Visiting any big City can be a costly experience. Big Hotel bills, expensive restaurants, and attractions charging eye-watering prices to susceptible tourists who will pay whatever is asked. It all mounts up to empty pockets or giant credit card bills upon your return! There are many ways to keep these costs to a minimum but one way is to consider an Attraction Pass or City Pass as they are known. There are a few choices of attractions Pass in Chicago, one of which is the Official Chicago CityPASS. A Package of attractions bundled together for one LOW price which is up to 50% less than buying the attractions separately
While initially, this seems like a fantastic Idea there are some pros and cons to using an Attraction pass and not is always as it seems. Our Chicago CityPASS Review takes an in-depth look at how the pass works, How much you will save? If the Attractions are worth visiting and is the Chicago City Pass Worth it?
- Product: Official Chicago CityPASS
- Price: $108
- Price Child: $89 (Child 3-11yrs)
- Where to Buy: CityPASS.com
- Number Of Attractions: 5 Top Attractions from a choice of 7
- Time Limit: 9 Calander Days.
- Rating: 4.7/5
Attractions Included :
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- Field Museum
- Alder Planetarium – OR –
- Art Institute of Chicago
- 360 Chicago – OR –
- Museum of Science and Industry
A Low Priced Pass with all the top headline attractions of the City. If the attractions included match your taste and preference the Pass is fantastic value with a host of little extras that boost its value and your experience in the City. As the attraction roster is limited then if they do not appeal the pass is of little interest and you may be better off looking elsewhere or just enjoying the cities free attractions such as it’s parks, Zoo, and waterfronts.
What is the Official Chicago CityPASS?
The Chicago CityPASS is a Package of attractions for people visiting Chicago. You pay one flat fee and can then visit 5 of Chicago’s top attractions. The CityPASS offers 7 Top attractions, where the first 3 are fixed and you then have a choice on your remaining 2 options. It is a very simple idea and can save you significant amounts of cash when visiting several of the City’s top-paid attractions.
The Attractions included are all A-List Chicago attractions and should be top of anyone’s must-do in Chicago list. But the fact is they are fairly fixed and as such if they do not excite you then the pass is of little use.
How Much is the Chicago CityPASS?
The Pricing Structure is very Simple:
- Adults: $108.00
- Child: (3-11): $89.00
- Under 3 – Free*
Some other passes can have fairly complex pricing structures so it’s nice to see a clear and simple Pricing Strategy, what is more, the prices rarely change, aside from yearly increases, and there are never any sales or promo codes so you know the price you see today will be the same tomorrow, next week, next month**. It is the same if you buy online or from the attractions on the day. It is very refreshing.
* Technically there is no pass available for ages 0-2 however all the attractions covered offer FREE admission to kids of that age so you don’t need a pass anyway.
** With the exception of February when CityPASS carries out the Annual Price increases, so if you are looking around that time it can pay to buy before the prices rise the pass will still be valid for 12months whatever the price you paid.
How much Will We Save?
Savings depend on which attractions you choose for your final two choices but they rance from:
$90.85 for the cheapest options to $107.90 For the most expensive choices. This is a 45% – 50% Discount on the Gate price for these attractions! That is something not to be sniffed at! These are real savings that mean you will either pay a lot less for your trip or see a lot more for the same money, depending on how you view it. Either way, it is a great idea IF the attractions are the right one for you!
Chicago City Pass in Practice
The Pass is one of the First CityPASS’s to get Mobile tickets. Before this, the Pass required you to purchase a Booklet where each page was a ticket that you tore out of the book for entry. With the Digital Pass, you get a QR code that is scanned at each attraction and in most cases acts as your ticket. We much prefer the new Mobile version as it saves carrying around the booklet and delivery is instant, straight to your phone. As the Code is simply a QR Code ou can also print it out and have a paper copy. You can still get the old style booklets, either delivered to you before your trip or to your hotel. You can also Buy the booklet at most attractions included in the City.
While the Booklet is nice as a keepsake memento, it really isn’t worth the extra hassle and cost of shipping, so we much prefer the Mobile option.
Some of the attractions offer “skip the line” options or express entry. While these are useful they are not quite as impressive as they sound. It tends to mean you bypass the ticket queue, as the pass counts as a ticket, but you still have the queues for security and the actual attraction itself. These perks are ok, and you will get in faster than most people it is not really a “fast track” or VIP privileges, just a quick boost to your wait times. The Exception to this is the Chicago 360 where you get a genuine skip the line Fast Pass entry which is worth nearly double a standard entry ticket!
3 of the attraction are really handily located right next to each other, lakeside in the Museum Campus park. The Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, and the Planetarium, these could all be easily visited in one day. The Art Institute is housed in Grant Park with the Willis tower a few blocks to the west. The 360 is a little way out up in the Near North Side, however, it’s right at the end of the Magnificent Mile shopping district!
The only real outlier is the Museum of Science and industry way down in the far south side at Jackson Park. It’s quite a trek down there when all the other attractions are right in the heart of the city.
Is the Chicago CityPASS Right for Me?
The Chicago CityPASS suits anyone who is looking to visit several attractions on their trip to the city. The pass allows for a huge amount of flexibility and for the most part, does not tie you down to chasing around the city cramming in attractions and things to do. If you plan on visiting 4 or more of the following attractions then the pass represents really great value, they’re a few negatives which we mention later on but on the whole, if the attractions are of interest to you then the pass is REALLY good value.
The most important part of the pass is the attractions. The most limiting factor of the CityPASS compared to the competition (Chicago Go Pass) is the lack of choice in attractions. The first 3 are set. If you don’t like them tough, and while you can choose one of two options, for each of the fourth and fifth attractions it is still very limiting compared to the “choose whatever you like” nature of the Go Pass!
This said the attractions are really some of the best the City has to offer. These are the Cities headliners, and while the pass lacks some of the more quirky attractions of the Go Pass, it holds it’s head up by just offering the absolute best. There are also a few little extras sprinkled in that really make a difference. let’s take a look and see what the Official CityPASS offers and if these are of interest to you and your family?
For a Full comparison of the Passes check out our Comparison Page here
Shedd Aquarium – $44.90
- Shedd entry – $39.95 + 4-D Attractions – $4.95
The Shedd Aquarium is not our favorite Aquarium in the USA but it is not far off! We rank it number 3, just behind Monterey Bay Aquarium and the jaw-dropping Georgia Aquarium. The Aquarium is one of the most-visited paid attractions in Chicago and really is an essential addition to any pass.
The Aquarium is housed on the Museum campus and the building itself an architectural masterpiece and an official historic monument. The Exhibits are also pretty special. The Aquarium is one of the few that houses Mammals and the 3 million Gallon Oceanarium houses Beluga Whales, Dolphins Sea lions, and Sea Otters.
The Wild Reef replicates a pacific reef system complete with Black-tip Reef Sharks, Rays, Sandbar Sharks, and Saw Fish.
There are also Caribbean Reef Exhibits, the original Open Ocean Exhibits with Giant Pacific Octopus, Seahorses, and Flashlight Fish*, The Amazon Rising Echiit featuring giant Arapimias, Wild Foul, Snakes, Stingrays, Pihrana, and even Caiman. Finally, there is a Stingray Touch Pool, amongst other touch ponds where you can get some hands-on time with the creatures.
The 4-D Cinema is a bit of a gimmick and can be ignored, however, The Ticket that comes with the CityPASS includes a choice of shows so you might as well take one in while you are there!
Overall the Shedd is a really wonderful attraction. It has some spectacular and really unique aquatic life on display and it’s well worth the half-day it will take to see it
* We were particularly excited to see searchlight Fish after seeing them in the wild on a Great Barrier Reed Night Dive!
Skydeck Chicago – $45.00
- Day and Night Admission
Any City of the scale of Chicago is best seen from up high. The Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower is the Third tallest building in the United States* and the view simply does not get much better than from the Skydeck! With views out all 4 sides of the building, from the 103rd floor, you can see out over 4 states, Lake Michigan, And the staggering Chicago Skyline.
There is also the Gut Churning “ledge” a series of platforms jutting out from the main body of the building, the floor is nothing but thin glass revealing the 1600ft plunge below. The front part of your brain telling you all is ok the older, more primitive part STRONGLY disagreeing!
The Biggest Problem is deciding when to go. Chicago is staggering by either Day or Night, but which is better is a really hard question to answer. We would probably go with nighttime as the dazzling lights twinkle on endlessly into the distance, but then you miss the blue of the lake and details of the parks and green spaces that the daylight reveals. With the CityPASS, you don’t need to choose. After your daytime trip, you get a FREE same-day return to see the City at night!
It should be noted, Chicago’s weather is notoriously fickle, and the Skydeck is really little fun when the cloud cover is low, which is fairly regular. The CityPASS really comes into its own on days like these as you are not tied to a day, simply head to the indoor attractions when the weather is poor and come back to the tower when things are a little clearer!
*After the Freedom Tower and the newly topped out, Central Park Tower both New York.
Field Museum – $40
- All-Access Pass featuring all exhibits plus one 3D Movie
The American Museum of Natural History in New York is one of the most celebrated Museums in the world, It receives most of the attention and gets most of the plaudits, but, and we say it quietly so no one in New York can hear us, The Field Museum is Better!
There we said it. We do not mean that as a slight on the AMNH in any way, it’s just the Field museum is even better. The highlight of the museum is the Fossil collection, including the world’s largest T-Rex named Sue, and the largest ever dinosaur the Titanosaur, along with many other complete and partial dinosaurs and other prehistoric skeletons. There is even a display of Human ancestors which is very enlightening. It is a stunning collection and one everyone should visit.
The Animal Halls are the Museums collection of modern animals from around the world featuring dioramas from Aisa, Africa, and the Americas. The stuffed animals are expertly arranged in natural settings and look fantastic. While we are not fans of killing animals to feature in a museum, we understand these specimens were collected many years ago in a very different time.
There are many other exhibits, such as the Egyptian tomb, the Geology hall, Ancient China, and an underground adventure where you find yourself shrunk down to insect size. It is an Easy full day, or you can see the highlights in half a day if you rush.
There are several Paid Exhibits that change frequently, but the access all areas pass featured on the CityPASS gets you into all of those and access to a 3-D film if that is of interest as well.
These are the big three attractions and cannot be substituted. While that is a shame they all appear on our must-see Chicago list and really are some of the best attractions Chicago offers. If you are wanting to see what Chicago really offers these three are the big got too’s. These would set you back 129.90 on their own and with the PASS only costing $108 we are already in the black as far as savings go with two more attractions left to go!
Alder Planetarium -$35.00 – OR – Art Institute of Chicago – $42
The choice here is between the Alder Planetarium or the Art Institute of Chicago. The Alder Planetarium is the much more interactive and fun choice here. More suited to families and people who are not too arty. The Pass offers two shows along with entry to the museum where you can learn more about the cosmos as you journey to the moon and beyond.
The Art Institute of Chicago is a quite simply staggering Art Museum. It is right up there with any in the world and houses some seriously iconic pieces from Picasso, Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Grant Wood (American Gothic), and Edward Hoppers (Nighthawks). It is far more than just paintings though with over 300,000 works of art of all kinds from all ages.
While the Museum tries to interest children with Hands-on Activities and such it is quite a Stuffy museum experience. You need to be a little cultured at least or else you really are just looking at some old paintings and vases. If the significance of the works is lost on you it can be a bit boring. You do not have to be REALLY arty, we are certainly not, yet the Institute blew us away! But for some, this place is a nightmare, which i why the planetarium is a good alternative!
360 Chicago – FASTPASS – $44 – OR – Museum of Science and Industry – $33.95
We love both these attractions. The 360 Chicago is another Observation platform up another tall building and if you have already been up the Willis tower twice do you need to do the 360? the view is quite different and works really well as it actually has the Willis Tower in the Skyline, so a must for photographers. The 360 is also down by the lake and gives some really great views up the coastline. The CityPASS Provides an Expres pass that gets you to the top in the shortest possible time, however, you only get a discount on the stomach-churning Tilt at $7, this Glass window tilts you out over the plunging drops below, so it’s good it is optional as many will just want nothing to do with that!
The Museum of Science and Industry is a real family attraction with a host of fun and exciting hands-on activities. The downside is it is another Museum and takes at least half a day to do it justice. It is a tough call but most people will go with their gut and choose what feels right.
We pick the Art Institute and the 360 but for families then we say the Alder Planetarium and the Museum of Science and industry. If you are on a short trip the 360 and the Plantarium are the quickest to get through. But museum lovers will find the Art Institute and the Science and industry museum very fulfilling. They are ALL great choices.
Just a quick mention of the Zoo here. This is not on the Pass, but that is because it is FREE! so no pass needed. We mention it as it is a real must-see when in Chicago, so don’t spend all your time chasing the Paid attractions and miss out on this gem that is free to all!
Is The Chicago CityPASS Worth It?
As we said the question is an unequivocal yes if you are going to visit the attractions anyway, even if you only visit 3 it’s a good deal but 4 or 5 make it great value financially. But as we said it only works if the above attractions interest you.
By now we can assume they do by virtue of you still being here! So a quick look at the maths shows just how good value it is:
- Shedd Aquarium – $44.90
- Skydeck Chicago – $45.00
- Field Museum – $40
- Alder Planetarium – $32
- Museum of Science and Industry – $33.95
- Total – $198.85
- Pass Price – $108
- Savings – $90.85 over 45% saving!
- Shedd Aquarium – $44.90
- Skydeck Chicago – $45.00
- Field Museum – $40
- Art Institute of Chicago – $42
- 360 Chicago – $44.00
- Total – $215.90
- Pass Price – $108
- Savings – $107.90 nearly 50% saving!
As you can see it is a No-Brainer Financially if the attractions work for you. However, on top of this, there are a few material advantages on top that really make us really like the Pass and attraction passes in general
Often when visiting a new city, you never really know what there is to see and do and you can feel quite lost and unsure what to do once you are there. A Pass can provide real inspiration and guidance as to what is available and what you want to see, things you want to do and places you want to visit. Having a Pass and pre-paid tickets to the attractions also provides motivation to actually follow through and visit the places you want to visit.
A pass is a fantastic tool to help budget your trip. As the pass is valid for one year from purchase you can buy any time in the lead up to your trip to help spread costs. What is more, you always know exactly what you are going to spend on attractions which means no nasty surprises on your Credit Card Bill and No missing out on things as you have run out of money. With a Pass, people tend to not only spend less but actually see and do much more, which is the whole point of seeing new places!
Knowing exactly which attractions you are going to visit beforehand gives you a powerful basis to plan your trip around. As you know whereabouts in the City you will be and can plan other sights and activities around your pass attractions. Once the Pass is in place the rest of the trip can just fall into place.
For Example, if you know you will be in the near north side for the 360 Chicago, plan to hit the Magnificent Mile for some shopping at the same time. Or when Visiting the Art institute, check out Grant and Millenium Park before heading into the heart of downtown Chicago, the Financial District, and Willis Tower!
That said we hate rigid itinerary, we like to have the freedom to change things up as mood or the weather dictate. While the set roster of attractions of the CityPASS only allows so much wiggle room in what you want to see, the truth is we have normally made out mids up on that anyway. The pass does allow you to alter the time, order, and day of any planned attraction though. We try and plan days, but the actual date we execute those days we keep open.
For example, we will have a Museum Day, A Sight Seeing day and a more relaxing day. If we see the weather is closing in and will be very poor on our Sightseeing day when we plan to head up the Willis Tower, we simply switch that our for our museum day where we head inside and use the good weather days for the observation decks.
We can’t stress how important that can be in Chicago when the weather is so fickle! With Pre-Booked tickets, you are stuck with the weather as it is, and the Tower is very often obscured by low cloud!
There are no doubt many other ways to get discounts on your attractions. Group-On, Discount Ticket sellers, Hotel Concierge, etc, bit all of these are time-consuming and complex. Requiring multiple tickets, endless searching and comparison to ensure you are getting a good deal. With the CityPASS you KNOW it’s a good deal and its there, as one ticket in your pocket and on your phone. No-Fuss No-Hassle.
We also love the no-nonsense pricing, not something other Pass providers can claim!
There are quite a few little extra’s thrown in on the CityPASS which are really quite neat. The All-Access pass for the Shedd, VIP Entry at the Field Museum, Access to all extra ticketed Exhibits at most locations. It’s little things really but these extras can be frustrating when you think you have paid already and are asked to cough up more, so it’s nice to have them all included and with the CityPASS, you really won’t need to spend any more cash other than for food and drink! And then there is the little extra of the Day $ Night Admission to the Skydeck, that is not really a little extra, it’s a BIG bonus.
What We Don’t Like?
There is not a lot wrong with the Chicago CityPASS and it is one of the best passes we have reviewed. The Price is really low and the attractions excellent. However, nothing is perfect.
The set roster is disappointing, Other passes offer far more choice in which attractions you can choose, This is not too much of an issue if the attractions fit but if there are not of interest the pass is quite useless. Fortunately, you can check out the other Passes on offer for Chicago.
The Little extra’s we like so much, well they are a double edge sword. The BASIC entry for the above attractions would be significantly less than the advertised savings price – The Cheapest we got the list to was $156 For that you get a lot less, just base admission to the attractions. Whereas the CityPASS Gives you all the extras. But you are paying for them whether they are useful to you or not! On the whole, we love the fact you get every extra thrown in, express passes access all areas, same-day nighttime return, 4D and 3D Shows, the whole shebang, but if you are not going to make use of these it’s wasted money and maybe they could have made the pass cheaper without?
You are also committed to the attractions on the list, if you change your mind once the pass is activated there is no going back or if you underestimated how long the attractions take or have planned too much, you are stuck. On the plus side, you only have to visit the big three to more than break even.
And that is the other big negative, the temptation to plan too much, you need a good three days in the City to really get the use out of the Pass and still have time to see the rest of the city. People try and cran everything into 1-2 days and it really isn’t enough. The Shedd and Field Museum are long half days each at a minimum, with the other museums easily consuming a half-day, and then you are barely scratching the surface.
Overall the CityPASS is a fantastic way to save big amounts on the absolute best the City has to off. $108 per person is a real bargain for access to just about every tp attraction in the City and full all-area access. The pass gives the user a real insight into the city and gets you right under the skin. The attractions on offer are far more than tourist traps but the cities real gems and places locals and tourists alike visit. When Hotels are $200 a night and a reasonable restaurant easily runs to over $100 for two then $108 for all this entertainment is a staggering bargain.