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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
Classic 24-Hour Ticket
Note: This ticket is included for free with both the GoCard and the Explorer Pass
Premium 48-Hour Ticket
Deluxe 48-hour Ticket
Bonus: All passes include discounts on some of Chicago’s most famous eateries!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
All Tour Tickets (available May through October) allow travelers to hop-on and off any tour for the duration of the pass.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An even less expensive option is the Build Your Own Pass, which includes both the 24-hour ticket and the night tour for savings of 20-25%.
These passes can save you up to 55% off as well as save you time skipping ticket lines.
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.