In this Chicago CityPASS review, we’ll explore what the pass offers, explain how it works, and determine if the Chicago CityPASS is worth it for you. Enjoy!
Although it may be nicknamed the “Second City,” Chicago is anything but. Chicago combines world-class museums, incredible architecture, and mouth-watering food to rank as one of the greatest cities you’ll find anywhere…and they serve it all with a friendly Midwestern attitude.
Having lived there for a few years, I can vouch for its greatness. There is so much to do in Chicago that you’ll never experience it all in one trip. And, while you might be more familiar with the attractions in New York City, the quality of sightseeing in Chicago is second to none.
As with any trip to a large city, you’ll need to prepare your budget before you go. Sure, there are plenty of free things to do in Chicago, but you’ll still want to visit the Windy City’s main attractions – especially if it’s your first trip there.
Of course, sightseeing can get expensive. So, how do you save money in Chicago while still visiting all of the city’s most important sites?
The Chicago CityPASS is typically a good option. When used correctly, this sightseeing pass can save you hundreds – but it isn’t right for everybody. Is the Chicago CityPASS a good deal for you? Let’s find out!
Chicago CityPASS Review: How It Works
The Chicago CityPASS is a sightseeing pass that can help you save money on attractions in Chicago. Like other popular attractions passes, the Chicago CityPASS bundles entry fees for some of the city’s top tourist sites. By bundling fees and including admission to these sites in the price of the pass, you get a hefty discount over the prices you’d pay at the door.
In this case, the Chicago CityPASS can actually save up to 51% on admission fees to the included sites. That’s a significant amount of money, especially when you’re traveling with more than one person.
Similar to the London Explorer Pass, the Chicago CityPASS includes your admission to a set number of attractions. With this pass, you’ll get “free” entry to five of Chicago’s top seven spots. Three of these attractions are included with every pass, while the remaining four attractions provide an either/or option. You can visit the attractions in any order you like, and the tickets are good for nine consecutive days beginning with the first day you use the pass.
Unlike other popular sightseeing passes, the Chicago CityPASS actually comes as a book full of tickets. (Printed and mobile vouchers are also available, although you must redeem these vouchers for an actual booklet.) In most cases, you can simply present the ticket from your booklet as you enter. The either/or tickets typically need to be exchanged at the ticket counter for an actual attraction ticket. Regardless, entry to these attractions is included in the price of your pass.
Top Attractions Included on the Chicago CityPASS
The Chicago CityPASS includes admission to five of the top seven attractions in the Windy City. Three attractions are included on every pass, and you get to choose two of the other four options. Attractions include:
- Shedd Aquarium ($44.90)
- Skydeck Chicago ($49.00)
- The Field Museum ($38.00)
- Either Museum of Science and Industry ($41.95) or 360 Chicago ($44.00)
- Either Adler Planetarium ($34.95) or Art Institute of Chicago ($42.00)
I’ve toured almost all of these sites (some multiple times), and they are definitely worth a visit. In fact, with the possible exception Navy Pier (which is basically a shopping center), these are truly the top spots to visit in the city.
As you can see, though, sightseeing in Chicago can get expensive pretty quickly – especially if you’re traveling with family. That’s where a Chicago CityPASS can help.
How Much Does the Chicago CityPASS Cost?
Now that we’ve seen what is included, let’s take a look at how much the Chicago CityPASS costs.
|Passes||Chicago CityPASS Price||Regular Price of Attractions||Savings with Pass|
|*Current as of 01/16/19|
|Adult (Ages 12+)||$106.00||$217.90||$111.90 (51%)|
|Child (Ages 3-11)||$89.00||$184.85||$95.85 (52%)|
By using a five attraction Chicago CityPASS, you can save up to 51% off the price of admission! That’s a ton of savings, and it definitely makes this pass worth considering.
How about we dig into the numbers?
Let’s assume you visit the 3 sites that are always included. Let’s also assume you choose the Art Institute and the Museum of Science and Industry as your either/or options. The regular adult price of admission for those attractions would cost $215.85. By purchasing the Chicago CityPASS for just $106.00, you save $109.85 per person. That’s a savings of over 50%!
Here’s another way to look at it: If you visit just 3 attractions, this pass more than pays for itself. Honestly, it’s hard to find a sightseeing pass in any city providing that kind of value. If you’re planning to visit these attractions anyway, the Chicago CityPASS is almost a no-brainer.
Chicago CityPASS Attractions Guide
As we’ve discussed, the Chicago CityPASS includes “free” admission to some of Chicago’s best attractions. Three attractions are included with every pass (Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Skydeck Chicago) and you can choose two of the other four that are offered (either the Museum of Science and Industry or 360 Chicago; and either the Art Institute of Chicago or the Adler Planetarium).
But what exactly are these places? Here’s a brief introduction to each spot.
If you love sea life, you can’t miss the Shedd Aquarium. Filled with over 32,000 sea creatures from around the world, this is easily one of my favorite spots in Chicago. Explore the exhibits and get up close and personal with whales, sharks, penguins, and more. The dolphin show is also a treat, so be sure to catch it while you’re there.
Chicago’s Field Museum is another “can’t miss” spot in the Windy City. This incredible museum boasts Egyptian mummies, an impressive exhibit on over 10,000 years of Chinese history, and the world’s largest T. Rex skeleton. Your Chicago CityPASS also includes admission to one of the museums 3D movie exhibitions. Entry to the touring exhibits may require an extra fee, but – trust me – there is plenty to see without it.
Get an incredible 360 degree view of the city – and up to 4 states – when you soar to the top of the world-famous Willis Tower. Formerly known as the Sears Tower, this impressive skyscraper is the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. In addition to the view, this attraction includes interactive exhibits and an interesting short film about the history of the tower. You can even walk out onto The Ledge – glass floor balconies situated 103 floors above the city. Seriously, this is a really cool experience!
Art Institute of ChicagoI’ve visited art museums all across the world, and I can’t recommend the Art Institute of Chicago enough. This is one of the either/or options, but it may be my favorite attraction in Chicago. Take your time wandering through the museum and get up close and personal with works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Rembrandt, and many more. Their huge collection also includes two paintings you’re sure to know – American Gothic and the important pointillist masterpiece Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte.
If art isn’t your thing, the Adler Planetarium might be. Situated on the shore’s of Lake Michigan, America’s first planetarium includes over 60,000 square feet of exhibits and two domed theaters. There are plenty of learning opportunities and hands-on activities for adults and children alike. The building also houses the Doane Observatory and it’s telescope, which is one of the few urban research observatories in existence.
360 Chicago gives you the opportunity to see Chicago’s impressive skyline from a different angle. Located at the top of the John Hancock Center, this site includes interactive exhibits that teach you about Chicago’s rough and tumble history. Situated near the lake, you also get an incredible view of Chicago’s beaches from over 1,000 feet in the air.
Museum of Science and Industry
Since Skydeck Chicago is already included, you might want to skip 360 Chicago and check out the Museum of Science and Industry instead. Measuring at 14 acres, this is the largest science museum in the entire country. Exhibits here include a captured German U-boat from WWII, a replica coal mine, and the Apollo 8 spacecraft (yes, that’s the one that brought the first astronauts to the moon)! Many people consider this their favorite site in Chicago, and I can definitely see why.
Other Benefits of the Chicago CityPASS
- Skip the Line Access – Several attractions include “fast track entry” with the purchase of a Chicago CityPASS. This can save valuable time and help you avoid waiting in long lines during peak times.
- Great Value – As we discussed earlier, the Chicago CityPASS can help you save up to 51% off the regular admission price at some of Chicago’s biggest tourist attractions. Visit just 3 attractions and the pass more than pays for itself. That’s an incredible value!
- Convenience – Having all of your tickets in one booklet is super convenient. It can also be a time saver.
- Valid for 9 Days – While cards like the Paris Pass are good for a shorter period of time, the Chicago CityPASS is valid for 9 days from the first day you use it. That gives you plenty of time to visit each spot so you won’t feel rushed.
Where the Chicago CityPASS Falls Short
Although I think the Chicago CityPASS provides a great value, there are a few problems to note. First, I’m not a huge fan of the physical nature of the pass. While most passes come as a simple card or mobile voucher, the Chicago CityPASS is an actual booklet of tickets.
On top of that, the booklet is a bit clunky to use. At certain sites, you have to exchange your Chicago CityPASS ticket for an actual attraction ticket. However, the worst part of the entire pass is that your tickets become invalid if you rip them out of the booklet yourself! Be careful. You’ve been warned!
Adding to the clunkieness, there are 3 ways to obtain your Chicago CityPASS after purchase – mobile voucher, printed voucher, or you can have the actual booklet shipped to you. However, if you choose the voucher option, you still must exchange your voucher for an actual booklet at the first attraction you visit. Why not cut out the extra steps and just allow the use of the voucher?
Also, keep in mind that the purchase of a Chicago CityPASS isn’t valid indefinitely. Yes, your pass is good for 9 days after you first use it. However, unused vouchers and booklets can expire even if they haven’t been used. You have 6 months from the date of purchase to exchange your voucher for a ticket booklet. Expiration on the ticket booklets vary, so don’t buy too early… and read the fine print before you do!
Who Should Consider the Chicago CityPASS?
First-time Visitors to Chicago – If this is your first visit to Chicago, a sightseeing pass is a wonderful option for you. The pass includes the most important attractions in the city, and it’s a huge money saver.
Families and Small Groups – This pass is perfect for families and small groups looking to save money in Chicago. With a savings of up to 51% off the regular adult admission prices, you could be saving hundreds of dollars with the Chicago CityPASS. Seriously, this thing is hard to beat.
Anybody Visiting 3 or More Attractions – By visiting just 3 of these places, the pass more than pays for itself. And since you get to choose 5 of them, the pass really becomes a no-brainer.
Travelers Wanting to Take Their Time – You have 9 days to use your pass after your first use, so you have plenty of time to enjoy each site. Sure, you can visit more than one attraction each day, but you don’t have to.
Who Should Skip the Chicago CityPASS?
Travelers with No Interest in Sightseeing – If you don’t plan on sightseeing, or you don’t plan on going to the included attractions, this card is obviously not for you.
Those Visiting Fewer than 3 Attractions – Likewise, if you plan on visiting fewer than 3 of the included attractions, simply skip the pass and pay at the gate.
Travelers Wanting More Options – I think the Chicago CityPASS is great because it offers admission to the essential Chicago attractions at a super low price. However, it doesn’t include everything. If you like the idea of a Chicago sightseeing pass but want more options, the Go Chicago Card may be a better fit.
Tips for Using the Chicago CityPASS
Using the Chicago CityPASS is pretty straightforward, but there are a few quirks that could diminish its value if you’re not careful. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your pass.
- Visit all five attractions. – Even though the Chicago CityPASS more than pays for itself when you visit just three attractions, be sure to use all five visits in order to get the most value from the pass.
- Don’t rip out your tickets. – This is SUPER important: Don’t rip your tickets out of the booklet! Tickets removed from the booklet may be considered invalid, so don’t chance it.
- Pay attention to expiration dates. – It’s important to redeem your pass before it expires. If you select to receive a voucher upon purchase, you must exchange your voucher for a booklet within 6 months. Booklets also have an expiration date, so pay attention to that when you buy. Finally, after your first use, you have 9 days to finish visiting the included attractions.
- Visit the Museum of Science and Industry. – The Chicago CityPASS offers the option of visiting either the Museum of Science and Industry or 360 Chicago. Since Skydeck Chicago is included on every pass, I suggest visiting the museum… unless you really want to see Chicago from the top of a skyscraper a second time.
How to Get a Chicago CityPASS
Purchasing your pass is a piece of cake. Just follow the link to buy your Chicago CityPASS online now!
Upon purchase, you’ll have three options to retrieve your pass. First, you can have the booklet mailed directly to your front door. This is probably the easiest option, but the booklets do have an expiration date. Be sure you’ll have time to use it before choosing this option.
You can also receive a mobile voucher, or you can print your own. Although having the booklet mailed to you means you’ll already have it in hand, in my opinion, getting a voucher is the way to go. You’ll have six months to exchange your voucher for a booklet, then you’ll still have until the expiration date to use your pass. Additionally, there’s no need to worry about losing the booklet or tearing out the tickets. Simply get the mobile voucher, or reprint your paper voucher if needed.
Is the Chicago CityPASS Worth It?
So, is the Chicago CityPASS worth it? If you’re planning on sightseeing in Chicago, the answer is (almost always) a definite YES!
Although the Chicago CityPASS is small, it is definitely mighty. It includes all of the “must-see” attractions in Chicago, and it can potentially save you over a hundred dollars per adult. Seriously, over 50% off the regular price is almost unheard of.
If you have plans to visit Chicago, you should definitely consider the Chicago CityPASS. Heck, by visiting just 3 of the included attractions, the pass more than pays for itself. I think it’s a great deal, and I think you will too.
Thanks so much for reading our Chicago CityPASS review. Please leave any questions or comments you have in the space below. Until next time, happy traveling!
Just to be clear, if you choose the voucher option, you still need to pick up a ticket booklet the first time you use the pass. Simply present your voucher at the ticket counter, and they’ll give you your pass.