Which Chicago Bus Tours Are Best?

This post reviews and compares the many different Chicago bus tours, double-decker hop-on-hop-off, gangster and more, which are available to you, many of which are included for free with the purchase of most tourist discount passes.

 

 


HOP-ON-HOP-OFF DOUBLE DECKER BUS TOUR

Below is a brief description. Click here for our full comparison post on hop-on-hop-off bus tours, where we detail the pros and cons, route maps and options for discounts.

A popular option for bus tours is the hop-on-hop-off tour variety. All the buses in this section run continuously along mapped routes, and riders have the option to board at several predetermined locations throughout the city.

 

 
Travelers can get off the bus at any of these stops and discover the landmarks for themselves. After exploring various areas of Chicago, hop back onto the bus and continue your journey!

Each ticket will be valid for a certain amount of time (typically 24-48 hours) and you can come and go as you please. Ticket prices range from $35-$55 for adults and $18-$27 for children.  

 


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CHICAGO CITY TOURS 

Although hop-on-hop-off bus tours can be very informative, they are designed for exploring the city at your own pace. On the other hand, sightseeing tours are all about guiding you through the area and explaining the historical significance of several important landmarks.

While some trips are focused on how Chi-town became such a bustling city of industry, other tours center their attention on the architectural history of the Windy City. Most of these services are very highly rated. Tickets will cost between $30-$50 for adults and $15-25 for children.

 


See It All Mini Bus Tour

Winner of the Concierge Favorites Award 2015, See It All offers a two-hour experience that allows you to experience a large part of the city, with three great photo stops! If you want to see everything that this city has to offer, this is a great way to discover Chicago.

 

 

Expert guides will provide information about the interesting parts of the windy city while you take in the various sights and sounds. This company offers hotel pick-ups at most locations downtown. Simply select your hotel (or the hotel nearest you) at the time of booking.

This tour company has a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews). They are one of the most trusted services in Chicago, and a majority of reviews are 5 stars.

Several comments suggest that the See It All tour is a great introduction to the city for visitors who may not be familiar with their surroundings. Positive reviews often mention that the tour is very informative and the guides provide a lot of information about Chi-town and its history.

Tour Highlights

Schedule

  • January-March: 1 pm Tuesdays-Sundays
  • April-December: 10 am and 1 pm Tuesdays-Sundays

Standard Prices (as of 2018)

 


Gray Line Panoramic and Scenic North Side Tour

Looking to experience Chicago’s most beautiful buildings on the busiest streets? Gray Line offers guided tours that provide a first-hand look at the Windy City at an affordable cost. Discover a lot of the most notable scenery in Chi-town while learning a lot about its history.

This is not a hop-on-hop-off tour, but there is a twenty minute stop at the beautiful Lincoln Park Conservatory!  

This tour is included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from Smart Destinations. Another bonus is a free downtown hotel pickup.

Unfortunately, Gray Line may be the poorest rated service on this list. They currently sport a 3.5 out of 5-stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews), and opinions on their tours appear to be mixed.

Some customers left glowing reviews focusing on the quality of their tour guides, but just as many guests were unhappy with their trip. Families and couples were pretty much just as likely to leave either a positive or a negative review, so it’s difficult to say whether or not the lower ratings warrant more attention than the positive comments.

Route Highlights

  • Business Section
  • Richard J. Daley Plaza
  • Pablo Picasso sculpture
  • Wrigley Building
  • Magnificent Mile
  • Water Tower Place
  • The Loop
  • Lincoln Park Conservatory (20 minute stop)

Schedule   Tours operate twice daily, year-round, at 10 am and 2 pm. 

Duration  Tours are two hours in length, with one 20 minute stop at Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Prices (as of 2018)

  • Adults $31.95
  • Children (5-14) $16.95
  • Infants (0-4) Free
  • You can buy tickets here.

TIP: This tour is included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from Smart Destinations.


Grayline’s The Grand Tour

In addition to their tour of the north side, Gray Line also provides a bus tour that takes you around several of the most beautiful parks in the city. The Grand Tour takes you past Lincoln Park, Washington Park, and Grant Park.

While on your journey throughout Chicago, you’ll travel alongside the outer drive in order to get excellent views of the lake. Discover the most charming locations in the entire city as you enjoy stops at both the Lincoln Conservatory and the Museum Campus.

Grayline also offers this tour in combination with tickets to Chicago 360, one of Chicago’s 2 observation decks, with a small discount.

TIP: This tour is included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from Smart Destinations.

 

 

Ratings and reviews for this tour are all over the place. While some really enjoyed their experience, others found it to be a chore. It would seem that some passengers are ending up with bad tour guides. That being said, a lot of guests have said that their guides were very helpful and informative. It’s hard to say which reviews you should trust, but it looks like this might be a bit of a mixed bag. At 4 hours in length, this is a longer tour than most options on this list, and that might have something to do with the unhappy customers. If you’d prefer a shorter tour, consider some of the other bus tours on this page.

Prices (as of 2018)

TIP: This tour is included for free with the purchase of any of the 3 tourist discount passes from Smart Destinations.

Tour Details

  • Hotel pickup is available
  • Stops will be made at Lincoln Conservatory and Museum Campus
  • Photography is invited and welcome
  • Food and beverage are not provided but may be available at various stops
  • Also available for free with the Go Card and the Explorer Pass. Combine tours and attractions to save on normal ticket prices!

 


Chicago Architecture Foundation Architectural Highlights Tour

Chicago is world-renowned for its architecture, and you can see the best of it on this bus tour! Learn about the earliest built establishments and the modern innovations on this 3.5-hour exploration that covers 30 miles of Chi-Town!

TIP: If you are interested in Chicago architecture, check out our pay-what-you-wish architecture tours.

CAF has been the cultural ambassador of Chicago architecture since 1966 and is the world’s largest public architecture organization.

With a 5 star rating on TripAdvisor, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is one of the highest rated attractions in the city. They offer a lot of different tour options, and ratings for their bus tour are just as high as every other excursion.

There are a few negative reviews, but most of them are extremely positive. Many guests report that you will also learn about the history and politics of the city, as they are important to understanding in order to fully appreciate the architectural structure of Chicago. 

Bus Route Highlights

  • The Loop
  • Hyde Park and Southside
  • Gold Coast and lakefront
  • Mies van der Rohe’s IIT campus
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House
  • Museum Campus

Stops with guided interior tours occur at The Loop, Mies van der Rohe’s IIT campus, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, and the Museum Campus.

Standard Pricing

  • $37 CAF members
  • $45 non-members

Perks

  • Members of the Chicago Architecture Foundation receive an 18% discount off tour price.
  • CAF has a huge database of Architecture Facts, which you can view before or after your tour  

 


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NIGHT BUS TOURS OF CHICAGO 

As with most cities, Chi-town really changes when the sun goes down. All of the buildings begin to light up and the city really starts to shine. Thankfully, some of the bus tour companies in the area provide services during the night. 

Night tours in Chicago are very highly rated. Most of these options are offered for free with a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. Expect ticket prices to range from $30-$50 for adults and $15-$20 for children.

NOTE: Many companies’ night tours are only run during warmer months.

 


BIG BUS NIGHT TOUR

Just like their competition below, this tour company also provides night tours in Chicago. However, unlike Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Company, the Big Bus night tour is a nonstop trip around the city. This is intended as a panoramic experience that will allow you to see Chi-town lit up at night.

The entire ride will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and you’ll travel from the Magnificent Mile to the Cultural Mile in one loop. Discover how the windy city changes when the sun goes down while on this memorable night bus tour! View the route map.

Reviews of the night tour from Big Bus Tours are mostly positive. There are a few negative comments, but they all take issue with different problems that do not appear to have anything in common.

Many of the positive comments mention that the tour guides are very informative and make the experience even more fun. Some guests were happy with the comfort of their air-conditioned buses, while others were simply pleased that this was a live guided tour rather than a pre-recorded informative trip. 

Ticket Prices (as of 2018)

  • $29 for Adults
  • $15 for Children
  • Save 10% by ordering online
  • Tour is included for free with 72-hour ticket.

Tour Hours

  • Tour starts at 8 pm every night.
  • Departs from stop #1 at Michigan and Wacker. 

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. Night Tour (May through October)

In addition to their standard hop-on-hop-off tour during the day, they also offer a bus tour at night. This is a separate excursion from the daytime trip, and it runs until 10:30 PM. Unfortunately, the night tour is only offered between May and October, so it’s a bit more limited than other night tours. Also, this trip is only available for guests who have purchased either a 48 or 72-hour ticket. For more information on their other services, check the hop-on, hop-off section above. There are a total of 9 stops during the night tour and you’ll find them all listed below.

Reviews

An overwhelming majority of ratings for this night tour are very positive. There are a few negative comments, but thankfully these reviews do not indicate any common issues with the service. Many customers expressed their appreciation for the tour guides provided by Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company (now CitySightseeing Tours). Other guests were simply happy with the price they paid, stating that this bus tour is worth every penny. Families and couples were the most likely audience to enjoy their experience on this trip.

Scheduled Stops

  • Navy Pier
  • The Magnificent Mile
  • 360 Chicago
  • Hard Rock Cafe
  • Skydeck Chicago
  • Michigan Avenue Bridge
  • Hilton Chicago/Grant Park
  • Maggie Daley Park / Millennium Park
  • Sheraton Hotel

Ticket Prices (as of 2018)

The night tour is included for free with both the 48 hours and 72-hours pass.

  • 48 Hour Pass: Adult $43 | Child $17 (ages 5 thru 15)
  • 72 Hour Pass: Adult $46 | Child $17 (ages 5 thru 15)

 


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GANGSTER TOURS

Chicago has a noted history of criminal organizations. Unfortunately, the tales we’ve heard from Hollywood don’t often tell the whole story. In order to learn more about what really happened in the windy city, it’s important to learn the history from an expert.
 

 
Several bus tour companies in the area provide trips around some of the more historically relevant sites in the city, detailing some of the more infamous events that took place. These bus tours are typically rated very well, and guests enjoy learning a lot about Chi-town’s disturbing past. Ticket prices range from $30-$40 per person.

 


Chicago Crime Tours

Curious about the world famous mobsters, crime lords, and gangsters from the 19th century on? Take a ride in style with the climate-controlled Black Limousine Bus and see the underworld of Chicago in an hour and a half guided tour.

Tour Highlights

  • Al Capone
  • The Untouchables
  • H.H. Holmes
  • St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  • Biograph Theatre
  • Holy Name Cathedral

Schedule

The bus operates 7 days a week at the below times.  The website advises guests to arrive 10 minutes early to check-in. Tours last 90 minutes.

  • Monday  10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm
  • Tues, Wed, Thurs 12 pm, 2 pm
  • Friday  10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm
  • Saturday  10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm
  • Sunday  10 am, 12 pm, 2 pm, 4 pm

Pricing/Tickets

  • Standard Price is $39.95.
  • Tickets can be purchased online here

 


Weird Chicago Tours

“Ghosts, Gangsters, Murder and Mayhem” is what Weird Chicago promises their customers! These coach bus tours are offered year round, with a variety of eerie themes and spooky subjects that are always being updated! Reviews agree; you’ll never take the same tour twice!

Weird Chicago Tours have earned a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor. A majority of the reviews for this service are either 4 or 5 stars. A lot of guests describe their tour guides as informative and full of energy, stating that they actually learned quite a bit while on their trip. It would appear that most people find these gangster tours very enjoyable, but there are a few negative reviews. Thankfully, the negative comments are all different enough to suggest that they probably don’t represent the typical experience. Several reviewers agree that this is a trustworthy tour company.

Prices (as of 2018)

  • Adults $35
  • Children $25 (12 and under, not recommended for children under 10.)
  • Taxes and fees are extra

Duration

  • Approximately 3 hours. These bus tours may exit and re-board at various stops, so we recommend that you dress appropriately for the season. All buses are air-conditioned/heated.

Times/Tickets

To see what Weird Chicago is offering, and to reserve seats online in advance, click here.

Route

  • Due to the variety of the themed tours provided, Weird Chicago does not publish a specified route for any of their tours. Just another way they keep their guests on their toes!

Perks

The website offers stories from the company’s book Weird Chicago. Read some articles about Chicago’s dark history and get yourself excited about your tour!


Untouchable Tours

Step into the 1920’s with this 2 hour themed, guided-tour! Known as the original Gangster Tour of Chicago, you’ll listen to the guides talk in slang as you learn about the true 1930’s Windy City. There is no walking, so you’ll see all of the infamous spots from the comfort of the climate controlled bus.

TripAdvisor has given this tour company a 4-star rating. Most reviews for this service are in the 4-5 star range, suggesting that Untouchable Tours is quite reliable. There are a few negative comments, but most of them seem to come from people who didn’t really want to take a tour like this. It’s important to keep in mind that your guides on this tour are acting a part to both entertain and inform you about the city’s history. If you’re more interested in the information, this might not be a good tour for you. However, if you’re looking for a fun time that most guests have enjoyed, this is an awesome experience.

Highlights

Get the inside scoop on the windiest politicians, the red light district, and the notorious crime scene of the Prohibition Era.

Schedule

The tour schedule varies month to month, so please check the website for current scheduling.

Departing Location

Tours depart from the 600 block of North Clark (Clark and Ohio) in front of the two-story McDonalds. Guests are asked to arrive 10-15 minutes prior to the scheduled tour time to check in. Tours leave promptly on time.

Standard Pricing/Tickets

Tickets are $35 per person, and can be purchased by phone 773-881-1195, or online here. A service fee of $1.80 is added. Groups of ten or more are encouraged to call for discounted rates.

 


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BEER AND DISTILLERY TOURS

Discover the history behind Chicago’s finest alcoholic beverage by taking a bus tour. These companies will actually drive you to a variety of different breweries and distilleries in the Chi-town area. Each location you visit will typically offer a variety of free drinks and taste testing opportunities. These trips will last for between 3 and 5 hours, giving you plenty of time to explore each of the stops on the tour of your choice. Expect to pay $65-$75 per ticket.


The Barrel Run

Last but certainly not least, this tour provides samples of local brews and liquors with their Chicago’s Breweries tour and their  Distilleries tour. Did we mention you ride around in a large barrel-shaped bus?  They do offer a private Gangster Prohibition Tour, and you can contact them to find out more information.

Tours and prices: 

Brewery Tour (duration 3.5-4 hours) 

Tour 1, taste 3, and 45-55 ounces of craft beer:

  • The Hair of the Dog
  • Hit On All Sixes
  • The Bees Knees

Distillery Tour ( duration 4-4.5 hours)

Tour 1, taste 3, and sample 9-12 spirits:

  • FEW Spirits
  • KOVAL
  • Rhine Hall

Prices (as of 2018)

  • Brewery: $70
  • Distillery: $70 

Schedule

Please visit the website for current schedules of all tours available.

Location

For all tours, the pickup and drop off location is 600 N Clark Street.  

 


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COMBOS AND DISCOUNTS

Several Chicago tour bus companies offer packages that combine bus tours with boat cruises and attraction tickets. These combinations can really add up the savings for travelers who are looking to experience more than a few activities in the Windy City.

In addition to combo deals, there are also several discounts offered by various tour companies in the area. You can typically save anywhere from 20%-40% or more. To learn more, please visit our tourist discount page.

 


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