Which Chicago Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour is Best?

This post covers Chicago hop-on-hop-off bus tours, including route maps, tickets, prices, stops, pick-up locations and reviews to help you choose the best option for you.

 

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.

THE PROS AND CONS OF A HOP-ON-HOP-OFF BUS TICKET

A popular option for bus tours is the hop-on-hop-off tour variety. There are several things to consider before purchasing a ticket.

But first, let’s start with the pros.


PROS

A hop-on-hop-off bus ticket can be a great investment for visitors to Chicago, though they are not for everyone. Here are a few benefits to consider.

Great for a city overview

Chicago is a big town. One excellent way to get your bearings is to take the full circuit without getting off. Usually, these circuits last no more than 2 hours in length.

This is essentially what the night tours on the double-decker buses are, but you could also do the same during the day.

Big Bus Chicago Hop on hop off Route Map

Live Guides

On most buses, you will find live tour guides who will point out the important landmarks on your route, and if time permits, some short stories.

Flexibility

All the buses in this section run continuously along mapped routes, and with the exception of the night tours, riders have the option to board at several predetermined pick-up locations throughout the city.

Travelers can get off the bus at any of these stops and discover the landmarks for themselves (or take our pay-what-you-wish walking tours).

Reasonable Prices

Each ticket will be valid for a certain amount of time (typically 24-48-72 hours) and you can come and go as you please.

Ticket prices range from $35-$55 for adults and $18-$27 for children. 

And in the case of Big Bus Tours, their 24-hour ticket is included for free with several tourist attraction discount passes.


Cons

Very General Commentary

While it’s great to have live guides on a bus, they rarely dive any deeper than pointing out what you are seeing.

There is simply no comparison between the guidance from a guide on a double-decker bus and that from a walking tour guide, for example.

Chicago Walking Tours

Usually Not the Most Efficient Sightseeing Option

Having the flexibility to jump on and jump off at numerous stops and pick-up locations, the set route makes getting around the city usually the slowest option possible, particularly when compared to mass transit.

Other Chicago bus tours, where you keep the same driver and guide for the whole tour, cover much more content, deeper, and in a much shorter amount of time.

No Assigned Seat

Unlike other bus tours, where you have the same seat for the duration of the tour, you won’t have that with a hop-on-hop-off bus.

This can be a big problem during the high tourist season when both of the companies listed below will receive a few negative reviews.

It’s important to set your expectations during the busy season.

 


BIG BUS TOURS

This premium double-decker bus tour allows you to visit an extensive portion of Chicago’s most popular attractions at your own pace.

Live commentary and convenient pick-up stops make Big Bus Tours a popular choice for Chicago tourists

Advance online reservations save on standard pricing, and e-tickets are sent straight to your phone with a convenient app.

Big Bus Tours Chicago has earned a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews).

Their profile is impressive for hop-on-hop-off tours in general. There are a handful of negative reviews, but they don’t seem to have much in common.


Big Bus Chicago Routes

Pass holders can conveniently board or depart at any of the Big Loop’s 14 stops.  

  1. Riverwalk
  2. Chicago Theater
  3. The Willis Tower & Skydeck Chicago
  4. Palmer House Hilton & Millennium Park
  5. Art Institute of Chicago
  6. The Chicago Hilton/Grant Park
  7. Adler Planetarium
  8. Museum Campus
  9. Maggie Daley Park
  10. Sheraton Grand Chicago 
  11. Navy Pier
  12. The Water Tower
  13. 360 Observatory
  14. Hard Rock Cafe 

Tickets

The prices listed below are what Big Bus themselves offers when you purchase directly through their website.

Classic 24-Hour Ticket

Note: This ticket is included for free with both the GoCard and the Explorer Pass

Premium 48-Hour Ticket

  • Adults $53.10/ Children (5-15) $31.50
  • Includes entry to Chicago Architecture Center.
  • Learn more here.

Deluxe 48-hour Ticket 

  • Adults $62.10 / Children (5-15) $36
  • Includes everything in the Premium Ticket plus the night tour.
  • Learn more here.

Bonus: All passes include discounts on some of Chicago’s most famous eateries!

Departure Times

Buses leave the first stop daily at 9:00 am, with the last shuttle departure at 4 pm (16:00).

Ticket holders can board the bus to begin their tour at any stop. The full circuit takes between 2 and 2.5 hours.

TIP:  Big Bus also offers several combo tickets that include a hop-on-hop-off service, a boat cruise, and tickets to one of Chicago’s observation decks.

 


CHICAGO TROLLEY AND DOUBLE DECKER COMPANY (now CitySightseeing)

NOTE: As of June 2021, this company is not currently offering bus tours. This is likely to change as the vaccine for Covid-19 rolls out, so make sure to check back soon.

The Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company (now City Sightseeing) provides a year-round 2-hour adventure covering 13 different stops in Downtown and The Loop on their Red and Green Trolley or Red Double Decker bus.

They also offer a variety of excursions and seasonal tours to Wrigley Field and The Lincoln Park Zoo.

These additional trips are available as individual tours, and you can purchase them separately.

Alternatively, you can also get combo tickets which include the Downtown Tour and other services.

They also offer a night tour option


Reviews

This tour company has received a 4 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews), with a majority of their reviews being positive. 

Several of the 5-star reviews indicate that the tour guides provided by Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company are very knowledgeable.

Ratings for the trolley tour were also quite good, and there were a few notable comments.

One guest suggested that the trolleys can be less comfortable, indicating that these vehicles are a bit colder than a tour bus.


Schedule 

  • Downtown Tours operate daily, year-round, every 10 minutes from 9 am to 5 pm at 12 popular stops.
  • No transportation provided Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or instances of inclement weather.
  • Greektown, Wrigley Field, Lincoln Park Zoo, Night Tour, and more run from the end of May (Memorial Day Weekend) through October only.

Downtown Tour Prices

The Downtown Tour (map pictured) runs year-round and allows travelers to hop-on and off any of the 12 stops for the duration of the service.

City Sightseeing has recently changed the ticket options for this tour, and there is now only one option: a 1-day ticket which comes with a second day for free – which means it’s essentially a 2-day pass!

Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Map

48 Hour Pass

  • Adult $42
  • Child $18 (ages 5-15)

Wrigley Field & Lincoln Park Zoo Tour

  • Adult $19
  • Child $14

Downtown & Night Tours

  • Adult $52
  • Child $23

Downtown/Wrigley Field & Lincoln Park Zoo Tours

  • Adult $52
  • Child $23

Downtown/Night Tour/Wrigley Field & Lincoln Park Zoo Tours

  • Adult $62
  • Child $28

Purchase tickets here.

All Tour Tickets (available May through October) allow travelers to hop-on and off any tour for the duration of the pass. 

Perks

  • Free guidebook w/ maps, recommendations, coupons, and schedules included with every tour.
  • Online reservations made 24 hours in advance save $2 on adult and $1 on child tickets.
  • Groups of 15 or more receive a 20% discount off the standard price.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the chosen travel date.

 


NIGHT BUS TOURS

In addition to all the hop-on-hop-off bus tours in Chicago, there are also bus tours that you can take after dark.

This section will provide details about these services including ticket prices, availability, duration and other useful information.

All Chicago night bus tours are available from May – September/October. Keep this in mind if you’re planning your trip to the city during the summer.


Big Bus Tours

If you want to see the city after dark, this company provides a separate night bus tour which covers a lot of the same notable sites as their daily service.

The main difference between these tours is that you can’t hop on/off the night tour at your leisure. This is a non-stop panoramic tour and it lasts for approximately 75 minutes.

Since the tour doesn’t last as long and you can’t explore the city at your own pace, ticket prices are lower than their hop-on-hop-off bus tours.

Ticket Prices

This tour is included with the 2-Day Deluxe Ticket. Alternatively, it can also be purchased separately.

You can also save 10% on tickets when booking online ahead of time.


City Sightseeing

NOTE: As of June 2021, this bus tour is currently unavailable. That being said, it will likely be back very soon, as the vaccine for Covid-19 is rolling out quickly.

Much like their competitors, this company also offers a night bus tour in Chicago which covers most of the popular landmarks in the city after dark.

The main difference between these two nightly bus tours is that the service offered by City Sightseeing runs for a total of 2 hours – which is 45 minutes longer than the Big Bus night tour.

This is a non-stop bus tour, so you won’t be able to hop on and off whenever you want. Instead, a live guide will point out all of the notable sites from the bus and provide commentary.

Ticket Prices

This tour is also included with combo tickets which feature the Downtown hop-on-hop-off bus tour and/or the Wrigley Field & Lincoln Park Zoo Tour.

 


9 DISCOUNTS AND COUPONS FOR CHICAGO BUS TOURS

Several Chicago bus tour companies offer various discounts on tickets. This section will detail some of the best ways to save money on Chicago bus tours.

We will also include some common deals that might not be available right now, but could eventually be offered in the future.


1. Use a Tourist Pass

As we mentioned above, the 24-hour ticket for Big Bus is included for free with the purchase of the Go Chicago All-Inclusive tourist attraction pass.

 

 

Both the 24-hour ticket and the night tour by Big Bus are included as options in the Explorer Pass.

With this less expensive tourist pass option, you could save up to 40% on the retail prices.

These passes can save you up to 55% off as well as save you time skipping ticket lines.


2. Combo Packages

These combinations can really add up the savings for travelers who are looking to experience more than a few activities in the Windy City.

Tour companies often combine their services with other popular activities and attractions in Chicago to help tourists and travelers save a bit of money on multiple tickets.

Click here to learn more about all the combo packages available.


3. Discount Sites

The CitySightseeing bus tour is not included on any of the tourist passes, but it, as well as Big Bus, are often included at a discount on Groupon.


4. Children’s Discount

Save between $15-$20 on tickets for your children. Kids under 3 always receive free admission!


5. Book Online

When you book online through their website, Big Bus will give you an extra 10% off the prices they charge at the ticket booth.


6. Group Discount

Big Bus offers a group discount for large groups (10 or more), but you have to contact them ahead of time to get this deal.


7. Senior Discount

This is not currently available, but it might be offered by at least one hop-on hop-off bus tour company in the future.


8. Student Discount

This is another deal that isn’t currently available, but is commonly offered by other tourism companies, and might be added by one of the services listed on this post in the near future.


9. AAA Discount

Although this isn’t currently a deal being offered on Chicago hop-on hop-off bus tours, there’s a chance AAA could add it to their list of discounts in the future.

Chicago Travel Tips and Hacks

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About the author

Stephen es el CEO de Free Tours by Foot y ha supervisado la transformación de una compañía local de paseos a pie en una comunidad global de excursiones y una plataforma de consejos para viajeros. Ha dirigido personalmente miles de excursiones en grupos en los EE.UU. y Europa, y es un experto en la planificación de viajes y visitas turísticas, con un enfoque en el presupuesto de los viajeros.

Stephen ha sido publicado y presentado en docenas de publicaciones, incluyendo The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo, Washington.org, y más