Chicago offers a wonderful service to make visitors from around the world feel at home in the Windy City. The service is ‘Chicago Greeter’.’ ‘Chicago Greeter’ is a free program provided by the Chicago Office of Tourism that matches visitors with well-informed personal tour guides who volunteer their time. Greeter tours highlight more than 40 special areas of interest and 25 diverse Chicago neighborhoods.
The Chicago Greeters, established in 2002, is a diverse group of more that 180 Chicagoans from various walks of life and neighborhoods that have one thing in common–a love for Chicago. Greeter tours are generally 2 to 4 hours in length and are designed for parties of six or fewer thus allowing visitors a very personal experience. In addition to English, greeters speak dozens of languages from Mandarin to Portuguese.
Chicago Greeter Tours are open to visitors outside of the city–near and far–by registering online seven to ten business days in advance of their scheduled arrival. Local residents, entertaining family or friends, are also welcome. For those who do not have the time to schedule in advance, the city offers an InstaGreeter service.
The InstaGreeter tours offer first-come, first-served 60-minute walking visits of several Chicago neighborhoods.
Downtown Chicago InstaGreeter Tour.
Tours are available from the Chicago Cultural Center (77 E. Randolph) InstaGreeter booth Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10a.m. to 4p.m. CST–with the last visit of the day departing at 3p.m. The visits highlight Chicago history, architecture, the Chicago River and lakefront. Tours from the Chicago Cultural Center InstaGreeter booth are available year around.
Special InstaGreeter Tours.
Visitors can take a walking tour of the 24.5 acre, award-winning Millennium Park and learn about the gardens, sculptures and structures located within the park. The tour, first-come, first-served is limited to ten or less. It originates at the Millennium Park Welcome Center, located at 201 E. Randolph Street, daily tours are available at 11:30a.m. and 1:00p.m. Millennium Park Tours are offered Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
The Old Town InstaGreeter Outpost is located in the heart of Old Town at Second City– training ground of comedians such as John Belushi, Bill Murray, Steve Carrell and Tina Fey. The Old Town Tour is limited to groups of six or fewer. Visitors will learn about the history of the neighborhood and view popular restaurants and unusual boutiques. Old Town Instagreeter is available every Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., leaving from the Second City, 1616 N. Wells Street. Tours of Old Town are offered from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
These one-hour guided walking visits are the perfect introduction to this historic neighborhood, which is also home to the University of Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Museum of Science and Industry, DuSable Museum of African American History and many other cultural gems. Hyde Park Instagreeter is available every Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., from the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Avenue. Hyde Park InstaGreeter Tours are available from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.
A Typical Tour.
A typical tour is somewhat of an oxymoron as tours can be personalized by interests, language and physical limitations. However on a beautiful spring day in April, I became a tourist in my own city. I meet my greeter, Alan Stengel, at the Chicago Greeter booth inside the Chicago Cultural Center at a little before 10a.m. for a tour of the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods. I was given a free pass, good for 24 hours on the CTA, and we began the tour.
We walked from the Chicago Cultural Center to State and Washington where we would board the number 6 Jackson Park bus to Hyde Park/Kenwood. During our two block walk to State Street, Alan, began pointing out details of the architecture of buildings along the way. Although I had walked by these buildings, many times, I had never noticed the amazing styles. The tour continued as we boarded the bus for our 20 minute ride to Kenwood with Alan providing a running commentary of stories and information about important spots along the way.
The “official tour” began when we got off the bus near the Blackstone Library, 4904 S. Lake Park Avenue in Kenwood. The library, named in honor of Timothy Beach Blackstone, who was President of the Chicago and Alton Railroad and the first president of the Union Stockyards and Transit Company was Chicago’s first Branch Library, est. in 1902. Alan, who grew up in the neighborhood, offered more history and interesting details. We stepped inside where I snapped a picture of the beautiful ceiling murals.
We continued walking the neighborhood viewing homes including Frank Lloyd Wright houses; residences of famous and infamous people of the past and present including the Barack Obama; Gustus Swift (Swift meats); Julius Rosenwald (Sears and the Museum of Science and Industry); and Bobby Franks, who was the 14-year-old victim of notorious killers, Leopold and Loeb, whose homes were located nearby. We continued through the neighborhood viewing many other homes before heading to the business district.
We spent a few minutes inside the Hyde Park barber shop where we chatted with Obama’s barber and viewed pictures of Obama. We saw many more sights including the Obama’s first apartment and the spot of the Obama’s first kiss before stopping for lunch at the Barack Obama favorite, Valiois Cafe, for a very tasty and reasonably priced lunch. We walked back to the bus, with Alan providing more stories and an impromptu Obama quiz along the way.
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