If you are a tourist and you are not willing to spend your money on transportation. That is the perfect option.
There are several lines that will take you to the most popular tourist spots.
The best part is that you could hop up on the trolley for free. The disadvantage for me was that I was using it in July, so it got pretty stinky inside at times.
Updated 11/30/08 Chicago's free trolleys ceased operations on January 4, 2009 due to budget cuts
But the blue line running from Navy Pier to State Street and back still runs every day even in the winter, check out the Navy Pier website below for current information. No ticket or reservation needed, board at the marked trolley stops.
Hopefully the city will bring the other trolleys back some day but until they do, there are still buses and el trains to get visitors around.
There is a free trolley that operates in Chicago from Memorial Day through Labor day, and during the winter holiday season, (except on the holidays themselves). You can take the trolley from just outside Marshall Fields on State Street (there's a sign for the waiting area) to Navy Pier or to Michigan Avenue. You can also pick it up at either train station (Union Station or Oglevie), so it's great for saving you a long walk to the typical tourist attractions. Maps are available inside the trolleys for their routes, and signs by the trolley stops show where each of the three routes stops.
Beware of the lines, though--you can wait quite a few minutes for a trolley that isn't full on busy shopping days.
If you use the free trolley downtown Chicago, be aware that there are 3 different lines. We got on the wrong one on the way back from the Pier and made a large detour.
You can get a free map at the information center at the Navy Pier.
Here's a great idea from the city: a FREE tourist trolley system connecting most of the city's major sites. They even ran a special, weekend-only Pilsen/Chinatown line last summer. Here's hoping they bring it back in '03.
Currently the trolleys run on weekends only, Saturdays 10 am until 6, Sundays noon until 6. In summer they run everyday at longer hours.
The stops are marked, but don't just hop on any trolley. Be sure to look for the words "Free Trolley" on the vehicle as there are other trolley company around town. And the bums tend to park at the free trolley stops, waiting to catch the unaware.
Visit the website for complete information and route maps.
You can pick up a trolley every few minutes at any stop during operating hours, so you shouldn't have to wait long at any stop. Here's one of the signs that show you which route to take (each bus has a symbol, such as a star or a square, in the window identifying the route it drives).
As of summer 2009, Chicago is discontinuing the free trolley service. The city website doesn't even give other options (CTA, taxi, etc.). I live in the Chicago suburbs, and parking fees in the city are outrageous. As a teacher, I enjoy the freedom to go downtown by train or el on weekdays (when others are working) to visit the less-crowded museums, Shedd Aquarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and SHOPPING! This summer, it will more than likely be suburban malls and museums, and the Brookfield Zoo (practically in my back yard! Parking is cheaper, traffic is lighter--sorry, Chicago!
While the free trolleys look like a good way to get around for free, there are potential problems with using them. Specifically, at times the lines for the trolley can get very long and you may find yourself waiting for several trolleys to pass before you can board. The photo I've uploaded shows only a portion of the line for the trolley leaving Navy Pier on a summer weekend day. The trolleys are not air-conditioned and can get stifling (especially if they are loaded with standing room only). Also, the trolley does not often run as frequently as advertised. I recommend getting a CTA visitor pass for your trip and using that to get around. Personally, I wouldn't waste time waiting in any line to ride one of these trolleys.
There is a free trolley that runs to and fro Navy Pier to the museum campus (Shedd aquarium, Field museum and Adler planetarium), Art Institute, State and Michigan avenue shopping district and Lincoln park. Look for the sign "free trolley".
Just wanted to let everyone know...we visited navy pier on 8-17-2011..we took the train from our home town to union station..hoping to take the FREE TROLLEY to navy pier. It hass been a few years since we visited, so we did check the websites in advance. When we arrived, we could not locate the free trolleys. We asked several walkers, and even some employess who directed us to the TROLLEY TOURS..to our dismay..according to tour guides..they no longer provide free trolleys..they now provide 4 hour tours for roughly $30.00 a person. We took the train to save money on gas and travel time. We ended up walking to millenium park, and thenon to navy pier. I really wish there were better signs, and bus information for us suburbanites. All in all..we enjoyed navy pier,,,even after the looooong walk. We spent the $2.25 per person bus fare to head back to union station. Our group consisted of 2 adults, and 3 children ages 9-12...it was a tiring day..and probably would have been just as ccost effective to drive.
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