A city full of hidden gems and spectacular landmarks, Chicago is hardly a second city. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, it is an all-season destination recently voted for the seventh time as Condé Nast Traveler’s Best Big City in The U.S.
I have to admit when it comes to cities, I’ve always considered Chicago among the best having grown up in the metropolitan area and riding the South Shore, the only remaining interurban in the U.S., to Millennium Station frequently for watercolor classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. Who doesn’t love walking past those bronze larger-than-life lions flanking the entrance whose unofficial names are “On the Prowl” and “An Attitude of Defiance” created by sculptor Edward Kemeys in 1898?
Part of the city’s allure is its fabulous architecture and beyond the lions there’s dining in the 17,000-square-foot Walnut Room at Macy’s on State–sorry, it’ll will always be Marshall Field’s to me–which was the first restaurant in a department store in the U.S. and is famed for its Circassian wood paneling imported from Russia and Austrian chandeliers. Also at Marshall Field’s (ooops Macy’s) is the magnificent Tiffany dome ceiling built in 1907 and crafted with 1.6 billion pieces of Favrile glass. As if one Tiffany dome ceiling isn’t enough, the Chicago Cultural Center just a short walk away from Macy’s, also boasts a Tiffany dome ceiling.
Also made of made of Tiffany Favrile glass–Tiffany patented this type of iridescent art glass in 1894–the 38,000-square-foot dome spanning 1000-squarefeet consists of 30,000 pieces of glass and is the largest Tiffany glass dome in the world. And in interesting historic aside, the glass for the dome was manufactured by the Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company in Kokomo, Indiana a company that dates back to the late 1880s. When pieces of glass were needed to replace those that were missing or broken during the renovation of the dome in the early 2000s, all it took was a call to KOG who still had the original glass recipes on file.
Among the hidden gems is a personal favorite, Green Mill Cocktail Lounge which had already been open for two decades when Al Capone and his men stationed themselves in his favorite booth so that he could see whoever was coming in and out of both the back and front entrances. A gangster has to be prepared, ya know. The Green Mill has been open since 1907 and you can still go there for live jazz every night in the prohibition-era style speakeasy. Capone’s booth is still there–how much closer to history can you get?
Chicago is a city of museums both internationally known such as the Field Museum and the Museum of Science & Industry but also small delights such as the Driehaus Museum, a marvelously restored Gilded Age home filled with treasures, Art on the Mart, the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, and the Chicago History Museum reknowned for its more than more than 50,000 costumes and textiles dating from the eighteenth century to the present including works by Gabrielle Chanel, Mainbocher, Charles James, Christian Dior, Pauline Trigère, and Yves Saint Laurent
There are architecrural boat rides on the Chicago River and a Ferris wheel at Navy Pier known for its grand views of Lake Michigan. Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park is one of the largest fountains in the world, the Gothic Revival-style Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, and, of course, there’s Cloud Gate, nicknamed The Bean in Milliennium Park.
All this is just the start of what Chicago has to offer so its no wonder the for the seven straight year it’s been voted best city with over 520,000 votes from Condé Nast Traveler readers after a record-breaking summer travel season that saw all-time highs for hotel revenue.
“Today’s recognition of our great city as the Condé Nast Traveler’s Best Big City in The U.S., for the seventh year in a row, is proof that Chicago continues to be a force as a destination for visitors from all over the globe,” said Mayor Brandon Johnson. “We have something for everyone — 77 amazing communities, beautiful parks and lakefront, world class arts, culture and food, and much more. This is a distinction to be proud of, and we will continue to welcome travelers from all over the world to experience all our city has to offer and the soul of Chicago.”
“For the seventh year running, I couldn’t be prouder that Chicago has been named the number one big city in the nation,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “From our unmatched infrastructure and picturesque lakefronts to our diverse food scene, world-class museums, and, of course, the kindest people you’ll ever meet, Chicago has it all—and the world is taking notice. Whether you’re looking to take a family trip or to relocate your small business, Chicago has something for everyone and we cannot wait to welcome you home.”
For 36 years, Condé Nast Traveler has captured input from readers to determine the winners of their Readers’ Choice Awards, the longest-running and most prestigious recognition of excellence in the travel industry. And every year since 2017, Chicago has led the pack as the Best Big City in the U.S. This year’s awards were based on the input of more than half-a-million readers.
“I am so proud to share that Chicago is once again the city of champions,” said Osmond. “For seven straight years, through the challenges of the pandemic and beyond, travelers have recognized the truth about Chicago – ours is a vibrant, hospitable city brimming with attractions and amenities for all types of visitors. I want to thank all Chicagoans for making our city so welcoming to visitors from around the world. I especially want to thank the Choose Chicago staff. This award validates all of our hard work selling and promoting this city we love.”
Chicago’s selection as the Best Big City in the U.S. is a recognition of the city’s incredible hospitality and tourism industries and the people that make our city so welcoming to visitors. For seven straight years, voters have recognized that Chicago is a destination unique among its peers, with something to offer every type of visitor. With 77 vibrant neighborhoods ready for exploration, best-in-class accommodations, an acclaimed dining scene, thrilling live music and theatre, world-renowned museums and cultural institutions, stunning architecture and natural beauty, visitors have endless ways to explore the seven-time Best Big City in the U.S.
“More than half a million people cast votes for this year’s Reader’s Choice Awards,” said Glenn Eden, Chairman of the Choose Chicago Board of Directors. “Clearly, those who come here are having uniquely memorable experiences that stick with them – the kind of experiences that will make them return to Chicago and recommend our city as a vacation destination to their friends and families. Winning this award seven straight years is a recognition of the resilience of Chicago’s tourism and hospitality sector and the unwavering affinity that travelers have for our city. It gives me confidence that we are going to see continued growth in our local visitor economy for years to come.”
Choose Chicago is also thrilled to release summer 2023 performance data today showing that Chicago experienced a strong summer of travel:
- Summer (June, July and August) hotel revenue totaled $825 million, and hotel taxes totaled $46 million, both all-time records for summer months.
- Over one million room nights were filled each month this summer, totaling 3.24 million hotel room nights. That is 4% higher than last year and represents a 92% recovery share compared to 2019 numbers.
- Leisure visitors in particular came to Chicago in droves this summer – buoyed by a packed calendar of concerts, events and festivals, total leisure hotel room demand increased by 8% compared to summer 2022.
- International visitation increased by 13% compared to summer 2022.
While it was an excellent summer of travel in Chicago, the excitement does not end now that it’s fall. Visitors to Chicago will continue to experience a full calendar of events and attractions through the end of 2023. Later this week, we will be launching Theater Season, a new campaign to promote local theaters and the over 150 productions taking place across the city. Later this month, we will celebrate the one millionth finisher of the Chicago Marathon during the 45th running of the iconic race, open some of our city’s most notable architecture for exploration through Open House Chicago, and wrap up with Halloween celebrations across the city including Arts in the Dark and the Haunted Halsted Halloween Parade. Later this year, Chicago will transform into America’s premier holiday destination, kicking off with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and continuing with events and activations through the end of the year.
As Chicago celebrates another Best Big City award, we are well on our way to significantly exceeding last year’s visitation numbers, when we welcomed nearly 50 million visitors. Year-to-date hotel room demand is 13% higher than the same period in 2022.
The 2023 Readers’ Choice Awards are published on Condé Nast Traveler’s website at cntraveler.com/rca and celebrated in the November issue.
About Choose Chicago
Choose Chicago is the official sales and marketing organization responsible for promoting Chicago as a global visitor and meetings destination, leveraging the city’s unmatched assets to ensure the economic vitality of the city, its residents and our partner business community. Follow @choosechicago on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and X/Twitter and tag #ChicaGOandKNOW. For more information, visit choosechicago.com.
Photos courtesy of Choose Chicago and the Chicago Architecture Foundation.