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Hop on Hop off Chicago | Big Bus Tours vs. City Sightseeing Tours

Updated: June 28, 2023
 By Mel

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.


Chicago is a great city, and when visiting you'll likely want to see as much of it as possible.

A hop-on hop-off Chicago bus tour is a great way to find the lay of the land, get guidance from members of staff who are knowledgable, and get around with little hassle.

You are free to get off at one of their scheduled stops, spend as much time as you want in the area, and then get back on when you're ready to continue on to the next stop.

Our post compares two Chicago hop-on hop-off bus companies, Big Bus Tours and City Sightseeing Tours.

We also give you some tips on how to save money with these companies and cover a list of pros and cons when it comes to hop-on hop-off tours.

Navy Pier is just one of the stops included on these tours. Image source: Pixabay user islandworks.
Navy Pier is just one of the stops included on these tours. Image source: Pixabay user islandworks.

Here are a few of the most notable sites you can expect to visit on each tour:

  • Skydeck
  • Navy Pier
  • 360 Chicago
  • Millennium Park
  • Magnificent Mile
  • Adler Planetarium
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • And more!

How much are hop-on hop-off Chicago tours?

Ticket prices range from $40-$50 per person, and multi-day tickets tend to be a mere $10-$20 extra.

Are hop-on hop-off Chicago tickets valid 24/7?

No. These services typically run from about 9 am - 4 pm each day, and your ticket will be valid for that time period.

How long does a Chicago hop-on hop-off tour take?

Most of the bus routes these companies use take approximately 1-2 hours to complete, but you can make it last all day simply by hopping off and exploring various landmarks throughout the city at your own pace.

Are hop-on hop-off Chicago bus tours better than public transport?

If you're just visiting the windy city and you don't feel like figuring out the various routes of public transportation, this service takes all the guess-work out of getting around Chicago.

That said, public transportation will almost certainly be more affordable, and we have a post covering how to use public transport.

We hope that this information will make your trip a little bit easier, that you'll end up with one of the best tours in Chicago, and that you'll have a fantastic time when visiting the Windy City!


Big Bus Tours is a premium double-decker bus tour that allows you to visit many of Chicago’s most popular attractions at your own pace.

Live commentary and convenient pick-up stops make it 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 Big Bus app. That is also where you will find real-time bus tracking, detailed maps, and nearby attractions.

They are also able to accommodate persons with disabilities and have wheelchair-accessible vehicles with lifts. Note that they should be contacted 48 hours ahead of time to arrange a suitable vehicle.

Big Bus Tours Reviews

Big Bus Tours Chicago has earned a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor and a 4.3 rating out of 5 stars on Get Your Guide.

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 Tours Chicago Routes

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

  1. Chicago Riverwalk
  2. Skydeck Chicago & Willis Tower about this stop
  3. Millennium Park & The Art Institute of Chicago about this stop
  4. Hilton Chicago & Grant Park
  5. Adler Planetarium about this stop
  6. Museum Campus
  7. Sheraton Grand Chicago 
  8. Navy Pier about this stop
  9. Water Tower & Magnificent Mile
  10. 360 Chicago about this stop
  11. Hard Rock Cafe 

Of course, at each of these stops, you'll also have the opportunity to see a lot more of the city's top attractions.

Several of the stops are near the Chicago river, which means you'll enjoy excellent views of the water and have access to Chicago boat tours as well.

You can also take a break when you need one, whether that be for Chicago's deep-dish pizza at Beatrix Market or a pint of beer at Kitty O'Sheas.

Big Bus Tours Departure Times

The first bus leaves the first stop daily at 9:00 am, with the last bus departing 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 Chicago also offers several combos that include a hop-on-hop-off service, a boat cruise, and the option to visit one of Chicago's observation decks.

Big Bus Tours Tickets

The prices listed below are what Big Bus Tours Chicago themselves offer when you purchase directly through their website, and they reflect an additional 10% discount.

Discover - 24-Hour Ticket

Tip: This is included for free with both the Go City Chicago Card and the Explorer Pass. Note that all passes also include discounts on some of Chicago's most famous eateries!

Essential - 48-Hour Ticket

Explore - 48-hour Ticket 

  • Adults from $75.60
  • Children (3-12) from $48.60
  • Includes Panoramic Sunset Live Tour
  • Only available May-Oct.
  • Learn more here.

Sunset Live Tour

  • Adults from $45.00
  • Children (3-12) from $31.50
  • Sees all of Chicago's top landmarks at night
  • Learn more here.

To compare all four options, visit the Big Bus website ticket page.


NOTE: As of August 2022, this company is not currently offering bus tours. This may change in the coming months, but there are no details available about when they will return to full service.

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

For more information, visit the City Sightseeing website.

City Sightseeing Reviews

This tour company has received a 4 out of 5 stars rating on TripAdvisor, with a majority of their reviews being positive. 

Several of the 5-star reviews indicate that the tour guides provided by City Sightseeing (formerly called 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.

City Sightseeing Departure Times 

Their tours go out:

  • daily
  • year-round
  • every 10 minutes
  • from 9 am to 5 pm
  • covering 12 popular stops

Greektown, Wrigley Field, Lincoln Park Zoo, Night Tour, and more run from the end of May (Memorial Day Weekend) through October only.

No transportation is provided on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or in instances of inclement weather.

City Sightseeing Tickets

The City Sightseeing Downtown Tour runs year-round and allows travelers to hop on and off any of the 12 stops for the duration of the service.

City Sightseeing Tickets

Note again that as of August 2022, this company is not currently offering bus tours. This may change in the coming months, but there are no details available about when they will return to full service.

City Sightseeing offer a 1-day ticket that comes with a second day for free – which means it's essentially a 2-day pass!

48 Hour Pass

Wrigley Field & Lincoln Park Zoo Tour

Downtown & Night Tours

Downtown/Wrigley Field & Lincoln Park Zoo Tours

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

The All Tours Pass, which is available May through October, allows travelers to hop on and off any tour during the duration of the pass. 

City Sightseeing Perks

There are free guidebooks with maps, recommendations, coupons, and schedules included with every tour.

Online reservations can be made 24 hours in advance saving $2 on adult and $1 on child passes.

Groups of 15 or more receive a 20% discount off the standard price.

There is free cancellation/ refunds up to 24 hours before the chosen travel date.


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 City Chicago All-Inclusive tourist attraction pass.

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

There are a number of discount websites like Groupon and LivingSocial that frequently offer deals on hop-on hop-off bus tours.

Every now and then, they also provide additional coupon codes to help you save even more money!

4. Children's Discount

Save between $15-$20 on tix 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 their booth.

6. Group Discount

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

7. Senior Discount

These are commonly offered by tourism companies. Check to see if it is available.

8. Student Discount

These are commonly offered by tourism companies. Check to see if it is available.

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.


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.

Pro | A Great Way to Get an Overview of a City

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.

And, if you like to sit atop a bus to get the best view, with the sun warming your face and a breeze in your hair, a Chicago hop-on hop-off bus tour might be for you. Of course, you can always sit down below and be protected should there be inclement weather.

Pro | 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.

And speaking of guides, once you hop off at a certain stop along the way you can download one of audio-guided walking tours here.

Pro | Flexibility

Each pass will be valid for a certain amount of time. This means flexible sightseeing, meaning you can hop on and hop off the bus whenever you desire.

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).

Pro | Reasonable Prices

Prices can be reduced through the discount options listed above.

For example, Big Bus Tours 24-hour ticket is included for free with several tourist attraction discount passes.

Con | Usually Not the Most Efficient Sightseeing Option

With 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.

Con | 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, and it's important to set your expectations around seating during the busy season.

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About The Author


Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!
Updated: June 28th, 2023
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