My first two visits to Chicago were both for the Lollapalooza music festival, so it seems appropriate to provide a guide to Lollapalooza for those who will be attending the four-day event in August.
More than a hundred bands playing at a weekend festival in one of America’s most exciting cities? Yes, please!
Guide to Lollapalooza: Festival basics and music
The festival runs on the first or second weekend in August, which in 2020 means July 30 through August 2. It takes place in Grant Park in downtown Chicago. How long is Lollapalooza? It used to be three days long, but it now runs for four full days, from Thursday through Sunday.
Every year, the lineup features a handful of great bands and a number of mediocre ones as well. The music includes every possible genre: rock, pop, dance, hip hop, folk, R&B, and a little bit of country.
As of this writing, this year’s lineup has not yet been released. Last year’s lineup featured stellar acts such as the Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Janelle Monae, Kacey Musgraves, Lil Wayne, Gary Clark Jr., King Princess, Francis and the Lights, Twenty One Pilots, and many more.
Because there are so many stages, typically five or six bands are playing at once. That means you often won’t get to see all the bands you like, which can be a bummer. What time does Lollapalooza end? The fest runs from noon to 10 pm daily. Due to city regulations, the festival does not run late – you can expect the music to end by 10 each day.
If you have a four-day pass (and therefore a wristband), you can come and go as you please. This means that instead of overpaying for food inside the festival, you can slip out and walk to the nearest downtown McDonald’s or Arby’s, then come back inside to see more music.
The food at Lolla isn’t super-expensive, though. It’s sort of like airport prices, so unless you’re on a super-tight budget, you might as well stay inside the gates and enjoy the music.
What is the weather like at Lollapalooza?
Unlike some fests, Lolla offers a decent amount of shade. I’ve learned after a couple Lolla experiences that when I don’t really love a band and therefore don’t need to get close to the stage, the best thing to do is scout out a spot in the shade under a tree, even if it means I’m farther away.
Bottled water, a necessity when it’s hot, is fairly affordable ($3, if I recall correctly). And you can take in your own water bottle and refill it for free at one of the water fountains on the premesis. If you plan to do this, be sure to study the festival layout map, because the water fountains in high-traffic areas tend to have big lines, while the fountains on the periphery of the park typically have no wait.
Make sure to stay hydrated, especially if you’re drinking alcohol. Personally, I’ve never had a beer at Lolla and never plan to; drinking in the sun in the middle of a 90 degree afternoon just doesn’t sound like fun to me.
Wear lots of sunscreen, and make sure to arrange a spot to meet your friends if your cell phone service cuts out (which is quite possible given the overloaded networks with so many people in the park.)
About Grant Park and stage distances
How long does it take to walk from one end of Grant Park to the other? Between 15-20 minutes, depending on how fast you walk and how far back from the stage you are. Even though many Lolla-goers tell you not to bother trying to see competing acts playing at opposite ends of the park at the same time, it is absolutely doable, and in fact, I recommend it.
You can see 40 minutes of one act, walk fast to the other end, and catch the last 35 minutes of the other band. For my money, I’d rather see two partial sets from good bands than get stuck missing one band entirely.
Here’s the Grant Park layout map. The full grounds cover 115 acres.
Among the items allowed into the park are non-professional cameras, Flipcams, blankets, umbrellas and soft-sided coolers. Among the prohibited items are glass containers, selfie sticks, tripods, and all food or drink except factory-sealed water bottles. Check out the Lolla FAQ for more.
Can you camp at Lollapalooza? Tips on how to find lodging
Nope, Lollapalooza camping is not a thing. Unlike Bonnaroo, Coachella, and other similar festivals, there is no camping at Lollapalooza. It’s right in the heart of downtown Chicago, so you’ll probably stay at a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb nearby.
I stayed at hostels when I attended from out of town. They’re cheap, and one of them is even located downtown, just a couple blocks from the park. For budget travelers, your very best option for lodging at Lollapalooza is the HI Chicago Hostel. If you’re ok with sleeping in a dorm bunk bed in a room with 9 other people, you can pay as little as $30-40 per night, including taxes. But you have to BOOK EARLY! Beds are in high demand for Lolla and this hostel sells out quickly.
When it comes to hotels, do your homework, because some have had bed bug reports, and you definitely want to avoid bed bugs while traveling.
You can always get a fancy hotel and split it several ways. The closest hotel to Lollapalooza is the Congress Plaza Hotel, which is literally a few steps away from the park entrance. Get a room on one of the upper floors and you can even see the festival from your window! Rooms there typically run between $100-200/night, depending on demand. Split that with three friends, and it’s totally affordable. Again, book early!
Other cheaper options include Couchsurfing and AirBnB. These will allow you to stay with local residents at reasonable prices.
If you’re dead-set on camping at Lollapalooza, you can search out one of the campgrounds near Chicago. I’ve stayed at many of them. However, almost all are located at least an hour drive outside the city.
Nightlife guide: What time does Lollapalooza end?
Unlike Bonnaroo, where you’re stuck camping on-site all day and all night, the music at Lolla ends at 10 pm, which means you have the rest of the evening to experience the city.
You can attend one of the Lolla after-shows, but I always avoid those, because they tend to be expensive and hard to get tickets for, and I like getting away from the music just a little bit to experience the rest of the Windy City.
There’s plenty of nightlife in various neighborhoods. Lincoln Park is a college and young professional neighborhood. Wicker Park is also young but skews more alternative. Wrigleyville is a sports bar paradise surrounding Wrigley Field, while Lakeview and Logan Square also have a lot going on. All of these neighborhoods are easily accessible by train.
We’ve got an entire article devoted to things to do in Chicago at night. Read through that for a ton of ideas!
And don’t forget the Wiener Circle, where you can get yelled at as your order your late-night hot dogs!
Make sure to pace yourself. When I first attended Lolla, I got there when the gates opened everyday at 11 am, which meant I had little energy left for nightlife. Now, I tend to head into Grant Park around 2 pm or so, depending on which early acts catch my eye. That makes me less exhausted by the end of the weekend and helps maximize my enjoyment of Lollapalooza.
Tips for taking the “El” subway train after Lollapalooza
If you need to get on the subway train after Lollapalooza, expect a madhouse, as tens of thousands of people all head for the subway. Train service is increased for the festival, and trains do run frequently. But you’ll be packed in like sardines and have a hard time getting a seat.
And forget Uber or Lyft, unless you’re willing to walk several blocks away from the park. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in traffic for a very long time.
The closest subway stops to Grant Park are the Harrison and Jackson Red Line stops, the Monroe and Jackson Blue Line stops, and the Library-State Brown/Orange/Pink Line trains. If you want to avoid the mad rush in the subway, just walk an extra 10 minutes to the previous stop. For instance, I always took the Blue Line after the show. By walking over to the Lasalle Blue Line stop, I was able to avoid the crowds and get a seat before the crowds at the next stop got on.
Would you attend a festival without camping like Lollapalooza?