Take off a few days and spend a long weekend taking in the sights of Chicago and exploring a few restaurants. Better yet, spend a week or more so there's plenty of time to cover everything the city offers in the way of sights, sounds, restaurants and shopping.
Before you go, take a few minutes to pick up some helpful travel information on the Internet.
Locate major sights with the interactive Landmarks Map at the city's own About Town guide -- www.cityofchicago.org/AboutTown.html -- and then learn about them on Landmarks Tours. Dig into Special Events for happenings that include the World Music Festival, Sept. 20-29, and find Nature areas inside the big city.
Save time for About Town's Exploring Chicago section, full of things to do, more musical events and links to the free trolley system and a neighborhood guide. The city also has an interactive map -- http://w15.cityofchicago.org/mapsites/pu... -- and its Pictures of Chicago -- www.cityofchicago.org/LiveShots/ -- includes live Web cameras.
Look up the source of the city's nickname, Windy City, at Choose Chicago -- www.choosechicago.com/ -- by clicking on History & Facts, and leafing through Windy City Trivia. (The name has nothing to do with the weather.) This Web site from the local Convention & Visitors Bureau also has more tips on things to see and do, a directory of hotels and inns, and information on getting around. If you plan to go outside the city, click on Beyond Chicago for links to community and regional Web sites.
Once you arrive, get a bird's eye view of the metropolitan area and beyond from the Skydeck of the Sears Tower -- www.the-skydeck.com/ -- 1,300 feet above the lake. Or, if the weather is nice, try the Hancock Observatory atop the John Hancock Center -- www.hancock-observatory.com/ -- which touts its open-air Skywalk, at a mere 1,000 feet up.
Learn more about the city's neighborhoods at Chicago Neighborhoods -- www.chicago-neighborhoods.net/ -- and browse through their guides to eating, drinking and galleries.
It just wouldn't be a visit to Chicago without a ride on the El. Click on Maps & Schedules at the Chicago Transit Authority -- www.transitchicago.com/ -- to find Visitors' Information.
And save some time between sightseeing forays for shopping. The Magnificent Mile www.themagnificentmile.com/ -- is Chicago's shopping mecca with department stores, boutiques, jewelry stores, museums, fine dining and top hotels.
If you have time, check out the exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago -- www.artic.edu/aic/ -- home of works by George Seurat, Grant Wood, Edward Hopper and Claude Monet.
Next, drop by the Adler Planetarium -- www.adlerplanetarium.org/ -- to see what the night sky looks like without the buildings.
And don't miss the Field Museum -- www.fmnh.org/ -- home of Sue, the world's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil, or the Museum of Science and Industry -- www.msichicago.org/ -- where the exhibits include a World War II German submarine.
Youngsters can have a good time, too. Get some ideas for things to entertain them at ChicagoKids -- www.chicagokids.com/ -- including Big Bugs, at the Botanic Garden through Oct. 27.