By Ilona Kauremszky

Q: I'm planning to go to Chicago for the first time. December 26 is the projected departure for a week. I'd like some info on hotels that are downtown close to some shopping areas. Also if you know of any things to do or see that are in the area. If you can't answer my question do you know of any books that will be helpful for my trip?

A: This midwestern American city that hugs the shores of Lake Michigan has a bonanza of shopping districts. Often compared to Rodeo Drive or Park Avenue, Chicago's Magnificent Mile runs along Michigan Avenue and is jammed with posh brands like Hermes, Ferragamo and Burberry.

In the midst of this shopping extravaganza, there's a new kid on the block. Opened over a year ago, the Chicago Fitzpatrick Hotel is Chicago's only Irish family owned and operated hotel. The close proximity to the city's landmarks, public transportation and shops makes this boutique hotel a favorite property for travellers. For reservations, call toll-free 1.800.367.7701.

Inside the old library which now serves as the Chicago Tourism Center (72 East Randolph Street), bystanders can tap their toes to the blues beat. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, music lovers can hear a free one-hour concert. Visit the tourism information centre for the upcoming schedule and pick up the latest brochures.

If you're a big stargazer or marine life lover, be sure to head to the Adler Planetarium, the oldest planetarium in the western hemisphere and the Shedd Aquarium, the world's biggest indoor aquarium. One of the largest collections of post-impressionist and impressionist art is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Also, make some time to visit Marshall Field's, Chicago's historic department store. A mosaic dome by Tiffany along with the store's two fountains and Westinghouse electric escalators have truly made this shopping emporium a shopper's delight. The 13-storey retail store became a structure that architects say went on to influence other Chicago landmarks.

If your looking to save, you're in luck. Currently, the Chicago Office of Tourism is offering a variety of packages. There's the "Chicago Winter Delights" program which includes special hotel rates starting as low as $79 per night. A must-have on your trip is the "Chicago's Best Coupon Booklet" for discounts to the aquarium, Sears Tower, as well as Giordano's famous stuffed Pizza- a Chicago favourite! Pick it up at the Chicago Tourism Cenbtre.

You can also visit and click on Special Values for downloadable coupons. For more information on Chicago Winter Delights call toll-free 1.877.CHICAGO.


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