Company Logo - Home Link

Which Chicago Bus Tours Are Best?

City, Gangster, and Beer Tours

BOOK MY TOUR!
Updated: July 21, 2023

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

Disclosure: We think you should consider our free tours, but we have also provided other options. While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.


HOP-ON-HOP-OFF DOUBLE-DECKER BUS TOUR

A popular option for bus tours is the hop-on-hop-off tour variety.

All the double-decker 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!

There are pre-recorded commentaries that tell you about what you're seeing.

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 $19-$49 for adults and $14-$35 for children, depending on which kind of tour is chosen from which company.

Read our full comparison post on hop-on-hop-off bus tours, where we detail the pros and cons, route maps, and options for discounts.


NON-STOP SIGHTSEEING TOURS 

Although hop-on-hop-off bus tours can be very informative, they are designed for exploring the city to allow you to pick your stops and explore at your own pace.

Non-stop sightseeing tours are about guiding you through a specific area, with a live guide's commentary covering the significance of iconic landmarks and the history of an area.

Note that "non-stop" is a bit of a misnomer, as they do stop from time to time, but they make the choice about which sites they will be taking people to.

See It All Mini Bus Tours Chicago

While some trips are focused on how Chicago 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 and tickets will cost between $30-$50 for adults and $15-$37 for children.


1. See It All Mini Tour

See It All offers a two-hour experience that allows you to experience a large part of the city, with three great photo stops! 

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 5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor (read the reviews).

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. 

The tour passes by and through many of Chicago's major attractions and neighborhoods with guides discovering the rich history of the city.


Tour Highlights

  • The Magnificent Mile | Tribune Tower, 360 Observation Deck, John Hancock Building, Wrigley Building
  • Navy Pier | Lake Michigan
  • Millenium Park | The Bean, Pritzker Pavillion, Crown Fountain, and more. Read about 9 Things to Do in Millenium Park here.
  • Chicago River | Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, Marina City
  • Buckingham Fountain | Grant Park, Art Institute of Chicago
  • Museum Campus | Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Soldier Field, Adler Planetarium, and much more
  • Lincoln Park | Lincoln Park Zoo, gardens, fountains, sculptures, and more. You can take our Lincoln Park Blues and Gangster Tour while you're there.
  • Gold Coast | restaurants, upscale neighborhoods, the Original Playboy Mansion
  • Skydeck Chicago | The Willis (Sears) Tower
  • The Rookery Building | Frank Lloyd Wright-designed
  • The Art Institute of Chicago

Standard Prices 

Note that the tour makes a stop for photos at the Museum Campus because it has one of the best views of the Chicago Skyline.

You're also able to add on an upgrade for an open-top boat ride down the Chicago River.


2. Chicago Architecture Foundation Tours

Chicago is world-renowned for its architecture, and you can see the best of it on this bus tour!

Chicago Architecture Foundation (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 have partnered with Big Bus Tour to bring you 4 tours that cover various points of interest, some of which they'll stop at.

Churches by Bus

Devil in the White City

  • Visits locations from the book Devil in the White City one which covered a dark side of Chicago history
  • Cost: $50 public | $43 CAC Members
  • Dates: June 25th, July 20th, August 10th, September 3rd, 2023
  • Duration: 3.25 hours
  • Find more information
  • Purchase tickets here

Murals By Bus: Bronzeville

  • Visits the historic Bronzeville neighborhood, covering a range of important topics while taking in its notable public murals
  • Cost: $50 public | $43 CAC Members
  • Date: July 15, 2023
  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Find more information
  • Purchase tickets here

Gothic Chicago by Bus

  • Covers how the Gothic style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was captured by Chicago architects
  • Cost: $50 public | $43 CAC Members
  • Date: August 19th, 2023
  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Find more information
  • Purchase tickets here

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


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.


Big Bus Night Tours

Discover how the Windy City changes when the sun goes down with this memorable panoramic night bus tour!

Reviews of the night tour from Big Bus Tours are mostly positive. They have a 4.5-star rating out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor.

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. 

There are a few negative comments, but they all take issue with different problems that do not appear to have anything in common.

Sunset Live Tour

  • Visits Navy Pier, the Magnificent Mile, the Museum Campus, Loop, and more.
  • Cost: Adult from $45 | Children from $31.50
  • Dates: May-October
  • Starts: 7:30 at Navy Pier
  • Duration: 90 minutes
  • Find more information and book tickets here

Sunset Live Tour + 360 Chicago & Cocktail

  • Visits Navy Pier, the Magnificent Mile, the Museum Campus, Loop, and more.
  • Stops at the John Hancock 360 Observation Deck for a cocktail
  • Cost: starts at $90
  • Dates: May-October
  • Starts: 7:30 at Navy Pier
  • Duration: 90 minutes for the tour plus extra time for the visit to the observation deck
  • Find more information and book tickets here

Note that Big Bus has a free mobile app that can be downloaded to see where the bus is along the route. It can be downloaded here.


DARK BUT INTERESTING TOURS

Chicago has a noted history of criminal organizations and unusual crimes. 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-$46 per adult.


1. Chicago Mob and Crime Bus Tour

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
  • John Dillinger
  • and more

Details

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.

  • Standard price: $46
  • Tour length: 1.5 hours long
  • Departing from: 163 E. Pearson Street
  • Tours take place 7 days a week
  • Purchase tickets here

2. Weird Chicago Tours

This tour company a number of different tours covering some of the darker parts of Chicago's past.

If you want to take a peak into the seedier side of Chicago's history, you will be sure to find one of these tours interesting.

Tours On Offer

  • Devil and the White City Bus Tour | Chicago's First HH Holmes Tour
  • Haunted History Bus Tour | Chicago's Best Ghost Tour
  • Al Capone Daydrinkers Pub Crawl | Adults Only Pub Tour
  • True Crime and Mystery Bus Tour | The City's Most Macrabre Tour
  • Roaring 20s Speakeasy Bus Tour | The Probhibition Tour of What Made Chicago Wild
  • Blood, Guns & Valentines Gangster Bus Tour | An Authenic "Public Enemies" Tour

Details

  • Bus Tours | $30 per adult | $25 per child (under 12)
  • Pub Crawls | $35 per person
  • Departing from: 600 North Clark Street
  • Tours take place on Saturdays
  • Purchase tickets here

3. Untouchable Tours

Step into the 1920s 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.

Tour Highlights

  • Get the inside scoop on the windiest politicians, the red light district, and the notorious crime scene of the Prohibition Era
  • St. Valentine's Day Massacre
  • The Biograph Theatre
  • Holy Name Cathedral
  • By a 30-year-old company

Details

  • Bus Tours | $35 per person + $2.18 service fee
  • Departing from 600 block of North Clark
  • The tour schedule varies from month to month
  • Purchase tickets here

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 Breweries tour and their  Distilleries tour.

Did we mention you ride around in a large barrel-shaped bus? 

Brewery Tour

  • Visits Chicago-area breweries with beer samples and an in-depth tour
  • Cost: Adult $99.60
  • Tours take place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
  • Duration: 3 hours 45 minutes
  • Picks up from 600 N Clark Street
  • Find information and book tickets here 

Distillery Tour

  • Visits three local craft distilleries with samples at each and a tour of one of the facilities
  • Cost:
  • Tours take place Thursday, Friday, and Saturday
  • Duration: 3.5 hours
  • Picks up from 600 N Clark Street
  • Find information and book tickets here 

They do offer a private Gangster Prohibition Tour, and you can contact them to find out more information.


9 CHICAGO BUS TOUR DISCOUNTS

Many Chicago tour bus companies provide a variety of discounts on tickets. This section will describe a few of the best ways to get a good deal on Chicago bus tours.

We will also cover some common deals that might not be available at the moment but could be offered at some point in the future.


1. Tourist Passes

Companies like Big Bus offer their tours through Chicago discount passes.

Chicago All-Inclusive Passes, Chicago Explorer Passes, and Prepackaged passes allow you to pay one flat price for multiple activities and attractions throughout the city.

You can use a tourist pass to save up to 50% off a variety of fun things to see and do in the Windy City, including the following:

  • 360 Chicago
  • Skydeck Chicago
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Shoreline Architecture Cruise
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • LEGOLAND Discovery Center
  • And more!

Read about the passes and what they have to offer in our post about Chicago tourist passes.


2. Combo Packages

These combinations can provide decent savings for travelers who are looking to experience multiple activities in Chicago.

Tour companies sometimes combine their services with other popular activities and attractions in Chicago to give tourists and travelers a chance to save some money on tickets.

Learn more about combo packages for Chicago bus tours.


3. Discount Sites

Chicago bus tour companies often provide their services through websites such as Groupon and Living Social. Each of these websites provides discounts on local activities.

At times, they will also provide coupons you can apply in addition to whatever discount they are already offering in order to save even more money!


4. Children's Discount

Some Chicago bus tour companies will offer discounts of up to $20 off for children's tickets. Most of them also provide free tickets for children under the age of 3.


5. Senior Discount

There are not currently any senior discounts offered by any of the companies listed above, but that could change with time.

We recommend contacting them to ask about this discount before purchasing your ticket.


6. Student Discount

This is another common type of discount which is not currently offered by any of the companies listed above. Make sure to ask ahead of time to see if they have changed this recently.


7. Military Discount

Sadly, this type of discount is also not available with any of the tour companies listed above, but they may change their minds if you call to ask about it!


8. Group Rates

Some Chicago bus tour companies do offer group rates for large groups of people, but you have to call ahead and order your tickets directly to get this deal.

Currently, Big Bus is the only hop-on-hop-off bus tour offering group rates.


9. AAA Discount

There aren't currently any AAA discounts available for the services listed above, but we recommend checking your own account to see if they have any deals you can take advantage of before purchasing a ticket.

And much, much more

Join our free FTBF travel community! As a thank you, you'll receive our free itinerary planner.
Newsletter Form

About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, and more.
Updated: July 21st, 2023
Back to Top
cross