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Pocket Guide: Chicago

With its famous skyline of tall buildings, and its breathtaking natural surroundings, the Midwestern metropolis of Chicago is a truly dramatic location. Home to the highest skyscraper in the Western hemisphere, the Sears Tower, yet close to Lake Michigan, a body of water bigger than some European countries, the Windy City is a place where urbanisation meets nature.

"The Windy City"

The channelling of strong gusts between Chicago's skyscrapers may make it seem like it's windier here than anywhere else in the US, but there's another reason why Chicago is nicknamed the Windy City. Chicagoans are crazy about sport, from the Chicago Bears (football) to the Blackhawks (hockey) and the Bulls (basketball). Nearby Cincinnati is equally competitive and the term Windy City was probably first used by Cincinnati newspapers covering the rivalry between the two cities.

Reaching for the sky

Chicago is known for its architecture, not at all surprising when you consider that 10 of the 50 tallest buildings in the world are located here. The Illinois capital has been at the forefront of progressive architecture and tall buildings since the late 19th century when large parts of the city were rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1871. While two of the most prominent buildings, the Sears Tower and the Aon Centre, date back to the 1970s, the boom continues. Donald Trump's luxury apartment complex was completed recently and the 2000-foot Chicago Spire is scheduled to be completed in 2012.

It's not sheer height alone that makes the city's architectural face so interesting; some of America's greatest architects have left their mark on Chicago, including Solon S. Beman, Walter Burley Griffin, and perhaps the greatest of all, Frank Lloyd Wright. A Chicago Card gives you admission to the city's best-known skyscrapers and the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Society, and includes architectural walking tours.

Chicago and the arts

One of the best-known American paintings, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, is exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago. Next to Hopper, the museum houses an impressive collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and American paintings. Also worth a visit is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which focuses on visual art from 1945 to the present day with emphasis on surrealism, minimalism, conceptual photography, and works by Chicago-based artists.

Chicago is serious about culture and you'll find museums dedicated to everything from Swedish-American life to Science and Industry. A definite must-see for young and old is the Field Museum - home to "Sue", the world's largest and most famous Tyrannosaurus Rex. To get a comprehensive overview of what the city has to offer, opt for a half-day sightseeing tour, which includes museum admission as well as a trip up Hancock Tower to see the city from above. However much time you spend exploring during the day, make sure you keep some time aside for a night out in Chicago. It's not called the home of the blues for nothing, and venues like the Chicago Blues Bar on North Halsted pay tribute to that seven nights a week.