Chicago offers a wide array of wonderful free and affordable experiences. Here are just a few budget-friendly ideas to add to your Chicago itinerary.
Free Concerts and Festivals
Chicago packs a full calendar of free annual festivals, concerts and special events. The Grant Park Music Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago Gospel Music Festival and Chicago Jazz Festival take place along the lakefront during the summer months and are free and open to the public. Even more free music comes to town during World Music Festival Chicago and during Chicago SummerDance, which also offers free dance lessons.
In the summer, head to one of the many street festivals that pop up in Chicago's neighborhoods. These outdoor parties offer food, drink, shopping and entertainment celebrating everything from ethnic heritage to LGBT pride. Entrance fees are reasonably priced between $5-10.
Parks, Gardens and Zoos
Some of the city's top attractions are open year-round and always free. Animal lovers will enjoy a stroll through Lincoln Park Zoo, featuring a variety of species right in the heart of Lincoln Park. A few steps away is Lincoln Park Conservatory, a stunning greenhouse that boasts free admission every day.
Millennium Park is a must-see Chicago attraction. Check out the incredible displays of public art throughout the park, including the mind-bending Cloud Gate, called the "Bean" by locals. Cool off with a splash in the open pool of water that collects at the base of the famous Crown Fountain, two interactive video towers that spout water from the digital faces. Be sure to wander through the outdoor landscapes of Lurie Garden, surrounding you in natural beauty for no cost. In the evening, catch a free movie every Tuesday at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion as part of the Millennium Park Summer Film Series.
Chicago has over 40 museums, and many of these renowned institutions offer free admission every day. Immerse yourself in rich, authentic Mexican art and heritage at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, featuring a 7,500-piece permanent collection and a number of traveling exhibits.
The Oriental Institute is a museum dedicated to the study of the ancient Near East, while the Cambodian American Heritage Museum celebrates Cambodian community and culture in the U.S. and offers rotating exhibits and original art.
Photography enthusiasts will appreciate the work on display at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, one of the only museums in the region devoted exclusively to photography.
A guided tour is one of the best ways to experience Chicago, and the city offers many budget-friendly options. Chicago Greeter is a free program that pairs knowledgeable locals with small groups of up to six people for an informal, insider's orientation of the city and its neighborhoods. All walks are customized based on each group's interests, from public art to films.
Free Tours by Foot presents the only pay-what-you-like tours of Chicago. These sightseeing tours will take you through many of the city's famous neighborhoods and give you a great introduction to Chicago's architecture, culture and history.
Chicago's culture, architecture and art are on display at the Chicago Cultural Center, the nation's first and most comprehensive free municipal cultural venue. Every day you can come in and check out the calendar of free art exhibits, concerts, movie screenings and special events. The historical landmark also has two incredible stained-glass domes, which you can view on your own or on a free building tour.