HOW TO PLAN YOUR 3 DAYS IN CHICAGO
If you are looking for the best things to do in 3 days in Chicago, where to go & what to see, this 3-day Chicago itinerary will help. Here you will get all the tips you will need for an epic trip to Chicago.
Chicago – one of the US’s largest cities – is full of interesting architecture and art, skyscrapers, parks, and even beaches. This city is a great place to visit for families, couples, and solo travelers who want to see what the “Windy City” offers.
The post was written by Rebecca
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TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR 3 DAYS IN CHICAGO
But first, here are some travel tips for your 3-day trip to Chicago to make your stay smoother.
How to Get to Chicago
- If you fly into Chicago, you will most likely come in via O’Hare International Airport, the busiest and third largest airport in the US. You might also come to Chicago Midway International Airport.
- Once you arrive at the airport, you can either take a taxi or Uber to your hotel (costs about $30-40) or take the Blue Line.
- The Blue Line ‘L’ Train leaves out of Terminals 1, 2, and 3 (follow the signs) and will take you from the airport to downtown in about 45 minutes. It costs about $5 ($2.50 if you are coming from Midway Airport).
- If you are driving, you can take Interstate 90 whether you are coming from the south or north.
Weather in Chicago
- Chicago has nice summers but cold winters.
- Summer temperatures are between 70ºF and 82ºF, while winter temperatures are between 22ºF and 32ºF.
- The rainy season runs from June to August, and you will see the most snow in February.
- Summer is the best time to visit for outdoor activities, like beaches, rooftop bars, etc., but keep in mind the humidity is about 70% so it will probably feel a bit sticky.
- It is also one of the great spring and fall destinations to visit in the US.
What to Pack for a Your 3-Day Chicago Itinerary
- Chicago weather is a little erratic, so the best way to dress is in layers.
- This is also called the Windy City because the wind off Lake Michigan is common.
- Make sure you pack a jacket with your shorts and t-shirts for a summer trip because storms can come in quickly and drop the temps dramatically.
- For winter, pack a warm jacket, gloves, scarves, and boots. You might want to bring thermals to keep you warm under your clothes.
- And always bring comfortable walking shoes because you will probably do a lot of that here.
Where to Stay for 3 Days in Chicago
Here are some places that are good options for your 3-day stay in Chicago.
- For a luxury option, try The Peninsula Chicago Hotel, which provides great amenities, comfort, and location. Check out rates here.
- For a mid-range option, I would suggest the Kinzie Hotel. It’s close to the Magnificent Mile (which is Chicago’s premier commercial district) and offers a continental breakfast. Here you can find the rates.
- For budget accommodation, check out the Gateway Inn located in the Loop. It has nice clean rooms and isn’t far from some popular landmarks. Check out room rates here.
3 Days in Chicago – How to Get Around
- The best way to get around Chicago is to use public transportation.
- The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses and trains are fast, cheap, and reliable. The trains are called the “L” because some of them are elevated (although some are underground, too).
- Download the Transit app. If you’re using public transportation, this is an easy way to track routes and timetables for trains and buses. It even tells you when your stop is approaching so you don’t miss it.
- There’s also a free trolley that runs about every 30-45 minutes, but it can get pretty crowded, and you may have to wait for one that is empty enough for you to get on.
- Even when using public transportation, you might still experience some delays, so keep that in mind as you plan your days.
- Get a CTA pass. If you plan to spend 3 days in Chicago and see multiple landmarks and take public transportation throughout the city, you will save yourself time and money by getting the pass. A 3-day pass costs $20 for unlimited rides over 72 hours.
- If you decide to rent a car, keep in mind that parking is expensive and hard to come by.
- Traffic is pretty bad here, so make sure that you give yourself enough time to get places.
SIGHTSEEING BUS TOURS
- If you want to get around via sightseeing buses in Chicago, check out this option.
- In general, these sightseeing bus tours are a great way to experience a city in a short amount of time.
- You can hop off at many stations and explore it on your own path and then continue your bus ride.
More Travel Tips For Your 3-Day Chicago
- Chicago is set up in a grid, which makes it easier to navigate than other cities. State Street and Madison Street meet in the Loop center in the middle of the grid, and street numbers fan out from there, going north/south and east/west. Keep this in mind when you are trying to figure out your routes. Also, every 8 blocks equal about a mile.
- Tipping is a normal practice in Chicago, as in any American city, but a little higher than most. The standard is 20% of the bill. If you are getting drinks, then leave $1 per drink.
- If you are going to smaller venues or street festivals, make sure you’ve got the cash. Not all of them take credit cards, so cash is necessary at these places.
- Being a large metropolitan city means higher security. Expect to get your bags searched at larger venues, and sometimes large bags are not permitted at all. Check the website of the places, to avoid being turned away at the door if they don’t have lockers for you to use. Or travel light when you’re sightseeing.
- Chicago, like any city, has its good and bad neighborhoods. Use caution or avoid the sketchier areas and always keep an eye on your belongings. This is a safe city when you use common sense.
HOW TO SPEND 3 DAYS IN CHICAGO
Let´s get started with your 3-day Chicago itinerary.
DAY 1 OF 3 DAYS IN CHICAGO
For our first day in Chicago, we will start with a bus tour. But not just any bus tour…
The Untouchables Tour
The Untouchables tour celebrates Chicago’s infamous gangster past, and I highly suggest adding this tour to your Chicago itinerary.
This exciting 2-hour tour covers all the famed locations and gives an account of Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, including well-known mobsters like Al Capone. Check out tours here.
- When the tour is over, head over to Chicago Riverwalk to stretch your legs and take in the sights.
- It should take about 10 minutes by train.
Located along the Chicago River, you can kayak here in the warmer months or take a bike ride.
There are also plenty of restaurants, benches for relaxing, and museums, like the Chicago River Museum. This is a good spot to stop for lunch or even enjoy a picnic if you get your food to go, and it is a must-see place which should be on any Chicago itinerary.
- Plan in about 2 hours for this spot before heading to the next destination.
- This is about a 15-minute train ride north.
875 North Michigan Avenue / 360 Chicago Observation Deck
Located in the city center in the touristy Magnificent Mile, 875 North Michigan Avenue is the address of a supertall skyscraper that offers amazing views over Chicago.
At 1,128 feet tall and 100 stories, this building’s upper floors put you in a unique perspective. Head up to the 94th floor for the 360 Chicago Observation Deck to enjoy the panoramic scenery.
You’ll be able to see many of the city’s neighborhoods, as well as Lake Michigan. If you feel like a thrill, then try Tilt – a moving platform that literally tilts you out over the street from the 94th floor! For the less adventurous, there is a very nice bar and café that you can stop at.
- This will take about an hour or so.
- Let´s continue with this Chicago itinerary – take the train over to Navy Pier (about 15 minutes) or walk there (about 20 minutes).
This 3,300-foot-long Navy Pier juts out onto Lake Michigan and provides many entertaining options for the last stop of your day.
You may want to stop at the Chicago Children’s Museum for some kid-centered fun if you have kids. Or, if you feel like some exercise, rent a bike and explore on two wheels.
Another fun thing to do is take a lake cruise – there are an architecture cruise and a classic lake tour that you can choose from. There are also dinner cruises if you prefer. Most last about 2 hours.
The Centennial Wheel is another must-stop on any 3-day Chicago itinerary. If you haven’t gotten your fill of rides and views, then try this 200-foot Ferris wheel that offers 360-degree views. Each ride lasts about 12-15 minutes.
End the night with dinner on the pier at one of its many lakeside restaurants, some even with rooftop decks (perfect for a warm summer’s night).
- Navy Pier should take about 3-4 hours, depending on what you choose to do.
- Then, head back to the hotel for a busy Day 2.
DAY 2 OF 3 DAYS IN CHICAGO
Today, we are going to be doing a bit more city-wide traveling. But let’s start this Chicago itinerary for day 2 at one of the nicest parks in the city. So, head there after breakfast.
Located in downtown Chicago, Millennial Park is full of things to do.
In the morning, I advise stopping at Lurie Garden for a bit of nature amid the urban environment. This garden is actually 2.5 acres, so there’s plenty to experience with its assortment of plants and flowers.
This park also sports some interesting sculptures, like “the Bean,” a rock climbing wall, an open-air pavilion where you can catch live shows in good weather, and restaurants. This is a lot of fun for families, couples, and/or solo travelers who want to spend some time enjoying the outdoors in the middle of a metropolis.
- While you could easily spend all day here, I would suggest keeping it to 3 hours so that you can see some more great attractions during your 3 days in Chicago.
- Grab the train from the park to Buckingham Fountain (about 10 minutes away).
The beautiful Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest in the world. It was built in 1927 and inspired by one at the Palace of Versailles.
The wedding cake tiers of cascading water are beautiful and will make a great souvenir photo to bring home (or post on Instagram).
- Located in Grant Park, you can enjoy a stroll and relax in the sunshine for an hour before moving on to the next stop.
- The Art Institute of Chicago is just a five-minute walk across Grant Park.
The Art Institute of Chicago
If you enjoy art, then take an hour or two to explore the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the country’s largest and oldest art museums.
Popular among visitors and locals, there are lots of exhibits to look over. And if you are visiting in the winter, this will be a beautiful place to warm up from the snowy chill.
- But if you are not a huge art lover, then you can skip this stop (and the $25 ticket fee) and head to our next Chicago landmark.
- The train ride should only take about 10 minutes (15 if you walk).
The building was originally called the Sears Tower but is now Willis Towers.
And up on the 103rd floor, you will find an amazing observation deck. As high up as it is, and with a 360-degree view, you can actually see four different states from this vantage point.
If you happen to wait until later in the afternoon, you will be rewarded with a really spectacular sunset from here.
- Depending on lines (you can get a Fast Pass if you want to skip them), you will probably be here a little over an hour.
- Then, grab the train for a half-hour trek north of the downtown area.
- Check out ticket prices for the Skydeck here.
North Avenue Beach
If you are visiting in the summer, this is a great place to stop. Favored by Chicagoans, you can enjoy some sand and sun, maybe even a swim or some water sports, during your afternoon here.
This is also a great place to grab a bite to eat, with casual eateries along the beach. There are stores if you want to do a little souvenir shopping while you’re here, too.
- Plan for about 2 hours at this spot. Then, let’s head to a Chicago historical landmark that’s also a lot of fun.
- The train will get you there in about half an hour.
There’s nothing more American than baseball, and Chicago takes their baseball seriously.
Wrigley Field was built in 1914 and is home to the Chicago Cubs. Restaurants, bars, and stores surround the field, so there’s something for even those who aren’t baseball fans.
If you are curious about what a Major League park looks like on the inside, you can take a 60-90-minute guided tour and check out the dugouts where the players hang out the bleachers and more. This is a fun visit for adults and children alike.
- This whole stop takes less than 2 hours.
- Now, we are onto our last stop of the night, but only for the adults (sorry, kids). Take the train about 10 minutes north.
This lounge plays jazz and blues into the late night and is the perfect way to cap off your night.
The ambiance will remind you of the 1930s and 1940s, and you’ll love the energy here. Fair warning, though, there is a cover charge, and the bar only takes cash. So, plan and visit an ATM before stopping here for your nightcap.
DAY 3 OF 3 DAYS IN CHICAGO
For the last day of this 3-day itinerary in Chicago, we will start with a tour.
Chicago Trolley Tour
While we have definitely touched on many of Chicago’s best landmarks, it would be impossible to do it all in 3 days with a city this size.
But the Chicago Trolley tour is a great way to see a few more spots before you leave town.
This hop-on hop-off trolley will take you throughout different city areas, from the Magnificent Mile to the Chicago Theater to the Water Tower. And if you are visiting during the holidays, there are also holiday light tours, which are a lot of fun at night.
- Depending on how much you hop off, this tour takes about 2 hours.
- When you’re done, we have a few more stops of our own.
After sitting on the trolley, you may welcome the chance to walk, bike, or jog down this beautiful coastal pathway. It’s a trendy spot for enjoying the water and fresh air, as well as some outdoor activities, and so I think it should be on your 3-day Chicago itinerary.
You’ll pass a lot of the city’s landmarks as you stroll along the path, but probably not all of it since it’s 19 miles long, and it is your last day!
- Enjoy the views for an hour.
- And then let’s head to our next destination.
The Adler Planetarium is perfect for the space lover in you. The oldest one in the world, you can see exhibits and projections of the stars in a dome-shaped night sky.
- You will probably spend about 2 hours here.
- Our next stop is 30 minutes away by train.
The Garden of the Phoenix
This Japanese-style garden – the Garden of the Phoenix – is located on Jackson Park’s Wooded Island.
It’s a lovely place to slow down after a busy morning and afternoon seeing the sights of this bustling city. If you visit in May, you are in for a treat as the cherry blossom trees will be in bloom by then. The waterfall and footbridges are also favorite things to see.
- You may spend an hour or two here.
- When you are ready, let’s head to the last location of this itinerary. The train ride should take about 20 minutes.
This is our last stop on your Chicago itinerary. Plan to arrive in time to watch the sunset from Promontory Point Park.
I’d suggest getting dinner to go and picnicking here, where you can enjoy the city skyline as it reflects the setting sun and the changing colors of the sky.
Located in Burnham Park, it is a man-made peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. You’ll get great views of the city and the lake from here. This is a perfect spot to say goodbye to Chicago.
CONCLUSION: CREATING AN AWESOME 3-DAY CHICAGO ITINERARY
I hope this 3-day Chicago itinerary will help you plan your own trip to Windy City. If you were wondering what to do in 3 days, this list should help you find the best places to visit whether as a solo traveler, a family, a couple, or with friends.
Chicago surely is one of the best places to visit in the US and always worth a trip.
About the Author:
This post was written by Rebecca, who runs her own blog at The Journey at Home – where she writes about her life as a mother of 5 with everything that comes along with it. She lived in New York for a long time before she moved to Las Vegas. She also works as a freelancer for Arzo Travels.