Travel Lifestyle & Culture

Travel Nurse's Complete Guide to Chicago

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN
July 19, 2023
Share On:
Jump to Unit

Hello, adventurous travel nurses and allied health professionals! Are you ready for your next big assignment? How about a trip to the Windy City, the heart of the Midwest - Chicago! Trust us, you're in for a treat.

With its stunning skyline, world-class cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, Chicago is not just a city—it's an experience. Imagine ending your shift and being greeted by the majestic sight of Lake Michigan, or indulging in a deep-dish pizza that's so good, it might just become your new comfort food. From the dazzling heights of Willis Tower to the excited atmosphere at Wrigley Field, there's no shortage of things to explore.

Get ready to fall in love with Chicago's rich history, its warm-hearted locals (known as 'Chicagoans'), and its charming neighborhoods, each with its own unique vibe. Whether you're a foodie, an outdoor enthusiast, a sports fan, or a culture buff, Chicago has something for everyone.

So, pack your bags and get ready to embark on an assignment for the books as we guide you through the best food, drinks, and fun activities that Chicago has to offer! This is your ultimate guide to making the most out of your Chicago assignment.

Living in Chicago: Cost of Living

If you're considering a travel assignment in Chicago, get ready for an awesome experience in the Windy City!  It's true that the cost of living in Chicago is higher than the national average, so let's break it down and ensure you're prepared for your Chicago adventure!

Transportation expenses, including bus fares and gas prices, are a bit higher than the national average. Gas prices might catch your attention, currently hovering around $4.23 per gallon. But here's the good news: Chicago boasts an excellent public transportation system! The extensive network of buses and trains will save you from the gas pump hassle and help you navigate the city like a pro. Embrace the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), and you'll be zipping around like a local!

Now, about housing expenses – yes, they are about 20% higher than the national average. If you're eyeing a trendy one-bedroom apartment near the city center, you can expect to pay around $2,080 per month. But remember, Chicago's rental prices are actually 42.6% lower than those in New York City! So, if you've ever dreamed of living in a big city without breaking the bank, Chicago is your spot.

And let's not forget, if you’re on a travel contract, you will get housing stipends included in your contract. That should mean that your accommodation costs are covered, giving you more room to explore and indulge in the city's offerings.

So, there you have it – Chicago's cost of living 101. While it may be a bit higher than some other places, it's all part of the experience of living in one of the most iconic cities in the world. From the bustling Magnificent Mile to the serene shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago's got something for everyone. So pack your bags, bring your sense of adventure, and get ready to embark on an assignment that will leave you with unforgettable memories and a love for the Windy City!

Nursing in Chicago: Education and Salary Expectations

In terms of salary, working as a nurse in Chicago offers attractive compensation. While it may not reach the levels of cities like San Francisco or New York, Chicago's average hourly wage for registered nurses is approximately $40.99, equating to an annual salary of around $85,260. Travel nurses, in particular, have the potential to earn even higher salaries, averaging $2,777 gross per week in 2023.  Keep in mind that travel nurse pay is always fluctuating based on market supply and demand- you can keep an eye on salary data by using our Nurse Salary Explorer.  

Chicago boasts a robust healthcare system with world-class hospitals and medical centers that provide a wide range of specialties and research opportunities. By working in these respected healthcare facilities, nurses can gain invaluable experience, collaborate with knowledgeable professionals, and contribute to cutting-edge advancements in healthcare.

Like many states, Illinois faces a nursing shortage, resulting in ample job opportunities for nurses in Chicago. The demand for qualified healthcare professionals is expected to remain high, offering a stable and promising career outlook for nurses seeking long-term growth and professional fulfillment.

If you're passionate about nursing and ready for a career in Chicago, you're in for a treat! The Windy City is home to a robust healthcare industry, making it an attractive destination for nurses looking to explore diverse career prospects. Whether you're a new grad nurse eager to start your journey, or an experienced nurse seeking further education, Chicago has top-notch nursing programs to fuel your ambitions.

Universities like the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rush University, and Loyola University Chicago offer highly-rated nursing programs that provide a solid foundation for a successful career. From comprehensive curricula to hands-on clinical experiences, these institutions are committed to producing skilled and compassionate nurses who can excel in any healthcare setting.

While Chicago might not match the pay scales of cities like San Francisco or New York, the compensation is still quite attractive. Staff RNs in Chicago earn an average of approximately $40.99 per hour, adding up to an annual salary of around $85,260. But here's the exciting part for travel nurses – in 2023, those Chicago contracts have seen an average of $2,765 gross per week!  Keep in mind that travel nurse pay is always fluctuating based on market supply and demand- you can keep an eye on salary data by using our Nurse Salary Explorer.  

But it's not just about the paycheck – Chicago's healthcare system is a treasure trove of opportunities. World-class hospitals and medical centers dot the city, offering a diverse range of specialties and learning opportunities. Working in such esteemed facilities allows you to collaborate with knowledgeable professionals, expand your skillset, and contribute to cutting-edge advancements in healthcare.

Moreover, Illinois, like many states, faces a nursing shortage, meaning the demand for qualified healthcare professionals in Chicago remains consistently high. With ample job opportunities at your fingertips, you can shape your nursing career on stable ground, ensuring long-term growth and professional fulfillment.

Once you've mastered your nursing skills and settled into the Chicago healthcare scene, it's time to explore the city's delights. We've got the inside scoop on the best places to eat, drink, and have fun while you're here - let the fun begin!

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Chicago Restaurants You Must Try

Parachute: Nestled in the heart of the city is Parachute, a quaint Korean-American restaurant brought to life by the culinary prowess of James Beard Award winners Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark. This husband-and-wife team have curated a compact menu packed with standout dishes. The seafood pancake, bursting with shrimp, calamari, and a blend of aromatic herbs, offers a crispy delight, perfectly complemented by a zesty onion-chili dipping sauce. The yukhoe, a unique take on Korean beef tartare, is elevated with a hint of caviar. The star of the show, however, is the bossam platter. A symphony of pork belly, pork collar, kimchi, cabbage, and fresh oysters, this platter invites you to craft your own flavorful wraps. Parachute is a culinary adventure you don't want to miss.

Paulie Gee’s: This Brooklyn-based pizza hotspot features Neapolitan-style wood-fired pies with a twist. Boasting a menu filled with imaginative toppings such as bacon jam, pickled pineapples, and hot honey, alongside generous vegan options, Paulie Gee’s offers a unique pizza experience. However, the real star of the show is the Detroit-style Logan Square, a winning recipe from the 2018 U.S. Pizza Cup by owner Derrick Tung. This masterpiece, with three types of cheese, pepperoni cups, bacon jam, ricotta, basil, and hot honey, served on a thick, caramelized crust, is an unforgettable bite that keeps guests coming back for more.

Wazwan: A walk-in only and BYOB restaurant in Chicago, Wazwan has a cool vibe and brings a blend of South Asian street food tradition and elevated culinary craftsmanship under the helm of James Beard Award-nominated Chef Zubair Mohajir. This South Asian gem features a variety of Indian-inspired dishes, such as vada pav (potato croquette sliders), kati rolls with paneer, tandoori-glazed fried chicken sandwich, and delightful fish dishes like inaloban or grilled Mangalorean fish. 

Sochi Saigonese Kitchen: A vibrant and spacious Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago, Sochi offers a unique fusion of tradition and innovation. Run by the husband-and-wife team Chinh Pham and Son Do, Sochi immerses diners in an authentic Vietnamese dining experience. Each dish is a testament to meticulous detail, from spring rolls made with imported Vietnamese rice paper to Southern-style pho with perfectly simmered broth. The emphasis on subtle yet impactful elements, such as homemade chili paste, contributes to a dining experience that feels upscale, yet invitingly casual. With a menu inspired by the couple's memories of growing up in Saigon, Sochi Saigonese Kitchen is a place where every meal is a journey into the heart of Vietnamese cuisine.

Avli: This beautifully designed restaurant will have you feeling like you’ve traveled to Greece for your meal.  At Avli,tradition merges with contemporary elegance to offer guests an experience imbued with hospitality, joy, and passion, the core philosophies of the restaurant. Avli puts a modern spin on regional Greek dishes, emphasizing both creativity and authenticity. The menu, ranging from flaky spinach pie to chicken souvlaki served on house-made pita bread, reflects the diversity of Greek food culture.

Esmé: From the food to the ambience, everything about Esmé is a work of art. Located in the chic corner of Lincoln Park, this fine-dining establishment is where culinary innovation meets philanthropy and art. Esmé offers art-inspired tasting menus featuring unique dishes such as fancy Cheetos and Thai banana caramel-coated pork ribs, served on bespoke serving pieces. The restaurant also aligns its rotating menus with the work of local artists and donates a part of its proceeds to charity. For those who wish to experience Esme without a full splurge, there's Bar Esmé that offers more moderately priced, yet delightful snacks. 

Rose Mary: Situated in the historic Fulton Market district, Rose Mary is a vibrant culinary hotspot born from Top Chef winner Joe Flamm's Italian roots and love for Croatian flavors. Named after his grandmothers, Mary and Mary Rose, and the native herb rosemary, this lively restaurant presents an array of rustic, yet refined dishes that define what Flamm dubs "Adriatic drinking food". From gnocchi with beef cheek to delectable tuna crudo, every dish perfectly complements a selection of organic wines and cocktails enriched with Eastern European spirits. The restaurant interior echoes the warm, celebratory ambiance of traditional Croatian taverns, making Rose Mary a captivating blend of culture, cuisine, and conviviality. 

Get Your Caffeine Fix: Best Coffee Shops in Chicago

Dayglow: A concept birthed in Los Angeles, Dayglow serves as both a coffee subscription service and a vibrant, immersive café experience located in Logan Square. Its mission is to introduce coffee lovers and newcomers alike to an array of unique brews from around the globe, with offerings such as Brazilian La Cabra and Kenyan Coffee Collective. Dayglow's dynamic menu also features an ever-changing selection of seasonally-inspired drinks, blending unconventional flavors like hibiscus and peppermint or black sesame and activated charcoal. 

Ipsento: Rooted in a deep passion for coffee craftsmanship, Ipsento is where self-discovery meets exceptional brews. Named after Latin roots that together mean 'self-discovery,' Ipsento reflects its name in its mission: to provide a deeply satisfying experience that aids in personal exploration. The team's commitment stretches from the pursuit of the world's finest beans to meticulous roasting and brewing, all aimed at bringing out the unique flavors and aromas in each cup. Whether it's your first sip or you're a regular patron, Ipsento invites you into its warm atmosphere to discover and savor the subtle nuances of truly excellent coffee. 

Metric Coffee Co.: Born from the combined visions of Caffe Streets owner Darko Arandjelovic and former Intelligentsia roasting manager Xavier Alexander, Metric Coffee stands as an embodiment of modern cool. Nestled in an offbeat stretch of Fulton Street, this combination of a public café and roasting facility offers the perfect haven for unhurried weekends. Customers are invited to savor their chosen brew while tuning into Source Code, Metric's own podcast delving into various facets of the coffee industry, from bean sourcing to intricate production details. Their dedication to 'radical transparency' and fair pricing, along with their diligent efforts to hand-select the best seasonal lots from small coffee producers worldwide, further testify to Metric Coffee's commitment to delivering exceptional coffee experiences.

Prime Spots for Drinks in Chicago

Mother’s Ruin: Nestled in Chicago's Avondale neighborhood, Mother's Ruin Bar brings a splash of NYC flair and irreverence. Known for its splendid cocktail curation, this watering hole effortlessly balances its status as a local favorite and a haven for cocktail enthusiasts. With a laid-back decor and an open-door policy, the bar exudes a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. However, don't let the casual vibe fool you; their dedication to top-notch cocktails is unquestionable. If you're feeling peckish, they offer an incredible array of bar snacks, including one of the best burgers in Chicago. Doors open at 11 am daily, making it a perfect spot for brunch cocktails and a hearty breakfast burrito.

The Moonlighter: Nestled at the border of Chicago's Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods, The Moonlighter is a welcoming neighborhood bar that exudes a laid-back ambiance. Walking into the Moonlighter, is like walking into your cozy family room, complete with an extensive craft beer selection, a world-class cocktail program, and a menu featuring delicious house-made burgers, salads, and late-night bites. Whether you gather around the fireplaces indoors, catch your team’s big game, or unwind on the dog-friendly patio, this space invites you to relax, enjoy good company, and make yourself at home.

Cerise Rooftop Bar: Experience the epitome of rooftop indulgence at Cerise Rooftop Bar, where cocktails come alive amidst breathtaking views. Located atop the iconic Virgin Hotel in downtown Chicago, Cerise Rooftop offers a panoramic vista of the city.  With a blend of expertly crafted cocktails, innovative cuisine, and curated music, Cerise Rooftop sets the stage for an extraordinary atmosphere day and night. Capture picture-perfect moments on the rooftop swings, basking in the beauty of the river views. 

The Hi-Lo: Tucked in the vibrant neighborhood of Humboldt Park, Hi-Lo Bar welcomes you with its inviting ambiance and delightful libations. Step into a charming space that combines both indoor and outdoor areas, complete with a cozy wood-burning fireplace and a spacious partially-covered patio. The menu presents a unique split between "hi" and "lo" options, offering a range of strong, boozy cocktails and lower ABV choices to suit every preference. Embrace the relaxed charm of Hi-Lo Bar and indulge in an evening of craft cocktails, friendly conversations, and memorable moments.

Moneygun: Below the green and pink line el tracks (the “el” is what locals call the train system), Moneygun Bar is the epitome of effortless cool. Step inside and experience a no-frills atmosphere where classic cocktails take center stage.  Indulge in a wide selection of draft and bottled beers, or opt for expertly crafted cocktails. Wine enthusiasts can explore a variety of sparkling, white, rosé, or red wines to suit their taste. The dimly-lit ambiance, with a hint of reddish tinge from the lights, exudes a vintage allure, making Moneygun the perfect spot for a memorable evening out with friends.

Can’t-Miss Attractions in Chicago

360 Chicago: Formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, 360 CHICAGO is an iconic attraction that takes you to new heights above the bustling streets of Chicago. Located on the 94th floor of the towering 875 N Michigan Avenue building, this observation deck offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city's magnificent architecture, Lake Michigan, and even four states on clear days. Challenge your fear of heights by experiencing TILT, their latest thrill that tilts you out from the 94th floor. Learn about Chicago's rich history through interactive displays and exhibits that showcase its vibrant neighborhoods. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned local, 360 CHICAGO promises an unforgettable experience.

Millennium Park: A guide to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Millennium Park, the home of Cloud Gate, affectionately known as “the Bean.” This vibrant park plays host to a collection of public art installations and a wide array of events throughout the year, including free summer concerts and movie screenings. Wander through the tranquil Lurie Gardens, where nature's beauty harmonizes with the cityscape, or find solace on the expansive lawn facing the architectural marvel of the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Millennium Park invites you to bask in its captivating atmosphere, offering a perfect blend of art, nature, and relaxation.

Wrigley Field: Home of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field stands as a timeless symbol of baseball heritage. Since its construction in 1914, this historic stadium has drawn crowds of loyal fans and curious visitors alike. From weekday afternoon games to Saturday night showdowns, the atmosphere is electric as spectators fill the stands, enjoying the thrill of America's pastime. Even for those uninterested in baseball, a visit to Wrigley Field offers the opportunity to savor a classic Chicago-style hot dog while taking in the vibrant energy that permeates the stadium. And when the final out is recorded, the surrounding neighborhood comes alive with an array of lively bars and restaurants, ensuring the celebration continues long after the game ends.

Discover Chicago's Cultural Gems

Chicago Theatre: The historic Chicago Theatre, located in the heart of downtown, is a century-old venue that has hosted legendary performers from Aretha Franklin to Frank Sinatra. With its grandeur and historic charm, this 3,600-seat theater offers a diverse lineup of concerts and stand-up shows every week. For a deeper appreciation of its history, take a tour that allows you to explore the venue, stand on the famous stage, and admire the autographed walls in the backstage dressing rooms. Keep an eye on the calendar for upcoming performances, as tickets tend to sell out quickly in this stunning and highly sought-after venue.

Kingston Mines: Nestled in the heart of Lincoln Park, Kingston Mines Jazz & Blues Center stands as an iconic blues nightclub with a rich history. Since its establishment in 1968, Kingston Mines has been a bastion of blues music, proudly holding the title of the largest and oldest continuously operating blues club in Chicago. Its two stages have hosted legendary performers such as Magic Slim, Koko Taylor, Sugar Blue, and many more. The club has garnered numerous awards, including recognition as the Best Blues Club by the Chicago Reader and the Most Popular Blues Club by the Chicago Music Awards. Kingston Mines offers an inviting space to immerse yourself in Chicago's vibrant live music scene, where the motto "Hear Blues – Drink Booze – Talk Loud – You're Among Friends!" truly comes to life.

Art Institute of Chicago: Located in downtown Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago is home to over 300,000 artworks spanning various centuries and genres. From masterpieces like Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and Grant Wood's American Gothic, the museum offers you a journey through art history. 

Chicago Cultural Center: Inside a historic building dating back to 1897, the Chicago Cultural Center is host to many artistic and cultural experiences. Visitors can enjoy free classical concerts, explore art exhibitions in its numerous galleries, and marvel at the world's largest stained glass Tiffany dome in the Preston Bradley Hall. With its impressive architecture and rich history, the center provides a welcoming space for both locals and tourists to immerse themselves in the arts without any admission fees. 

Outdoor Adventures in the Windy City

Lakefront Trail: Stretching from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street, Chicago’s Lakefront Trail offers an epic 18-mile journey along the Chicago lakefront. Whether you're walking, running, cycling, or rollerblading, the trail provides panoramic views of the sparkling blue waters. Expect bustling crowds during the summer months, but don't let that deter you from enjoying the scenic beauty and easy access to the lake. The trail also provides access to numerous beaches along the way, with the south-shore portion offering a particularly scenic and tranquil escape from the crowds. So lace up your shoes or hop on your bike, and head out to enjoy Lakefront Trail!

Humboldt Park: A sprawling green oasis on Chicago's West Side, Humboldt Park offers lagoons, winding paths, and recreational amenities. This community hub attracts visitors with its picturesque views, food vendors, and iconic Prairie-style architecture, including the renowned Humboldt Park Boathouse. Explore the park's tranquil beauty and enjoy outdoor activities in this urban oasis.

Chicago Riverwalk: As you walk along Chicago’s Riverwalk, you'll catch the city's stunning architecture from a fresh perspective. The Riverwalk is a hub of activity, with many restaurants, bars, and gathering spaces inviting you in for culinary experiences and refreshing drinks. Whether you're savoring a glass of wine at City Winery, enjoying local delicacies at Chicago Brewhouse, or treating yourself to a gelato at Frost Gelato, the Riverwalk promises a delectable adventure. If you're in the mood for a cruise, hop on board a boat tour or rent a kayak or a self-guided paddle tour.  No matter how you enjoy it, the Riverwalk beckons you to embrace the beauty of Chicago's riverfront in a truly unforgettable way.

Take a Travel Assignment in Chicago & Embrace the Windy City! 

Now is the time to take the leap and make Chicago home- even if just temporarily! Immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of the city, savor the flavors of its diverse culinary scene, and explore its hidden gems.

Trusted Health is here to make your travel nursing dreams a reality. Sign up to travel with us and embark on an unforgettable journey as a travel nurse in Chicago. Whether you're seeking a short-term assignment or a longer-term opportunity, we have the perfect placement for you. Our dedicated team will guide you every step of the way, ensuring a seamless experience from start to finish.

*Special thanks to our very own Michael M, a Senior Analyst here at Trusted, for contributing so many of these awesome Chicago recommendations!* 

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN, is a pediatric critical care nurse who traded her scrubs for a laptop to come work internally at Trusted two years ago. With eight years of critical care experience and four years of travel nursing under her belt, Audrey now uses her experience and expertise to support others in the healthcare industry, particularly her fellow nurses. When she's not at work, Audrey loves to explore the great outdoors! Hiking, skiing, or just soaking up nature's beauty - Audrey is all about it.

Related Blogs

Thank you for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong. Please try again.