City Highlights with Big Bus Chicago

I am a sucker for Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) buses while traveling – I think it’s a great way to see the city, and I don’t care how touristy I look, even in my hometown! As I prepare to leave the Midwest, I’ve been extra touristy this summer so naturally I wanted to take a ride with Big Bus Chicago. I always like to ride the full route, if time permits, and then loop around again to hop off where I want to. The Chicago route takes about two hours for the full loop. Here are all of the fun stops you will see if you take a ride with Big Bus Chicago.

Fort Dearborn

Stop #1 is at Fort Dearborn, along the Chicago River near Michigan Avenue. Before or after your tour, you can check out the new Chicago Riverwalk, which is growing each season with bars and restaurants catering to the boating crowd and pedestrians.

Chicago Theater

Stop #2 is the Chicago Theater, which houses the famous “Chicago” sign on State Street. Early in the summer, I joined the tour at this stop (after a delicious lunch at Latinicity in nearby Block 37) The stop wasn’t marked and I wandered around quite a bit before waving down the bus on the southbound side of State Street. (Later in the summer, BigBusChicago appears to have an attendant stationed here so it should be easier to find, but it’s across the street from the theater if you can’t spot it)

The Willis Tower

Longtime Chicago residents know this building as the Sears Tower, once the highest skyscraper in the world. You can visit the Skydeck, 103 floors above the city and test your mettle on one of the clear ledges that leave you suspended high above the city. Summer weekends will find lines snaking around the block, so plan accordingly! This stop is also a great place to hop off and grab the water taxi to Chinatown!

Millennium Park & Palmer House

Stop #4 is Palmer House, a Hilton hotel located just off State Street. I love browsing through Merz Apothecary on the ground floor of the hotel. Nearby Millennium Park has a full schedule of events year-round. There are concerts, sculptures, and fountains for the kids to splash around! Make sure you stop at the Bean for a photo sesh!

Millennium Park

Art Institute

The beloved Art Institute of Chicago is easily recognized by the lion statues flanking the Michigan Avenue entrance. This museum is a must-visit for any art lovers visiting Chicago.

The Hilton Chicago

Stop #6 is the Hilton Chicago on South Michigan Avenue.This is the best stop to hop off and explore Grant Park, which has been called Chicago’s front yard.

Adler Planetarium

The eastern-most point of the tour stops at Adler Planetarium along Lake Michigan on the museum campus.

Shedd Aquarium

Right next to the planetarium is the Shedd Aquarium, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Lines can get pretty long here as well, so plan ahead for your tickets.

Field Museum

Sitting across from Soldier Field, the Field Museum houses so many collections, including a rotating schedule of special exhibitions. Visit T. Rex Sue, the most famous resident of the Museum and then spend up to a full day exploring the hallways of this grand museum.

Field Museum

Image Courtesy of the Field Museum

Sheraton Grand

Stop #10 is at the Sheraton Grand, along the Chicago River. This is a great place to hop off to explore the Streeterville neighborhood, which includes AMC River East movie theater, Lucky Strike bowling, or Pinstripes Bocce Ball & Restaurant.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier attracts millions of visitors to Chicago each year. If you’re into chain restaurants, this is a great place to stop for a meal. Harry Caray’s and Margaritaville are two of my favorites. There’s also a Bubba Gumps and Giordano’s, home of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Navy Pier also houses a giant ferris wheel, children’s museum, Shakespeare Theater and an Imax theater. This is the departure point for many boat cruises, so hop off the bus and get out on the water!

Water Tower

Water Tower Place is the heart of the Mag Mile shopping district. We used to take bus trips here from the Quad Cities when I was young, which seems funny now, but people still come from all over to shop here. There’s a great food court and American Girl Place is a big attraction as well.

John Hancock Center

As seen in the photo above, the last stop on the Mag Mile is the John Hancock center. The Hancock Center is now known as 360 Chicago and in an effort to one-up the Willis Tower Ledge, 360 Chicago offers The Tilt. That’s right, not only are you suspended 94 floors above Michigan Avenue, you are tilting out at an angle. Or, you can save your cash and just enjoy a drink at the Signature Room on the 95th floor.

Hard Rock Cafe

From the Mag Mile, your BigBus will head west on Chicago Avenue, to the final stop at the Hard Rock Cafe. Here you’ll find the Rock N Roll McDonald’s, Portillos and the Rainforest Cafe, among many other restaurants. You can hop off here, or continue back to stop 1 at Fort Dearborn.

Big Bus Chicago

Big Bus Chicago has open top double decker buses like you’ve seen in many cities. On busier summer days, they also deploy trolleys to handle overflow traffic. (I recommend the bus as the trolley is enclosed on top, and very loud, so it’s hard to hear the tour guide) When you arrive at each stop, often there will be another bus just ahead of you. Rather than waiting around for your bus to depart, you can run ahead and jump on the next bus. I did this several times as I was just riding the loop, not hopping on and off. Of course, if the buses are full, you may not want to give up your prime seat and chance it on a new bus! Big Bus Chicago also offers a night route, which is not included in the basic ticket, but definitely sounds like a fun time to see the city!

So, what would be your first stop on a BigBus Chicago tour?

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I was a guest of Big Bus ChicagoΒ on this tour. These are solely my personal opinions and I was not financially compensated for this post.

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16 thoughts on “City Highlights with Big Bus Chicago

  1. Love how you say that you like the hop-on hop-off busses! I never did one to be honest but if I read your post and see how much you can actually do using one it seems great! I would love to go to Chicago once! Definitely gonna safe this post for my future travels! πŸ™‚

  2. I love hop-on hop-off tours, too! I often recommend them as a means of transportation that also provides some insight into the city. BTW, Navy Pier has added over a dozen local restaurants, including DMK Burger Bar and Tiny Tavern.

  3. Chicago is so much fun. I still haven’t tried hop on hop off bus tours yet, but Chicago seems the perfect place for them. I’m definitely going to need to go back, since I clearly missed some neat highlights from your list.

  4. I think it’s the first time I ever heard about someone being happy those big bus, they never really looked appealing to me but after reading this I must say it looks actually pretty nice! Also Chicago looks like a really cool city. I’m pinning this for my bucket list πŸ™‚

  5. Being a tourist in your own city is so much fun! I haven’t been to Chicago in years, but I do want to return and it’s such a good idea to explore the city on a hop on hop off bus. During my last visit there, I went on an architecture tour. It was phenomenal! But I’m sad to say I didn’t see the Bean lol, not sure how I was able to miss it! But, I did try deep dish pizza for the first time! So I consider that to be a success :).

    • I would say at least 4 days to experience the best of Chicago! I always recommend visiting at least one “neighborhood” in addition to the tourist areas near Michigan Avenue.

  6. Love this kind of tours especially in big cities. It is now one of the *must* do’s when I visit any big city. I even did it in my home town, Toronto.

    Thank you for the tips and the post!

  7. I first tried hop on hop off bus in Malaysia and it’s truly fun! Besided from the fact that it takes you to the must-see places for free, it also made me meet solo travelers like myself. It makes the experience more wonderful!

  8. I’m a secret fan of Hop On Hop Off Tours too! I like it to get an overview of a city when I first arrive and will then spent most of my time exploring on foot! I went to Chicago 10 years ago and these pictures really make me want to go back!

  9. What a great idea! I’ve only come down to Chicago once and it was for such a short visit I didn’t even notice the city has a hop-on/hop-off bus! I will 100% try this when I come again πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!

  10. When I first started solo travelling I’d use the hop-on/hop-off bus tours to help me get a feel for a new place. It was also great to get my bearings as well since I’m notorious for getting lost inside a paper bag. Great post!

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