Tips + Trends

Ditch the Car: How to Do the Windy City by Foot, Bike and Train

An Elevated ‘L’ Train in Downtown Chicago (Photo: Rudy Balasco/Shutterstock.com)

Bags packed, flight booked, hotel room reserved — now all you have to do is rent that car, right? Wrong. With a citywide Walkscore of 75, easy-to-navigate public transit, a growing bike-share initiative and the ubiquitous cab, Chicago is a vacation destination you can explore anyway you please. As you’re planning your trip to the Windy City, deciding where to go and how to get there are equally important.

Take Your Own Two Feet

Welcome to the windy, walkable city. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods and each of those neighborhoods is brimming with enough shops, snacks, parks and attractions to keep you entertained for days. According to Walkscore.com, more than 75 percent of Chicago’s neighborhoods have earned a walkscore of 60 or higher, so we’ve narrowed it down to a few select foot-friendly neighborhoods to suit your traveling tastes:

The Tourist: The Loop and the West Loop have you covered for shopping, sights and bites. The Magnificent Mile in The Loop (or downtown) is the iconic stretch of Michigan Avenue flush with upscale department stores and the mall at Water Tower Place, all back-dropped by architectural landmarks such as The Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building and Hancock Building.

When you’ve shopped up an appetite, head over to the West Loop where one of the city’s old industrial districts has transformed into a foodie heaven featuring innovative culinary talent.

The Trendster: Is your style a little more indie? Head to Wicker Park or Logan Square for a wide selection of local boutiques, specialty stores and consignment shops. Step into any of the local bars to quench your thirst with craft cocktails or a simple pint in establishments ranging from delightfully dingy dives to swanky speakeasies.

Swipe for Four Wheels

Just because you don’t want to drive, doesn’t mean you can’t take a car. Chicago has a selection of alternative wheels to get you from point A to point B.

If you’re downtown or near one of the city’s main arteries, hailing a cab is a quick and easy way to get a ride. The fares are regulated by the city and all cabs are required to accept credit card, so you are free to move about the city without cash or worry.

If you’re in a more residential neighborhood or if you’re looking to save a few bucks, request a ride from any of the major rideshare services. Chicago hosts a fleet of Lyft, Sidecar and UberX rideshare drivers. Sometimes snagging a cab in inclement weather or during rush hours is tough; rideshares are a fantastic, and often less expensive alternative.

Pedal Like a Bike Messenger

In the last couple of years, Chicago rolled out Divvy, a successful bikeshare program and excellent way to explore the city for more active and brave visitors. Extremely popular among commuters, Divvy has bike pick up and drop off stations in all major neighborhoods and outside each train stop. There are countless designated and protected bike lanes on the city’s main arteries, but if you don’t feel up to riding on the road, take your Divvy on the lake front trail to ride between museums, Navy Pier and the many beaches and lake adjacent parks.

Go Mean and Green

The Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, is the second largest public transit system in the nation and was recently ranked 6th for overall quality and convenience. For just a couple of bucks, visitors can travel like the locals on the elevated ‘L’ trains, subway and buses. Pick up a week, weekend or day pass from a local convenience store and enjoy unlimited rides for one flat fee. With the two major train lines and several primary bus routes operating 24 hours, the CTA provides a safe and budget-friendly ride home after a night out on the town.