If you aren’t a runner, visiting Chicago over marathon weekend may be the worst weekend of the year to visit. For a city that regularly sees sub-zero winters, this is a bold statement. May you could call this article, “What to do 45,000 Tourists are in your Way.” Unfortunately, that isn’t an exaggeration. If you are a runner, or supporting a runner, it will be a great weekend for you. If you are a traveler who just happened to have a day off of work or school, well, it’s a different story.
Chicago marathon weekend is a tough weekend for a visit. If you haven’t already booked a hotel room, I’ve found some that still have space available, but unfortunately, the rates are very expensive. All of these are quite expensive, but hey, they are luxury properties! There are rooms at the AC Hotel Chicago in the heart of River North, at $332/night, the Radisson Blu Aqua in Streeterville at $511/night , and the brand new Marriott Marquis in McCormick Square is $364/night.
For those of you who classify yourselves as suffering from an anxiety disorder, prepare for a lot of intentional breathing. And if you’ve already bought your ticket and somehow scored a hotel room? Arm yourself with a strategy. With seemingly endless road closures and scores of people at every tourist attraction, you’ve got no time to “wing it.”
1) Travel By Boat
Anyone who has been to Chicago knows that the ultimate Chicago activity is an architectural boat tour. When 29 neighborhoods fully or partially shut down street traffic, there is no better way to see the city than to schedule such a tour. With various tour operators like the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Wendella, boats will be running every hour or half hour. Between just these two companies, there are 43 available tours on the Sunday of the marathon.
If you’d rather skip the tour and the marathon closures, the Chicago Water Taxi is an excellent way to get across the city in great time. While running a shortened route, stops will be available at Michigan Avenue, Ogilvie station, and Chinatown from 9:45 AM until 6:30 PM.
2) Make your Saturday Dinner Reservations after 8 PM
Yes, these runners will engage in “carbo-loading” the night before the race, but with a 5:30 AM check-in, these speedsters will be in bed early. Take advantage of the many open tables at great restaurants by calling to see what is available. Just last week, Topolobampo had a table for five available at 8:30 PM on Saturday night.
3)Get in Line Prior to Attraction Openings
If you must get to the Art Institute or any attractions in Museum Campus, grab a book and get in line an hour before it opens. It won’t be pretty, but at least you’ll have a chance of visiting without stumbling over other tourists.
4) Add 45-60 minutes to Every Excursion on Sunday, Oct. 8 (before 3 PM)
Even on foot, getting around over marathon weekend will be challenging. For hours, many roads will be closed for the safety of the competitors and the bystanders. This means that even if all you want to do is cross the street, you will have to wait for the explicit authorization of a police officer or race official. Nothing will be easy to access, so anticipate delays and consider listening to a few podcasts while you wait.
5)Forget about that Spa Appointment
If you don’t think that every runner has already booked a post-race rub down for Monday, you’re in for a shock. Look into an afternoon tea instead at Chicago institutions like Russian Tea Time, the Peninsula, or the Drake Hotel.
If you aren’t able to get to certain attractions due to closures or crowding, embrace the race and cheer on the runners. It is a great way to see the very best of people, coming together to encourage and cheer for one another. With the first 25 miles of the course completely flat, the last mile is the most challenging. It includes an uphill race on Roosevelt Road onto Columbus. To avoid the finish line masses, try to find a spot leading up to the last mile. I like Michigan Avenue in the South Loop or Chinatown off of Archer.