Chicago is a city of culture and is filled with fantastic things to see and do. It is also a City of action where the normal plan of action is getting around and seeing exactly what the city has to off. It’s not a place to go to relax, but to get and be part of the City. Unfortunately, this can mean spending rather a lot of cash on the different sights and attractions the city has to offer! One solution to this is to purchase an attractions Pass, such as the Go Chicago Card.
Attraction Passes can get a bad rep on some internet travel boards, and they do not suit every type of traveler but on the whole, we are fans of the products and we think, especially first-time visitors can get great value from them. So in our Go Chicago Card Reviews post, we take a look at the Pass to see if the Go Chicago Card is Worth it? if the attractions included are worthwhile and analyze the Pros and Cons of the Pass. A family could spend hundreds of dollars on a pass like this or on attractions in general so it is important to be sure its a good deal!
- Product: GO Chicago Card – All Inclusive
- Price: $94- $199
- Price Child: $59 – $119 (Child 3-12yrs)
- Where to Buy: Smartdestinations.com
- Number Of Attractions: 29+ Top Attractions
- Time Limit: 1,2,3, or 5 Consecutive Calander Days.
- Rating: 4.7/5
Attractions Included – Unlimited All-Inclusive Attractions:
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- Art Institute of Chicago
- 360 Chicago
- Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Chicago – 1 Day Classic Tour
- Field Museum
- Museum of Science and Industry
- Shoreline Architecture River Cruise
- and Many more…
What is the GO Chicago Card?
The Go Chicago Card is an All-inclusive Pass that allows you to visit any number of attractions you like for a set number of days, 1, 2, 3, or 5 days. This allows you to visit as many attraction as you like from the list of 29+ attractions. This list covers most of the Citys most popular headline attractions and should have something for everyone. You simply arrive at your chosen attraction scan the pass and you are in. No pre Booking, not carrying around multiple tickets just one simple easy to use Pass the covers everything.
The Go Chicago Card is the All – Inclusive option but there are a few other passes available from the Go City People. Such as the Explorer PAss, Build your Own and Package Options.
What is the Go Explorer pass?
The alternative to the Go Card is the Chicago Explorer Pass. This is similar but works in a slightly different way. Here you pick the number of attractions (3, 4, or 5 attractions) you wish to visit and can visit them at your leisure during a 30 Day Period. As we discuss below a major downside to the all-inclusive pass is trying to cram too much in or chasing the pass, the explorer pass way of doing things stops the temptation to do this as you only have so much to get packed it.
In Practice, it works pretty much the same as the Go Chicago Pass so you can continue reading this review and decide later if the Go Card or explorer options are right for you. However it is important to remember the Shedd Aquarium which is very highly rated by us, is missing from the Explorer pass.
Build Your Own Pass
The Third option is the build your own. This option is great if you know exactly what you want to see and do. For most people, this is the most appealing option as you get exactly what you want but it’s actually in most cases the worst option. You save between 20-25% Maximum and when using the Explorer or Go cards the saving can add up to much more than this.
also with the Chicago Pass, the Options on BYO are pretty limited. you lose some of the better attractions. There is also the Packages option but on this pass that is very limited and can pretty much be ignored!
Which is the best?
We do really like the Go card in this instance. The Inclusion of the Shedd aquarium really sells it. The Nature of any Visit to Chicago is always quite hectic and the all-inclusive pass suits this quite well. For short trips, the Explorer pass does work very well though simply having a few good attraction to visit in the City really helps make the trip special without the stress of cramming things in. For longer visits, we prefer the Go Card though.
Go Chicago Card in Practice?
The pass is a Digital Pass. This means there is no physical Item to be delivered and as such you get the pass instantly. It is then used directly from your phone or you can print it out and use it that way. It’s basically just a QR code that you show and scan at the attractions.
The Go card is activated upon first use and then you have 1,2,3 or 5 consecutive calendar days to use the pass as much as you like.
It is important to remember that the pass is CONSECUTIVE CALENDER Days. Meaning If you activate a 3-day pass on a Tuesday, you have Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday to use the pass. It is not 24hr blocks so if you activate late on Tuesday you only have till midnight that day, so it’s important to visit your first attractions early to get the FULL day, or you may only be getting 2 1\2 days or less!
Using the pass is very simple it’s a simple scan of the QR code at the attraction’s entrance, and you are in. Some attractions offer Priority entry, This is essentially the fact you Pass is your ticket meaning you head straight for the entry queue whereas walk-up visitors will have to queue for tickets first.
The exception to this is the Cruises where you need a timed ticket. For this, you will have to queue up to get the timed ticket then queue for the cruise. This is a bit of a pain really and could be avoided if you bought a timed ticket online beforehand. However, in practice, we often miss our timed slots and need to queue for new tickets anyway (they will swap missed slots for free)
On the plus side the Cruise’s sail from Navy pier which is one of our favorite places in Chicago. So it’s easy to arrive at the pier, grab a timed ticket for the next hour or two and then explore the Pier while you wait for the ticket! It makes for a fun afternoon/ Evening.
Overall the pass does work very well and incredibly simple. We use these passes all over the States and never had a serious issue. There are always drawbacks, which we discuss below, but on the whole, they make our trips SO much more rewarding and can turn a pretty mundane aimless trip into a trip to remember for a lifetime! While the pass is a great idea for many people, they are not the right choice for everyone.
Is the Pass Right for me?
With the Choice between the Go Card and the Explorer pass, most types of visitor are covered by these passes. For very short trips or trips where your reason for visiting is a Festival, Convention or some specific reason but you also have time to get out and see a bit of the city the Explorer pass is fantastic. You can get just the highlights at a huge discount with no time pressure at all.
For longer trips or where the City is the reason for visiting the Go card is the perfect option, The pass gets you right t the heart of the best attractions the city has to offer and you will find yourself touring the best tourist part of the city as you travel from attractions to attraction.
For those who detest planning, the Go card is a poor choice, it does require a certain amount of planning so those with an aversion will hate it. A lot of people want to experience what they feel is the “real” City or get an “authentic” experience. The pass encourages an unashamedly Touristy approach to sightseeing. For those attempting this type of travel will probably be disappointed.
But for most, those wanting to see the City from on high, For those wanting to see the cities world-class museums and exhibits, for those wanting to really explore everything the City has to offer the Go card gives you everything you could want, at a fixed low price!
Really the most important aspect of any pass is are the Attractions what you WANT to see? So on that basis, we take a look at what is on the pass and point out our favorites.
The Attractions included on the card are some of the best attractions in the City. We put together our list of the best things to do in Chicago and most of the attractions included on the pass came up on the list! So really we do think for most people the pass does have almost everything they would want to do in Chicago included, as far as paid attractions go that is.
Shedd Aquarium – $39.95
We Make no secret of the fact we love Auqauriums, most Cities we visit we head to the Aquarium (if there is one) and love seeing the wonders of the undersea world. In Chicago, The Shedd Aquarium is one of the best in the country. We would rank it at number 3 just behind the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Georgia Aquarium, which both rank as some of the best in the world. The Shedd is a little behind but it is absolutely world class.
We couldn’t visit Chicago without heading to the Shedd, and it’s great to see it on the pass, it’s a good half day attraction so make sure you factor in a full morning or afternoon to get the best of it!
Skydeck Chicago – $24.00
In any City getting up high and getting a good view of the Skyline is one of our favorite attractions. This is especially true un such heavily vertically built Cities such as Chicago. The Willis Tower, Formally the Sears tower was the tallest tower in the USA and has only just been surpassed by the freedom tower in Ne York. The Skydeck Chicago id the Towers 103rd floor oversedation deck, and at 1353ft is the highest observation deck in the country.
The View is simply mind-blowing. From the Skydeck, you have 360 views of the entire city and can see 4 States, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and across Lake Michigan into Michigan itself.
You also have the gut-churning “ledge”! A glass Balcony that suspends you over the 1353ft drop to the pavement below. It is perfectly safe but try telling your brain that!
360 Chicago – $22.00
Another observation deck is the 360 Chicago. While it might seem unnecessary to have two observation decks on the pass, But the 360 is a fairly different experience. It’s not as high but as the Willis Tower but the 1000ft + is pretty tall. The John Hancock Building is located on the shore of Lake Michigan and give stunning views of the City, Magnificent mile and the Coastline. Unlike the Willis tower that is tight in the heart of things, the 360 is away from the downtown area meaning you get a better view if the imposing skyline of the City.
As is the case with most towers these days the view is apparently not enough. They need a Gimmick like the “ledge” on the Skydeck or the SkySlide in L.A. The 360 has “Tilt”. This is a window that tilts outwards over the City as to hold on leaving you face first over the plunge. It’s a bit gimmicky and not as terrifying as it sounds and has an extra fee on top of the Go Card!
Most people ask which is best? Our answer is if you are going for the Pass, do BOTH. They are both great in their own right and quite short experiences, so it’s well worth making your own mind up! It also gives you the opportunity to see Chicago from height at both day AND night!
Art Institute of Chicago – $35.00
Not as Famous as the Louvre (Paris), The Britsh Museum (London) or the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, but in reality, every bit as good a museum the Art Institute is a genuine world-class museum. What it lacks in prestige it makes up for in incredible pieces of art, culture, and history. This Monster of a Museum can take a full day to see properly, which can be a problem for pass users wanting to pack a bit more in! However, a good half day will easily pack in the highlights and give you a great idea of just how special this collection is! Personally, we don’t really want to spend a whole day in a museum anyway?
Any art lover will need little enticement to visit the location, but many of us are not the biggest art fans. We might pretend to be artier than we are just to appear a bit more cultured. But there are works of art here that are truly awe-inspiring such as Edward Hopper’s famous Nighthawks, Chagalls, America windows, Grants American Gothic and Matisse Bathers by a river.
It’s not just old paintings, however, There are huge pottery collections, Sculptures, Modern and Contemporary art, Suits of armor on horseback. The varied collection ranges from Ancient artifacts to modern day masterpieces. Really you would have to really really hate art to not be very impressed with this wonderland of culture!
This is one of the reasons we love passes. We would probably skip places like this without the pass, but not having to pay means we check them out and are normally very thankful we did! The Art Institute of Chicago is a revelation in that sense!
Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Chicago – 1 Day Classic Tour – $45.00
Hop On Hop Off Buses are pretty poor in terms of transport. They are irregular slow, have long queues and are pretty packed. For getting around, we don’t really recommend them! However, that doesn’t mean we don’t like them!
When arriving in a new City, your bearing can be shot to hell you have no idea where you or anything else is and these tours are great an orientating yourself and learning the basics of the City. The elevated views from the top decks are great and it really can be the perfect intro into the City. This tour is worthwhile in its own right.
However, it’s not completely useless as transport. It certainly links up many of the top attractions so on the first day we always use it and hop off a few times at certain points before hopping back on and completing the loop. After that, we revert to more reliable and regular forms of transport!
Field Museum – $32.00
The Art Institute of Chicago is one of Chicago’s top museums and ranked up in the worlds top 10…So Don’t tell anyone, but we prefer the Field Museum!
Really they are completely different offerings. The field is natural History Museum showing the wonder and beauty of the world in a really modern and spectacular way. Huge Dinosaur Skeletons, Egyptian Tombs, Giant Insect room, and many enthralling exhibits of the wonders of our planet it’s anything but a stuffy exhibit of stuffed animals. We love the Field Museum and it’s a great addition to the Pass
Museum of Science and Industry – $33.95
Another really fantastic Museum that shuns the concept of boring stuffy museums. This interactive playground museum showcases all things science and does so in a really fun way that is really suited to younger audiences, as well as adults. If the regular museums are a bit too grown up for you the Science and industry museum is far more likely to excite.
Navy Pier, Centennial Wheel and Rides – $35.00
Chicago is a fairly serious city. Filled with Museums and culture, fun can often be pretty hard to come by so the Navy Pier can be a welcome relief. And old town type fair with rides and attractions for all ages. The Highlight of the prier, apart from the fantastic setting, of course, is the 200 ft Centennial Wheel. And really this is where the pass’s value comes into its own. The Pier itself is actually free to explore but to actually do or see anything costs extra. With the PAss, you get access to any of the piers rides, including the Centennial wheel.
You can also board one of 3 Cruises included on the pass from the pier and we highly recommend arriving at the pier booking your cruise then enjoying the pier until your time slot. Head out ion the cruise then carry on at the pier into the evening!
Remember that during the summer on Wednesdays and Saturday Evening there are fireworks at the pier too so plan your trip here for one of those days…but count on it being busy!
If you have kids do not miss the pier, but with loads of food and drink options, and generally fantastic setting even an adult only trip should definitely head to the pier too.
Shoreline Architecture River Cruise – $44
As we mentioned before there are three cruises available on the pass. Whenever a location is on the water we really love getting out onto the waves to see the city from a different angle. All three Cruises can be boarded at the Navy Pier and use timed tickets. So you turn up show the pass and then wait until your allotted time. The Navy Pier is the perfect place to pass that time.
- Architecture River Cruise
- Classic Lake Tour
- Tall Ship WINDY
Our Favourite is the Architecture tour. It isn’t your regular boat tour as it explores the city from the 3 branches of the river as it winds around the city. This 70 Min cruise takes in many of the Cities amazing landmarks, highlighting the impressive architecture of the city. Real Architecture buffs may be disappointed as it’s a friendly take on the cities buildings but it gets you up close and personal to the city from a completely different angle to what you would expect, and after all most of us are not real architecture buffs!
Unfortunately, you can only do one cruise per day with the pass. But TBH how much time do you want to spend on a boat each day?
So, Is the Go Chicago Pass Worth it?
From a purely financial point of view, it’s pretty hard to argue a case against the pass. It really can save you a stack of money. Below is a costed example of a very reasonable and do ale itinerary. We always take care not to suggest too much or pack out the pass to give unrealistic expectations. Of course, simple maths is not the only thing to consider with a pass so we take a look at the pros and cons afterward.
- Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Chicago – 1 Day Classic Tour – $45.00
- Skydeck Chicago – $24
- Magnificent Mile Shopping – Free
Total –$ 69
- Shedd Aquarium – $39.95
- Field Museum -$32.00
- Navy Pier – $35.00
- Shoreline Architecture River Cruise – $44
- Centennial Wheel and Rides – $included with Pier
Total – $151
- Art Institute of Chicago – $35
- Museum of Science and Industry – $39.95
- 360 Chicago – $22.00 (Sunset)
Total – $ 97
- Full Price $ 317
- Pass Price $ 179
- Saving $ 138
That’s a saving of 43% Saving over paying full price on the gate. That’s a big lump of cash you could put towards something else! But as we said it’s not just about the money. there are some pretty meaningful advantages to getting a pass.
Often when Visiting any new City you do not always really know what there is to actually do. We have headed to many new places only to arrive and not really know what we should do or where we should go? The pass solves this problem pretty well. With access to many of the Citys best attractions, we find ourselves doing and seeing a lot more than we would if we just winged it!
You may have found just scanning our list of attractions something you didn’t know about but actually really like the look of?
While we would all love money to not be an issue, unfortunately for most it is the defining characteristic of any trip. It’s awful to miss out on things because the budget won’t stretch, or worse get home to building credit card bills you didn’t plan for. With a pass in hand you know all this is taken care of beforehand!As far as attractions go you know exactly what you will spend and can even get that out of the way before the trip.
Then you only have spiraling food and drink costs to contend with!
Equally, Once this is paid for, you can do as much as you like. We find with a Pass we will do a lot more than we would without. We will see and do things we would not have considered before and often have a great time. How often have toy looked at an entry fee and just thought I am not paying that! but with a pass, you can check it out knowing it’s all covered! After all, Travelling is all about seeing and doing new things!
Planning is most peoples least favorite part of any trip and it can always be hard to know where to start. The pass can really help out on this front as you map out the attractions you most want to visit on the pass. You can then tie these up to free attractions and other things you want to do in the city. It really does help pull a trip together.
The other great thing about the pass is it makes that planning very flexible. With pre-booked timed tickets and rigid planning then it’s all set in stone. But life doesn’t really work that way. If you have your River Cruise all booked and the day breaks and it’s given torrential rain all day, then said cruise will be pretty miserable, Same with an open top bus ride. This would be doubly frustrating if yesterdays sunshine was enjoyed inside a museum!
With the Pass and the fact, nothing is set in stone means you can chop and change to suit mood and weather! We recommend planning days. lumping attractions together based on location and weather appropriateness. Then these days can be taken in any order as you see fit! So if the forecast is for rain head to the museums, sunny, do the outdoor options.
What We don’t like!
Lincoln Park Zoo is free so not included on the Pass!
Not everything is as rosy as you may think, however. There are always downsides to everything. And really these passes can get some pretty severe stick from online travel forums. Most of this stems from timed ticket issues.
Things like cruises cannot be pre-booked beforehand with the passes. So you need to turn up at the cruise, use the pass to get a timed ticket then wait for your allotted time. This is fine when quiet but at busy times it can be quite a bit of queueing. As we have pointed out through the Cruises depart from Navy Pier Which is a great place to pass time waiting for your cruise. Also, some other attractions such as the Shedd Aquarium and the Art Institute offer priority entry so it’s kind of swings and roundabouts.
It is a shame that the pass is consecutive days as some passes offer Non Consecutive days. This means packing quite a lot into a short window. This is fine on shorter trips, and most peoples trips to Chicago tend to be shorter trips, but if you have more time to spend it can make things a bit hectic. It’s not a big thing with Chicago but it’s always nice to have the option of having days where you don’t do paid attractions and just relax, shop or maybe explore further afield
As with all passes, the temptation can be to Chase the Pass. This is where you attempt to pack too much in and not properly enjoy what you do see as you are in a race to get to the next attraction. A pass should improve your enjoyment of the City, so worry less about getting value and more about enjoying the city the best you can.
Cramming too much in, can also be very very tiring, you need to factor in getting to and from the attractions and tearing around the City will leave you pretty exhausted. It’s likely you will be ready for you bead whatever you plan in Chicago but planning too much can leave you feeling like you have run a Marathon!
You also should not skip the free things the City has to offer that are not included on the pass, the many parks, the incredible coastline of Lake Michigan and Lincolnton park Zoo. These are all free and as such not included. You should not skip these though just to get the best use of the pass or toy will not be getting the best of the City!
We find a lot of complaints come from people not knowing properly what they are getting, and not properly planning out how to use the pass. If you have got this far in our review we like to think we have helped you understand exactly what the pass is and how to maximize its use. But we hear all the time from people who felt it wasn’t good value, or they were misled. We think most of these are complaints come from lack of understanding as everything is in black and white and we have never personally experienced any issues in using any pass that we were not aware of prior!
Overall we are big fans of the Chicago Go Card. It really does help you get to see the best Chicago offers. In most, cases it adds to your experience far more than it takes away. We find ourselves visiting far more than we would ever do without a pass and for us, it’s the biggest strength of the pass. Money saving should always be secondary to an improved experience (after all we could just stay at home for free!) and we find the Go Chicago Pass really gets us to the best Chicago has to offer.
Have Your Say?
Have you tried a pass? Did you get good value from it? Did it help or hinder your trip? Would you recommend it to friends and Family? We certainly would but would love to hear your take in it? Just drop us a comment below. Also if you have any questions regarding the Pass just fire away in the comments below and we will get right back to you.