Your Most Pressing Questions About Chicago Answered

By Kristen Geil; Updated September 26, 2017

9 questions (and answers) about the City of Chicago

Your Most Pressing Questions About Chicago Answered

Planning your first trip to Chicago? The metropolis known as the Windy City is rich in history, culture, food and more. Before you enter the city limits, make sure to know these basics about the history, geography and climate of Chicago.

Q: Why is Chicago called the Windy City?

A: At first glance, you'd probably assume the "Windy City" nickname comes from the gusts of wind blowing off Lake Michigan. However, as it turns out, Chicago isn't the windiest city in the United States (Boston, New York and San Francisco all have higher winds).

Most historians trace the nickname back to New York Sun newspaper editor Charles Dana, who is said to have used the phrase in an editorial about the 1893 World's Fair. Still others have suggested that "windy" refers to the city's history of long-winded politicians, who some thought to be "full of hot air."

Q: Why is Chicago called the Second City?

A: There are three possible explanations behind this nickname. The first also dates back to the 1893 World's Fair, in which Chicago competed with New York for hosting rights. During this time, Chicago was often referred to as "the second city." This nickname may also refer to the fact that for most of the 20th century, Chicago was the country's second largest metropolitan area after New York (it's now surpassed by Los Angeles). Finally, "Second City" may refer to the building of the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Q: What is Chicago known for?

A: Visitors come to Chicago for a wide variety of reasons, whether to see inventive architecture, world-class art museums, laugh the night away at an improv show, explore all the outdoor parks and the free Lincoln Park Zoo or simply to savor a slice of deep dish pizza.

Need an idea of where to start? The Art Institute, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium are all located in close proximity to downtown Chicago.

Q: What is the tallest building in Chicago?

A: Formerly known as the Sears Tower (and still called that by stubborn locals), the Willis Tower tops all of Chicago's skyscrapers with a height of 1,451 feet. The tallest building in the world at completion, it was the tallest building in the United States until May of 2013 when the One World Trade Center was completed.

The rest of the city's tallest buildings are, in order: Trump International Hotel & Tower, the Aon Center and the John Hancock Center.

Q: What time zone is Chicago in?

A: Chicago is located in the Central Time Zone, placing it one hour behind cities in the Eastern Time Zone and two hours ahead of West Coast cities in the Pacific Time Zone.

Q: What lake is Chicago on?

A: On its east side, Chicago is bordered by Lake Michigan, the third-largest of the Great Lakes. The Chicago Lakefront Trail runs alongside the lake for over 15 miles, giving runners, bikers and walkers a chance to enjoy the scenery while getting in some exercise. The John Hancock Observation Deck, Navy Pier and the Adler Planetarium all offer stunning views of Lake Michigan.

Q: What river runs through Chicago?

A: The Chicago River runs throughout the city of Chicago, including Chicago's downtown area. In the summer, the Chicago Riverwalk bustles with office workers on their lunch break or tourists enjoying a drink at one of the riverside restaurants. Floating down the river itself are dozens of architectural tour boats, pointing out Chicago's most iconic buildings.

Q: How cold does it get in Chicago?

A: Cold. Very cold. Winter temperatures in Chicago are generally below freezing, with a few sub-zero days each year and a fierce wind. Although it varies, the city normally gets many light snowfalls each year, with a heavier snowfall of about 10 inches every few years.

Q: How hot is it in Chicago?

A: In stark contrast to its freezing winters, summers in Chicago are often quite warm and sunny. Temperatures tend to stay in the 80s, with moderate humidity, making summer a perfect time to visit Chicago's outdoor landmarks (like The Bean or Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park).