For most travelers, flight delays and layovers are annoying, but the extra time doesn’t mean you have to confine yourself to the airport’s duty-free shops. It may only be three hours, but consider this your vacation bonus to see Chicago.
Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is clean and easy to navigate. Sadly, it’s one of the busiest airports in the country and has a terrible reputation for flight delays. But fortunately, if you have a few hours to kill while waiting for your flight, there are plenty of ways to get a quick taste of the Windy City.
First Hour: Jump aboard the Blue Line "L" train (conveniently located right inside the airport) and head downtown. The train runs 24 hours a day and leaves the station as frequently as once every three minutes during peak travel times. It’ll take about 45 to 50 minutes to get downtown. Get off the train at the Washington stop.
Second Hour: First, the food: With a little more than an hour to kill, start by grabbing a bite at one of the local eateries. Heaven on Seven is a local favorite, with delicious Creole and Cajun specialties like the Louisiana soft-shell crab po’boy sandwich. If you want to save time, stop in for a treat at Do-Rite Donuts and experience some of America’s best donuts. Made in small batches — 36 at a time — throughout the day, Do-Rite Donuts’ delicious flavors include everything from coconut custard to candied maple bacon.
Next, see the sights. Whether you’re walking off a meal or wandering around with a donut in hand, there’s plenty to check out during your short visit downtown. Walk a few blocks east and check out Millennium Park, a modern and inventive downtown oasis with cool features like "Cloud Gate", aka "The Bean," a silver sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor. You can also stroll down State Street and step into one of the many shopping destinations, including Macy’s, H&M, and Nordstrom Rack.
Third Hour: Hop back on the "L" with about an hour to spare to make sure you catch your plane on time. Still hungry? Grab a classic Chicago hot dog (a juicy frank on a poppy seed bun topped with yellow mustard, white onions, sweet relish, tomato slices, dill pickle spears, sport peppers, and celery salt; asking for ketchup is a blasphemous request) at Gold Coast Dogs before the final boarding call — this top-rated local hot dog joint has two outposts inside O’Hare.
Ashley Henshaw is the Chicago Travel City Editor for The Daily Meal.