Layover in Chicago? Here's What to Do!
One of the busiest airports in the world, Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) can be intimidating even to a veteran business traveler. However, there’s an upside to its massive size. There are plenty of things to see and do if you have extra time on your hands!
Use this business travel checklist to make sure you win your layover in the Windy City.
At the Airport
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It cannot be overstated: O’Hare is a huge airport. It has 122 food and beverage locations and 189 gates spread across four terminals: 1, 2, 3 and 5.
You read that right—there’s no Terminal 4. Here’s the deal. Apparently, back in the day, Terminal 4 existed and it serviced international flights. However, after a few years, it was closed and Terminal 5 was opened. That’s it—there’s no great story behind it. “But why didn’t they just rename Terminal 5 to Terminal 4?” No clue. Look, that’s just how it is. Don’t waste any brainpower trying to understand it. Believe us, it’s not worth the effort.
Anyways, besides the whole Terminal 4 conspiracy-theory thing, it’s pretty easy to find your way around during your Chicago O’Hare layover. Thank goodness.
FOOD AND DINING
There are ample opportunities to stay in the airport and gobble up grub that Chicago is famous for. Goose Island Beer Company (Terminals 1 & 3) or America’s Dog (Terminal 1) are solid options to investigate.
There’s also O’Briens Restaurant and Bar (Terminal 3) who has been serving up signature sandwiches for Chicagoans since 1980. You can’t go wrong with their Eisenberg Dog. You can also eat confidently and spicily at Tortas Frontera (Terminals 1, 3 & 5) run by celebrity chef Rick Bayless.
Hey, if all else fails, we’re lovin’ that there’s a McDonald’s in every terminal.
BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
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Like many airports, you can enjoy free Wi-Fi throughout ORD. Just know that it’s not free forever. After the first 30 minutes, you’ll have to pay around $7 to continue using it. Lame, but that’s capitalism for you!
One business travel tip that we recommend is putting your phone away as you make your way through the terminals. Why? O’Hare is inspiring. For starters, the “Sky’s the Limit” exhibition by Michael Hayden in Terminal 1 features a dazzling neon light show that that stretches 745 feet. Beyond that, you’ll enjoy paintings, drawings and sculptures around every corner. That’s because the Public Art Program of Chicago exhibits local artists throughout the airport. It’s an unexpected experience and a nice touch, especially for such a big airport.
For getting work done or unwinding, the United Club is a great place to plop down. With free Wi-Fi, private meeting space and complimentary beverages among other amenities, it definitely pays to be a member. Of course, there are also other major airline lounges throughout the terminals.
If you can’t sit still, find one of those vibrating recliners at Brookstone and sneak-in a free massage. When the salesperson inevitably asks if you need any help, just reply with the can’t-miss line, “I’m just looking.”
Around the Airport
The easiest way to explore downtown Chicago is to jump on the Blue Line of the L train. When you look at the map, you notice the train goes in a circle—that’s why it’s called “The Loop.” Each stop offers plenty of dining and tourist-friendly activities.
You’ll notice we’re not recommending taxis. Feel free to roll the dice, but getting into a car means you’ll probably end up cursing under your breath for an hour as you waste time sitting in rush-hour traffic. For less than $5 each way, public transportation is simply the cheaper and more consistent way to go. You’ve been warned.
POINTS OF INTEREST
If you have an afternoon of free time before your flight, you can use it to see why Chicago is famous for legendary architecture. There are two great ways: from above or below. Go to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower (the former Sears Tower) and gaze upon the city from the glass-enclosed SkyDeck. Or, do the reverse and stare up at the skyscrapers during a river or lake tour. These excursions are under $40 and let you see the city through a completely new lens.
Deep dish, Chicago-style pizza. How you gonna go to Chicago and not sample the classic, upside-down pizza? Dough layered with cheese, sauce and toppings (in that order) make this goopy goodness look more like a pie than a pizza. And that’s why it’s so tasty. If you love garlic, butter, basil and onions, get The Lou. Then, find a place to take a power snooze.
Gastropub with equal parts great booze and chow. Located on South Michigan Avenue, The Gage is the perfect choice at any time of day. At brunch, get the salted caramel & cinnamon sugar buns or a Scotch egg with mustard. For lunch, you can’t go wrong with the Cuban sandwich or the pear & walnut salad. If you go for dinner, definitely try the three-cheese fondue and the loaded Shishito peppers. As mentioned, the beer selection is fantastic.
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This city is known for its weather and its architecture, but it has so much more to offer than wind and stone. Lincoln Park is Chicago’s largest public park and offers seven miles of paths and open space facing Lake Michigan. Go here for a relaxing afternoon stroll or bike ride and you’ll forget you’re in one of the largest cities in America.
If you’ve got the time, you should try and catch a ballgame at Wrigley Field, home of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. There’s nothing quite like seeing America’s favorite pastime being played in a stadium built 100+ years ago.
You’re on business travel and have an uncontrollable urge to shop? Treat yourself. Head to The Magnificent Mile. With 460+ shops, including nearly every major retailer and luxury brand you can think of, you can definitely find what you’re looking for…even if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Fresh seafood and hunks of juicy, tender meat. Your taste buds will become buddies with the chefs at Everest. This extolled establishment puts forth French cuisine that satisfies even the most discriminating diners. Featuring dishes like daily Atlantic oysters with horseradish, bouillon duck confit and dry-aged NY steak with gnocchi, this restaurant is some of the finest dining you can find in town.
Olives. Cheeses. Charcuterie. Flatbreads. Fish. Meat. Vegetables. These are the section titles of the menu at Mercat a la Planxa—a modern Spanish tapas restaurant. While simple sounding, their small plates are big in the flavor department. Translation: We would literally eat everything on the menu if our stomachs allowed us and if it were socially acceptable. If you are able, go here with colleagues or clients. Then, you’ll have an excuse to try all of the dishes you want to without fear of being judged by the couple at the table next to you.
At Chicago O'Hare International and need a ride? Check out how Uber works at ORD. Traveled through ORD on business recently? Share your favorite terminal tip in the comments below!