If you’re planning a trip around the US, there’s no doubt you’ll be choosing between a few major cities. There are many impressive cities in the States, and you’ll need a lot of time to see even half of them. Which brings us to the topic today: Atlanta or Chicago?
With a restricted timetable for travel, one choice we see a lot of travelers making is between Atlanta and Chicago. Both cities are extensive, bustling metropolises with their own unique charms and attractions, whether it’s Atlanta’s historic underground music scene or Chicago’s jaw-dropping architecture and inimitable style. Whatever you are looking for in a popular city, you’re likely to find it in one of these two places.
But if you can’t visit both, there are multiple factors you should consider before purchasing tickets and choosing accommodation. We’re going to cover the basics, making it easier to decide which city will be the most fun for you.
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Atlanta or Chicago: Accommodation
Chicago has a range of everything you could want accommodation-wise – high-end luxury hotels, mid-range inns and motels, and budget accommodation that can be found in most parts of the city. That is, with the exception of Wicker Park, West Loop, and Streeterville which have very few budget options. But there are also many great Airbnb options to fit a variety of tastes and budgets, and fitting options near O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport if you are flying in late at night or flying out early.
Some of the best places to stay in Atlanta include Downtown, Midtown, and the Old Fourth Ward, one of the oldest and trendiest areas of the city. In these places, you’ll find the widest range of accommodation that is likely to meet your budget and preferences. Unfortunately, good accommodation in Atlanta is frequently in demand, so if you’re visiting during high season we recommend you book well in advance of your arrival.
Winner: Chicago – there are more options and choosing accommodation is less competitive and time-dependant.
Atlanta or Chicago: Nightlife
Remember that Atlanta is also the capital of Hip Hop, countless rappers and musicians who got their start in Atlanta have waxed lyrical about the capital’s famous nightlife since the 1990s, and its reputation hasn’t slowed down since.
Vibrant nightclubs, raucous dance halls, popular music venues, and more are on offer in Georgia’s capital – no matter where you are in the city, you’ll have access to plenty of great spots. Whether it’s live local music, a swank lounge, a few beers while watching live comedy, or celebrity-spotting at a hot nightclub, you can do it all (and more) in Atlanta. Some of the best late-night venues in the city include Argosy, Bon Ton, Wrecking Bar Brew Pub, and Kimball House, amongst many others.
Meanwhile, further north in Illinois, Chicago has its own share of after-dark activities. Like most large metro areas in America, you’ll find more options than you’ll be able to explore. If you want to sip cocktails with a city view in Streeterville or rub elbows with locals in River North (where most of the best clubs are concentrated), there’s always somewhere to go and something to do in the city. And because of Chicago’s reputation as one of the best food cities in America, you won’t go wrong starting your night off with a great meal. Some of Chicago’s most popular venues are Berlin, The Underground, The Violet Hour, Smart Bar, and Old Town Ale House.
While Chicago has its share of great bars and nightclubs, Atlanta is hard to beat with some of the best nightlife in the entire country, and the kind of all-night party vibe and atmosphere that many other cities fall short of.
Atlanta or Chicago: Price
For travelers, the estimate for expenses per day in Chicago is $220, compared to only $136 in Atlanta. This is taking into account food, entertainment/attractions, and transport.
Accommodation-wise, a budget two-star hotel in Chicago will set you back approximately $100 per night, and more luxury accommodation starts at around $190.
In Atlanta, a hotel room will set you back anywhere between $70 to $200, depending on the quality of the accommodation and where you choose to stay.
Of course, both of these prices can be reduced depending on your style of travel, and budget travelers will find themselves spending much less if staying at hostels/backpackers and seeking out the more affordable pockets of either city.
Atlanta or Chicago: Transport
Unfortunately, Atlanta’s public transport system is notorious for unreliability. One study even found that the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) puts Atlanta in second place for the “worst U.S. city to commute by public transit”, in a four-way tie with Detroit, Dallas, and New York City. The average commute takes a whopping 53 minutes.
If you’re planning to travel extensively in Atlanta, your best option is going to be via car, car rental, or taxi. Unfortunately, this isn’t a great option either as Atlanta is also notorious for its crawling, congested traffic. If you do travel in Atlanta, you might want to consider accommodation in a central part of the city where you can access food and preferred attractions by foot or even bicycle.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), on the other hand, is an extensive and modern transport system that connects every part of the city relatively efficiently. Public transport in this city is fast, convenient, and safe, which is an impressive feat considering that the CTA is one of the country’s largest public transport systems, second only to New York’s.
Getting around by bus, train, bike, or taxi is easy, and the bus and train systems are linked almost seamlessly. Many consider the CTA to be one of the best metro public transport systems in the world, making it a clear winner if easy of travel is most important to you.
Atlanta or Chicago: Attractions
Chicago is renowned for its world-class culture and entertainment, including some of America’s best museums. Things like the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago Children’s Museum and Field Museum, one of the largest natural history museums in the world, make Chicago one of the most cultured and vibrant cities in America. And with Lake Michigan in the center, there are plenty of gorgeous scenic walks around the city.
Chicago is also a food capital, with an incredible culinary culture known by foodies around the world. And it goes beyond just hot dogs, deep-dish pizza, and beef sandwiches – it has one of the most advanced restaurant scenes in the country, from beloved fast-food institutions to world-class offerings like Boka, Alinea, and Oriole.
There’s also plenty to do in Atlanta, with more than its share of museums and significant historic sites like the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. There are beautiful parks and botanical gardens, walking tours, and the city’s own stadiums, theatres, zoos, and aquariums. In fact, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest of its kind in the world with over 100,000 sea creatures, so it’s a must-see for any visitor.
The food culture in Atlanta is well-developed, offering the best in traditional and modern Southern cooking (the barbecue is to die for!), soul food, and a diverse range of other cuisines. There is a great sense of family and community in many of the city’s best-loved restaurants, including Mary Mac’s Tea Room, The Colonnade, and Paschal’s.
Winner: Chicago. It’s a close tie, but Chicago has a wider variety of attractions and more acclaimed cultural institutions that will appeal to people from all ages and walks of life.
Atlanta or Chicago: The Conclusion
Overall, we think both Atlanta and Chicago are fantastic cities that are well worth a visit. But if you could only choose one, we would have to back Chicago first. It has everything you could want in a city – high culture, underground entertainment, first-class museums, and art galleries, and food culture that you can’t miss. It’s also strikingly easy to get around compared to Atlanta – the only serious downside is that it is more expensive than its Georgian counterpart.
If you’re traveling on a budget, that’s something you might have to consider – Chicago is a wonderful international city, but it’s also an expensive city. However, we believe it’s worth the cost.
Of course, Atlanta is the better option for budget travelers, but it also trumps Chicago with its fabulous and raucous nightlife. If you’re looking for a weekend with some no-strings-attached fun at some of the best bars and clubs in the US, Atlanta is a no-brainer. The city also has a rich and complex history that can be felt deep in the city to this day, through its food, art, music, and general atmosphere.