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.
❏ 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).
❏ 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.
❏ 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.
❏ 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
❏ 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Consider purchasing a Chicago CityPASS or Go Chicago Card
for discounted admission at popular attractions and museums.
- 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.
- Getting to your destination becomes more affordable when
purchasing a 3-, 5-, or 7-day Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Unlimited Ride
Plus: 5 Neighborhood BYOBs
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.
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.
- 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.
- Han 202 in Bridgeport offers a
five-course prix-fixe Asian fusion dinner for a very reasonable price.
BBQ in Irving Park is all about barbecue and doing it well. The small menu includes
pulled pork, brisket, Texas sausage and ribs.
- 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.