Chicago may be getting some serious snow lately, but did you know that you can tour the city by barely stepping outside? Chicago has a system of passages in Chicago called the "Pedway System" that connect buildings underground, on ground-level and also elevated above the street. If a warmer experience strikes your fancy, the Pedway system will get you closer to many stores, restaurants, and museums in the heart of downtown without even stepping outside.
What Is The Chicago Pedway?
The Pedway is around 45 blocks long, so among cities of the world that have such systems, it's pretty extensive, even offering direct access to several hotels like the Hyatt Park Regency or Swissotel. If you access the system just south of the Michigan Avenue bridge, for example, you could take the Pedway to the Art Institute of Chicago, or cut across west to go shopping on State Street at Macy's or Block 37. On the other end of town, if you stay at the historic Palmer House, you could walk a couple blocks outside to access the Pedway near the Art Institute, and make your way to the Michigan Avenue bridge and then walk outside to the Magnificent Mile.
I started exploring the system a few years ago as a means of developing walking tours for Chicago Detours. We wanted the option of offering tours that could always be offered despite our extreme Chicago weather. Ultimately, I couldn't find ay comprehensive resource on the system, so I designed a Pedway map that would share more than just where you find the passages. The system is pretty complicated, so the best solution I could come up with for this map was to divide it up into sections to give tips on orienting yourself around this virtual human maze.
The Ins and Outs
Most of the system is heated or air-conditioned, minus a few small transitional areas, or through the parking garages that are hidden underneath Millennium and Grant parks, but they still are a refuge from our wind! Lots of people imagine the Pedway to be like an alleyway - an isolated passage - that might not be safe. The Pedway is very safe actually, managed by the buildings attached to it, and usually has too much traffic for anything too sketchy to be going on.
The next question might be - when is it open or closed? Each part of the Pedway has different hours, which can make it difficult to navigate on the weekend, especially on Sundays. The Chicago Detours map details open hours for different parts of Pedway, but you can bet that if you explore during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, you won't encounter any dead ends.
Embark On The Pedway Adventure
On your visit to Chicago in the winter, the Pedway won't get you everywhere, and it certainly doesn't compare to the beauty of Chicago's architecture from the street, but it certainly will help you navigate the city in a different dimension. It's a fun exploration that feels like you're in a human maze.