2010: 2,695,598, #3 in U.S., #1 in Illinois

1950: 3,620,962, #2 in U.S.

2010 Metropolitan Area: 9,461,105, #3 in U.S.

1950 Metropolitan Area: 5,495,364, #2 in U.S.


Chicago was founded in 1833 at the place where the Chicago River runs into Lake Michigan. Today, Navy Pier reaches 3,000 feet into the lake. Millennium Park and Grant Park are on the downtown waterfront.


Tallest building: Willis Tower (former Sears Tower, 1974), 1,450 feet, third-tallest building in the U.S.

List of tallest buildings

The Willis Tower and the John Hancock Center (1969, 1,127 feet) have observation decks.

Four of the 12 tallest buildings in the U.S. are in Chicago: the Willis Tower (#3), the Trump International Hotel and Tower (#7, 2008, 1,362 feet); the Aon Center, originally called the Standard Oil Building (#11, 1973, 1,136 feet); and the John Hancock Center (#12, 1969, 1,127 feet).


Downtown Chicago has a variety of department stores, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and two Macy’s – one in the former Marshall Field’s flagship store in the Loop (the historical center of downtown, south of the river) on State Street and one in the Water Tower Place indoor mall (1975) on the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue, north of the river.


Union Station (1925) is the starting point and ending point of many Amtrak trains. These include the Empire Builder to Portland and Seattle, the California Zephyr to Salt Lake City and the San Francisco Bay Area,  the Southwest Chief to Kansas City and Los Angeles, the Texas Eagle to St. Louis and San Antonio, the City of New Orleans to Memphis and New Orleans, the Cardinal to Indianapolis and New York City, the Capitol Limited to Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., the Lake Shore Limited to Cleveland and Boston, and the Wolverine to Detroit.

The Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation (Metra) has 11 commuter lines going north as far as Kenosha, Wisconsin, west as far as Elgin and Aurora, and south as far as Joliet. Metra uses four terminals: Union Station, LaSalle Street Station (1981), Ogilvie Transportation Center (1987, formerly the Chicago and North Western Station), and Millennium Station (2005, formerly the Randolph Street Station).

The South Shore Line runs 90 miles between Millenium Station and South Bend, Indiana. Operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, it is one of two remaining interurban lines in the country. It has operated since 1903.

The Chicago Transit Authority (often called the “L”) has eight lines. It has been running since 1892, and has a mixture of elevated, surface, and underground tracks in the city and nearby suburbs. The Chicago Transit Authority serves both O'Hare and Midway airports.

Chicago Skyline and Lake Michigan
(Photo by Jarred Trost)


Chicago's downtown museums include the Field Museum of natural history and the Art Institute of Chicago, which in 2009 opened its Modern Wing, making it the second-largest art museum in the U.S. The Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium are near the Field Museum, along the waterfront.


Downtown movie theaters are the AMC River East 21, AMC North Michigan 9, and Navy Pier IMAX Theatre. The Gene Siskel Film Center shows independent films.

Restored movie palaces in the Loop are the Cadillac Palace (1926), the Oriental Theatre (1926) and the Chicago Theatre (1921). The Chicago Theatre has concerts and other events. Broadway Chicago presents touring musicals at the Palace and the Oriental.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays at Orchestra Hall (1904). Lyric Opera of Chicago plays at the Civic Opera House (1929). Downtown Chicago also has the Goodman Theatre and a variety of other theaters.


The Chicago Cubs of the National League play at Wrigley Field (1914), north of downtown. The Chicago White Sox of the American League play at Guaranteed Rate Field (1991), south of downtown.

The NBA Chicago Bulls and NHL Chicago Blackhawks play at the United Center (1994) west of downtown. The NFL Chicago Bears play at Soldier Field (1924, rebuilt 2003), just south of downtown.

Map of Downtown Chicago

Chicago Loop Alliance


Chicago Architecture