Searching for how to get around Chicago? As a local, I have prepared a complete guide to getting around in Chicago safely and easily.
Getting Around Chicago
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Walking is a great way to get around in Chicago. Downtown Chicago (where most of the tourist attractions are) is very walkable. If you are staying in the Loop, River North, Gold Coast neighborhoods you can see most of Chicago’s top attractions by foot.
You definitely do not need a car in Chicago because there are so many ways to get around including public transportation, taxis and ridesharing. Parking can be very expensive and hard to find especially around downtown and the major tourist attractions.
Tip: If you choose to drive around the city I recommend SpotHero to help you find the cheapest parking.
If you plan to rent a car, compare rates between different rental car companies on www.discovercars.com.
Divvy is Chicago’s bike share program. You can pick up and drop off a bike at one of hundreds of stations around the Chicago area.
You can also rent a bike with a helmet for a day or half day here.
Unless you are talking your bike on a trail like the 606 or the Lakefront Trail, I recommend using this option only if you have experience biking in a large city because drivers can be pretty aggressive and not all streets have bike lanes.
Taxis and Ridesharing Services
Although the most expensive option, taxis and ridesharing is a great way to get around Chicago. If you are traveling a short distance with multiple people, it might cost about the same price per person as public transportation and can be much faster.
Taxis are plentiful and easy to find in tourist attractions (airports, in front of large hotels, in the central business district and at popular landmarks), although not as easy as it was before ridesharing became so popular. You can also hail and pay for rides electronically by downloading the Curb and ARRO apps.
Ridesharing apps are very convenient especially if you are in more residential area where it is hard to find taxis. I personally prefer Lyft, but I do use both Lyft and Uber on a regular basis. To save money when hailing a ride, I compare both Lyft and Uber to find the cheapest price.
If you do not already have a Lyft account, you can use my referral code to get $6 in credit per ride for your first 2 rides in Chicago.
Tip: If you are new to ridesharing services, be careful of surge pricing during busy periods (rush hour, late night, when it is raining or snowing). Hailing a taxi using Curb usually is the best option for avoiding surge pricing.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) provides both rapid transit train and bus service around Chicago. You might also see references to Pace, which is the bus service company that operates in Chicago’s suburbs.
You can find maps of all public transportation on this page.
If you plan to use public transportation extensively, you can purchase 1-Day, 3-Day or 7-Day CTA/Pace Passes which give you unlimited rides for a period of time from first use.
You can see fare information as well as the cost of various passes at this page.
Rapid Train Service (the “L”)
The CTA provides rapid transit train service around Chicago. There are 8 CTA train lines (Red, Blue, Brown,
Green, Orange, Purple, Pink, and Yellow). All train lines (except the Yellow Line) connect downtown in the central business district which is referred to as the Loop.
You will also hear the train being referred to by locals as the “L” (which is short for “elevated”). Sometimes the train is underground (subway) and sometimes it is elevated.
Tip #1 – If you are concerned about safety, ride the first train carriage (where the train conductor is).
Tip #2 – Avoid empty train carriages. If all but one train carriage is empty there is usually a reason.
Taking the Train to the Airport
If you are traveling to or from the airport during rush hour, taking the train can be a huge time saver and you will avoid being stuck in traffic.
Taking public transportation to from the airport is generally safe but if you are traveling late at night, I recommend taking a taxi or rideshare.
CTA buses are another way to get around Chicago but they are not as useful for tourists. Buses are generally safer than trains but can be slow especially if traveling during rush hour.
Other Ways to Get Around Chicago
If you are traveling between popular tourist attractions, a water taxi is a unique, scenic and safe way to get around. Water taxis have limited routes and schedules so this is a slower way to get around. If it works for your schedule, a water taxi is a must especially if visiting Chinatown.
The two water taxi companies operating in Chicago are:
Shoreline Sightseeing – Runs from late May–October (weather permitting). Stops include Navy Pier, Buckingham Fountain, the Museum Campus, Michigan Avenue, Willis Tower and Union Station.
Chicago Water Taxi – As of September 5, 2023 only runs on Tuesdays through Thursdays during rush hour between Michigan Avenue and Ogilvie Transportation Center/ Union Station.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
A hop on hop off bus is an easy way to travel between popular tourist attractions without having to figure out how to get around.
If you are only in Chicago for a day or less, a guided tour can be a fast and efficient way to get around and see the top tourist attractions in a short amount of time.
Hopefully this guide to getting around Chicago was helpful.
Planning a trip to Chicago? Check out more of my Chicago guides and itineraries:
- 3 Days in Chicago: Weekend Itinerary (By a Local!)
- Best Free Things to Do in Chicago
- Most Instagrammable Places in Chicago