The best new apps to explore Chicago

The first time I tried to show out-of-town friends around Chicago was a complete disaster. We had just moved to the area and I knew nothing about the Windy City besides Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile. It rained nonstop that particular October weekend, so my plans of Ferris wheel rides, pictures at the Bean, and cocktails at the top of the John Hancock were quashed. We were forced to wing it, so we grabbed a taxi and tried to blindly maneuver our way around the city.

We ended the day, tired, frustrated and grumpy. As the hostess, I vowed to become a stellar tour guide. So I became a professional tourist in my own town. I scoured websites, travel guides and magazines for interesting, fun and out-of-the-way spots downtown. And I discovered a handful of helpful mobile apps.

Even if you’re a Chicago native who knows every hot spot and shortcut around the city, you will enjoy these tour guide apps.

Not only do these apps point out must-see attractions in Chicago, but some also offer unique stories, interesting tidbits and games to play along the way.

Here are five apps to try if you’re looking to play tourist (or tour guide).

1 Stray Boots

Stray Boots makes the top of my list. It was the most fun to use because it played like a trivia game/scavenger hunt. Chicago know-it-alls will enjoy touring neighborhoods trying to find clues and the next stops on the tour. My kids (4 and 7) especially enjoyed the Lincoln Park tour, where they learned that two swans were the first animals to live at the Lincoln Park Zoo and that Lake Michigan was 20 feet higher 8,000 years ago.

Developer: Stray Boots Tours

Price: Free to download. $5 for Magnificent Mile introduction Package, $12 each for other tours: The Loop, Navy Pier, Lincoln Park, Art Institute and the Perfect Chicago Date tour. The Deep Dish Package (all tours) is $55.

Access by: iPhone or iPad app, online or by texting codes

2 MetroWalkz

A friend and I used MetroWalkz to explore Chicago’s Gold Coast. This app is only available on Android and I have an iPhone, but the tour can be viewed online by a mobile browser. This was a fun jaunt through the Gold Coast with interesting history, but probably more of a tour for adults. Of course we posed for pictures outside of the original Playboy Mansion and ogled the beautiful architecture of the historic buildings. Touring the Gold Coast is relatively easy, but MetroWalkz gave us some direction and history.

Developer: Prairie City Limited

Price: Free to download and use. Tours include: The Loop/Architecture tour; Grant Park/Art Institute; Magnificent Mile; Navy Pier; Museum Campus; Chinatown; Gold Coast; Old Town; West Loop; and Near North. Printing hard copies of the tours costs $2.99, or order a booklet for $5.99.

Access by: Android app, mobile browser or online

3 Pocket Guide

This app is kind of like walking with an actual tour guide. It’s an audio walking tour that uses GPS tracking to determine your location and describe your surroundings. The narrator takes you on a walking tour, explaining how to get to each site while telling interesting stories about that particular location.

Developer: GPS City Guide

Price: Free for online use; $2.99 for offline use. Tours include Magnificent Mile; Navy Pier; and Grant Park

Access by: iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch

4 MyCityWay Chicago

While this app doesn’t offer self-guided tours, it provides a useful guide for everything Chicago-from restaurants and theater to transportation and special events. You can search for the nearest bathroom or Wi-Fi spot, or read reviews on restaurants and attractions.

Developer: MyCityWay

Price: Free

Access by: iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch

5 Choose Chicago

Choose Chicago is best for searching for restaurants or attractions near your location. The app provides a calendar of all events in the city, as well as coupons and deals for museums, tours or other attractions.

Developer: Choose Chicago

Price: Free.

Access by: iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch

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