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Chicago - United States

Chicago may have more neighbourhoods than any other city in North America. While many of them have begun to look similar, each maintains distinct features. Whether looking for the exotic or a bit of the city made famous by novelist Nelson Algren, you can find what you need in Chicago.

Four of Chicago's neighbourhoods offer most of its best hotels: the Loop, North Michigan Avenue, the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park. Each neighbourhood has its pros and cons, but you can be assured that you won't have to worry about stray bullets coming through your window or the elevated train clattering by, à la The Blues Brothers.

The Loop

When people think of Chicago, the Loop is often what first comes to mind. So named because of the “El” (elevated) train that "loops" around it, this district encompasses towering skyscrapers including the Sears Tower, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Art Institute of Chicago, along with numerous theatres, restaurants and universities. The Loop is the historic heart of Chicago and offers a wealth of buildings rich with architectural and historic significance. However, while it teems with life during the business week and on weekends, outside of the theatres, little nightlife can be found.

If you want to stay in the heart of the city with easy access to every neighbourhood and attraction, consider booking a room at the Palmer House Hilton or the W Chicago City centre (formerly the Midland Hotel). Each of these hotels has historical significance, but the Palmer House really takes the cake. This is actually the hotel's third incarnation. The first building was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and the second was torn down to make way for the present building. Check out the Hotel Burnham or Hotel Allegro for posh alternatives adjacent to the theatre district.

North Michigan Avenue

As two of the few surviving buildings from the fire of 1871, the Water Tower and the Chicago Water Works look out proudly over the growth that has occurred around their home on North Michigan Avenue. A post-World War II boom turned this strip into the Magnificent Mile, Chicago's preeminent shopping and tourist district. The Mile begins at the Chicago River near the Wrigley Building and continues north to ritzy Oak Street. Along the way, you will find not only upscale stores and theatres, but entertainment ventures like the ESPN Zone. Just off Michigan Avenue there are lots of themed restaurants for families including old favourites like the Hard Rock Café.

Most tourists opt to stay in this district because of its location and proximity to attractions. Staying in this area will cost you, but you can find weekend rates and more moderate prices at hotels such as the Lenox Suites. Business travellers and families alike find reasonable rates and welcome amenities at the centrally located Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown North and the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile. For those wanting to flex their credit cards, the Four Seasons Hotel consistently ranks as one of the best in the country, and it has the prices to prove it. The Drake Hotel, the stately and luxurious home of the famed Cape Cod restaurant, has offered a four-star experience since 1920.

Some people might want to stay on North Michigan for the convenience it offers, but at the same time avoid the tourists and weekend shoppers who congest the area. The Tremont Hotel offers the perfect hideaway, located just a block off Michigan Avenue.

The Gold Coast

People thought Potter Palmer was crazy when he uprooted his family from their Prairie Avenue home and moved them to the wilderness of the North Side. For years Prairie Avenue was synonymous with wealth, but Palmer's move marked the beginning of the end for this once fabulously wealthy street. Not long after his departure, the poverty of nearby immigrant neighbourhoods began to encroach upon the homes of Chicago's wealthy. So they joined Potter Palmer in the part of town now called the Gold Coast.

To this day, it remains an elite place to live, the mark of wealth and sophistication. Walk along Astor and North State Street to admire the gorgeous brown and red stone buildings. Perhaps you will even decide to stay at a first-class place like the Omni Ambassador East Hotel. It is home to the Pump Room, where celebrities such as Frank Sinatra drank and talked the night away. Some of its 1940s glamor still survives. You may need to rely more on taxis or buses if you're staying in the Gold Coast, but for seclusion, elegance and a piece of the high life, this area can't be beat.

Lincoln Park

It is hard to believe that Lincoln Park was once a cemetrey. Nothing is left of those days except the Getty Tomb. Instead, Lincoln Park is a thriving community that borders the park of the same name on the east, Ashland Avenue on the west, and North and Diversey Avenues on the south and north. If you want to stay in a real Chicago neighbourhood that has all the convenience of the Loop, look no further. Bus and train routes cut across Lincoln Park at several points, making it easy to get just about anywhere in the city or suburbs.

A number of moderately priced hotels are available, and for a rock bottom rate you can't beat the Days Inn Lincoln Park on Diversey. Check out the Willows Hotel or the Majestic Hotel if you want to stay on a quiet residential street. For a more invigorating, Art Deco atmosphere, check into the City Suites Hotel, located on Belmont Avenue. A frequent haunt of gangsters and mobsters during Prohibition, the hotel now caters to both tourists and business travellers.

From the lake to the park to museums, restaurants and transportation options, Lincoln Park is probably the best place to stay in Chicago if you don't mind being away from the throngs of North Michigan Avenue or the history of the Loop. Get up early to jog along Lake Michigan, or sit on Belmont Rocks to watch the sun set over the city. Lincoln Park is truly a great place to experience city life at its best.
 
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