Ed Leahy reviews the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower Hotel and shares his top 10 Chicago attractions.
The outdoor terrace at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower proved the perfect morning suntrap as the daily papers were perused with the impressive Chicago skyscrapers keeping guard as breakfast was served.
A superb stack of classic American pancakes arrived; while a basket of fresh French croissants were presented alongside an energizing fruit smoothie and the obligatory pot of coffee.
The French theme is omnipresent throughout this stylish Downtown Chicago hotel, from the ‘bonjour’ at reception (I joked that a bonsoir was more appropriate given my afternoon arrival), the Cafe des Architectes restaurant right through to the Jean-Paul Viguier designed 32-floor prism of glass structure, which offers stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline.
The hotel oozes style, from the moment the front door is held on arrival into the bright open space that welcomes you into the Sofitel reception.
Almost all of the 415 rooms come with the built-in addition of spectacular city vistas in the home of the skyscraper throughout the hotel’s 32 floors. The hotel is located in the heart of the shopping district known as the Magnificent Mile and makes the ideal location for a city break visit.
My first evening at the hotel had been a low-key event after a long day’s travel, however, the spacious room more than lived up to its promise of upscale accommodation, while it was equally homely and made settling in to this new city very easy indeed.
I was leaning towards room service and a movie but the default channel on the flat screen soon changed the mood as the twenty-odd-minute, beautifully shot Windy City promo was full of information about tours, attractions, entertainment and, more to the point, eateries.
The hotel restaurant Cafe des Architectes offers a fine dining menu with contemporary cuisine from classic French roots, created with local ingredients, while Le Bar is a stylish downtown Chicago lounge and features floor to ceiling glass walls and an inviting library area.
The fine dining option would have to wait as I took a ramble about my new neighbourhood in search of some famous Chicago deep-dish pizza.
But it was an early night and up first thing for this fine Chicago breakfast with a continental twist as I plotted my route around the city. And as the last of the maple syrup was mopped up, my full day’s itinerary was locked down and I was ready to hit the Windy City’s hot-spots.
Top Ten Chicago Attractions:
Chicago is a sports mad city and the Chicago Cubs baseball team are the city’s pride and joy (unless you’re a Black Sox fan). Wrigley Field is home to the Cubs and provides a great day out at the ball game. If baseball is not in season, the Chicago Bears are the city’s football team, while the Blackhawks are the ice hockey equivalents and current Stanley Cup champions. And the new kid on the block is the city’s real football team, or soccer as they say Stateside, the Chicago Fire.
With over 400 shops to choose from, including all the top brands as well as a range of department stores the Magnificent Mile also offers over 300 restaurants and 60 hotels running the length of Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago. Apart from the shopping there is plenty of culture throughout the Mile with incredible bridges, a river walk and iconic buildings including the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower as well as John Hancock Centre. The historic water tower and pumping station are among the oldest structures in Chicago.
Chicago’s nightlife is on a par with New York and London and the city boasts a great range of entertaining shows combining the best of Broadway and the West End. The Chicago Theatre’s iconic marquee, standing six stories high, with big block letters C-H-I-C-A-G-O, is a must-see. Theatre tours are available to marvel at the crystal chandeliers and bronze fixtures highlighting a grand staircase that leads to various gallery promenades on the floors above. The Book of Mormon, from the creators of South Park, is the number one attraction playing at the Bank of America Theatre, while the Apollo Theatre in the Lincoln Park was showing the Million Dollar Quartet, which proved a great night out in the intimate suburban setting.
One of the city’s main tourist attractions, Navy Pier is a 50-acre fun fair with a range of rides, museums, activities, restaurants and shops, boasting a 150-foot Ferris wheel, which offers great city and Lake Michigan views. The entire area proves a great day out, especially if travelling with children as you can explore the Chicago Children's Museum with dozens of interactive exhibits available. You can also see a blockbuster on Chicago's largest movie screen at the IMAX Theatre or take a high-speed motion thrill ride to Antarctica, the moon and more on the Transporter FX.
Discover The Loop’s Art
The Loop is home to ‘The Picasso’ sculpture, an icon of Chicago, located outside the Daley Civic Centre Plaza, and ‘Agora’, located at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road, a bizarre display of over one-hundred torso-less sculptures. ‘Flamingo’ is a bright, vivid sculpture at the Federal Centre Plaza, while ‘Monument with Standing Beast’ on Randolph Street invites viewers to enter the sculpture and become a part of the piece. The piece is affectionately referred to by some Chicagoans as ‘Snoopy in a Blender’. ‘Buckingham Fountain’, ‘Seated Lincoln’ and the ‘Flight of Daedalus and Icarus’ are also located within The Loop.
Bird’s Eye View of Chicago
The observation decks of either the Sears Tower or the John Hancock Centre offer superb vistas of Chicago’s amazing skyline. Skydeck Chicago in the iconic Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) allows you to step out onto The Ledge, a collection of glass boxes that extend over four feet out from the side of the building, giving you the opportunity to stare over 1,300 feet straight down. The John Hancock Observatory boasts the best views of Lake Michigan and its 360 degree views also give you the chance to see four states, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The roof-top bar at The Wit Hotel on State Street, which sits 27 storeys above the city centre, also offers great aerial views of The Loop.
The city has a wealth of art exhibitions and museums worth exploring, with The Art Institute of Chicago voted the number one museum in America and number three in the world in 2013 by TripAdvisor. The Institute houses America’s greatest collection of Impressionist paintings, with works from Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh, while the Modern Wing is home to an equally impressive collection of modern masterworks by Dalí, Matisse, Picasso and Pollock. Elsewhere, the Museum Campus along Lake Michigan is home to the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, the Field Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium.
Take a Boat Tour
The Chicago River is one of the city’s most amazing features and a tour along this majestic waterway will prove a great introduction to the city as you get your baring with stunning sights throughout. Many tours are available including the Architecture Tour, which gives you a great insight into the city that invented the skyscraper. Architecture legend Frank Lloyd Wright also made a huge contribution to Chicago and there are many walking tours available to appreciate his work throughout the city.
Located in the heart of Chicago, Millennium Park offers 25 acres of green space within the city centre. The Bean or Cloud Gate instillation is the main attraction and reflects the Chicago skyline, with every angle offering a different view of the city. The Park was opened in 2004 and is also home to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which is a superb outdoor concert venue with a massive stage and state-of-the-art sound system. A walk through the stunning Lurie Garden will reveal jaw-dropping botanical beauty throughout the year.
If you have time to step out of Downtown Chicago, the city’s 77 neighbourhoods are full of interesting places full of historical sights and attractions, arts and culture, dining and nightlife. The north of the city offers baseball games in Wrigleyville and boutique shopping in Wicker Park/Bucktown, sketch comedy in Old Town, live jazz in Uptown and theatre in Lincoln Park.
In the south city, monuments and public art in Bronzeville are tributes to The Great Migration, and African American heritage runs deep in Pullman, while the west offers a great selection of ethnic restaurants and grocers, murals and monuments, churches and specialty shops.
Getting to Chicago:
Aer Lingus operate direct from Dublin to Chicago twice daily and are currently offering flights from less than €200 each way. www.aerlingus.com
To book The Sofitel Chicago Water Tower Hotel, visit www.Hotels.com
For more information about Chicago, visit www.ChooseChicago.com