Chicago is one of my favorite cities to visit in the US. It has great architecture, tasty food, and lots of things to see and do whether you're visiting for a weekend or a couple of weeks.
Most people visit Chicago for just a few days at a time, though. And when you have a limited amount of time in the Windy City, you probably want to make the most of it.
If it's your first time to Chicago and you want to visit some of the city's most iconic attractions and museums, my number one tip is this: buy a Chicago CityPASS.
What is CityPASS?
CityPASS is a company that offers attraction ticket bundles in a dozen cities across North America, with the idea being that if you're going to visit a lot of major attractions on one trip, you can save some money by bundling everything together and buying a CityPASS.
I've personally used CityPASSes in cities like Seattle and New York before, but I honestly think their Chicago pass is one of the best.
Chicago's CityPASS includes entry to five of the Windy City's top attractions.
Three of the attractions are set:
- Skydeck Chicago (the observation deck at the Willis Tower)
- The Field Museum
- Shedd Aquarium
And for the other two you have choices:
- 360 Chicago (observation deck at the John Hancock Building) OR Museum of Science and Industry
- Adler Planetarium OR Art Institute of Chicago
You can only visit each attraction once (they take the tickets out of your CityPASS booklet at each attraction), but you have 9 days to use them all once you start (i.e. once you visit your first attraction).
The Chicago CityPASS costs $106 for adults and $89 for kids.
3 Reasons Why the Chicago CityPASS is Worth It
And now here's the part where you point out that $100 is kind of pricey for an attraction pass – does it really save you money? Is it worth it?
Well, here are three reasons why I think the Chicago CityPASS is definitely worth it:
1. Chicago's top attractions are included
Chicago is home to world-class museums and attractions, and they're all included in this pass.
Nearly everyone wants to visit the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in Chicago. The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world and is home to SUE, the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found. And the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the U.S.
If this pass included less-popular attractions, it might not be as worth it. But chances are most of the things on your Chicago “to-do” list will be included in the CityPASS.
2. You get Fast Pass / VIP entry
The cool thing about the Chicago CityPASS is that it includes Fast Pass or VIP entry to nearly every attraction listed. This is HUGE, especially when a Fast Pass at the Skydeck can often mean skipping 2+ hours of standing in line to buy tickets and ride an elevator.
At the Shedd Aquarium you get the Total Experience Pass, which includes access to special exhibits and the Stingray Touch experience. At the Field Museum, you get to skip the line and an All-Access Pass, including admission to all permanent and ticketed exhibitions, plus your choice of one digital 3D film.
You also get skip-the-line Fast Pass entry at 360 Chicago (though the lines are usually not as long there as at the Skydeck).
At the Museum of Science and Industry, you get regular admission plus your choice of one timed-entry experience. At the Adler Planetarium your CityPASS gets you unlimited VIP access to all available shows. And you can skip the line at the Art Institute of Chicago, too.
3. It can save you a lot of money
The Fast Pass/VIP entry is part of the reason the Chicago CityPASS is such a good deal. Normal prices for skip-the-line and all-access passes at all these attractions are as follows:
- Skydeck Fast Pass: $49
- Shedd Aquarium Total Experience: Adult $39.95, Child $30.95
- Field Museum All-Access Pass: Adult $36, Child $25
- MSI Museum Entry + 1 Ticketed Experience: Adult $30, Child $20
- 360 Chicago Fast Pass: $44
- Adler Planetarium All-Access pass: Adult $34.95, Child $29.95
- Art Institute of Chicago Fast Pass: $29
As you can see, you're pretty much saving money after visiting just 2 or 3 attractions; if you visit all 6, you're saving about 50% – which is a lot!
(And, as someone who has visited the Skydeck twice, let me tell you that the Fast Pass is SO WORTH IT here. Even in the off-season, weekend wait times can easily surpass two hours if you have to wait in line to buy tickets and ride the elevator to the observation deck. Just imagine how much more you could see if you didn't have to spend 2-3 hours standing in line!)
A sample Chicago itinerary with CityPASS
Even though you don't have to do everything in one or two days with a CityPASS (remember, you have nine days from when you use your first ticket to use your entire CityPASS booklet), you really can pack all the highlights into a long weekend in Chicago.
A sample itinerary could look like this:
Visit the Skydeck in the late morning, and then spend the afternoon at either the Art Institute of Chicago or Adler Planetarium.
Spend your day at Museum Campus. Start out at the Shedd Aquarium, and then allow at least a few hours to explore the Field Museum.
If you opt for 360 Chicago, you'll only need an hour or so for the experience since you won't have to stand in any lines. OR you could spend half a day at the Museum of Science and Industry.
And search for your Chicago hotel here:
You can check out my itinerary for a couples' getaway to Chicago, too, to see what other things I recommend doing in the Windy City.
So, conclusion? A Chicago CityPASS is definitely worth it in Chicago if you're already planning to visit at least 3 of these attractions. Plus, the fast pass/VIP entry is an added bonus that can save you quite a bit of time, on top of money.
Have you ever used an attraction pass like this in a city?
*Note: Thanks to CityPASS for providing Elliot and I with two booklets for our recent trip to Chicago. As always, opinions are 100% my own (we were planning to buy them anyway!).