Need to get maximum impact for minimal cost? Plan your group travel itinerary around fun things to do in Chicago for free - or nearly free - to make the most of your budget. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
ArchiCenter Shop & Tour Center
224 S. Michigan Ave.
As the home of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, this early 1900s Daniel Burnham-designed building is the place to view fascinating exhibits and to sign up for group architecture tours. Visitors also might like to peruse the design-focused wares at the shop, where carefully curated home goods, books and décor can be found.
With 26 beaches dotting Chicago's 26-mile coastline, there are plenty of places to enjoy the waterfront scenery and outdoor activities for free. Pick a nearby beach, and plan an outdoor meal or a walking tour through these vibrant lakefront playgrounds.
For groups of six or less, Chicago Greeter offers free hour-long tours. Choose from more than 25 diverse neighborhoods, more than 40 special interests and more than a dozen languages. Reserve your tour in advance, or try an on-the-spot InstaGreeter walk for an informal option.
Chicago Cultural Center
77 E. Randolph St.
Dramatic architectural details, curated art exhibits and free music, dance and theatre events are the draw at this Chicago attraction, home to the world's largest Tiffany stained-glass dome.
Garfield Park Conservatory
300 N. Central Park Ave.
Explore tropical and desert botanical collections, outdoor gardens, a labyrinth and special exhibits at this free conservatory. Groups of 10 or more must pre-register at least one week in advance. Free parking is available just south of the main entrance.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
2000 N. Racine, Suite 2080
Spend some time in a magnificent Victorian Era greenhouse, where tropical flowers and towering greenery set the scene for a colorful, exotic day. Outside, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, North Pond Sanctuary and Lincoln Monument Gardens are ideal for a walk during warmer months. Admission is free.
Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 N. Clark St.
African lions, red pandas, Japanese macaques-they're all here at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free and open every day throughout the year.
Museum of Contemporary Photography
600 S. Michigan Ave.
With stimulating collection of artwork by local, national and international artists, this free photography museum showcases contemporary visual arts in thought-provoking displays.
National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W. 19th St.
Groups can explore the richness of Mexican arts and culture in this free museum - the largest of its kind in the country - where more than 7,000 objects span from photography to textiles to sculptures.
600 E. Grand Ave.
Take in the sights and sounds at Chicago's Navy Pier, home to arts and entertainment attractions, museums, rides and dining options. While many of the attractions require admission, it's completely free to enjoy the lively ambiance and the beauty of the waterfront views of Lake Michigan.
The Oriental Institute
1155 E. 58th St.
History, art and architecture of the ancient Near East come together at this free museum, where groups could see everything from Egyptian statues to a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. For groups of 10-60, advance notice is required for self-guided or guided tours.
Smart Museum of Art
5550 S. Greenwood Ave.
Built on four fundamental pillars: Asian art, European art, contemporary art and modern art and design, this free art museum on the University of Chicago campus boats extensive holdings, with more than 12,000 objects. **Note: the galleries will be closed for re-installation until September 12, 2015.
Save money on group tours and admission prices with special deals or discount programs.
This booklet of admission tickets grants access to five attractions in Chicago, including Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry (or 360 CHICAGO) and Adler Planetarium (or Art Institute of Chicago), saving 52 percent, compared to combined regular box office prices.
Go to a show for a fraction of the price with this program offered by the League of Chicago Theatres, featuring half-price theater tickets for same-week shows.
Go Chicago Card
Save up to 55 percent on some of the best attractions in Chicago, with more than 20 attractions to choose from, including museums, boat tours and more. Groups of 10 or more can earn extra discounts and additional benefits, such as a free guidebook for every member of the group.