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Planning a trip to Chicago? Found a flight, check. Found your hotel, check. If you are still looking for flights, check out Expedia for great prices. And if you are still looking for a hotel, check out Expedia for some great rates. Click here for a vrbo if you have a larger group or are interested in living like a local. Wondering where to stay? Here is my guide about the best neighborhoods to stay in Chicago. Now that you have those details worked out, how do you get around Chicago? Rent a car, perhaps? No, really, it’s not necessary. Besides ridiculous gas prices and expensive parking, there are multiple ways to get around Chicago that do not require a car. Read on to find out the best ways to get around Chicago & look & act like a savvy local.
The best way to get around is by foot. Chicago really is a walking town. Make sure you have good shoes and a pedometer because you will log a lot of miles. Take it from me a tour guide for the last 15+ years. I average about 15,000 – 20,000 steps on a 5-6 hour tour which I think is comparable to touring around a new city. So good shoes are key!
I am a big fan of ASICs and have been since my running days. These are my go-to brand Ever since I bought my first pair. They always fit great & have great colors to choose from.
Next, when you need a break from sneakers or gym shoes (LOL-hey southsiders!) I recommend the Dansko brand. Sure they are pricey but your feet will thank you. They carry both cute women’s & men’s styles and they often have sales. Here are my latest favorite styles from Dansko. Both Remi and Reece are good for long tours and they are perfect when it’s warm and you don’t want to wear sneakers & socks.
When I want something a little dressier, I choose these styles. The first pair, the Sera, is airy and great for really hot days and so is the Susie. These styles are not really meant for all-day tours but being car-less, I have walked a fair amount in them and found they both have really good support.
IMHO the coolest (LOL – literally!) way to get around the city is by water taxi. Here are a couple of companies that offer water taxi service. First is Shoreline Water Taxi. They have 2 main routes and are currently running on weekdays & weekends. One route gets you from Navy Pier to the Willis (Sears) Tower and another that cruises along the lakefront. Always check the website to see the routes they offer and which times/days they are running so you can plan your day.
Here’s a fun route to get you started. After admiring the beautiful Buckingham Fountain, catch the water taxi to the Museum Campus and go visit one or all of the museums. CityPASS can help you save money! Then take the water taxi to Navy Pier. What brings this local to Navy Pier besides the SOFA (Sculptural Objects Functional Art) show, Venetian Night, and fireworks on Wednesdays & Saturdays? The Original Rainbow Cone! It is, hands down, the best ice cream ever! Insider tip: It looks like you could easily walk from the Museum Campus to Navy Pier but it is way farther than you think.
The next company offering water taxi service is the Chicago Water Taxi. Currently only running on Saturdays & Sundays. The tickets are $6 one way or $10 for an all-day pass. No brainer, get the all-day pass. My favorite route of the Chicago Water Taxi is getting on at Chicago Riverwalk and taking it to Chinatown. If you choose this route, go to qxy dumplings. They are delicious and BYOB but make sure you make a reservation. Read all about it here.
Divvy bikes come in very handy when you need a break from walking. They conveniently have stations all over the city. Download the Divvy app to find them and get you on your way. Keep in mind they also have electric bikes & scooters as well. Go explore the 18 miles of lakefront trails along beautiful Lake Michigan. Please be safe and use the bike lanes! Here is a bike lane map.
I haven’t owned a car in Chicago for many years now. It helps that Chicago has a pretty good public transportation system, the cta (Chicago Transit Authority). Download the Ventra app to buy fares and find out when trains and buses are coming in real-time. Then go to the cta trip planner to help you plan your day.
Personally, I use this all the time. First, plug in your starting point then your destination, it will show you all the available routes for buses and ‘L’ trains. It’s called the ‘L’ train because it’s elevated. Locals call all trains the ‘L’, even the subways that go underground. There are 8 lines total; Pink, Green, Red, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Orange, and Brown Lines. The Orange Line gets you to & from Midway airport while the Blue Line gets you to & from O’Hare airport.
The Metra train goes beyond the service area of the cta to the suburbs. It has more of a set schedule than the cta, which runs pretty regularly (every 10 mins) during the week. You can check out train schedules and purchase tickets for the Metra on the Ventra app as well. I often bring clients to Oak Park via the Metra. Why go to Oak Park? Because it has the most Frank Lloyd Wright buildings anywhere in the U.S. If you are a FLW fan, stay tuned, I am working on offering my tours through my blog – tours by city girl.
I use the CURB app. You get a cab very quickly. It also makes me feel better that cabs/taxis are regulated & have cameras. IMHO I have found that they are more reliable and cheaper than rideshares.
BIG BUS tours
Explore Chicago at your own pace with the flexible hop-on, hop-off Big Bus tours. Their hop-on, hop-off bus tours give you the freedom to plan your own itinerary and explore the best of Chicago’s landmarks for as little or as long as you like. Hop off the tour as many times as you like within the time period of your ticket and simply hop on again when you’re ready. Click here for a discount. Chicago is really beautiful at night so make sure you check out their Panoramic Night tour!
I hope my guide on the best ways to get around Chicago helped you plan your trip. Look at you looking & acting like a savvy local!