony was determined for the best view. The idea that form follows function means the best view would be built from the inside out.

Get a glimpse of the John Hancock Center, which stands 1127 feet , 100 stories high and made with 46k tons of steel.

John Hancock Center

To the modernist, decorations were boudoir: superfluous, dishonest. Expressing its actual materials when holding a building up was vital. Bauhaus architects were all about the materials. They believed that the structure needed to be exposed hence the Lake Shore Drive apartments. You’ll see that the bridges in Paris were influences of the bridges in Chicago and that the depth of the river is only 15-21 feet depending on where you are.

You will see more than 40 buildings on the tour and of course, one of the world’s tallest building’s, Willis Tower. However, my personal favorite was the 300 Wacker building that stands 445 feet tall which dispalys a large map of the Chicago river and its surrounding streets on one side; The marker in red is the where the Wacker building sits. How amazing is that?

300 Wacker building

When the tour finally ends, you have the option of purchasing your photo as a piece of memorabilia. If you have more time in the area, have a drink at Harry Carry’s for some food. You can even pick up some great sports memorabilia.

If you need to get back to the airport from downtown Chicago, give yourself at least 2.5 hours. Although it’s about 16 miles away from the Navy Pier, traffic is a bit backed up even on the weekends. If you get to the airport earlier, then hang out in the business class lounge. We relaxed in the United Club lounge before our flight and it was both relaxing and quiet.

reflections on a building

Looks like something Monet would paint. Would’nt you agree?

willis tower

Willis Tower, Tallest Building in Chicago 1729 feet to the tip

Lake Point Towers apartments

Lake Point Towers apartments

marina city apartments

Marina City Apartments, a favorite on the tour: divided in two: Below is the garage and above are the apartments

Merchandise Mart building

Merchandise Mart building with a row of portrait busts.

And speaking of architecture, our next stop is Rome!