Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (tel. 773/686-2200; www.flychicago.com; online airport code ORD) has long battled Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport for the title of the world's busiest airport. O'Hare is about 15 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. Depending on traffic, the drive to or from the city center can take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than an hour during the busy morning and afternoon rush hours.
O'Hare has information booths in all five terminals; most are on the baggage level. The multilingual employees, who wear red jackets, can assist travelers with everything from arranging ground transportation to getting information about local hotels. The booths, labeled "Airport Information," are open daily from 9am to 8pm.
Every major U.S. airline and most large international airlines fly in to O'Hare. You'll find the widest range of choices on United Airlines (which is headquartered in Chicago) and American Airlines (which has a hub at O'Hare).
At the opposite end of the city, on the southwest side, is Chicago's other major airport, Midway International Airport (tel. 773/838-0600; www.flychicago.com; online airport code MDW). Although it's smaller than O'Hare and handles fewer airlines, Midway is closer to the Loop and attracts more discount airlines, so you may be able to get a cheaper fare flying into here. (Always check fares to both airports if you want to find the best deal.) A cab ride from Midway to the Loop usually takes between 20 and 30 minutes. You can find the latest information on both airports at the city's Department of Aviation website: www.flychicago.com.
Getting into Town from O'Hare & Midway -- Taxis are plentiful at both O'Hare and Midway, but you can get downtown relatively easily by public transportation as well. A cab ride into the city will cost about $35 from O'Hare and $25 from Midway. One warning: Rush-hour traffic can be horrendous, especially around O'Hare, and the longer you sit in the traffic, the higher the fare will be.
If you're not carting a lot of luggage and want to save money, I highly recommend taking public transportation, which is convenient from both airports. For $2.25, you can take the El (elevated train) straight into downtown.
O'Hare is on the Blue Line; a trip to downtown takes about 40 minutes. (If you're staying on or near Michigan Ave., you'll want to switch to the Red Line, which will add another 10 or 15 min. to your trip.) Trains leave every 6 to 10 minutes during the day and early evening, and every half-hour at night.
Getting downtown from Midway is much faster; the ride on the Orange Line takes 20 to 30 minutes. (The Orange Line stops operating each night at about 11:30pm and resumes service by 5am.) Trains leave the station every 6 to 15 minutes. The train station is a fair walk from the terminal -- without the benefit of O'Hare's moving sidewalks -- so be prepared if you have heavy bags.
Though you can see all the major sights in the city without a car, both airports have outposts for every major car-rental company.
GO Airport Express (tel. 888/2-THEVAN [284-3826]; www.airportexpress.com) serves most first-class hotels in Chicago with its green-and-white vans; ticket counters are at both airports near baggage claim (outside Customs at the international terminal at O'Hare). For transportation to the airport, reserve a spot through one of the hotels (check with the bell captain). The cost is $28 one-way ($50 round-trip) to or from O'Hare, and $22 one-way ($37 round-trip) to or from Midway. Group rates for two or more people traveling together are less expensive than sharing a cab, and children ages 6 to 12 ride for $15 each. The shuttles operate from 4am to 11:30pm.
For limo service from O'Hare or Midway, call Carey Limousine of Chicago (tel. 773/763-0009; www.carey.com) or Chicago Limousine Services (tel. 312/726-1035). Depending on the number of passengers and whether you opt for a sedan or a stretch limo, the service will cost about $100 to $150 from Midway and $150 to $200 from O'Hare, excluding gratuity and tax.
Interstate highways from all major points on the compass serve Chicago. I-80 and I-90 approach from the east, crossing the northern sector of Illinois, with I-90 splitting off and emptying into Chicago on the Skyway and the Dan Ryan Expressway. From here, I-90 runs through Wisconsin, following a northern route to Seattle. I-55 snakes up the Mississippi Valley from the vicinity of New Orleans and enters Chicago from the west along the Stevenson Expressway; in the opposite direction, it provides an outlet to the Southwest. I-57 originates in southern Illinois and forms part of the interstate linkage to Florida and the South, connecting within Chicago on the west leg of the Dan Ryan. I-94 links Detroit with Chicago, arriving on the Calumet Expressway and leaving the city on the Kennedy Expressway en route to the Northwest.
Here are approximate driving distances in miles to Chicago: From Milwaukee, 92; from St. Louis, 297; from Detroit, 286; from Denver, 1,011; from Atlanta, 716; from Washington, D.C., 715; from New York City, 821; and from Los Angeles, 2,034.
Chicago's central train station is Union Station, 210 S. Canal St., between Adams and Jackson streets (tel. 312/655-2385). A hub for both national train routes operated by Amtrak and local commuter lines that run to the Chicago suburbs, it's located just across the river from the Loop. Although Union Station is relatively convenient to downtown, you'll most likely want to take a taxi or bus to your hotel if you have luggage. Bus nos. 1, 60, 125, 151, and 156 all stop at the station on their routes through downtown. The nearest El stop is at Adams and Wells streets (Brown Line), a 4-block walk.
For train tickets to Chicago from other cities in the U.S., consult your travel agent or call Amtrak (tel. 800/USA-RAIL [872-7245] in the U.S. or Canada; tel. 001/215-856-7953 outside the U.S.; www.amtrak.com). Ask the reservations agent to send you Amtrak's travel planner, with useful information on train accommodations and package tours.
International visitors can buy a USA Rail Pass, good for 15, 30, or 45 days of unlimited travel. The pass is available online or through many overseas travel agents. See Amtrak's website for the cost of travel within the western, eastern, or northwestern United States. Reservations are generally required and should be made as early as possible. Regional rail passes are also available.
Bus travel is often the most economical form of public transit for short hops between U.S. cities. Greyhound (tel. 800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) is the sole nationwide bus line. International visitors can obtain information about the Greyhound North American Discovery Pass from foreign travel agents or through www.discoverypass.com. The ticket allows for unlimited travel and stopovers in the U.S. and Canada. Chicago's Greyhound station is at 630 W. Harrison St. (tel. 312/408-5821), just southwest of downtown.
If you're planning on traveling elsewhere in the Midwest, Megabus (tel. 877/GO2-MEGA [462-6342]; www.megabus.com) offers low-cost trips to cities such as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and St. Louis. The well-kept double-decker buses -- which come equipped with free Wi-Fi -- are a popular option for students. Buses leave from the city's main train station, Union Station.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.