You can tour Chicago by bus, bike, boat, Segway and foot. They're all great tours.
But nothing can compare to the experience and view you get by being whisked around the city in a private helicopter!
Chicago Helicopter Experience (CHE) offers tours up and down Chicago's lakefront, and they aren't priced as outrageously as you might think.
Take a helicopter tour of Chicago — Photo courtesy of Chicago Helicopter Experience
On these helicopter tours of the city, you can see iconic skyscrapers and famous landmarks, like Buckingham Fountain, the Willis Tower, The Art Institute of Chicago, the winding Chicago River and more.
"You can see every single Chicago landmark in one of our tours. To do the same thing on a bike or a bus will take you all day, or several days," says Chicago Helicopter Experience CEO Trevor Heffernan. "You can't get the view you get from our helicopter any other way. Period. Seeing the sun setting behind the city is the most beautiful view I've ever seen."
Besides at sunset, there are lots of other scenic times for helicopter rides over Chicago.
Flying past the nighttime fireworks shows along Navy Pier is a popular option for romantic dates or anniversaries. Meanwhile, sports fans like to fly past Chicago's famous stadiums: Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.
Special flights are geared toward photo and video hobbyists, and corporate types often hire CHE for private charters. That could be above-the-event tours of places like Arlington International Racetrack in suburban Arlington Heights, or the Lollapalooza music festival.
During daytime helicopter tours, you can see sites clearly and all the way to the horizon. But night flights are particularly beautiful because you get to see downtown Chicago twinkling with light.
The helicopter tours are also offered in the winter, when bike, boat and other tours shut down because of the cold and snow.
Heffernan says one of the best times to go on a helicopter tour is around the Christmas holidays, when you can see all of the Christmas light displays from above.
Not only is it a cool view, but it's a preferable way to see big displays like Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which would otherwise require standing outside in the cold and wind.
Chicago Helicopter Experience's pilots are trained not only in aviation and safety, but also in how to give tours. They've been trained by experts in Chicago history and tour-leading, including some from the famous Chicago Architectural Tours.
Do people get motion sick on their helicopter tours? That's very rarely an issue, Heffernan said. Their smooth-flying, quiet helicopters aren't turbulent and don't make violent turns. CHE's fleet of four helicopters are the same ones they use to fly over places like the Grand Canyon and Hawaii's volcanoes.
"You can't understand how great of a job the city of Chicago has done in preserving park space until you fly over it," Heffernan said. "It's phenomenal."
Weekday daytime tours start at $128 per person. Private and night tours are more expensive – closer to $200 per person for the one-hour experience.
Chicago Helicopter Experience tours depart from the helipad located downtown, next to the CTA Orange Line and the I-94 and I-55 expressways.