7 Chicago

PopulationMetro: 9,533,040
America’s great Midwest metropolis has an abundance of programming and culture, with the deep infrastructure and affordability that eludes many cities. Plus, did you hear that Amazon rumour?

The Windy City’s two centuries as the heart of a nation coursing talent, materials and energy to its distant extremities give it a natural big-city swagger.

It boasts some of best-developed infrastructure in North America—what we call the “hardware of a city” that makes up our Product category (in which Chicago finished #6 globally)—one of the most difficult in which to score high. Museums, airports and public transit take years to build and are expensive to maintain, but they are vital for livability, urban exploration and empowering a city’s visitors to immerse themselves in a place like locals.

Companies like Amazon love Chicago—it was the only city that the e-commerce giant reportedly visited twice in its search for a second HQ, and the $500 billion in related investment. And Chicago, which spends a lot of time wooing tech giants, succeeds year after year because a lot of young people want to live in vibrant neighborhoods with great dining and drinking options, good public transit and stellar museums. As it happens, Chicago has all of the above in spades. Perhaps more important for companies looking to hire, the city has some pretty impressive higher education institutions.

Place 42
Product 60
Programming 32
People 66
Prosperity 62
Promotion 34

The city finished in the Top 5 globally for local university rankings and its convention center, and its 150 years of high and bold architecture get their due at the Chicago Architecture Center (formerly the Chicago Architecture Foundation), “home to everything architecture in Chicago,” which opened in August 2018 within a building originally designed by Mies van der Rohe. The 20,000 square foot space features programs, exhibitions and tours, an architecture store and a lecture hall. An interactive exhibit allows visitors to experience the expansive Chicago Mode—an immersive view of 3D model of Chicago with 4,000 buildings. The model explores the growth of the city through a film and light show. Building Tall is an exhibit of supersized scale models featuring famous skyscrapers from Chicago and around the world.

Visitors today can cozy up to iconic American architecture like never before, courtesy of several new hotels. Situated diagonally across from Millennium Park on North Michigan Avenue is Hotel Julian, a $75+ million development that preserves many of the original components of the iconic Benjamin Marshall-designed building in the new hotel design to create a striking contrast of old and new. The brick walls in the hotel lobby and restaurant contain the original 100-year-old bricks. Found Hotel recently opened in River North’s Well Street, turning an old 1910 Olympia Building into affordable lodging for the modern explorer. The hotel’s exterior design focuses on existing features such as the Chicago-style bay windows.

Chicago's coastline Natasha Taylor

Chicago finished second only to New York among U.S. cities for Programming, a strong indicator of a city’s magnetism and appeal to both residents and visitors that spans Shopping, Nightlife, Culinary and Culture. The city finished #7 globally for Culture and #9 for Nightlife, fueled by its legendary blues bars, live shows and music festivals that span genres and the calendar. (Remember, Lollapalooza was born here.)

The Chicago Theatre Liz Lawrence

But where the city is really ascending is in its food scene, currently ranked #22 in the world. Chicago has delivered James Beard Foundation winners in 23 out of 24 years. In fact, after 25 years in New York, the foundation selected Chicago in 2015 as the new host city for its elite awards ceremony. Chicago is slated to host the Beard Awards until at least 2021.

Chicago’s relentless and distinctive restaurant scene, as vibrant and fearless as its citizens, is catching up to its celebrated nightlife and music. Iconic music venue Schubas Tavern is no longer just about live bands. After extensive renovations, its adjoined restaurant recently reopened as the beautiful Tied House featuring a sophisticated menu from James Beard Award-winning chef Debbie Gold. On the North Side of Chicago is Band of Bohemia, quite possibly the first Michelin-starred brewpub, where tasting menus are paired with creative beer selections brewed on-site.