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BUDGET CHICAGO: EXPLORE AND SAVE

Visiting Chicago on a budget? No need to come home broke with this 2-day Chicago sightseeing itinerary that packs in free (and cheap!) things to do in Chicago.

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Are you looking for free things to do in Chicago? Going sightseeing with a budget in mind is easy to do. Here is the skinny on ways to see Chicago on the cheap. From two days that cover everything from a wallet-friendly beer tasting to free neighborhood tours, to top tips on how to save money in Chicago — plan your stay with this guide.

 

DAY 1

Goose Island Beer Co.

 

MORNING/AFTERNOON

❏ Wander around the palms and ferns at the free Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest and most stunning in the nation.

❏ Go behind-the-scenes at the Goose Island Fulton Tap Room on a 1-hour brewery tour and tasting (three drink samples, plus a souvenir beer glass, for $12).

 

EVENING

❏ For dinner, head to Exchequer Restaurant and Pub in the Loop for award-winning pizza and ribs.

❏ Late in the evening after the last show (except on Fridays), enjoy free improv on the famous stage of The Second City. This Chicago original has an incredible list of alumni (Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Bill Murray among them) so its worth the trip just to walk the hallways plastered in their photographs.

❏ Sleep well at the Best Western River North Hotel. With its central location, indoor pool, free wifi and one of the cheapest on-site parking prices for a downtown hotel, this is a great budget bet.

 

DAY 2

Cloud Gate Crain Communications

 

MORNING

❏ Grab breakfast to-go at downtown Intelligentsia Coffee. This cult-coffee chain has expanded beyond Chicago and is known for its pioneering philosophies... as well as its thoughtful preparations. Grab a sip and pair with a fruit or pastry from the snack case.

 

AFTERNOON

❏ Schedule a free Chicago Greeter visit (10 days in advance), requesting interests such as African American Heritage or LGBTQ Chicago, or choose from more than 40 interests and 25 diverse neighborhoods. Schedule at ChicagoGreeter.com.

 

EVENING

❏ Stop at Cloud Gate in Millennium Park for a sunset photo op. The stunning skyline-reflective sculpture (better known as "The Bean") is a sightseeing-must and the entire park is open to the public daily, no admission fee.

❏ For dinner, have Italian beef and crinkle cut fries at Portillo's. This classic combo will only set you back about $8 but leave you stuffed!

 

Bonus: 7 Money Savers

DuSable Museum of African American History

 

  1. If you don't mind sleeping in a dorm and sharing a bathroom, staying at a hostel is on-trend. Hostelling International (HI), in the heart of downtown, offers free Wi-Fi, breakfast and linens. Lincoln Park's Chicago Getaway Hostel has many of the same amenities, but also offers some private rooms with bath. Freehand Chicago, near The Magnificent Mile, Urban Holiday Lofts and Holiday Jones are new hostels with upscale style.
  2. Two of the free museums that would be worth paying for include the National Museum of Mexican Art, with its extensive works of art from both sides of the border, and the Oriental Institute's archaeological collection at the University of Chicago.
  3. The DuSable Museum of African American History has free admission every Sunday. The Loyola University Museum of Art has free admission on Tuesdays, while the Clarke House and the Glessner House Museum offer free tours on Wednesdays.
  4. At the Chicago Cultural Center, see not only the world's largest Tiffany glass dome, but art exhibits and stunning architecture via free guided tours. No charge.
  5. Consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS or Go Chicago Card for discounted admission at popular attractions and museums.
  6. For half-price theater tickets on the day of performance, go online to HotTix.org, a League of Chicago Theatres service. Or visit one of three box office locations.
  7. Getting to your destination becomes more affordable when purchasing a 3-, 5-, or 7-day Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Unlimited Ride Pass.

 

Plus: 5 Neighborhood BYOBs

Smoque BBQ

 

Many restaurants just serve food, no alcohol and they don't usually charge a corkage fee. These BYOBs (Bring Your Own Bottle or Bring Your Own Beer) are very affordable.

  1. Tango Sur, an Argentine steakhouse in Lakeview, is big on portions and small on price. Choose a juicy steak or parrillada, a mixed grill with short ribs, beef sweetbread and black sausage.
  2. A former coffee house, Pizza Art Café in Lincoln Square added a wood-fired brick oven and now serves pizza, salads and even roasted octopus.
  3. Han 202 in Bridgeport offers a five-course prix-fixe Asian fusion dinner for a very reasonable price.
  4. Smoque BBQ in Irving Park is all about barbecue and doing it well. The small menu includes pulled pork, brisket, Texas sausage and ribs.
  5. West Town's Ruxbin is a hodgepodge of vintage, refurbished and salvaged décor where chefs employ classic and modern cooking techniques to create global cuisine.

Go Chicago Card
Purchase online or
Chicago, IL 60603
(866) 628-9031
Millennium Park
201 E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 744-6050
Exchequer Restaurant and Pub
226 S. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60604
(312) 939-5633
DuSable Museum of African American History
740 E. 56th Pl.
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 947-0600
Clarke House Museum
1827 S. Indiana Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 326-1480
Best Western River North Hotel
125 W. Ohio St.
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 467-0800
Hostelling International
24 E. Congress Pkwy.
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 360-0300
Chicago Getaway Hostel
616 W. Arlington Pl.
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 929-5380
Chicago Greeter
77 E. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 945-4231
Glessner House Museum
1800 S. Prairie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 326-1480
League of Chicago Theatres
17 N. Wabash St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 554-9800
Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Ave.
Chicago, IL 60624
(312) 746-5100
Chicago Transit Authority
567 W. Lake St.
Chicago, IL 60661
(312) 664-7200
Chicago CityPASS
Purchase from participating attractions
Chicago, IL 60601
(208) 787-4300
Urban Holiday Lofts
2014 W. Wabansia Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
(312) 532-6949
Holiday Jones
1659 W. Division St.
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 804-3335
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 744-3316
Goose Island Brewery
Chicago O'Hare International Airport - Terminal 3, L10
Amf Ohare, IL 60666
(201) 390-9907
Freehand Chicago
19 E. Ohio St.
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 940-3699
The Second City
1616 N. Wells St.
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 337-3992
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