Apps to Help You Get the Most Out of Chicago
Our list of the best apps for Chicago will be useful whether you’re new to the city or a seasoned Chicagoan. We’ve covered everything from where to go, how to get there, what to eat, and all the essential must-dos in Chicago.
It shows you the best way to get from point A to B and informs you of every possible type of transport and route you can use: buses, trains, cycles, and if you like walking, the app will give you route options for that as well. You’ll also be told how long it will take you to get where you’re going depending on how you choose to travel.
Transit uses your location to identify every route you can take along with reliable arrival and departure times for CTA buses and elevated trains. It has a special GO feature that will alert you about when you have to get off- which is super useful if you’re traveling on an unfamiliar route.
Developed by the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago CTA gives you real-time CTA rail and CTA bus timings. You can also locate train and bus stations that are close to you and it even has a map for Chicago L rail stations and Chicago bus stops. Plus, a new feature, Chicago Transit Trip Planner, allows you to plan your trip.
Chicago CTA: Available for free on Android
Want to ditch the buses and trains for a bicycle? You can use Transit to connect to Divvy and find 5,837 bikes across 576 stations in Chicago.
A Ventra card is a contactless payment method which you can use for the CTA, Metra, and Pace. The app lets you manage all your Ventra card transactions. It checks balance and available passes on your card; you can make easy payments for your fares on the CTA, Metra, and Pace buses and trains; it gives you real-time account notifications when it’s time to reload or buy more tickets; and it has real-time schedules for the arrival/departure of the CTA, Metra, and Pace.
HAIL A TAXI OR SHARE A RIDE
Uber and Lyft
Both services allow you to book a cab (you can choose from standard to luxury models). Your own personal (or shared if you prefer) car and driver will arrive within minutes of your booking and take you anywhere you’d like to go. And, if you can’t decide where to go or suffer from FOMO, Lyft lists the most frequented destinations so you can see where the rest of the city is going and join the fun.
Do you prefer doing things the old-school way? Ditch rideshare services and book yourself a yellow cab via this app. Or, you can hail a cab with your hand (or by phone) and then use Curb to pay for it digitally. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are often available upon request via the app.
Imagine being warned in advance about a closed road, an accident that’s blocking traffic, or a speed trap. You don’t need to imagine. It’s reality now with Waze. This handy community-based app is continually updated with traffic news, routes, and it even shows you gas prices. The best part: it’s all done by real drivers in real time.
Park Whiz will show you all available parking spots and lets you compare prices so you can choose what suits you. You can even save up to 50% if you book in advance.
SpotHero finds available slots and lets you compare prices, and it also has an additional feature called Monthly Parking where you can book parking for an entire month — prices and areas are listed on the SpotHero website.
Developed by Chicago Parking Meters, ParkChicago is a mobile payment option for street parking (and commercial loading zones) that lets you pay for your parking and allows you to extend time via the app. No more running out of a restaurant to feed a meter!
FIND A TOILET
Tells you the location of the nearest public toilet. Regardless of how untimely nature’s next call is, you can quickly locate a place to answer that call.
ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING
ChargePoint and PlugShare
Both apps inform about stations to charge an electric vehicle. They show you which stations are available and tell you about which stations will work with your car.
CULTURE & EVENTS
PocketGuide is perfect for when you haven’t planned a set itinerary. The app uses GPS positioning to track where you are and provides relevant information about the area — the content has been developed by local tour guides. Users can even make 3D travel videos by merging Google Earth map, personal photos, videos, and the user’s voice recordings.
Chicago Official Visitor Guide
The Chicago Official Visitor’s Guide showcases the best of what the city has to offer, including sightseeing, museum trips, art shows, shopping, and restaurants. It also has a calendar of events and itineraries, so you check what’s happening when you’re in town.
Do you prefer to plan your itinerary based on a professional opinion? TripScout is for you. The app features the articles and videos from publishers and celebrity influencers of a particular destination so you can rely on their recommendations without having to do any homework of your own.
TripScout: Available for free iOS
Spotted by Locals
Nobody knows a city better than its locals, and all the information on this app comes from the real experts: the city’s local guides. So if you want to experience Chicago like a Chicagoan, this is the app for you. But, this expertise doesn’t come for free. The guide costs $3.99.
GPSMYCITY and VoiceMap
The best way to discover a city is to walk its streets. These apps provide guided walk tours with audio that gives you all the information about the area you’re roaming.
EVENTS, CONCERTS, AND FESTIVALS
My Chi Parks
There are around 570 parks in Chicago, and My Chi Parks lets you know about all the cultural and arts festivals hosted at each of them. We love the Night Out in the Parks feature that lists more than 2,000 events to be held across parks in the city.
Eventbrite lists favorite local happenings, including concerts, festivals, sports, classes, and art shows to name a few. Once you know what you want to attend, you can use the app to book tickets as well.
Don’t miss out on a great concert or event just because you didn’t book tickets on time. Chicago is teeming with things to do, and this app will ensure you always have the tickets to get you access to any event you like.
Art Institute of Chicago
Enjoying an artwork is all the more fun when you know what you’re looking at. Developed by the Art Institute of Chicago, this app helps you navigate the collection at the institute with audio tours that guide you through each collection.
This app will help you party in style — it lists everything from drink specials and concerts to happy hours and special events.
This app will make sure you don’t end up feeling alone in a new city. Meetup is for people who like to spend time with like-minded folks and do the things they have in common. If you love hiking, join the Hiking Meetup Group, shutterbugs can join the Photography Meetup Group.
Dark Sky and AccuWeather
Don’t let the weather rain on your parade. Dark Sky and AccuWeather are both great apps to check the weather forecast so you don’t end up attending an outdoor event on a rainy day or waste a perfectly sunny morning doing something indoors.
WINE & DINE
RESTAURANT AND BAR FINDERS
It’s the go-to app for discovering new eateries and managing all your restaurant reservations. You can view menus, read reviews, look at photos and earn reward points for your next meal. There are 10,834 restaurants listed for Chicago.
Yelp and TripAdvisor
The best restaurant finders that offer reviews, photos, menus, contact details, and everything else you need to know about eating out in Chicago.
Do you prefer a full-bodied ale or a crisp lager? BeerMenus was created by people who love craft beer so you’ll always find the beer you love.
Grubhub, Uber Eats, and Caviar
If you want to skip going out and enjoy a meal in the comfort of your room, order online through Grubhub, Uber Eats or Caviar. All three food delivery services have an extensive list of restaurants with information about pricing as well as how long it will take for the food to get to you.
Because vegans need their own app, too. It lists vegetarian and health food options as well as lists events (local and international) that center around vegan eating. No animal testing was used in the creation of the app. 😉
It helps you find food trucks and food carts. Perfect for when you want a fuss-free (no need to make reservations) meal, or if you prefer the comfort of street food over haute cuisine.
Appetizer Food Tours
As the name suggests, this is an app-guided food tour that you can enjoy with your friends. It features the city’s best eateries, and you have up to five hours to complete a selected tour, so there’s enough time to eat and enjoy sightseeing.
Appetizer Food Tours: Available for free on iOS
RESERVATIONS AND PAYMENTS
For when you’re only in town for a few days and want to eat at that hard-to-get-a-reservation restaurant. The makers of this app can get you a reservation at the most in-demand places. You can sign-up and browse for free, but you need to become a member to make a reservation. Membership fees starting at $25.
IKnowTheChef: Available on iOS
Using the Rooam app means you’ll never again forget your credit card at the bar. This app allows you to pay bar and restaurant bills through your phone. All you have to do to open or close a tab is to tap the screen.
It gives you options for free food. Well, not entirely free. The eateries listed on Freevo have special offers where you spend a predetermined amount and then avail of free food that comes with the order. For example, spend $10 on an order, and you might get a juicy burger for free.
Chicago is a treasure trove of art and culture so if this is your first visit to Chicago, we highly recommend you use these apps to explore Chicagoan art, culture and cuisine — there’s enough variety to suit your every mood and preference.
But wait, there’s more. Since you made it this far, we’ll give you an insider tip for a great way to end your day in downtown Chicago.
The Signature Lounge
An hour (or more) before sunset, head over to the Hancock Building and take the elevator up to the lounge on the 96th floor. Expect lines both for the elevator and to get a seat. Request a table by the window (it is absolutely worth the extra few minutes of waiting) — west facing and corner tables are the best. Enjoy yourself a cocktail (or soda/coffee) while watching the sun set. Don’t feel glued to your seat — walk around, enjoy the different perspectives from the different sides of the building. It is spectacular watching the sun drop below the horizon as the city’s lights come to life illuminating the roads and buildings for as far as you can see!
To the north, you’ll see Lake Shore Drive winding along the shoreline. To the south you’ll see lots of architecturally distinct buildings. The east/lake view is limited, but you can clearly see Navy Pier jutting out into Lake Michigan. The west has some beautiful rooftops if you look down. 900 N. Michigan is one of those buildings that you’ll be looking far down at. It is only 66 floors!
Drinks are reasonably priced, much less than the $24 that it costs to go to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower. And, with the Hancock experience you get to sit around and enjoy the show over an hour or two, as opposed to the Willis Tower’s look and move on experience.
The Signature Lounge: website