1 hour to kill | 2 hours to fill | 4 to enjoy
Suggestions for a Chicago layover
Chicago O’Hare International Airport has long served as a gallery for the City's public arts. The City of Chicago's world-renowned Public Art Program is represented in dozens of sculptures, paintings, murals and exhibits scattered around the airport, all dedicated to enhancing the air travel experience. The various pieces are spread across and in between the terminals. The best thing to do is wander around, see what you stumble upon. Among the most striking of the artworks are I’ve Known Rivers by Alejandro Romero - a 208-foot long mural painted in acrylics which brings to life the words and spirit of Jazz poet Langston Hughes - and a popular, vibrant sculpture called The Sky’s the Limit - a mile-long kinetic light tunnel comprised of 466 neon tubes digitally cycling through a series of patterns - listed as one of the top 150 works of architecture in the country. Impressive scale and vivid color.
Eating healthy at one of the busiest airports in the world can be difficult. Sometimes you have to settle for the best you can get. In Terminal 1, Concourse C, Gate C19, you will find Saladworks. It might not be the most fantastic gourmet salad you've ever eaten, but it is a salad. Choose from one of their signature options or customise your bowl from their ingredients which include romaine, iceberg, mandarin oranges, cucumbers, carrots, quinoa, black olives and baby kale. The wise diner will choose with the eyes. What looks good; what looks fresh? This place was voted "Best Greens at O'Hare International Airport" by Chicago Magazine so it is probably your best option if you are looking for a light, healthy meal. Closer to Terminal 3? Try out B-SMOOTH instead for a yogurt smoothie. Add bee pollen and spirulina for an extra boost. For a more atmospheric dining experience visit the Gaslight Club at the airport hotel which promises posh opulence and showtunes in the piano bar.
Near the Urban Garden (on the Mezzanine Level of the Terminal 3 Rotunda) is the perfect place to escape the everyday hustle and bustle of the airport. This spacious Yoga Room features a bamboo wood floor, exercise mats, and floor to ceiling mirrors on one wall. The frosted glass windows along another side of the room permit natural light in while ensuring discretion from adjacent public spaces. Plants line the outside of the windows and soft earth tone wall colors create a calming environment for both yoga practice and relaxation. A wall-mounted video monitor displays yoga exercise techniques and imagery of nature while the audio plays soothing sounds. There is a public restroom nearby on the Mezzanine for changing clothes. Open daily from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm. Namaste.
4. URBAN GARDEN
O'Hare has it’s own aeroponic garden. Aeroponics is becoming increasingly popular around the world as agricultural land users compete with developers for limited open space. The method is one of growing plants without soil. Instead, plant roots are misted with a nutrient solution during a regular watering cycle. The Urban Garden in O'Hare is located in a seemingly unused nook of the G Terminal where a mezzanine space has been transformed into this high-tech botanical wonder. Plant roots are suspended in 26 towers that house over 1,100 planting spots. A series of super-bright PVC towers grow a variety of vegetation. Signage shows where the produce will end up. Expect to find the herbs and greens at airport eateries Tortas Frontera, Wicker Park Sushi, Wolfgang Puck and Tuscany Cafe. A nice place to take a seat, wind down and observe the greenhouse of the future.
While you’re waiting for your plane you might like to sample the sensation of jumping out of one. Indoor skydiving is the simulation of true free fall conditions in a vertical wind tunnel. Experience the feeling of falling from the sky as you float on a smooth cushion of air. There’s no parachute and no jumping, so an indoor skydive represents a potentially enjoyable escapade even for those of us who are afraid of heights. Be sure to arrive early to iFly in Rosemont (10 minutes free shuttle from O’Hare) as the whole process lasts about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Two flights cost $69.95, four costs $109.95. Begin by checking in and proceed to the viewing area to see what you’re in for. Then you’ll receive some quick training before donning your helmet and goggles and leaning in on a smooth column of air. Then you’re flying. And you’ll have the certificate to prove it.
If you want to spend some time outside the airport and you have already finished your workout at the Hilton why not visit the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. This mall is conveniently located in Rosemont, just five minutes from O'Hare. You’ll find high-end stores like Gucci, Prada, and Tori Burch, as well as high street regulars like Banana Republic and The Gap. If you are not looking to spend money, it is still worth visiting the Outlets for some window shopping and for the beautiful art. Yes, this place is filled with cool art: wild stuff like hypnotic, kaleidoscopic designs and a rainbow paint explosion all over the stairs. The food court there is not fantastic but in MAOZ you have a fast food option superior to most at the airport. Quality falafel, tasty fresh vegetables, and nutritious juices. Some locals come to the mall just to eat there. Only a 20 minute Blue Line or 7 minute cab ride from the airport. Plenty to keep you engaged.
Escape Rooms are an increasingly popular global phenomenon. The concept originated in Japan ten years ago and it has spread around the world since 2011. It involves a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. 20 minutes in a cab from O’Hare and you will find Escape Brigade at 2720 South River Road, Des Plaines. They offer immersive 60 minute escape rooms. Be aware that the minimum booking is for two people, priced at $100, so you will need to join a larger group. Weekends are more likely to offer daytime options but availability will depend on what is scheduled. If you do get lucky and get a booking Escape Rooms are a great way to keep the mind limber. Problem solving made fun for a change.
8. FLEA MARKET
If you happen to be stuck at O’Hare on a Sunday consider a wander through Wolff’s Flea Market. The amount of vendors and customers varies from week to week but on a busy day you would struggle to finish walking every single aisle. The market takes place in the carpark area of the Allstate Arena, while planes fly low overhead. Expect to see jewellery, ornaments, records, clothing, tools, books, and trinkets sold by anywhere up to 500 dealers. Seven minutes away in an Uber. Open from 6am until 3pm. Might be wise to check their schedule as sometimes they can close early for events at the Arena. A seven-minute cab from the airport will get you there. Good way to kill a few hours, stretch the legs, and find that perfect cuckoo clock you have been hunting for!
When we are confined to the belly of an airport terminal often our ideal alternative is a wide open natural space. From O’Hare, a riverside walk is only an 8-minute Uber away. The Catherine Chevalier Woods are best to approach from the east side, the opposite end from the airport. Once inside, you can hike along the Des Plaines River Trail or sit and enjoy a snack on a picnic bench. Open meadows, wild deer and natural woodland will supply you with the injection of the great outdoors that you crave. And don’t worry, you’ll never get so relaxed that you forget about your flight as the steady stream of aircraft in the sky above will serve as a regular reminder of the hard reality that you’re a business traveler, not a park ranger.
Why not wish the hours away over a beautiful meal in a relaxed setting. Carlucci is a fine dining experience serving Tuscan food at reasonable prices. It is listed among the top 50 restaurants in Chicago and has become a local favourite since it opened its doors in 1989. The menu offers a good range of antipasti, pasta, pizza and mains. For a bit of peace, quiet and refinement while you eat, a visit to this popular dining room is worth the journey. Located in Rosemont just a couple of miles away, a taxi will get you there in under ten minutes. The hustle of the airport will seem like a distant memory as you sip a glass of Chianti and select a plate of quality ingredients served up with simplicity and love - the Italian way.
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