Last Updated on December 13, 2023

When visiting a big city, researching all of the major sights can seem overwhelming. By purchasing a CityPASS, you can ensure seeing the destination’s highlights while saving money.

I enjoyed using CityPASS on my 2023 trip to Chicago. CityPass is available in 15 metropolitan areas of the U.S. as well as Toronto, Canada.

What is CityPASS?

For one price, CityPASS bundles tickets to a city’s main attractions. The company started 26 years ago as the first in North America offering this service. Different destinations have different options and prices depending on the length of your stay and how many attractions you want to see.

When traveling to Paris and Rome in the past, I used a similar type of ticket bundling, but with those, I had to keep track of the pass and booklet explaining it.

Through CityPASS’ user-friendly mobile app, I could make reservations and easily track my tickets. The app also provides information about each place, including a map and directions, hours, highlights of each place, and advice for visitors. The duration of your pass begins with your first selected stop.

CityPASS can be purchased online or through the app.

Enjoying Chicago via CityPASS: Day 1

“A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Judy Karnia

I grew up in Chicago and visit family and friends there often. During our trips throughout the years, I have brought my daughter to many of my favorite attractions. I enjoy revisiting them and seeing her growing attached to the places of my childhood memories.

When she invited her college roommate to join us for a weekend there, a wonderful opportunity presented itself to see my beloved Chicago through a new set of eyes.

We purchased three passes and took full advantage. The Chicago CityPASS included entrance to the Shedd Aquarium and Skydeck Chicago in the Willis Tower. We could then choose three additional attractions including the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry, 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck, Adler Planetarium and Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour.

With two days to fit in all the sites, we decided to choose only those in the downtown and lakeshore area. Since we were staying in Oak Park, just west of the city, we rode the blue line of the “L” to a station near the Willis Tower on our first morning. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain with low clouds and we didn’t have any other time in our schedule to go the Skydeck Chicago, but we didn’t let the low visibility deter us.

The inclement weather also meant we didn’t have to deal with any crowds as we explored the wonderful exhibit showcasing historical icons of the city’s history, such as the “L,” Second City, the tower, and famous personalities.

There was also no wait to ride the elevator up to the 103rd floor. Emerging onto the Skydeck, all we could see through the floor-to-ceiling windows was a shroud of clouds. Even without being able to see the ground, I’ll admit it was still a bit nerve-wracking to step onto The Ledge, a glass box jutting out four feet from the side of the building.

Next, we headed to the Art Institute of Chicago, which was a quick trip across the “Loop.”

I love art museums and seek them out whenever I travel in the U.S. or Europe. The Art Institute remains one of my favorites.

Their massive collection includes a large variety of works from ancient to contemporary times from around the world. I try to find something new each visit, but usually come back to the Impressionists, Roman artifacts, and Thorne rooms.  

Lunch at The Market and shopping at the museum store are also essential parts of the visit.

Day 2 in Chicago with CityPASS

The sundial in front of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
The sundial in front of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Photo by Judy Karnia

On our second day of exploration, we parked near the planetarium and strolled along the lake with a gorgeous view of the skyline. We had timed-entry tickets for the Shedd Aquarium, but still had to wait about 20 minutes in the queue. I would recommend choosing a weekday if your schedule allows, though it’s a very popular destination and likely to be busy no matter when you visit.

Exhibits feature fish, mammals, and reptiles from oceans, lakes, and rivers, and include two large tanks with Beluga Whales and Pacific White-Sided Dolphins. We especially enjoyed touching the manatees swimming in a shallow pool and watching the dolphins at the underwater viewing tanks as they jumped during their keeper interaction.

After lunch at the aquarium, the three of us headed to the Adler Planetarium on Northerly Island Park which juts out into Lake Michigan. The planetarium was the first one built in the Western Hemisphere in 1930.

Though it’s a small museum, it offers interesting exhibits about the universe and entertaining sky shows.

The Museum Campus around the planetarium, aquarium, and Field Museum is a wonderful grassy area to hang out on a sunny day and take selfies by the lake. The CityPASS makes it easy to check out any of these attractions and get a good taste of Chicago.

Our lovely afternoon concluded with a trip down the Chicago River on the Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour. We had originally reserved tickets on the previous day, but easily rescheduled them on the CityPASS mobile app when we saw the rainy weather.

The river cruise provided a wonderful view of the downtown skyscrapers and bridges. Our tour guide treated us to multiple tales about Chicago as he described each building alongside the water and sprinkled in some cheesy jokes.

I had been on one of these sightseeing boats a few times in the past, but had never gone this far up the river. Even though I grew up in Chicago I learned much more about its architecture, history, and politics during the cruise. To be honest, I had never known the actual origin site of the Great Fire of 1871 until we passed it along the way.

The CityPASS offered a wonderful way to visit my hometown as a tourist and enjoy the amazing attractions that bring millions of people to Chicago every year.

I can personally attest that the pass simplifies your planning and provides a stress-free way of seeing the top sites on your visit to the destination.

Author

  • Judy Karnia

    Judy grew up in Chicago and now lives in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. She retired as a practicing feline veterinarian and is now a travel writer and certified nature therapy guide.