Sweet Home Chicago: Being a Tourist
Welcome to Part Two of my Chicago series! Now that you know the best way to get around the city, I'm going to tell you about the best way to see all the hot spots. When you think of Chicago, I'm sure a few things come to mind, Willis Tower (Sears Tower to those who don't like change), one of the best skylines, deep dish pizza, the Cubs, the Magnificent Mile and museums. Chicago is really known for its rich culture and architectural triumphs. Whether you're just visiting or you've never been a tourist in your own city, there's a secret to seeing all the best attractions: GO Card Chicago
There are several options to choose from depending on how many things you want to go and see. My recommendation for a weekend trip is the Explorer Pass. You can pick 3, 4, or 5 attractions for one price. It's a great option because the weather can be a little unpredictable with its proximity to the lake, so you're going to want some flexibility with some of the outdoor attractions. It's also great for locals as you have 30 days to use your pass, so you could do one or two things a weekend. If you're visiting for a longer period of time, there is an all-inclusive pass available. You can see as much as you can (including Shedd Aquarium) within the allotted time you choose. There's also a Build Your Own Pass option if you know exactly what attractions you want to see.
Each option provides a pretty significant savings over purchasing tickets at the door/gate of any given attraction. I like the flexibility of the All-Inclusive Pass and Explorer Pass. I don't realistically think you can get your money's worth out of the 1 or 2-day all-inclusive passes and spend the time you'd like at each place, but if you're motivated and ready to go first thing and not stop all day- go for it! Give yourself 2-3 hours at each attraction depending on what it is and plan accordingly! Here are some of my top recommendations:
If you have a nice clear day available to you, I would hit Willis Tower's SkyDeck or 360 Chicago at the John Hancock building. You can get those iconic shots at SkyDeck in the glass boxes 103 stories above Chicago. If it's really cloudy out, I'd choose another indoor attraction or wait for another day. You can see below an image on a clear day (from 2010) and a cloudy day (from 2018). Here are some of my photos over the years:
If it's a relatively nice day, you can also take an architecture boat tour. I highly, highly recommend doing this. It's a wonderful way to really take in the beauty in the city on the Chicago River. My most recent tour guide was one of the best, but I've never had a bad time on a boat tour. Here are some photos from my boat tours:
My third must-see in Chicago is the Art Institute of Chicago. There are some really iconic paintings and pieces in this museum. It's a giant treasure trove (we're talking about a million square feet), so really plan to spend a lot of time here and get through all the exhibits. There's PLENTY to see, and if you're an impressionism fan like I am, that wing will knock your socks off. I've walked into the Monet room four times now and it takes my breath away every time. (I might have even cried?) You can see works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Rembrandt, Georgia O'Keefe, and incredible Renaissance paintings and sculptures, the list goes on and on!) And if you're a fan of the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, you may recognize that huge pointillism painting by Seurat down below. (Bonus: You also get Fast Pass Admission with your GO Card so you can walk right in and bypass the ever-present ticket line.)
Some other attractions I've experienced available with the GO Card are the Field Museum, the rides at Navy Pier, and the Tall Ship Windy. I didn't enjoy the Field Museum nearly as much as the Art Institute, so it wouldn't be my choice with the pass. Navy Pier is worth a visit, so I recommend boarding the architecture boat cruise there, as there are several points across the city you can jump on one.) The Tall Ship Windy has a ghost story experience that is hilariously silly. We had a nice dinner at Riva on Navy Pier complete with a few drinks before boarding. It's a fun way to see the whole city from Lake Michigan.
Also available with your GO Card are Bus Tours, the Museum of Science and Industry, Adler Planetarium, the Brookfield Zoo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour, The Escape Game, and Lake Tours among others. Check out the GO Card website for more details!
In my next post, I'll tell you all about some of the other must-see and do attractions that aren't included in the GO Card (some of which are FREE!) Stay tuned...
In case you missed my first post about getting around town, check it out here.