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Best of Chicago

Looking for a refuge from the city's hubbub?Here are five places where you can see something interesting, or just relax, at no charge.

Chicago Cultural Center 78 E. Washington St.; 312/744-6630. Site of the city's official Visitor Information Center, this 1897 building, originally the main library, is a perfect place to sit, snack, use the bathroom, and check out art exhibitions.

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows 600 E. Grand Ave.; 312/595-7437. Slip into the serene recesses of this museum, along the lower-level terraces of Festival Hall, to admire more than 175 works of stained glass.

Steps of the Art Institute of Chicago 111 S. Michigan Ave.; 312/443-3600. An easy meeting place, the steps are also a first-rate spot for people-watching. If you time it right, you can see the sun set down the canyon of Adams Street.

Rainbow Lobby of Adler Planetarium 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr.; 312/922-7827. Stop in when the sun is bright in the west and you'll see tiny rainbows dancing around the room, thanks to prism-like beveled glass in the entrance doors.

Arts Club of Chicago 201 E. Ontario St.; 312/787-3997. The main-floor gallery, a quiet retreat just off Michigan Avenue, is open to the public. Take a look at the temporary exhibits and Mies van der Rohe's "floating staircase," transplanted from the club's previous quarters in 1997.

Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, and Mies are heroes in Chicago, a city that in many ways is an open-air museum of American architecture of the past 150 years. For years, the Chicago Architecture Foundation's tours have been the easiest way to see the city's most important buildings. Led by volunteer docents, the tours—by foot, boat, bus, bicycle, and train—can be arranged through the foundation's ArchiCenter (224 S. Michigan Ave.; 312/922-3432; www.architecture.org); river cruises are especially good. The ArchiCenter's shop also sells Chicago-themed merchandise devoid of kitsch.


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