Tourist Traps To Avoid In Chicago (And Where To Go Instead), According To Reddit

With its vibrant cultural scene and a breathtaking cityscape brimming with neoclassical architecture and towering skyscrapers, Chicago is a city that should be on every U.S. traveler's bucket list. A metropolitan area with so many highlights that planning an itinerary means making tough choices, the Windy City boasts dozens of museums with something for every interest — arts, sciences, history, culture, botany, and even a museum of medieval torture. And that's to say nothing of the award-winning and globally renowned culinary scene where travelers can check out the best local eateries using Anthony Bourdain's Trick. Doing so allows you to dig into favorites like Chicago-style hot dogs, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, cheesecake, and Italian beef sandwiches.


With so many can't-miss attractions to take in, the last thing you want to do is waste precious hours of your time in Chi-town stuck in long lines for spots meant to drain tourists' travel budgets without delivering, particularly since pickpocketing is said to be common around Chicago tourist traps. Because the Reddit community is often better than any travel guide, we've consulted dozens of Reddit posts breaking down the best and worst of the Second City. According to the Reddit hive mind, here are the tourist traps you should avoid on your next trip and a few spots you should check out instead.

Skip WNDR Museum and check out the Art Institute instead

Established by Groupon co-founder and billionaire Brad Keywell to inspire creativity through immersive art, the WNDR Museum is a space where guests can interact with vibrant, trippy art installations full of light, video, and sound. But unlike many of Chicago's one-of-a-kind experiences, WNDR Museum is a chain with locations in Chicago, Boston, and San Diego. With ticket prices starting at $32, it's not cheap. According to the Reddit community, there are many better places to spend your money in Chicago.


The consensus seems to be that the WNDR Museum is fairly small despite its steep entry price. Along with attractions like Color Factory, many Reddit users consider it better for social media pictures than actual experience. "Way overrated, only meant for social media addicts," u/FenBoldsJive wrote. Echoing the sentiment on Tripadvisor, tarn151 complained, "Took our 3 year old daughter, she had fun, but this place is also a nightmare if you can't handle the "influencers in the wild". Way overpriced as well as about $45/ticket after fees."

Instead of spending a mint at WNDR, many locals suggested visiting the Art Institute of Chicago with its expansive collection of artwork. And unlike WNDR Museum, the Institute is free for kids age 14 and under. As u/No-Clerk-5600 put it, "Go to the Art Institute. Cheaper, and infinitely better."


Instead of Navy Pier, spend some time at the Riverwalk

Situated on Lake Michigan in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood, Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot pier that was originally built in 1916 to be used as a dock for freighters while hosting exhibitions and events in its downtime. Today, those in the know say it's become little more than a floating strip mall. As u/Interrobangersnmash wrote, "It's just a bunch of shops out on the lake." Writing on Tripadvisor, Chicago local Tigger1971 advised that tourists may find the pier's souvenir shops and chain restaurants disappointing. "[H]onestly, there's not a lot to do unless you want to take a boat ride, see the view from the ferris wheel or spend a few minutes walking through the stained glass exhibit," they wrote.


If the pier is still high on your to-do list, locals say the best time to go is in the evenings, particularly on firework display nights. Redditor u/icedearth15324 wrote, "I feel like navy pier's beer garden on Saturday during the summer is kind of a hidden gem. Fireworks, live music, great people watching, being out on the lake."

As an alternative to Navy Pier, many locals suggest the Riverwalk. With a 1.25-mile route that can be explored in less than an hour and a breathtaking view of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk is a fantastic space to experience the authentic energy of Chicago. And as u/metracta observed, it's a "rare positive example of car space being replace by people space."

Skip the dinner cruise and opt for an architectural tour cruise instead

Dinner cruises along the Chicago River are incredibly popular among visitors to the Windy City. For these tourists, it's a chance to enjoy Chicago's local fare and relish in the city's ambiance while floating past landmarks. These include the Wrigley Building, Buckingham Fountain, and the Tribune Tower. While the views are spectacular, locals agree that these cruises are a huge waste of money. 


Redditor u/david_chi complained, "The dinner cruises are over rated. $100 for crappy food served cold on an aging vessel that ... barely even goes anywhere." Others emphasized that the food on board these cruises tends to be premade — not the best choice when you find yourself in a city with some of the best cuisine in the country. As u/AnotherPint reviewed, "Great fun, terrible value, you won't rave about the food/dining aspect (it's like a good business class airline meal basically)."

Instead of spending all that dough on a dinner cruise, locals suggest taking an architectural cruise around sunset before or after grabbing dinner at one of the area's fine eating establishments. Many users praised the educational aspect of these guided river tours, noting that they're about half the price of a dinner cruise at most. Calling the architecture tours a must, Reddit user u/Gold-Hedgehog-9663 advised: "That's gonna be your best for the "city" architecture."


Forget the Willis Tower Skydeck's long lines and get cocktails with a view

No visit to Chicago would be complete without a trip to one of the city's skyscrapers. Constructed as part of the city's rebuilding in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the 10-story, 138-foot Home Insurance Building was initially the world's first, making Chicago the birthplace of modern skyscrapers. Today, the city is home to well over 1,000 high-rise buildings as well as hundreds of skyscrapers, including the building formerly known as the Sears Tower.


Clocking in at a whopping 110 stories stretching 1,450 feet high, the building, now called the Willis Tower, features a 103rd-floor Skydeck at 1,353 feet where visitors can have an aerial view of the city while marveling at the wonders of modern engineering. Far more than just a frighteningly high vista, the Willis Tower Skydeck features 30,000 square feet of museum space focusing on Chicago's history, architecture, and culture. Those who aren't squeamish about heights can even step out on the 4-foot wide glass-floored balcony.

While some Redditors say Willis Tower is worth at least one trip, many see it as terribly overhyped. "It is not a good value. It is sensationalized to the point of ridiculousness," u/petmoo23 wrote on r/Chicago. Instead of shelling out for Willis Tower, experienced locals suggest heading over to the Signature Lounge at Hancock Tower for a cocktail and a chance to enjoy the view.


Instead of tourist trap pizza, head to the originals

For the uninitiated, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza might seem more like a casserole than an actual pizza. Packed with loads of cheese and fillings, this hearty dish is a local delicacy. This explains why the last thing you want is to make the wrong choice and end up settling for anything less than the best deep dish that Chicago has to offer. For example, tourists will often rave about Pequod's, which u/sideshow– notes does not offer authentic Chicago deep dish. "It's pan pizza," the user advised. "That doesn't make it any less of a Chicago icon. But it's not deep dish. Chicago people need to know the difference!"


To get the authentic deep dish experience, many Redditors recommend Chicago originals Lou Malnati's and Uno. The latter claims to have invented the Chicago deep dish in 1943. Although Pizzeria Uno has become pretty corporate these days, that's where Lou Malnati got his start and went on to establish what many consider the best restaurant for deep-dish pizza in the city. It's a favorite of locals like u/Chicago_Jayhawk, who gushed, "Lou's is the gold standard."

Beware of tourist trap steakhouses and head to Bavette's instead

Once called "hog butcher for the world" in a Carl Sandburg poem, Chicago has earned a reputation for delivering some of the best beef in the country and, perhaps, even the world. It even has a famous meatpacking district known as Union Stock Yards (also called "The Yards"), founded in 1865. To this day, the city is known for serving some pretty mind-blowing steaks.


But much like its deep-dish pizza spots, Chicago has steakhouse tourist traps that capitalize on the city's reputation for great steaks but don't live up to the hype. One of the more notorious, if Reddit is to be believed, is Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse. Founded by its namesake sportscaster in 1987, the now-chain restaurant is considered one of the city's most overrated spots by many locals, who say it's more about Cubs memorabilia than serving great steak. As u/TaskForceD00mer puts it, "I wouldn't go so far as to say its the Olive Garden of Steakhouses, but I would go so far as to say it's the Rainforest Cafe of Chicago Steakhouses."

Instead, locals suggest carving out time for Bavette's, which most consider the best steakhouse in the city. On r/chicagofood, fans of the spot praised the restaurant's ambiance and just about everything on the Bavette's menu, from the perfect sear crust to their sourdough bread. The delicious descriptions make us ponder all the gear one needs for a summer of exquisite grilling experiences.


Instead of North Avenue Beach, check out Montrose Bird Sanctuary

While Illinois might not seem like the best place to visit a beach, Chicago sits on the 22,300-square mile Lake Michigan, the third largest of the Great Lakes. Pro tip: The best place to take in the views of Lake Michigan is at the underrated Saugatuck Dunes State Park. With 26 shoreline miles, Chicago boasts plenty of stunning beaches to visit, and North Avenue Beach ranks as one of the most popular tourist spots, particularly among younger visitors during the summer months. While the area features a picturesque view of the city skyline, Reddit user u/MunchieMom warned, "Do not go to North Ave beach, though, unless you like crowds of drunk children." "It's like a frat party of people who recently graduated Michigan State," u/mandrsn1 echoed in another thread.


The good news is that Chicago has plenty of beaches that aren't party central, and some even offer wonderful activities for the best adult spring break of your life. Osterman Beach, 57th Street Beach, 63rd Street Beach, Ohio Street Beach, and Foster Beach are all favorites among locals. Another name that pops up on a number of subreddits is Montrose Beach, in part due to its bird sanctuary. As u/North_South_Side wrote, "The entire Montrose area feels right. Not empty, but not too crowded. The birds are fantastic."

Skip the Magnificent Mile and check out the Loop

Yet another example of a tourist hotspot that used to be cool but seems to have become overly corporate in recent years is the Magnificent Mile, a 13-block section of North Michigan Avenue located near the Riverwalk and the lakefront. Once the home of smaller retail stores, the area has gradually morphed into a spot for large, corporate flagship stores and is currently home to more than 50 of them among its hundreds of shopping spots. "Worlds biggest outdoor mall," one Redditor complained. Other locals lament that the area's narrow sidewalks and a shortage of greenery add to the Mile's shortcomings.


Unless you're really into shopping at big box places you could just as easily check out online, Chicago locals suggest making time for the Chicago Loop, the city's central downtown business district. Close to the theater district and museums, the Loop is a great place to get a feel for the flavor of Chicago city life without drowning in corporate retail stores. 

The Bean is fine, but don't sleep on the Museum of Contemporary Art

Like the rounder cousin of the UFO from Disney's "Flight of the Navigator," Chicago's massive Cloud Gate sculpture, colloquially known as the Chicago Bean, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Second City. A permanent art installation, the oversized sculpture first showed up in 2004 and has been a favorite of visitors to Chicago ever since. While there's nothing wrong with visiting the Bean, there's really not much to it. As u/smudgyblurs astutely noted, "The Bean is shiny. That's all it ever promised to be." Many locals say it gets too much attention and disappoints those with high expectations.


If the mercury-inspired object is on your to-do list, locals want tourists to know there are plenty of other great art opportunities to check out in the city. Just across the street is the Chicago Cultural Center, which features some of the city's finest architecture, along with free art exhibits and concerts. "The architecture of the building is beautiful, especially the Tiffany Dome," emphasized u/daily_dose_of_yeet. "And best of all the admission is free!"

Avoid Route 66 tourist traps and hit up the Buckingham fountain

One of the United States' original highways and arguably the nation's most iconic road, historic U.S. Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 and would stretch more than 2,000 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. It's considered one of the most stunning and storied routes for the perfect U.S. road trip due to its travel path. In its heyday, it ran through Missouri and wound through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before finally ending in California. (This unique national park is one of Arizona's most stunning lesser-known gems, and you should check it out while in the state.) But like so many iconic pieces of American heritage, what's left of Route 66 has become yet another excuse for roadside shops to hawk their various tchotchkes and overpriced souvenir merch.


Writing on Tripadvisor, Netherlands-based user Hans expressed his frustration with the phenomenon. "Historic Route 66 evokes nostalgia from everybody it seems," Hans began before describing his road trip down the famous American highway. Unfortunately, he wrote, "The stores which of course want to make some money with souvenirs, mostly sell the same items."

Instead of stopping at the overhyped souvenir shops, experienced road trippers suggest checking out Buckingham Fountain, which serves as a starting point for many Route 66 travelers. To scratch the roadside attraction itch without shelling out for overpriced souvenirs, try visiting someplace quirky and off the beaten path like the International Museum of Surgical Science.


Don't spend too much time downtown and miss out on hidden-gem neighborhoods

It's all too easy to get stuck in a short radius when you're traveling to a big city — and truly, no matter where you end up in Chicago, you're likely to have a great experience even if you don't go far. But some Redditors warn that getting stuck in downtown Chicago is a tourist trap unto itself. As u/zaquilleoneal suggested, "I think the big mistake people make in Chicago is to spend their whole trip downtown. There are some great sights and attractions, but it's primarily a business district, and it closes up on the weekend or at night."


Instead of getting stuck downtown for your entire trip, many Redditors advise branching out further to underrated neighborhoods like Rogers Park, Edgewater, and Andersonville. Calling Andersonville a "very quintessential Chicago neighborhood," u/iosphonebayarea advised, "Clark street is where all the cute local shops, bars and restaurants are. You will love it!" Other locals suggested Edgewater's Bryn Mawr neighborhood for everything from cinnamon rolls to game shops.

How we chose our tourist traps

With a city as sprawling as Chicago, discovering which tourist hot spots aren't all they're cracked up to be meant mining through Reddit communities like r/Chicago, where we found plenty of strong opinions. We selected and analyzed the tourist traps that kept popping up from one subreddit to the next, as well as a few Tripadvisor pages. Then, we looked for better alternatives to create the ultimate tourist-trap-free guide to Chicago. Throughout this process, we aimed to curate a meaningful itinerary that served the best of Chicago's architecture, museums, culinary scene, and historic landmarks to tourists. Of course, no matter where you end up in Chicago, there really aren't a lot of bad choices; however, recommendations from locals historically improve the quality of a vacation.