Chicago may be known for its towering skyscrapers and bustling downtown, but amid this urban vista lie lush acres that blend bright blooms, thriving vegetation and sparkling step pools for your groups to explore year-round.

Chicago Botanic GardenWhether or not the weather outside is frightful, Chicago's gorgeous gardens are a delight to visitors year-round — even in the middle of December. As pretty as they are popular, each enchanting environment seems to transport visitors to different (often exotic!) areas of the world. The best part? Your groups don't have to have a green thumb to appreciate all these attractions have to offer.

Here are three Chicago gardens every travel planner should have in their sightlines.

Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road (Glencoe, Illinois)

Nine islands, four natural habitats, 24 gorgeous gardens and 384 acres filled with scenic waterfalls, rose gardens, native prairies and warm greenhouses. That's the Chicago Botanic Garden. Just 25 miles from the city, this plant paradise offers tours (beginning at $14/person) that are completely customizable to your group's interests and physical abilities.


Bright Encounters Tour: A 35-minute tram tour that allows up to 18 people to get up close and personal with the Heritage Garden, Rose Garden, English Walled Garden and the Gardens of the Great Basin

Grand Tour: A tram tour that provides up to 76 people with an overview of the gardens and includes views of the Japanese Garden and a 100-acre oak woodland

Walking tour: A relaxing 35- to 45-minute narrated tour led by a guide through select gardens

Pick the best tour for your group, combine two tours into one package, add a boxed lunch … it's up to you. Special seasonal packages include Wonderland Express (November – January), Behind-the-Scenes (May – September) and Twilight Tour (June – August).
Learn more

Lincoln Park Conservatory
2391 N. Stockton Dr.

Looking to "wow" your groups with exotic plants, plenty of palms and flourishing ferns? Look no further than the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Within this stunning, three-acre Victorian glass haven, you'll find four distinct display houses, each one blooming with beautiful greenery.

Display houses:

Palm House: Palms and tropical plants such as the banana, sour sop and cacao

Fern Room: Variety of ferns (such as maiden hair and Australian tree fern) and cycads, one of the most ancient species of plants on Earth

Orchid House: Large collection of orchids and other epiphytic plants such as Spanish moss

Show House: Four seasonal shows and exhibits on display every year; currently featuring the Winter Flower and Train Show through January 8, 2012, followed by the Spring Flower Show (January – May)

To arrange a tour with a docent, call the Lincoln Park Conservatory office at (773) 883-7275.

Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Ave.

At the Garfield Park Conservatory, your groups can stroll through prehistoric ferns, step across trickling waterfalls and experience a botanic haven that encourages play, laughter and learning.

Guided Tours ($12/person; 15 people max.)

General Conservatory Tour: An in-depth look at the history, plant life and stories of each public display house

Tropical Treats Tour: A tour through the collection with a specific focus on plants that produce tasty treats, such as the Chocolate Tree, which visitors may taste while they roam

Behind-the-Scenes Tour: A tour to the non-public areas where plants are grown, stored and groomed

Other tours at the Garfield Park Conservatory are self-guided, so your groups (of any size) can embark on a personal journey just perfect for their interests. Groups can also opt to enhance their experience by renting an Exploration Kit (a backpack with a guidebook, maps and touchable objects) or by choosing from a variety of themed Scavenger Hunts.

Groups of 10 or more require registration with the Garfield Park Conservatory and should be booked three weeks in advance, ideally.

For more information, contact Group Program Coordinator Yadira Correa at (773) 638-1766, ext. 25


Food from Chicago's RiaChicago's Michelin Picks for 2012

Chicago has always been a foodie's paradise — after all, it's one of only three U.S. cities to have its own Michelin Guide — and 2012 is no exception. Just recently, Michelin just named a whopping 56 Chicago restaurants to its 2012 Bib Gourmand list, highlighting hidden, top-notch eateries with good food at a good value, and revealed that 21 Chicago restaurants landed prestigious star ratings for 2012.

Chicago's Three-Star Michelin Restaurants: Alinea
It doesn't get better than this. As the highest Michelin honor, the Three Star rating means your groups will enjoy "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."

Chicago's Two-Star Michelin Restaurants: Charlie Trotter's, Ria
A Two-Star rating means "excellent cuisine, worth a detour."

Chicago's One-Star Michelin Restaurants: 18
A One-Star rating means "very good cuisine in its category."
View the complete Michelin lists

Chicago's Bib Gourmand Restaurants: 56
A Bib Gourmand rating means the restaurant is an inspector's favorite for good value. For $40 or less, your clients can enjoy two courses and a glass of wine or dessert (not including tax and gratuity). For everyday Chicagoans and visitors alike, Bib Gourmand restaurants represent the best hidden culinary value that the city has to offer. For 2012, 56 Chicago restaurants made the list!
View the complete Bib Gourmand list



PUBLIC ChicagoNew Chicago Hotel Openings

PUBLIC Chicago, conceived by famed hotelier Ian Schrager, is a complete transformation of the Gold Coast's famed Ambassador East Hotel and its historic Pump Room restaurant. For decades, the legendary hotel was a place to see and be seen, and the Pump Room played host to a multitude of celebrities. Today, it retains an air of world-class service and total sophistication, but operates on the principle of affordability and luxury as an experience, not a dollar amount. The reinvented Pump Room is led by James Beard Award-winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichte, each spacious guest room is furnished with superb taste and functionality, and the entire space has a glamorous vibe reminiscent of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. It's an experience your groups will never forget.

Coming in 2013: 

The Langham Chicago Hotel: 316 rooms, plus the award-winning Chuan Spa, Bar and Brasserie, and Tea Salon

Virgin Hotel Chicago: 250 rooms, plus restaurants, lounges and other amenities



Chicago Flower & Garden Show
March 10–18, 2012
Navy Pier
Hort Couture: Flowers and fashion have a lot in common. Vibrant colors, rich textures, the power to inspire — and make jaws drop. This year at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, the worlds of fashion and horticulture collide, creating an experience that rivals the hottest runway show or A-list after party. Group tour packages are available now, and groups of 20 or more will receive $4 off the box office price for each ticket purchased. Unsure if you'll use all the tickets? New this year, the show has introduced a refund policy to facilitate to return of unused tickets. Reserve your tickets

Jersey Boys
April 5 – June 2, 2012
Bank of America Theatre
Jersey Boys is working its way back to Chicago. Worldwide, more than 13 million people have seen this Tony®-, Grammy®- and Olivier Award-winning Best Musical and now, your Chicago groups can get in on the action for the nine weeks it's in the city. They'll be captivated by the story of how four blue-collar kids — Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi — became Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Four Seasons, one of the greatest successes in pop music history. Group tickets for 15 people or more are now on sale through Broadway in Chicago at (312) 977-1710. More info

See more of What's New in Chicago



How many parks are in Chicago?

A) < 100
B) 100-250
C) 250-500
D) 500+

Answer: C) Chicago has 580 parks.

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