Getting Around in Chicago

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Chicago's elevated "L" train

Chicago's elevated "L" train

Joseph Hollick

There are plenty of options for traveling around Chicago. Besides CTA, there is also the Metra trains and Pace buses. They are a little nicer and cleaner than the Ls and buses of CTA, and they actually run on a specific timetable. Metra services most Chicago neighborhoods and as far east as Michigan City, Indiana. All information can be found at

If you plan on touring downtown Chicago, take a ride on the free trolleys that go all around the Loop, including Navy Pier. There are also double decker touring trolleys as well. For more details, visit

The best way to get around the city during your Chicago vacation is by foot.  The city is very easy to navigate, and walking is the best way to get the full flavor of the city.  This is one of a few American cities that is most enjoyable without a car. When your feet need a break, public transit is readily available, and is not bad by American standards.

The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority, is the public transportation system serving the city. It consists of the "L" or El, and an elaborate network of buses. The El, an elevated train, is the quickest and cheapest mode of transportation between O'Hare and Midway airports and the Loop downtown, and it is also a major Chicago landmark. Shuttle buses leave at regular intervals from both airports to major downtown Chicago hotels and there are lots of taxis waiting to whisk you into the city, though they're expensive. Taxis are really only expensive once you leave the downtown area.  If you are looking for quick transportation around Chicago, say from a Museum Campus to Navy Pier, taxis aren't that bad.  It's still recommended that you walk, though, because this is the best way to enjoy the city.  If you're looking for transportation into the suburbs or outlying areas of Chicago, the El or Metra ( is recommended. Navy Pier also provides free trolleys year round that criss-cross around downtown Chicago (maps are available at Navy Pier).  All the major car rental companies have outposts at the airport as well as branches in the city and suburbs.  

Most visitors should be able to use the El for almost all their transit needs, the exception being those going to Hyde Park, certain areas of Lincoln Park near the lake, and the area east of the Loop (in the center of downtown, where all the different lines of the El come together), which includes Navy Pier and the waterfront (though it is not a far walk from the Loop to either). El line maps are available online at CTA buses go almost everywhere but they do so on erratic schedules. A web of commuter trains running under the Metra banner run by the RTA (Regional Transportation Authority, serve the suburbs surrounding Chicago, and is recommended if you're trying to reach the further-out suburbs such as Wheaton. These trains are reasonably priced and are lots of fun for children.

Try Evanston for vegetarian restaurants, coffee, Ten Thousand Villages on Main Street for fair trade products and walks along the lake. In Chicago, try Andersonville (North Clark Street between Foster and Berwyn) for art galleries, feminist bookshop, gourmet foods and what's left of the Swedish community. Restuarants of all flavours exist. Kopi Traveller's Cafe is a great hangout and offers snacks and coffee and atmosphere. Another recommendation is Latizia's on the north side.  Every suburb outside of Chicago has it's own "downtown" area, and each is unique and usually overlooked.  They also usually have free parking.  If you're staying in Chicago for many days, it's recommended that you visit at least a few of these areas.  A suburb I recommend is Elmhurst, which has it's own myriad of museums, gorgeous parks, fountains, public art, and shops.  Visit any Chicago bookstore for a selection of books which can recommend great places to visit.

While CTA buses are known for arriving in 'bunches' (say two arrive at the same stop simultaneously), there is a fixed schedule for BOTH buses and trains. Check schedules at and download maps and timetables as well.  Despite the little boxes that CTA personnel seem to live in at the el platforms -most will be friendly and give directions!

June 04, 2008 change by mcburton
April 13, 2009 change by annc

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