Accessible Travel

  • Most museums and major sights are wheelchair accessible, as are most large hotels and restaurants.
  • All city buses are wheelchair accessible, but about one-third of L stations are not.
  • Easy Access Chicago (www.easyaccesschicago.org) is a free resource that lists museums, tours, restaurants and lodgings, and provides mobility, vision and hearing accessibility information for each place.
  • The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (www.cityofchicago.org/disabilities) can answer questions about the availability of services in the city.

Accessible Travel Online Resources

Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.

Dangers & Annoyances

  • You’ve probably heard about Chicago’s high murder rate, but know this is mostly concentrated in a handful of far west and far south neighborhoods.
  • Overall, serious crime in Chicago has been dropping in recent years, and major tourist areas are all reasonably safe.
  • That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take normal, big-city precautions, especially solo at night. Many crimes involve cell phone theft, so be subtle when using yours.

Discount Cards

  • The Go Chicago Card (www.smartdestinations.com/chicago) allows you to visit an unlimited number of attractions for a flat fee. It's good for one, two, three or five consecutive days. The company also offers a three-, four- or five-choice Explorer Pass where you pick among 29 options for sights. It's valid for 30 days. Architecture cruises, the Navy Pier Ferris wheel and all major museums are among the choices.
  • CityPass (www.citypass.com/chicago) gives access to five of the city's top draws, including the Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium and Willis Tower, over nine consecutive days. It's less flexible than Go Chicago's pass, but cheaper for those wanting a more leisurely sightseeing pace.
  • All of the above let you skip the regular queues at sights.

Emergency & Important Numbers

Non-emergency police matters311
Police, fire, ambulance911

Entry & Exit Formalities

Customs Regulations

For a complete list of US customs regulations, go online to US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov).

Duty-free allowance per person is as follows:

  • 1L of liquor (provided you are at least 21 years old)
  • 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes (if you are at least 18 years old)
  • $200 worth of gifts and purchases ($800 if a returning US citizen)

If you arrive with $10,000 or more in US or foreign currency, it must be declared. There are heavy penalties for attempting to import illegal drugs. Note that fruit, vegetables and other food must be declared (whereupon you’ll undergo a time-consuming search) or left in the bins in the arrival area.

Passports

Every visitor entering the USA from abroad needs a passport. Visitors from most countries only require a passport valid for their intended period of stay. However, nationals of certain countries require a passport valid for at least six months longer than their intended stay. For a country-by-country list, see the latest 'Six-Month Club Update' from US Customs and Border Protection (www.cbp.gov).

Visas

Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days; check www.travel.state.gov for details.

Further Information

  • The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows nationals from some 38 countries (including most EU countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) to enter the US without a visa for up to 90 days.
  • VWP visitors require an e-passport (with electronic chip) and approval under the Electronic System For Travel Authorization at least three days before arrival. There is a $14 fee for processing and authorization (payable online). Once approved, the registration is valid for two years.
  • Those who need a visa – ie anyone staying longer than 90 days, or from a non-VWP country – should apply at the US consulate in their home country.
  • Check with the US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov) for updates and details on entry requirements.

Etiquette

  • Smoking Don't smoke in restaurants or bars: Chicago is smoke-free by law in those venues.
  • Dining Most people eat dinner between 6pm and 8pm (a bit later if dining out).
  • On escalators Stand to the right on the escalators; walk on the left.
  • Ketchup on a hot dog Don't do it! It's a local quirk that the red condiment does not go on wieners.

Insurance

It’s expensive to get sick, crash a car or have things stolen from you in the USA. Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage before arriving.

To insure yourself for items that may be stolen from your car, consult your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance policy, which may well cover you while traveling. If not, make sure your travel insurance covers this.

Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you're already on the road.

Checking insurance quotes…

Internet Access

  • Wi-fi is common in lodgings across the price spectrum. Lower-speed internet typically is free, but you sometimes have to pay for premium-speed service. Many properties also have an internet-connected computer for public use.
  • Many bars, cafes and museums – including the Chicago Cultural Center – offer free wi-fi.
  • Outlets of the Chicago Public Library (www.chipublib.org) offer free wi-fi. There are no passwords required or time limits. Libraries also offer free computer terminals for one hour; get a ‘day pass’ at the counter.
  • For a list of wi-fi hot spots, visit Wi-Fi Free Spot (www.wififreespot.com).

LGBT Travelers

Exploring kinky artifacts in the Leather Archives & Museum, or playing a game of naughty Twister at a rollicking street fair? Shopping for gay literature, or clubbing alongside male go-go dancers? Chicago's flourishing gay and lesbian scene in party-hearty Boystown and easygoing Andersonville offers plenty of choices.

Festivals

The main event on the calendar is the Pride Parade, held the last Sunday in June. It winds through Boystown and attracts more than 800,000 risqué revelers. Northalsted Market Days, held in Boystown, is a steamy two-day street fair in mid-August. Crafty, incense-wafting vendors line Halsted St, but most folks come for the drag queens in feather boas, Twister games played in the street and disco divas (Gloria Gaynor!) on the main stage. The International Mr Leather contest brings out lots of men in, well, leather in late May. Workshops and parties take place around town, with the main event happening at a downtown hotel or theater.

Museums & Tours

The Leather Archives & Museum holds all sorts of fetish and S&M artifacts, from the Red Spanking Bench to the painting Last Supper in a Leather Bar with Judas Giving Christ the Finger. It's inside a repurposed synagogue north of Andersonville. Chicago Greeter offers free, guided sightseeing trips through the city's gay neighborhoods. You must reserve at least 10 days in advance.

Theater

Keep an eye out for About Face Theatre, an itinerant ensemble that stages plays dealing with gay and lesbian themes at theaters around Chicago. Comedies, dramas and musicals all get their due. It's well regarded and has won Jeff Awards (sort of like the local Tony Award) for its work.

Community Centers

The mod, glassy Center on Halsted is the Midwest's largest LGBT community center. It's mostly a social service organization for locals, but visitors can use the free wi-fi and reading library, plus there's a Whole Foods grocery store attached to it.

Best Lists

Gay & Lesbian Restaurants

  • Home Bistro Bring your own wine and settle in for nouveau comfort food in Boystown's center.
  • Tweet Decadent organic breakfasts next door to Big Chicks bar.
  • Vincent Join the guys for mussels and fries.
  • Jennivee's Cute bakery open late at night catering to the party crowd.

Gay Stays

Dance Clubs

  • Sidetrack It's massive and packed with frisky boys in tight jeans.
  • Berlin For more than three decades it's been where party people dance until the wee hours.
  • Hydrate Guys, just take off your shirt and boogie.

Gay & Lesbian Shops

Lesbians

  • Big Chicks While it's welcoming to everybody, women definitely feel the love.
  • Spyners Get ready to belt out that Alanis Morissette tune after a few brews.
  • Closet A small, laid-back bar for ladies until the boys crash late at night.

Gay & Lesbian Bars

  • Big Chicks It's often called the friendliest gay bar in Chicago.
  • Hamburger Mary's Swill the housemade brews and watch the action from the patio.
  • Wang's Sip a pear martini under red-lit paper lanterns.
  • Second Story Cash-only, disco-ball-spinning bar that hides downtown.
  • Roscoe's Tavern Boystown stalwart with a casual bar in front and dance club in back.

By Neighborhood

  • Lake View & Wrigleyville Home to Boystown, dense with bars and clubs on N Halsted St between Belmont Ave and Grace St.
  • Andersonville & Uptown Chicago's other main area of LGBT bars, but in a more relaxed, less party-oriented scene.

Need to Know

Business Hours

  • Bars 5pm to 2am (3am on Saturday); some licensed until 4am (5am on Saturday)
  • Nightclubs 10pm to 4am; often closed Monday through Wednesday

Websites

  • Windy City Times (www.windycitymediagroup.com) LGBT newspaper, published weekly. The website is the main source for events and entertainment.
  • Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Listings for queer accommodations, travel agencies and tours.
  • Chicago Pride (www.chicagopride.org) Events and happenings in the community.

Media

  • Newspapers The Chicago Tribune (www.chicagotribune.com) is the conservative daily newspaper. The Chicago Sun-Times (www.suntimes.com) is its tabloid-style competitor. The Chicago Reader (www.chicagoreader.com) is a free alternative weekly, great for politics and entertainment coverage.
  • TV The main channels are Channel 2 (CBS), Channel 5 (NBC), Channel 7 (ABC), Channel 9 (WGN) and Channel 32 (FOX).
  • Radio National Public Radio (NPR) can be found on WBEZ-FM 91.5.

Money

ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted at most hotels, restaurants and shops.

ATMs

  • ATMs are widely available 24/7 at banks, airports and convenience stores.
  • Most ATMs link into worldwide networks (Plus, Cirrus, Exchange etc).
  • ATMs typically charge a service fee of $3 or more per transaction, and your home bank may impose additional charges.

Credit Cards

Major credit cards are almost universally accepted. In fact, it’s next to impossible to rent a car or make hotel or ticket reservations without one. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted.

Money Changers

Although the airports have exchange bureaus, better rates can usually be obtained in the city.

Tipping

Tipping isn't optional. Only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.

  • Airport & hotel porters $2 per bag, minimum per cart $5
  • Bartenders 15% to 20% per round, minimum $1/2 per drink for standard drinks/specialty cocktails
  • Housekeeping staff $2 to $5 daily
  • Restaurant servers 18% to 20% (unless gratuity already on bill)
  • Taxi drivers 10% to 15% (round up to next dollar)
  • Parking valets $2 to $5 when handed back the keys

Opening Hours

Typical normal opening times are as follows:

Banks & businesses 9am–5pm Monday to Friday

Bars 5pm–2am (to 3am on Saturday); some licensed until 4am (to 5am on Saturday)

Nightclubs 10pm–4am; often closed Monday through Wednesday

Restaurants Breakfast 7am or 8am–11am, lunch 11am or 11:30am–2:30pm, dinner 5pm or 6pm–10pm Sunday–Thursday, to 11pm or midnight Friday and Saturday

Shops 11am–7pm Monday to Saturday, noon–6pm Sunday

Post

The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) is reliable and inexpensive. The postal rates for 1st-class mail within the USA are 55¢ for letters up to 1oz (15¢ for each additional ounce) and 35¢ for standard-size postcards.

International airmail rates are $1.15 for a 1oz letter or postcard.

Public Holidays

Banks, schools, offices and most shops close on these days:

New Year’s Day January 1

Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January

President’s Day Third Monday in February

Pulaski Day First Monday in March (observed mostly by city offices)

Memorial Day Last Monday in May

Independence Day July 4

Labor Day First Monday in September

Columbus Day Second Monday in October

Veteran’s Day November 11

Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November

Christmas Day December 25

Smoking

  • Smoking Chicago is entirely smoke-free in restaurants, bars and workplaces, and within 15ft of the entrances of these establishments.

Taxes & Refunds

A tax is levied on most goods and services. In Chicago it is 17.4% for lodgings, 10.5% to 11.5% in restaurants and bars (it's higher the closer you are to downtown), and 10.25% for other items. The tax is typically not included in the price, but added afterward when you pay.

Telephone

Phone numbers within the US consist of a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number. In Chicago, you will always dial 11 numbers: 1 + the three-digit area code + the seven-digit number.

Mobile Phones

International travelers can use local SIM cards in a smartphone provided it is unlocked. Alternatively, you can buy a cheap US phone and load it up with prepaid minutes.

More Information

If buying a US SIM card, you'll want to go with either AT&T or T-Mobile (or companies using their networks) as these carriers run on the GSM network, the standard used in most other countries. You may be able to preorder a card at home, or you can simply purchase one from the relevant carrier's store in Chicago.

If purchasing a cheap US phone, you can also look into Verizon and Sprint, which use the CDMA network. Phones can be bought in telecom stores, drugstores, grocery stores and big retailers like Target.

If you plan on traveling outside Chicago, make sure you are using AT&T or Verizon – these two carriers have the best coverage in more rural areas.

Phone Codes

US country code 1

Chicago area codes 312, 773, 872

Making international calls Dial 011 + country code + area code + local number

Calling other US area codes or Canada Dial 1 + three-digit area code + seven-digit local number

Calling within Chicago Dial 1 + three-digit area code + seven-digit local number

Directory assistance nationwide 411

Toll-free numbers 1+ 800 (or 888, 877, 866) + seven-digit number. Some toll-free numbers only work within the US.

Phonecards

Private prepaid phonecards are available from convenience stores, supermarkets and pharmacies. AT&T sells a reliable card that is widely available.

Time

Chicago is in the Central Standard Time (CST) zone, six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (London) and two hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (Los Angeles). Chicago, like almost all of the USA, observes daylight saving time: clocks go forward one hour from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, when the clocks are turned back one hour.

Toilets

Public toilets are few and far between. There are some at Millennium Park near Pritzker Pavilion and at Maggie Daley Park at the field house, but they aren't always open. There are limited facilities at the Chicago Cultural Center (by the Landmark Gallery). The Loop's Target store is another option.

Tourist Information

Choose Chicago (www.choosechicago.com) is the city’s official tourism site, with loads of information online.

Travel with Children

Ferocious dinosaurs at the Field Museum, an ark's worth of beasts at Lincoln Park Zoo, lakefront boat rides and sandy beaches are among the top choices for toddlin' times. Add in magical playgrounds, family cycling tours and lots of pizza, and it's clear Chicago is a kid's kind of town.

Outdoor Activities

  • Parks

Millennium Park is a hot favorite. Kids love to run underneath and touch 'the Bean' sculpture, while Crown Fountain serves as a de facto water park to splash in. Nearby Maggie Daley Park offers imaginative playgrounds where kids can swing and climb for hours. Lincoln Park has a free zoo where lions roar and apes swing. At the southern end of the zoo, kids can get up close to goats, ponies, cows and chickens at the Farm-in-the-Zoo, and they can also see ducks along the Nature Boardwalk. The train ride and the carousel (each $3 per ride) – with its wood-carved pandas, cheetahs and tigers – bring squeals of delight.

  • Beaches

Sand and swimming! Lifeguards patrol the city's 26 lakefront beaches throughout the summer. Waves are typically pint-sized – perfect for pint-sized swimmers. North Avenue Beach is the most crowded (and you do have to share it with skimpy-suited 20-somethings), but the selling point is the location near both downtown and Lincoln Park Zoo. The steamboat-shaped beach house is totally kid friendly, serving ice cream and burgers, and it has bathrooms and lockers. Montrose Beach is further flung, but it also has bathrooms and a snack bar. It's less crowded and more dune-packed and nature-filled. Remember to check the beach website (www.cpdbeaches.com) before you head out to make sure the water isn't off-limits due to high winds or bacteria levels.

  • Navy Pier

Amusements abound on the half-mile-long wharf. A giant whirling swing, the sky-high Ferris wheel, a musical, hand-painted carousel, remote-control boats, fountains to splash in are all here, and then some. Popcorn, ice cream, burgers and other treats add to the carnival atmosphere.

  • Cycling

Bobby's Bike Hike and Bike & Roll rent children's bikes and bikes with child seats. Both also offer child-friendly tours. Try Bobby's 'Tike Hike,' which rolls by Lincoln Park Zoo and a statue of Abe Lincoln. Kids aged 10 and under are welcome on the 4.5-mile route. Bike & Roll's 'Lincoln Park Adventure' is also suitable for kids.

  • Boat Rides

The schooner Windy departs from Navy Pier and offers a pirate-themed cruise on most days, plus kids can help sail the boat. Water taxis offer another wind-in-your-hair experience. The boats that toddle along the lakefront between Navy Pier and the Museum Campus are popular with families.

Kid-Friendly Museums

  • Chicago Children's Museum

It is the reigning favorite, geared to kids aged 10 and under, with a slew of hands-on building, climbing and inventing exhibits. Bonus: it's located on Navy Pier.

  • Field Museum of Natural History

Bring on the dinosaurs! The Crown Family PlayLab, on the ground floor, lets kids excavate bones and make loads of other discoveries. It's open Thursday to Monday from 10am to 3:30pm.

  • Museum of Science & Industry

Families could spend a week here and not see it all. Staff conduct 'experiments' in various galleries throughout the day, like dropping things off the balcony and creating mini explosions. The Idea Factory lets scientists aged 10 and under 'research' properties of light, balance and water pressure.

  • Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

This museum is somewhat overlooked, but its butterfly haven and marsh full of frogs provide gentle thrills. Bonus: it's located in Lincoln Park by the zoo.

  • Art Institute of Chicago

The Ryan Learning Center provides interactive games (like puzzles of famous works) and art-making activities.

Theater & TV Fun

  • Chic-A-Go-Go

Chic-A-Go-Go (www.facebook.com/chicagogo) is a cable-access TV show that's like a kiddie version of Soul Train. Check the website for taping dates and locations to join the groovy dance party.

  • Chicago Children's Theatre

This theater puts on terrific shows. The stories are often familiar, as they're frequently adapted from kids' books. Many use puppets or music. Performances take place in the group's spiffy new West Loop facility.

  • Emerald City Theatre Company

The Emerald City Theatre Company is another kid-focused troupe. It presents well-known shows such as School House Rock Live, as well as original, lesser-known works like Three Little Kittens. Performances are at the group's on-site theater and at other venues around town.

Festivals

  • Chicago Kids & Kites Festival

On a Saturday in early May, hundreds of colorful kites soar and dip around Montrose Beach. The city supplies free kite-making kits, and professional flyers demonstrate how to harness the wind. Face painting and balloon artists round out the fun.

  • Kidzapalooza

Lollapalooza isn't just for arm-flailing, mosh-pit-thrashing adults. Kidzapalooza is a festival within the giant rock festival. In addition to the stellar line-up of kid-favorite bands, budding rock stars can bang sticks in the Drum Zone and get a Mohawk in the kids' area.

  • Magnificent Mile Lights Festival

During the free Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, held the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Mickey Mouse and a slew of family friendly musicians march in a parade and flip on Michigan Ave's one million twinkling lights.

Need to Know

  • Resources For kid-friendly happenings, see Chicago Parent (www.chicagoparent.com) and Chicago Kids (www.chicagokids.com).
  • Transport Children under age 7 ride free on the L train and public buses; those age 7 to 11 pay a reduced fare.

Volunteering

Chicago Cares (www.chicagocares.org) Lists all kinds of volunteer opportunities throughout the city.

Greater Chicago Food Depository (www.chicagosfoodbank.org) Opportunities to help sort and pack food donations.