Amazing architecture, deep-dish pizza, and some thrilling sports teams. Chicago is one of the best cities to visit since it offers something for every type of traveller. The question is, how much does it cost to go to Chicago? Read on to find out.
For the purpose of this itinerary, I’m going to suggest three nights in Chicago. If you’re coming for a major event such as a sports game or concert, you may want to stay an additional night.
It’s worth mentioning that Chicago is a major hub for American Airlines and United Airlines, so you could potentially stopover the city for free if you’re headed somewhere else. Here’s what a Chicago trip cost looks like.
Chicago Trip Cost
|Food and drink||$150|
The above estimate is for a single traveller in American dollars, so please use xe.com to find out the average costs in your home currency.
If you’re Canadian, you may want to consider applying for one of the best travel credit cards in Canada to help offset your costs by collecting points. For example, the American Express Gold Rewards Card gives you a signup bonus of up to 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points which have a minimum value of $300 (potentially more if you transfer your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy). There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that has no foreign transaction fees, a sign up bonus worth $250 and it comes with airport lounge access.
Chicago is a major travel hub so if you’re flying from within North America, you likely won’t have any issue finding direct flights from major cities. You should be able to find flights for around $350. That said, if you’re flying from the eastern part of the United States, flights will probably cost you closer to $250. Canadians will have to pay closer to $350 while international travellers will obviously need to budget more.
It’s worth noting that Chicago has two airports. O’Hare International Airport is the major airport, but Chicago Midway International Airport also sees some decent traffic. Both airports service discount carriers so it’s possible to find even cheaper flights to the city. Midway is slightly closer to downtown and sees fewer crowds, so clearing security is quicker. Both airports are serviced by public transportation.
Since Chicago is a major city, they have every type of accommodation possible. You can stay at a hostel or a 5-star luxury hotel. Most travellers prefer to stay in River North, Magnificent Mile, or Downtown where you should be able to find a nice hotel for $200 a night.
If you’re looking to keep costs down, look at areas outside of the core such as Chinatown or West Loop. You’d have to take public transportation to get everywhere, so don’t forget to factor in those costs. Here are some hotels I recommend:
If you have the right credit card, you can save a fair amount of money on hotels. For example, Canadians should consider the BMO World Elite Mastercard since it typically has a sign up bonus of $250 when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months of card membership. This card does have an annual fee of $150 but it’s normally waived for the first year so you’re getting $250 for free. There’s also the Marriott Bonvoy American Express which gives you 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months. That’s enough points for up to five free nights at some hotels which could easily have a value of over $650.
Chicago has excellent public transportation which is managed by the Chicago Transit Authority. You can get around the entire city by walking or using transit so you can easily keep your costs down here if you want.
Pick up a 3-Day Ventra Ticket at the airport and it’ll give you unlimited travel for just $20. That’s easily the best deal. If you think you’ll use transit less than that, you’ll still need to purchase a new Ventra Card for $5 and then load funds to it so you can start using the buses and trains.
The standard fare is $2.50 if you’re taking a train and $2.25 for buses. If you need to transfer, it’s an additional $.25 for up to 2 additional rides within 2 hours. If you prefer single ride tickets without buying a Ventra Card, it’s $3 each or $5 from O’Hare. As you can tell, buying a 3-day pass is probably your best solution since it’s the most convenient way to get around.
When it comes to attractions, Chicago has a lot to see. There are museums, art galleries, live theatres, sports events, and many public parks. While some attractions are free, you’re going to need to pay admission for most of them.
The best value is to purchase a Chicago CityPASS for $109. It’ll give you access to 5 attractions at a discount of 49%. The attractions that come with the Chicago CityPASS are:
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- Field Museum
- Adler Planetarium or Art Institute of Chicago
- Museum of Science and Industry or 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck
Another advantage of getting the Chicago CityPASS is that you get to skip the lines. Even though you get a savings of 49%, you need to do the math to see if the admission cost for the attractions you’re going to see costs more than buying a CityPASS.
One other attraction in Chicago which is often considered a must-do is the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise (often referred to as Chicago’s First Lady). As the name implies, this is a river cruise run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The cost is about $50 during the day or $55 at night and lasts 1.5 hours. The price is well worth it as the guides are highly knowledgeable and you get to see the city from the river.
Overall, you should budget about $160 for attractions, but that depends on what you plan on seeing. Theatre and sports tickets can be quite expensive, so you may need to budget more if you plan on including those in your itinerary.
Food and drink
Chicago is a foodie city and has many great restaurants. Interestingly enough, most of the food the city is famous for may not sound very good, but they can be delicious. I’m talking about deep-dish pizza, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches. Generally speaking, you’ll want to budget the following each day for food.
- Breakfast – $7
- Lunch – $13
- Dinner – $30
That works out to $50 a day which isn’t cheap, but it’s also not a lot considering you’ll only be here a few days. Most people grab a coffee and pastry or breakfast sandwich in the morning. For lunch, any quick-service restaurant will do since you need to fuel for your trip. Dinner is where you might want to splurge since there are so many great restaurants.
It’s worth mentioning that many of Chicago’s top restaurants are often booked up a month in advance so you need to get a reservation early if you have a specific spot in mind. Some more popular restaurants don’t take reservations at all which can result in a 2 hour+ wait time.
There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Chicago, especially around the Magnificent Mile. If you like to shop, I’m sure you’ll find something to buy. That said, it’s not like Chicago has things that are significantly different from other major cities.
I recommend budgeting an additional $100 for random spending in case you decide to buy some souvenirs or you want to order a few drinks with each meal. That extra money could also come in handy if you prefer to take Uber or taxis instead of public transportation.
So how much does it cost to go to Chicago? I recommend budgeting US $1,330 for a 3-night trip. That’s not bad considering Chicago is one of the most popular cities in the world. For more inspiration, check out my guides to Toronto, Orlando, New York City, Barcelona, Tokyo, Rome, and Bangkok.