It’s a frequent stomping ground for business travelers from all over North America. Easily reachable from either coast as well as its Canadian neighbor above, Chicago often sits at the top of rankings for meetings and events destinations in the U.S.
Within a day’s drive for 46 million people and home to two international airports, the Illinoisan city simply is a convenient spot for business travelers to congregate. It also boasts the largest convention center in the Western Hemisphere, McCormick Place, which happens to be the venue for an important upcoming conference for HR professionals.
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest HR professional society, is staging its 2018 conference there from June 17 to 20. The organization has arranged an impressive lineup of keynote speakers, including Gov. Jeb Bush, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.
You know who else will be there? American Express Global Business Travel (GBT). Come see us at Booth 2812. What’s more, JoAnne Kruse, chief human resources officer at American Express GBT, will be leading a free preconference webinar on June 13 at noon EST on how better business travel experiences can boost employee engagement and productivity. To register, sign up here.
So whether you’re attending the SHRM conference or another business event, here’s how you can get the most out of your stay in Chi-town.
Where to lay your head at night
If McCormick Place is where you’ll be during the day, then the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place is where you’ll want to be at night. The hotel property is connected to the convention center, which is especially convenient if you’re in “Chiberia” during wintertime. The hotel also has a 24-hour business center, complimentary in-room Wi-Fi service and spectacular views of the city.
For those who want to try something different, check out Virgin Hotels Chicago, the first in the Virgin Group’s boutique lineup. Ideally situated near the river and the Navy Pier, it’s known for its super-friendly staff and daily social hour with free drinks — as well as little touches, such as earplugs by the bedside and an in-room yoga mat.
And if you want to pamper yourself during your stay, check out the newly renovated Renaissance Chicago Downtown in the theater district. It has a full-service spa, indoor pool, a restaurant with a stunning panoramic view and a rooftop bar overlooking the Chicago River.
Eat where the locals do
Not to offend our healthy vegetarians, but there are two foods you must indulge in before leaving Chi-town: deep-dish pizza and the city’s iconic hot dog.
For an authentic Chicago-style hot dog that’s been “dragged through the garden” (an expression used to describe the many toppings that go on a Chicago dog), you cannot go wrong with Portillo’s. Whatever you do, don’t ask for ketchup — otherwise, you’ll be branded as a tourist.
If you’ve pulled some strings to score a reservation at the three-star Michelin restaurant Alinea, save up your appetite for its 18-course tasting menu and try to go as early as possible so you can see the illusionary and culinary surprises Chef Grant Achatz’s team has up its sleeve delivered to your own table first.
If you have a few hours to kill…
Strap on some comfy shoes and tour the city by foot. You’ll be able to cover a lot of top attractions within just a few blocks of each other. Begin with a visit to the internationally renowned Chicago Cultural Center, which has impressive art exhibits and live performances. You must go just to lay eyes on this landmark beauty, an architectural gem boasting two gorgeous stained-glass domes.
Afterward, head across the street to Millennium Park, where you can see Cloud Gate, a massive modern sculpture affectionately known as “The Bean,” and the Crown Fountain, a pair of 50-foot glass-brick towers with video images of Chicago citizens projected on them.
Then depending on your interests, you either can continue on to the Art Institute of Chicago, which has the greatest Impressionist collection outside Paris, or wrap up the tour with a visit to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), where on a clear day you can see the view of four states. And if you’re brave enough to step out onto the observatory’s ledge, a clear glass box that juts out over the side of the building, you can see straight down 1,353 feet to the street.
If the weather is too enticing to hang inside, head to the waterfront and follow Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile path along the shoreline of Lake Michigan where Chicagoans come to walk, run, bike and sunbathe.
Finally, if you can bear keeping your eyes open after a full day of seminars and networking, treat your ears to a jam session at the Green Mill, a late-night club originally known for serving gangsters like Al Capone and later for its incredible jazz scene.
With the Windy City having two international airports — O’Hare and Midway — you may wonder which one is the better option. If you’re finding nonstop flights to either airport within the same price range and don’t mind what carrier gets you there, do yourself a favor and tick the box for Midway. O’Hare, the sixth-busiest airport in the world, is notorious for having long wait times at security. Much smaller in size, Midway is easier to navigate and has less congestion. Plus, it’s also closer to downtown, so you can save some bucks on the cab fare!