Strolling around Chicago between trains

Whether you’re traveling by train from Washington DC, New York or Boston to the Pacific, you’ ll have to change trains in Chicago.

It is, in fact, Amtrak’s hub, with connections lasting a few hours between trains arriving from the East Coast and those heading for the West Coast.

Chicago: the Amtrak hub

The map of Amtrak’s network clearly shows the central role of Chicago, where transcontinental trains converge to facilitate connections.

Amtrak network

Chicago is an exciting city that’s well worth spending a few days in, but if you’re short of time it’s possible to take advantage of your connecting trains to visit the city in just a few hours.

People come to Chicago first to see its architecture. Its atmosphere is very cosmopolitan, thanks to successive waves of immigrants. Chicago is also a legend, with its famous gangs, including the notorious Al Capone, and the Prohibition era. Fortunately, those days are over and the city is now quite safe. From a cultural point of view, Chicago is an active city with many fine museums. Finally, its location on the shores of huge Lake Michigan gives it a maritime feel.

Between my trip from Washington DC to Chicago on the Capitol Limited and from Chicago to San Francisco on the California Zephyr I stopped for three days. Based on my various visits, I’ve come up with a beautiful walk lasting a few hours between the two trains.

Union Station is right in the center of Chicago. So it’s easy to go for a walk and leave your luggage in a locker ($10 a piece).

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Chicago downtown

Chicago has a population of five million. Its central location on the shores of the Great Lakes has enabled it to play an important role in the economic exchanges of the United States.

As the Google Earth map shows, the center is fairly compact and the distance between the various points of attraction reasonable.

Downtown Chicago

A four- to five-hour ride

The walk I’m proposing is a loop of around 11 km and seems well suited to a 4 to 5 hour connection between the two trains.

The Loop district

I recommend you start in the Loop district, recognizable by its aerial metro, which I rode for fun.

Two towers in the neighborhood offer breathtaking views of Chicago: the John Hancock Tower and the Willis Tower. But if you’re only staying a few hours, it’s best not to visit them at all, so you can spend as much time as possible outside before locking yourself back in a train.

The loop
The loop
The loop
Macy's corner
Downtown Chicago

Le Millenial Park

Further afield, Millenial park is a must-see for its many sights. Starting with the Bean, a sculpture in the shape of a drop of mercury that’s a major Instagram attraction! Then the Jay Pritzker Pavilion stage and the Crown fountain are nearby attractions.

The park is popular with tourists and Chicagoans alike.

The bean
Jay Pritzker Pavillon
Crown fountain
Autumn colors

Navy Pier and the shores of Lake Michigan

Then continue on to Navy Pier, a jetty on Lake Michigan. From here, the views of the city center are magnificent.

Then take a stroll in the direction of Lincoln Park, passing by Ohio street beach, but don’t go too far, as the distance would start to feel a bit long on foot.

I recommend walking back to the Magnificient Mile and its department stores.

Chicago skyline
Navy Pier
Ohio street beach
The concrete beach

The Chicago Riverwalk

Finally, finish off on the Riverwalk, which runs alongside the river with magnificent views of the city’s iconic skyscrapers before returning to the station.

Chicago is famous for its architecture.

It all began with the great fire of 1871. The city was rebuilt using more modern materials such as steel and later glass.

Built in 1885, the Home Insurance Building became the world’s first skyscraper.

Along the Riverwalk, you’ll see the Trump Tower, the Marina Towers, the Reid Murdoch building, and the Mart, among others. The many steel bridges are also remarkable.

To find out more, check out Virginia’s blog on Chicago’s most interesting buildings.

River walk
Chicago Riverwalk
The Wrigley building
Chicago river
Marina towers
Reid Murdoch Building
The Mart

How about enjoying Chicago a little longer?

The walk I’ve suggested in this article is very nice, but I’d honestly advise you to take a few days to visit Chicago, which is one of my favorite cities in the United States.

You’ll have more time to get a feel for the city’s atmosphere and relax.

How to get around?

As soon as you leave the center, the city is very spread out. Fortunately, although aging, the metro system works well and ticket prices are fairly moderate.

Another solution is to rent a self-service bike

Chicago museums

The city boasts some of the most interesting museums in the country, and you can spend many hours there:

Share the life of Chicagoans

Unlike New Yorkers, Chicago residents don’t live in the city center. They go out to restaurants and bars in out-of-the-way but charming neighborhoods like Clark Street in Andersonville or Boystown.

Gold coast is the chic residential district. At the time of my visit, it was Halloween and many local residents were trying to impress their neighbors with expensive decorations!

Halloween at Gold coast

Stroll along Lake Michigan and go to the beach

Lake Michigan plays a major role for Chicagoans who go there to relax or play sports.

A wonderful 12 km walk starts at Navy pier and goes all the way to the beach at Kathy Osterman beach, where end of October, I took advantage of the Indian summer to spend an afternoon at the beach in my swimsuit! On the way you can visit chicago zoo and botanical garden.

Two days later, I should have been wearing hats and gloves. Weather changes are often spectacular in this part of the country. Chicago is known as the Windy City. The climate is continental, very cold in winter and hot in summer. But whatever the weather, the walk along the lake has its charm.

Lincoln park
Lincoln park
Kathy Osterman beach
Lincoln park
Lincoln park
Kathy Osterman beach

Continuation of the crossing of the United States by train

After this three-day stopover in Chicago, it’s time for me to take the California Zephyr back to San Francisco!



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