What is Al Capone’s connection to Holy Name Cathedral? What is inside the onion dome of the Hotel Intercontinental Chicago? Who started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871? Why was Chicago named Chicago? You can probably look up the answers on the Internet, but a first time Chicago visitor will find it more enjoyable to find out by taking the Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. Downtown Tour. The tour provides a wonderful overview of famous Chicago landmarks, museums, and restaurants.
Tours begin near the Sheraton Grand Chicago at the Northeast corner of Columbus Drive and North Water Street, diagonal from the corner of Whole Foods where you can pick up a sandwich to take on your trip. The Green Route will take you across the Michigan Avenue Bridge to River North, past the new restaurant district on Clark Street, and to the Skydeck at the Willis Tower and the Ledge, glass boxes from where you can view the city, and they say up 50 miles and four states, from 1353 feet above, and experience what it might be like to float. Then, you head back east to the Art Institute, past the Hilton Chicago and onward to the Museum Campus where you’ll find the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium where you can visit with a giant prawn before seeking one out for dinner, or watch the antics of Ellie the Sea Otter, a newly rescued pup. After Museum Campus, you’ll head down to Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. Heading back north, you’ll see Buckingham Fountain, and if you make this trip later in the evening, you’ll see the famous fountain light show. Along the way, you’ll learn a little about the history and architecture of several buildings en route.
The Red Route takes you north to Navy Pier, where you can shop for souvenirs, ride the new 200 foot Ferris wheel, called the Centennial Wheel, with its heated and air conditioned gondolas, and evening light shows. At Navy Pier you can ride the exhilarating Seadog speed boat, take in some theater at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, or eat at one of the many Navy Pier restaurants. However, if you want to shop, you might want to wait until the bus takes you to the Magnificent Mile shopping district on North Michigan Avenue— Chicagoans call it the “Mag Mile,” with several city malls, including Water Tower, a movie theater, restaurants, and many street front shops. From there, the Red Route will take you to the Hancock Building where the braver traveler will try the “TILT,” an enclosed moving platform that tilts you out of the building and over Michigan Avenue. You might want to stick to the 360 view observation deck 1000 feet over the city.
A nice feature of the Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. tours is its “Hop On Hop Off” feature that allows you to board and disembark at various checkpoints so you may stop to enjoy shopping, restaurants, museums, theaters, or the ambience of a particular location, and get back on when you are ready to continue the tour. You’ll also get a snack bag of Garrett’s popcorn, and a coupon book that includes some savings on restaurants and other tours. Tour guides point out landmarks along the way, offer a bit of Chicago history, and some Chicago humor so you’ll sound like a native Chicagoan for the rest of your vacation.
Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. has other tours. Including one to Wrigley Field, Home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs, and Lincoln Park Zoo, and another tour to the Museum of Science & Industry and China Town. There’s a Night Tour, and a Land, Lake and River tour that includes a 90 minute cruise and a hop on hop off bus tour. There’s nothing like seeing the city skyline from the lake just before sundown. The double decker buses are clean, and pleasant, provided you stay in your seat as the staff will warn so you don’t get clobbered by a tree branch or the El tracks.
For more schedules, tour descriptions, and tickets for a Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. tour see their website. Tour prices vary depending on tour and whether you choose a one day, two day, or three day pass. Kids’ tickets are discounted for children of ages 5-15.
Photos courtesy of Carol Fox and Associates