ChicagoforKids.org offers eight free
downloadable audio tours of the Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan
Avenue Bridge/Tribune Tower, Millennium Park, the “L,” the Picasso
sculpture, North Avenue Beach, Chicago food and the Garfield Park
The tours all focus on things kids care about-such as thefact that sliding on the Picasso at Daley Plaza is not only OK, butit’s also encouraged. Each tour comes with a map to help parentsget kids to the right places. The tours are available in fivelanguages: English, Mandarin, German, Japanese andSpanish.
The Chicago Greeters program is another freebie. This one,however, is not open to city residents, although suburbanites arewelcome. Chicago Greeters are volunteers who squire up to sixvisitors at a time on tours in 31 different neighborhoods.Reservations must be made a week or more in advance at ChicagoGreeter.com.
If you don’t have a reservation, try the ChicagoInstaGreeters program, which offers free one-hour walking tours ofthe Loop, Millennium Park, Hyde Park and Old Town on a first-come,first-served basis on weekends. Information on where to find anInstaGreeter is atChicagoGreeter.com/instagreeter.
Finally, there are the 24 formal Chicago NeighborhoodTours offered at various times throughout the year by the ChicagoOffice of Tourism. These tours are aimed at history-loving adults,but spokeswoman Patricia Sullivan says some work well for slightlyolder children, particularly those studying Chicagohistory.
For kids, she recommends tours of the colorful Chinatown,Pilsen and Devon Avenue areas. New this year are tours of ColumbusPark and Garfield Park; Andersonville and Edgewater; Avondale, OldIrving and the Villa; Back of the Yards and Bridgeport;Bronzeville, South Loop and IIT Campus; Lincoln Park, Lakeview andWrigleyville; and Uptown and Argyle Street.
Tours are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and children8-12. A schedule of tours is available atChicagoNeighborhoodTours.com.
If the day (too hot?) or the kids (too tired?) mean a walkingtour isn’t in your future, try the trolley. We checkedoutChicago Trolley & Double Decker Co., whose hop-on,hop-off trolley tours offer the freedom to check out the city’sbest spots at your own pace, but with a conveniently charming rideto the next.
Try a trolley tour
If I’ve learned anything in my travels around Chicago, it’s thatthis city offers endless opportunities for family adventures. Somany, in fact, that it seems impossible to see it all. But ChicagoTrolley & Double Decker Co. is on a quest to put the citywithin your reach.
Families can now visit multiple major attractions all in one day,without worrying about navigation or parking.
Visit its Web site to determine a ticket location that’s
most convenient for you. We chose the ticket center at Millennium
Park. From there, several tours depart to different parts of the
city. Cubs fans can do the Wrigleyville tour. Or check out some of
Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods such as Chinatown or Greektown. You
can even stop at Oprah’s Harpo Studio.
We chose the downtown Signature Tour so we could check out NavyPier without the steep parking price and do a little shopping onMichigan Avenue. Tickets begin at $15 for children, $26 foradults-not cheap, but they serve as a pass for the entire day (withbuses and trolleys running from 9 a.m.-5 p.m.). The Web site alsooffers multi-day passes. Get on and off as often as you like andtake advantage of multiple stops.
The tickets themselves are miniature tour books filled withcoupons to places you’ll pass on the tours, which made stops atNavy Pier and the Mag Mile’s Hershey store a little easier on mywallet.
The tour guides are all pretty knowledgeable and funny, willingto answer questions and crack jokes. One trolley driver inparticular enjoyed some give and take with my sons as they debatedbaseball teams and the merits of Willis Tower. Luckily for my4-year-old, the guides also knew where to find public restrooms ateach stop because neither the buses nor trolleys havefacilities.
The Signature Tour runs all year long, seven days a week, exceptfor inclement weather days. No matter where you stop, you rarelyhave to wait for more than 10 minutes before the next trolley comesby.