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A complete guide from O’Hare to Millennium Park via public transit

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The best way to get downtown from the airport is taking the ‘L’ train

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Kevin Irvine

Are you a first-time visitor to Chicago? Or perhaps you have family or friends flying into O’Hare and they need help getting directions to downtown. Getting downtown—specifically to Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park—from O’Hare is super easy. The Chicago Transit Authority’s Blue Line runs directly from the underbelly of O’Hare to the heart of the Loop. It’s easy to navigate and is a bargain at only $5 for entry.

The total time from baggage claim to Millennium Park should take roughly an hour. If you time everything correctly, you can be there even quicker.

If you’re starting from baggage claim in Terminal 2 or 3 you’re already just steps away from the CTA station. If you’re in a different terminal, you’re going to want to make your way over to terminals 2 or 3 just for the sake of ease. For our guide, we’re starting off at the American baggage claim in Terminal 3.

Directly behind the baggage carousels is a series of doors that exit out to ground transportation like shuttle buses and cabs and so forth. But you should also see signage that says “Trains to City - CTA.” If you don’t see this sign near your baggage carousel, walk towards the center of the baggage claim area and you should start seeing them.

Take the elevator, escalator, or staircase down to the lower level and then continue to follow the signage that points to the CTA.

If you’re in Terminal 2, when you take the stairs or escalator below grade you’ll be on a straight path the CTA entrance. If you’re in Terminal 3 like we were in this guide, you’ll have to make a turn down a hallway filled with colorful glass block which will then lead out to the main corridor for the CTA station.

This corridor will have a long moving walkway which terminates right before the O’Hare Hilton entryway and the CTA station. Hop on the moving walkway or just walk alongside and continue to follow the signage that points to the CTA station.

Once you hop off the moving sidewalk, you’ll find a series of fare card machines to your left up against a wall. These machines distribute the CTA’s Ventra fare cards which are required for use of the ‘L’ system. A new Ventra card is $5 and the fare from O’Hare into Chicago is $5. There are also a number of passes as well, such as an unlimited one-day card ($10), a three-day card ($20), and a seven-day card ($28). These passes allow unlimited rides on Chicago public transit during the purchased period.

Once you’ve purchased your Ventra card, turn around and you’ll see the turnstiles to enter the O’Hare CTA station. Keep your Ventra card out—all you have to do is press it flat against the card reader and a green light will indicate that your fare has been deducted.

Head down the escalators toward the station platform and there will be a number of displays that indicate which trains are not in service and which train is next to take off. Walk down the side where an arrow points to the next train and hop on board.

All you have to do from now on is get settled in and relax while the ‘L’ takes you downtown to Chicago’s Loop.

On the way downtown, you’ll pass through some of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods. Logan Square and Wicker Park are known for their bars, restaurants, and nightlife scenes. If you are looking to explore Logan Square, it’s best to get off at the California station and walk just north to Milwaukee Avenue and go from there. If you’re staying in Wicker Park or just want to check the area out, get off at Damen.

Ok, so by the time you pass Damen, the train will head underground and you’ll no longer have any points of reference. There are a number of stations you can get off at downtown, but the closest Blue Line station to Millennium Park is the Washington station. If you’re looking to transfer trains or explore more of the Loop, the Clark/Lake station is a good one to hop off at.

Once you stop at Washington, head out towards the stairs then exit through the turnstiles. Look out for signage that points to Washington and Madison streets. You can head up either of these staircases. If you exit out of the Washington side, head to Washington then take a right, where you’ll be heading east towards Millennium Park. If you exit towards Madison, take a left on Madison to head east.

If you do exit out of the Washington side and walk east towards the lakefront, you’ll pass by a couple of notable Chicago attractions. At the corner of Washington and Dearborn, you’ll see Chicago’s beloved Picasso sculpture standing over Daley Plaza. Once you hit State Street, you’ll get a great view of Chicago’s landmarked Marina City towers and also get an up close and personal look at the old Marshall Field’s department store.

At this point, you’re just steps from Millennium Park. During the next couple of blocks, you’ll get a look at Chicago’s brand new Washington-Wabash ‘L’ superstation and a number of other high-profile buildings like the Chicago Cultural Center.

Once you pass the Chicago Cultural Center, you’ll see the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion bandshell on the horizon. At this point, you’re just steps away from Millennium Park.

Also at Millennium Park is the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (also know as “The Bean” to locals). This is a popular spot to take in the sights and snap some photos.

That’s it! You made it!

Enjoy the rest of your trip in Chicago and be sure to take plenty of photos.

Millennium Park

, , IL 60601