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Summer day in Chicago (Henryk Sadura/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Summer day in Chicago (Henryk Sadura/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Winding down in the Windy City Add to ...

It's been a long day of business in Chicago and you're looking to end your day on a different note: a pleasant stroll, some shopping, a good meal, a few drinks and a bit of entertainment before you fly home. Here’s an easy walking tour that should fit the bill.

On my last trip to the Windy City, I started by exploring the city's “front yard,” magnificent Grant Park, which stretches several kilometres along the shore of Lake Michigan right off The Loop. This peaceful oasis in the heart of the city not only offers walking and bike trails to get some stress-relieving exercise but it's also home to several noteworthy attractions.

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If your day ended a bit early and you only have time for one stop, make it the Art Institute of Chicago. Near the middle of the park on its western edge, the AIC boasts a fantastic collection of Impressionist art, and its collection of works by American painters, sculptors and photographers has few peers. On of its many treasures to seek out is America Windows, stained glass created by French Impressionist Marc Chagall. It was donated to the museum during the U.S. 1976 Bicentennial in memory of political powerhouse Mayor Richard J. Daley. AIC’s holdings also include ancient coins and textiles dating back as far as 300 BC. If you’re in town on a Thursday, you’ll have more time to explore as the AIC stays open to 8 p.m.

I also enjoyed the Shedd Aquarium at the southern end of the park, which offers you the chance to explore marine habitats and more in its Waters of the World exhibit. The Adler Planetarium, built in 1930 and the first of its kind in the United States, is also nearby. Most workdays you’d have to nip in during lunch, but every third Thursday of the month, the planetarium offers Adler After Dark from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

If you want to shop for a few gifts to take home to family, leave Grant Park and walk north into what’s called the Gold Coast district along North Michigan Avenue to the Magnificent Mile , as the stretch between the Chicago River and Oak Street is known – and get ready to melt your plastic.

Three high-rise malls – Watertown Place, 900 North Michigan Shops and The Shops at North Bridge – are home to the world's biggest names in retailing.

But don't forget to look around as you browse the many other store windows along the way. The Mile is home to some incredible architecture, including the old Water Tower, which survived the great fire of 1871, the Gothic spires of the Chicago Tribune Buildingand the 110-storey Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), once the world's tallest building and still the tallest in the U.S. And be sure to stop in at Macy's if only to see the magnificent Tiffany-designed glass mosaic ceiling in the former Marshall Field’s department store.

By now you may be feeling a bit peckish. The Gold Coast offers a wide range of great dining experiences, but first, take a minute to experience the big picture.

Adjacent to the Water Tower is the John Hancock Observatory, billed as “Chicago’s Greatest High.” Take the fastest elevator in the U.S. (1,000 feet in 40 seconds) up to the 94{+t}{+h} floor and take in the amazing view – either from inside the observatory or on its open-air sky walk – that stretches beyond Illinois to three neighbouring states: Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan.

By night, the view of Chicago's distinctive skyline is striking. One more floor up, the upscale Signature Room at the 95th (or its lounge at the 96th!) is the perfect place to linger over dinner and drinks (or return later for a nightcap).

Back at ground level, Rush Street is home to some of the best restaurants in the city. Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse boasts an exceptional wine list, great food (critics rave) and large portions (pace yourself). Other noteworthy entries at the top of the food chain include the Italian steakhouse Phil Stefani's 437 Rush and Bistrot Zinc for a taste of fine French cuisine.

My favourite Chicago culinary experience is a little more down-scale. No visit to the Windy City would be complete without sampling its hometown specialties, in particular its legendary deep-dish pizza. I enjoyed my pie at Pizano’s Pizza and Pasta,and while the menu includes traditional Italian entrees and even a half-pound burger, the pizza is the story and the prices are reasonable. Some locations have special offers that can make it even more economical. (www.pizanoschicago.com)

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