Trolleys (some are FREE), Chicago
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.
"One reason for knowing the history of Chicago is that its history is the history of the Midwest, and the history of the Midwest is, to a larger extent ...the history of the nation."
Floyd Dell, author, 1912
If you have never visited Chicago, and this is your first time here, it is a good idea to become familiar with the city by taking a sightseeing tour. See the highlights of Chicago's downtown and lakefront aboard an "Original Chicago Trolley" These hourly lectured tours depart daily. (Call 427-3105)
Shoreline Sightseeing and Charters is one of the best and most diversified. They operate from three Grant Park locations daily through the end of September. Daytime rides depart every half hour from the SHEDD AQUARIUM/FIELD MUSEUM from 11:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.
Every half hour from the ADLER PLANETARIUM from 11:15 to 5:15 p.m.
Evening rides depart from BUCKINGHAM FOUNTAIN every half hour from 7:15 p.m. to ll:15 p.m. with extended hours for major holidays and festivals.
All tours have live commentary on Chicago's history and architecture. Printed translations available in 10 languages!
Shoreline offers evening and weekend rides from their NAVY PIER location just west of the Skyline Stage nightly Mon-Fri every hour from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sat. & Sun. from 1 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
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".
We are currently on vacation in Chicago and using the free trolley with no problems other than finding an actual map! Here is our gift to you:
Museum Campus free trolleys circulate between the parking lots, all three museums (Adler Planetarium, Field Museum & Shedd Aquarium) and the CTA station @ Roosevelt Road. Take the Red, Orange or Green CTA line to Roosevelt Road and then trolley the rest of the way! Just catch one at a stop marked "Free Trolley".
- Outside CTA station on Roosevelt Road (remember to cross over to the other side of the road when you get out of the station)
- In front of Field Museum on McFetridge Drive
- Outside Shedd Aquarium on Solidarity Drive
- Outside Adler Planetarium on Solidarity Drive
Service runs every 20-30 minutes from 10am - 6pm between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Trolleys run on weekends in the fall and winter. Board 30 minutes before service ends.
No trolley service on Chicago Bears home game days & Christmas Day.
Seems like they have change a little on this service. Will update once I find out more about it.
Daily service during the hours that the Pier is open. Trolley travels from Navy Pier along Grand Ave, turning at State Street before heading back to Navye Pier along Illinois Street.
Catch the trolley at stops marked with a "Free Trolley" sign & the free trolleys are marked with signs in their front windows. Board 30 minutes before service ends.
Opening hours will change from time to time. Do check prior travelling. Current Navy Pier hours:
Winter (November 1 - March 31)
Mondays - Thursdays 10am - 8pm
Fridays & Saturdays 10am - 10pm
Sundays 10am - 7 pm
December 26 - the Sunday after New Year's Eve
Sundays - Thursdays 10am - 8pm
Fridays & Saturdays 10am - 10pm
April 1 - the Thursday before Memorial Day
Sundays - Thursdays 10am - 8pm
Fridays - Saturdays 10am - 10pm
Summer (Memorial Day - Labor Day)
Sundays - Thursdays 10am - 10pm
Fridays & Saturdays 10am - 12am
Free trolleys only on weekends from September - December. Daily holiday services available on November 26 - 28 & December 18 - January 2. No service on Christmas Day. Catch trolleys at stops marked by a "Free Trolley" sign & the trolleys are marked with signs in their front windows. Board 30 minutes before service ends.
LaSalle Station Express
Hours (every 20 minutes):
Saturdays 10am - 6pm
Sundays 12pm - 6pm
Holiday service hours:
Mondays - Saturdays 10am - 8pm
Sundays 12pm - 6pm
Metra/Museums service to Roosevelt/State only on Bears’ game days.
Chicago is easily linked with the Loop (a Metro system above the ground), buses and trains, so it's not necessary to have a car. In the main tourist areas, watch for free trolley cars that skirt tourists to the major museums and attractions.