A Guide to Hop-On-Hop-Off in Chicago

By Jodi Thornton O'Connell

Navigating to maximize your Chicago experience

A Guide to Hop-On-Hop-Off in Chicago

The flexibility offered by hop-on-hop-off tours is to be doubly appreciated in cities like Chicago, where the temptations to jump off and explore are many. Several Windy City companies offer these popular and convenient tours with routes running to famous downtown attractions like the Art Institute, Millennium Park and Adler Planetarium. Get familiar in advance with what's available, then get onboard and travel from site to site at your own pace in this hoppin' Midwestern town.

The rundown

Big Bus Chicago: One comprehensive route with one- and two-day options. A deluxe ticket includes two days on the hop-on-hop-off bus along with a free one-hour night tour and shoreline sightseeing lake tour. Buy individual tickets for adults or kids, or bring the entire family for one price. Buses are Wi-Fi equipped, so you can upload those selfies to social media as you go. Tours run year-round.

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co.: Take one- to three-day rides on the company's hop-on-hop-off bus tour that includes four routes encompassing a total of 18 stops: Downtown, Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo and Museum of Science and Industry/Chinatown. The company runs tours year-round with buses that come along every 12 to 15 minutes from May through September and every 20 to 25 minutes during the winter.

CitySightseeing: Explore the city day or night with 16 stops along five routes that delve into Chicago's culture and history. Red open-top, double-decker buses let you see over the traffic. The company offers year-round tours with some exceptions. The night tour, the Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo route and the Museum of Science and Industry/Chinatown tour run only from May through early October.

Put on your walking shoes

Combine your hop-on-hop-off bus tour with a walking tour. With Free Tours by Foot, you pay at the end of the guided walk what you feel the tour was worth. Follow the path of the Riverwalk to get the inside scoop on buildings and bridges, or learn how Chicago has been portrayed on the silver screen when you join the Movies and Filming in Chicago Tour. Free Tours by Foot also has food tours and self-guided tours that pair nicely with hop-on-hop-off stops.

Crowd avoidance

July and August are the busiest tourist months in Chicago, and you can expect to find more crowded buses during this time. Summer festivals bring crowds to places like Millennium and Grant parks on weekends. Experience fewer crowds during the week when buses run after morning rush hour and tours end before evening rush hour gets into full swing. Shoulder seasons of May, June and September let you enjoy Chicago's pleasant weather in the 70s without as many crowds.

Get up and GOChicago

Your hop-on-hop-off bus ticket doesn't include admission to paid attractions. Get a GOChicago Card for admission to 26 attractions, including a one-day hop-on-hop-off tour with Big Bus Tours.

About the Author

Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.